Thursday, November 26 , 2015, 1:07 am | Fair 46º

Harris Sherline: Opposition to Chumash, Casino Continues to Divide Community

By Harris Sherline, Noozhawk Columnist |

Are prejudice and envy involved in the continuous assault on the Chumash and their casino in Santa Ynez? Probably. Are there legitimate issues between residents of the Santa Ynez Valley and the casino? Absolutely.

The Chumash have contributed millions of dollars to various charities and organizations in Santa Barbara County. How many other donors give that kind of money to local charities?

Is either side 100 percent right? Not really. Both are right and wrong.

Some important considerations come to mind about this unhappy situation:

From their perspective, the Chumash are tired of being abused. Government has treated Indians like second-class citizens for generations, while they have been robbed, cheated and ignored by an indifferent public. After finally achieving significant financial success, the Chumash perceive themselves continuing to be on the receiving end of disdain, now heightened by envy.

Doesn’t everyone want a business as profitable as the casino?

Meanwhile, Santa Ynez Valley residents now live with the behemoth of a facility on Highway 246 that is still opposed by many.

Unfortunately, suspicion has become an issue on both sides — perhaps the issue.

The Chumash apparently believe that the demands being made of them are more about prejudice, envy and money than anything else, that it’s primarily about others trying to extract dollars from them.

Considering the history of racism they have experienced for so many years, it’s understandable if they see dollar signs reflected in the eyes of their critics, while the opposition see themselves as trying to preserve the rural character of the valley and ensure that the Chumash pay for the impacts caused by their huge facility.

The dispute over the liquor license is a good example. After forcing the casino to accept the most restrictive limitations on its license in California’s history, opponents continue to appeal its approval every time it comes up for renewal.

It’s worth noting that the specific license involved was not new, but had existed in Solvang for many years. The casino merely bought it from a defunct restaurant and moved it to its location.  Furthermore, a TV newscast reported that the casino only serves drinks to guests who order meals in its Willows restaurant. Somehow, this fact seems not to have penetrated the fog surrounding the argument over approval of the license.

The battle continues to rage back and forth, fueled by suspicion on both sides about the motives of the other.

While the conflict may make for interesting political theater, it is also a senseless waste of energy and resources.

Perhaps the protagonists should cool down and stop attacking one another — before the community becomes poisoned with a legacy of bitterness that may never go away. Is that what they want?

Frances Snyder, who was the tribe’s public relations director, wrote an article titled, “Santa Ynez: Charming or Chilling?” in which she related an experience that occurred when she was entering a local market. She was verbally assaulted by a man who was so threatening that she became frightened to the point of calling the Sheriff’s Department for help.

That should have been a wake-up call for all residents of the Santa Ynez Valley who are concerned about the ongoing strife over the Chumash casino.

What the casino’s opponents have managed to accomplish with their aggressive opposition is to create a schism in the community that has become a divide that cannot be bridged. It has poisoned relations between those on opposite sides of the issue. The increasing trend toward aggressive confrontation still exists and should concern everyone who lives and works in the Santa Ynez Valley.

At Santa Ynez Valley Union High School’s program to dedicate the new football stadium, which the Chumash made possible with a $3 million gift, Vincent Armenta was booed by some of the people in the audience. In addition, some of those in attendance threw the “spirit rags” the Chumash had provided to the ground, which had both the high school logo and the tribal seal on them.

Even in the face of such offensive behavior, the Chumash continue to support local charities and institutions.

Unfortunately, the community is still polarized by a group of activists, even after all these years.

At a recent meeting of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, a number of women attended and disrupted the meeting by continually interrupting the presentation to complain about the Chumash and the money the members of the tribe receive from the casino.

I have lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for almost 30 years, and I am troubled by the open hostility that often dominates relationships with the Chumash in the community.

Unfortunately, because of strident opposition, many people do not recognize that there is also a broad base of support for the Chumash and the casino among the general population. Many of the people I know and meet support them and think that their opponents are often unreasonable.

— Harris Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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» on 07.28.13 @ 09:39 AM

An old ballad goes something like this; “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.” These lyrics came to mind when I read this op ed piece. Like much of today’s media, it seems to focus only on the extremes in the conversation. It pits the “generous” Chumash against the “group of activists” that have polarized the community for all of these years. It should not be lost on the public that Mr. Sherline’s hospital is one of the most generously treated by the Chumash.

