Joan Hartmann could be in trouble.
That’s the rumor spreading through the Santa Ynez Valley, anyway, after several residents said they’d heard of plans to recall the 3rd District Santa Barbara County supervisor. But a recall election takes a petition, and the petition’s alleged creator, Santa Ynez resident Karen Jones, wouldn’t confirm the claims.
Jones, who ran against Hartmann in the 2016 election, did say that she will do whatever it takes to protect her home, family, and neighbors, and right now, Jones said Hartmann appears to be a threat.
“I’m certainly not going to leave any option off the table,” Jones said. “I would really hate to have to do that. But I’ll do anything to protect my home.”
Jones isn’t the only local annoyed with Hartmann after the county’s decisions regarding Camp 4, a 1,400-acre parcel of land the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians plan to use for housing development and a cultural center.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs placed the land into fee-to-trust with the federal government on Jan. 20, 2017, essentially adding land to the tribe’s reservation and taking it out of the county’s jurisdiction. The title to Camp 4 transferred into federal trust just two weeks after Hartmann entered office. Since then—and for the past several years—Camp 4 has been at the center of a heated debate regarding land use, water and mineral rights, and the loss of county tax revenue.
Hartmann, who serves as half of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indian Matters with 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, has met continuously with the Chumash since February for discussions over Camp 4.
At a public meeting in Los Olivos on Sept. 25, Hartmann and Williams presented an outline of the subcommittee’s tentative Memorandum of Agreement with the tribe concerning development on Camp 4. The agreement incited outrage among some locals, who said the deal is too lenient and was hastily made.
Since then, angry residents have yelled at, booed, and scolded Hartmann for her decision to consult with the Chumash, whose attempts at negotiating with the county over Camp 4 were ignored until Congress required the county to start talks in 2016. Legal threats have been made, and fingers pointed, but the rumor of Jones’ petition is the first sign of a community member taking any action against the leader she doesn’t feel represented by.
Despite Hartmann’s recent success in delaying the county’s hearing on the agreement to Oct. 31—Hartmann wrote in a letter to Chumash Tribal Chair Kenneth Kahn that the delay would allow residents to more thoroughly research the agreement—Jones said Hartmann has otherwise failed her community.
“I’m very grateful for the extra two weeks to work on Congress and use every opportunity to stop this thing,” Jones said.
But she added that the tentative deal is a bad one, and if a recall election is what it takes for Hartmann to stop supporting the agreement, Jones has the means to lead that effort.
Vitriol in the valley
“We grow where we’re planted,” Jones said, adding that her husband’s family was “planted” in Santa Ynez years before the Chumash members who will directly benefit from this deal. The Sun, however, could not confirm that statement.
Now, the rural area Jones said she moved to for safety and quiet is in the midst of a volatile debate. People who were once friends, whose kids played sports together, are now polarized enemies.
“All for something some Spanish explorer or Spanish priest did 200 years ago,” Jones said.
But many locals, including conservative radio talk show host Andy Caldwell, blame people like Jones for the Camp 4 conflict. In a Facebook post from Oct. 12, Caldwell called Camp 4 opponents “vitriols” who refuse to accept that without negotiations, the county will get nothing from the Chumash.
“The vitriols in the valley are so beside themselves, they are considering launching a recall against Joan Hartmann for merely suggesting what Congress has demanded—an end to harassing the tribe for wanting to expand their reservation (they have one of the smallest in all of the U.S. and what they have straddles a ravine!),” Caldwell’s post states.
Even Mike Brady, a member of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which has actively spoken out against the tentative agreement, said the coalition wouldn’t support a recall.
Although Jones wouldn’t say whether or not she plans to petition for a recall election aimed at Hartmann’s seat, she confirmed that she recently visited the county election office to research recall procedure.
“I like [Hartmann], I endorsed her,” Jones said. “My No. 1 issue with her is that this ‘bad deal being better than no deal’ attitude is wrong.”
Jefferson Litten, Hartmann’s chief of staff, wouldn’t comment on how a recall election petition would affect the supervisor’s support for the agreement. However, Hartmann said in an email that Congress is ready to affirm the fee-to-trust acquisition through HR 1491, a congressional bill that would ratify the deal. A vote on HR 1491 has been delayed at the county’s request, Hartmann said.
“If negotiations fail to produce an agreement,” Hartmann wrote, “Congress will act, and the result will be far less favorable to the county than this enforceable agreement, which commits the tribe to doing what they said they would do and what many in the community have repeatedly said they support: 143 homes and a tribal center.”
The deal is the best the subcommittee and the tribe could agree on, Hartmann said, but it isn’t the best the county could have gotten. In 2013, the tribe offered to pay the county $1 million a year for 10 years in lieu of the tax revenue that would be lost because of Camp 4’s federal status. The Board of Supervisors at the time voted 3-2 against entering negotiations with the Chumash. Now, the tentative deal would require the tribe to pay an annual fee of $178,500, which would begin in 2023 and end when the tentative agreement is scheduled to expire in 2040. And the supervisors don’t want a mishap like that to happen again.
The Chumash didn’t respond to the Sun’s requests for comment.
“Without an agreement, the county risks having no enforceability, no certainty about land use, and no fiscal mitigation whatsoever,” Hartmann said.
The tentative agreement would force the Chumash to comply with state safety codes, various environmental codes, and a strict water-use mitigation and monitoring plan on Camp 4. Building within 984 feet of Highway 154, gaming and commercial development, and liquor sales within the tribal facilities would be prohibited.
But Jones said the agreement’s regulations aren’t strict enough. The Chumash, she said, should have to apply for the same land-use permits everyone else uses to develop.
“Just do it the way the rest of us do it, and if it’s too onerous maybe they should lobby to change those laws,” Jones said.
The Chumash also agreed to provide a limited waiver of sovereign immunity through the agreement, which would allow the tribe to be sued in federal and state courts over disputes relating to the agreement.
Still, many Santa Ynez residents, including Jones, fear that when the agreement expires, or even before, the Chumash will use Camp 4 to build casinos.
“This has nothing to do with Chumash culture,” Jones said. “If this were about culture they would build some huts. In reality, this is about money.”
The ad hoc subcommittee and other organizations are already being swayed by Chumash money, Jones said. Local newspapers, she said, wouldn’t exist without the tribe’s full-page casino ads. Supervisor Williams, who makes up half the subcommittee, received campaign donations from the tribe during the 2016 election.
Though some residents have said those contributions create a textbook conflict of interest, Williams said it’s not. He said people on all sides donated to his campaign, including individuals who oppose Camp 4 negotiations.
“No one owns me because they write a check to my campaign,” Williams said.
And the tribe’s members have repeatedly said, both at meetings and in the tribe’s fee-to-trust application, that gaming on Camp 4 will be prohibited. HR 1491 would make that restriction even more enforceable, Williams explained.
“What people want is for [Camp 4] to still be a beautiful, scenic gateway to the valley,” Williams said. “And this has real protections for that.”
Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at [email protected].