Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 23
Bad bloodDana Adobe project deepens divide between nonprofit and Northern Chumash Tribal Council
BY JEREMY THOMAS
It looked like a done deal.
Plans for a visitor center, Chumash village, and amphitheater at the Rancho Nipomo Dana Adobe looked to be in its final stages, with SLO County supervisors set to decide on two key permitting steps on Aug. 7.
However, that very same day, the Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos (DANA) board unexpectedly withdrew its application for a land-use ordinance and mitigating negative declaration, documents that certify a project as environmentally sound. Instead, the board requested a more intensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
DANA co-presidents Alan and Helen Daurio said the move was a last-minute decision, intended to prevent a rift between the nonprofit and the Northern Chumash Tribal Council from growing further.
“We thought the [mitigating negative declaration] was defensible,” Alan Daurio said. ”But in the interest of getting beyond all this controversy, we said let’s go do the EIR. Even if it takes a year, we’ll end up having a project that will be supported.”
The project dates back to 2010, when the council and DANA agreed to partner on a California State Parks grant to create “Stories of the Rancho,” a program recognizing the history of culture, ecology, and stewardship at the adobe.
In April 2011, the parks department awarded DANA nearly $3 million, of which $240,000 was set aside to build a Chumash village on the Dana Adobe property, including a ceremonial circle, sweat lodge, and protected cultural sites. County officials agreed to waive permitting fees for the project earlier this spring. The conditional use permit and release of the grant money hinged on approval of the environmental certifications.
Things appeared to be moving along smoothly until July 16, when Fred Collins, tribal administrator for the council, notified the county of the group’s intent to appeal the mitigating negative declaration in court. He appeared at the SLO Board of Supervisors meeting the following day, objecting to the project.
Collins says the council, after being part of the initial design, was gradually left out of the loop in the environmental process. DANA expanded the project, he said, adding more buildings and increasing potential impacts. DANA, he said, also ignored the council’s concerns about protecting sensitive cultural sites.
“When the grant was awarded, we were partners with the DANA and they listened to us,” Collins said. “We thought it would continue and we all looked forward to it. But after the grant was awarded, it all changed.”
As a result of Collins’ objections, the supervisors unanimously voted on July 17 to require minimal changes to the environmental certifications, and continued the item to Aug. 7 to give the council and DANA time to come to an agreement, with planning department staff acting as mediators.
The two sides met on July 25 and 31, but talks broke down at the second meeting when, according to the Daurios, Collins presented DANA with a memorandum detailing “42 demands,” one of which required DANA to enter into a 100-year lease with the council to operate and manage the Chumash village.
The Daurios said agreeing to the memorandum would have essentially ceded control of a portion of the Dana Adobe property to the council, and bound DANA exclusively to the Northern Chumash. Collins, they claimed, insisted the DANA board accept the agreement or else he’d continue his legal challenge.
“It was basically presented to us as an ultimatum; sign this or I’ll challenge you in court,” Al Daurio said.
When DANA refused to sign, Collins and the council reportedly walked out of the meeting. Collins, however, denied he ever asked for a contract and characterized the memorandum as a list of “negotiating points” he’d hoped to discuss.
“They took all of those 42 items as things we were demanding,” Collins said. “Goodness gracious, [the terms] protect our rights. We’re not ashamed of them, we’re proud of them.”
DANA has spent $300,000 already on the project, which incorporates a 5,300 square-foot visitor center, an outdoor amphitheater, the Chumash Village, walking trails, and an entrance for vehicles and school buses.
The Daurios said the project is intended to show multiple perspectives and contributions to the adobe by various groups over time. They insist the council’s concerns go beyond protecting cultural resources.
“The bottom-line issue is one of control and money,” Helen Daurio said. “Fred is upset that he’s not getting sole contract for building the Chumash Village, so he’s looking for ways to stop our project. It’s an underhanded manner of trying to take away a project that would benefit the entire San Luis Obispo County.”
Taking issue with characterizations of his group, Collins said the money wouldn’t go to the council, but would instead be used to bring Chumash members from Malibu to construct the village.
“Their accusations that we demanded a contract are so ludicrous and so unbelievable,” Collins said. “We’re all volunteers. We take no salaries or anything. This conception that we’re after the money is ridiculous.”
Gino Altamirano, a member of the Chumash community who worked closely on the project, said the council members made it clear they wanted to control the village from the start, due in part to the sacred nature of the ceremonial sites. Altamirano said the group was included in the planning process until they voiced concerns over mitigation methods and who would tell the Chumash story.
The terms of the memorandum didn’t appear earlier, Altamirano and Collins explained, because the council wasn’t being notified of the environmental review process.
The Daurios argue that Collins decided to withdraw from the project in January via an e-mail to the DANA board. The board, they said, is interested in forming a Chumash advisory council, though it was “difficult to say” if they would work with the council in the future.
Collins said he wasn’t sure if his group would have any further involvement with DANA or the project, but no matter what happens, he said, the group isn’t going away.
“All of this stuff that they’re trying to make a big deal about is really just Chumash people protecting their rights,” Collins said. “We’re not going to be pushed around anymore.”
The environmental review process will take about six months to a year to complete, during which the county will examine issues of cultural resources and determine whether further studies are needed.
Collins applauded the EIR, saying it would present a broader and more detailed perspective on the impacts to archeological remains and natural resources.
“There’s really no choice here,” Collins said. “It’s a 130-acre project. A [mitigating negative declaration] just doesn’t fit the picture for the size of the project, so we’re pleased they have to go back to square one and do it right.”
The Daurios said the EIR doesn’t mean the planning process will start over, and it likely won’t impact the grant.
“We were very close,” Helen Daurio said. “That’s part of the heartache that we had to take into consideration in making this hard decision on what was best for the organization.”
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas at email@example.com.