Let’s look at the facts, aside from the inflammatory comments in this article. Yes, there are some shrill voices on both sides, and like most of these controversies, emotions have been stirred on both sides. Community members have been verbally assaulted by Chumash representatives as well. But here is the point - should the Chumash continue to be able to buy and “take private” land in the valley or anywhere else in the state at the expense of the public at large? Is opposition to this idea a view that cannot be uttered? After all, there are around 150 Chumash, and 22,000 people in the valley. They do not build their own schools, their own hospitals, their own appropriately sized fire and police departments. That’s right - the taxpayers pay for this even though the Chumash do not pay property taxes on trust or reservation land. Yet, they vote in our elections, contribute to political campaigns and in other ways (such as charitable giving) buy off local voices. Would you, Mr. Sherline, accept that from a developer? I think not. Either you are part of the community or you are not. The Chumash should submit their requested approvals to the County and not try - as was announced at the taxpayers’ meeting - try to do a Congressional “end run” on our local process. I note that Mr. Sherline does not mention that.

Mr. Sherline seems to miss the fact that the additional restrictions on the alcohol license - narrowly aimed at CURRENT problems at the casino - were brought about by reasonable voices making that very input. Similarly, “a group of women” “disrupted” the local taxpayers PR meeting (and what is a taxpayers’ association doing supporting taking land off the tax rolls anyway? Mr. Sherline is a member of this association - could it be the largesse directed at his hospital that makes him supportive?). Mr. Sherline, women were given a voice in our political process some time ago and this is still a free country with the First Amendment firmly in place.

I suggest that Mr. Sherline and the Chumash stop casting aspersions and contributing dark motivations to those of us that want a level playing field. They already have their casino, and I am glad it is doing well for them. But to try to place themselves above the law of this community, while promoting what generous people they are, the Chumash and their donees are doing a great disservice to our system of government, and to the community as a whole. No wonder people are up in arms!

» on 07.28.13 @ 10:36 AM

Read the last comment here and then the body of my issues.

The polarization came about when the “tribe” started paying off potential lawsuit, criminals within their community were committing and then “escaping” within the “res” to avoid prosecution.  Please do not offend us with there has never been a proven case, Ms. Snyder knows the “settlement” agreements prevent either party from discussing the reasons or outcomes.  Some of them have been in the handsome 6 figures.

The next polarization came about when the promise to “not” federalize any further property.  Ms. Snyder knows perfectly well this was made because she mentioned this in a public social conversation decades back.  To cement this position, when Armenta was finally cornered about this, in a hostile public meeting he agreed that was the case but then qualified it with “I am just a spokesman” the Council can do what it wants.  What it wanted in this case was to make the agreement allowing the casino go away.

Many years ago it was pointed out to Ms. Snyder that with marriage dilution and current blood line there would soon not be enough people to claim tribal status.  Her remark was being Indian is not so much about blood line as it is attitude. 

Ms. Snyder is a nice person caught in a problem of her own making.  Armenta and his arrogant attitude off the Reservation not so much.  As his remark about Federalization proves. 

The money donated by the tribe has been viewed by most as bribe money.  Money to pave over broken water, sewer, size, federalization and the list goes on promises.

If the Chumash feel so put upon, let them place on the table the issue of the resort ) size (remember it was supposed to be only a casino, criminal acts of members, and Federalization.  Let them live up to those promises.  On the POLO side, the minute that happens you tell your backers enough.  Civility in statements and attitude.  You will see most of the “divide” disappear.

» on 07.28.13 @ 10:58 AM

As someone who does not have skin in the game I thought the Sherline views were very thoughtfully written. Does it take an outsider to remind people that the Chumash owned all of Santa Barbara County before it was stollen, and that most of their tribal members were forced into slavery to build the Missions.  I wish my heart was as gracious and charitable as the Chumash have been.

» on 07.28.13 @ 06:37 PM

Paula T., the indigenous people here did not ” own” land- that is a Western European concept. Furthermore, their displacement happened at the hands of the Spanish, then for a short time, the Government of Mexico. By the time California became a state in1850, all of this has already happened. Yet we admire the missions, which you rightly observe enslaved the indigenous people’s - at least those that wouldn’t die rather than be enslaved. That is not the point now. The remaining Chumash - good for them - make a lot of money from a casino that places a great burden on a small rural area. The issue is whether they should or need to place more land out of out government because of the largesse produced by the casino, and expand MY burden to do it.

