Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 18
County supervisors decline to appeal Chumash annexation
BY JEREMY THOMAS
At an emotional public meeting on July 10, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted not to oppose the federal annexation of 6.9 acres of land owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray motioned for the board to not appeal a June decision by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approving the tribe’s fee-to-trust application on the land. The annexation was previously approved in 2005, but has been tied up in litigation brought by several community groups. Gray’s motion passed 3-2, with supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Salud Carbajal voting along with Gray.
“It’s been seven long years that they’ve been trying to move forward on this process,” Lavagnino said. “I do believe the opposition will file an appeal. It will probably end up in federal court, and a decision will be made, but I for one cannot align myself with those who have demonstrated a lack of concern for the Chumash.”
Outside the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria, hundreds of members of the Chumash tribe, who made the trek to Santa Maria by bus, gathered with signs reading “We’re Still Here” and “Support Our Tribe.” Inside, an overflow crowd heard speakers on both sides of the fee-to-trust issue make overtures to the board.
Chumash leaders and tribal members appeared one by one at the podium, making the case for the annexation as a means to building a planned museum and cultural center to preserve Chumash history and teach tribal heritage to its youth.
“To appeal this decision is basically to say that we do not exist,” Chumash tribal chairman Vincent Armenta said. “It’s embarrassing. I’m ashamed to have to come up here and fend for who I am and who our people are. I assumed that when you read this decision that you would be jumping for joy and doing everything you possibly could to help the first people in Santa Barbara County regain what was rightfully theirs.”
Prior to the public comment period, assistant to the CEO Dennis Bozanich made a presentation to the board on the economic impact of the fee-to trust transfer, estimating the cumulative negative hit to the county at between $23 million and $33 million over the next 50 years.
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr voted for the appeal, having long opposed the transfer for the fiscal impact to the county from the loss of property and sales taxes, as well as the threat to county land use control.
“Bottom line, the tribe can afford to take care of your people, protect your heritage, and protect your land without fee to trust,” Farr said.
Opponents of the annexation also accused the tribe of trying to circumvent past U.S. Supreme Court decisions on which tribes are eligible for fee-to-trust, and expressed concerns the transfer could lead to expanded gaming.
“We in the valley are not opposed to the tribe,” Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson said. “We are opposed to gambling. We feel this fee-to-trust process is the animal’s nose under the tent to expand gambling.”
The county had opposed the annexation once before, in 2005, but were notified they’d missed the deadline to join into a lawsuit brought against the Department of Interior by community groups Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) and Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY). Both groups are expected to continue their litigation.