» on 07.29.13 @ 08:44 AM

This is more about growth versus no growth than Native Americans versus white valley wealthy. Mr. Sherline should know better and so should the rest of you. The white valley wealthy want no growth, no change and no outsiders. It’s bad enough that Solvang attracts those nasty idiot tourists and equally bad that the wealthy urban yuppie winos continue to stain the valley floor with their tours. But a casino? Holy shit batman that’s the worst! Alcohol slurping, tobacco smoking gamblers, damn it no way! It matters not that the worst gamblers of all are white wealthy Wall Street gamblers who sip their whiskey at home.

Ok that said, I don’t have any love for the casino or gambling whether on the Street or the reservation, it’s a friggen vice and an addiction. It ruins the lives of all and in the case of the Street, our capitalist economy and country. But I have no love of the no growth community either for its obscene hypocrisy. All no growthers are here because of growth and swinging that gate closed after you arrived doesn’t play well in my book.

Maybe the valley whiners and winos should sit down with the chiefs and the “other” gamblers” and broker a compromise and quit with the race bating BS. We have enough of that mindless crap going everywhere else.

» on 07.29.13 @ 12:23 PM

Sherline is right. The arrival of organizing gambling to the
Santa Ynez Valley has further polarized the area.

The place has already been swimming through rough waters for
a generation.

Traditional farmers and ranchers, trying to deal with winery

The once genuine village of Solvang, transformed into a plastic tourist mecca.

Buellton sprawling across 246 toward Lompoc on one side, and
Solvang on the other.

The open spaces which were once fields in crop rotation sold
to commuters who only sleep in the Valley. Or rich retirees
like Sherline, who move there for their own bit of La Dolce

All this puts huge stress on rural infrastructure, and rural

Route 246 on summer weekends is like some Orange County nightmare.

And that’s before you even come to the issue of the Casino

Is there some racism toward the Casino people because they’re
native American? Sad to say, but probably true.

Would many of these same tensions exist if the same Casino,
hotel, and real estate speculations were being pushed by Vegas
corporations, or East Coast crime families?

Probably yes.

Several differences Sherline glosses over, are worth noting.

The Chumash who control the Casino and land development empire
are a small subset of central coast residents who view each
other as “Chumash”.

But the SY Valley band does not share their gambling money with their cousins.

That has created ill will in the Native American community that is not racist.

Also, if Vegas gambling corporations, or seedy investors from
back East, were proposing current and future developments, all
of them would be subject to County and State laws on design, zoning, natural resources, safety, appearance, traffic, parking, etc., etc.

Because the investors who staked the Valley gambling operation
run it under the Chumash reservation rubric, they exempt
their operations from all local and state standards.

Sure, they hold public meetings, to gather “input”.

But they do not often heed it, if suggestions conflict with maximizing developer profits.

Now, with the SY Valley Chumash having bought Fess Parker land
east of 154, many people fear that the sprawl, traffic and rising Valley crime rates will spill out of the Casino area, and get a big foothold on rural, agricultural land east
of the state highway.

Some say the SY Valley Band want the land for “housing tribal

That sounds nice. Until you realize that the average member
of the enrolled Tribe is already pulling in over $450,000 each
year, and can already afford to buy existing housing anywhere
in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Also, couldn’t the SY Valley Band commit to developing their
new lands east of 154 under County and State laws and rules?

By constantly trying to preempt local oversight, the SY Band
is taking valuable property off of County tax rolls, and
trying to put it in the hands of faceless, bureaucrats who know, or care, nothing at all about the Santa Ynez Valley.

It’s been repeatedly pointed out that if the feds assume control of the SY Band development process, there is zero requirement that the SY Band actually build what they tell the news media, or Mr. Sherline, they intend to.

Bait and switch is very, very easy, under federal pre-emption.

So Sherline is right. The Valley is divided between Casino
jobs, and general SY Band grants for good causes, and regret
at the loss of the Valley’s traditional appearance and way of

There is probably some element of racism at work.

There is also a trail of bent promises on prior Casino projects, which give reason for skeptics to doubt.

Ill will and distrust have now poisoned much of the well.

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