The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has set aside at least two hours during its meeting Tuesday for a public hearing to consider whether the county should start a dialogue with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians about acreage the tribe is attempting to add to its reservation.
The mostly undeveloped agricultural property at the center of the familiar, heated debate is known as Camp 4, a 1,390-acre parcel adjacent to the tribe’s reservation along Highway 246 in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled to occur during a meeting that begins at 9 a.m. in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.
The discussion is aptly timed, coinciding with the tribe recently filing an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to annex the property through a process known as fee-to-trust — effectively removing the land from the county's tax rolls and from the oversight of the county planning process.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the board chairman, told Noozhawk the hearing was requested in a letter from tribal chairman Vincent Armenta, who would like to begin a “government-to-government dialogue” on the complex issues the county and the tribe face with the federal annexation process.
Although supervisors have received several letters from opposition groups in the Santa Ynez Valley asking to cancel or postpone the hearing, Carbajal said Friday that the two-hour discussion was still on.
“Maybe even three (hours) depending on what amount of speakers we get,” he said. “The only action being considered here is whether we go into a dialogue, who participates, how do we craft agendas."
Even the board’s legal counsel submitted a letter stating that the dialogue doesn’t need to take place, noting that no such discussion was requested for annexation of a 6.9-acre parcel or a 5.8-acre parcel also proposed to be taken into federal trust.
The Board of Preservation of Los Olivos P.O.L.O., Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens and others sent letters reiterating fears that annexed land would be used for gaming and negatively affect property values and water sources.
“Setting a special dialogue for the Santa Ynez Band creates a process no other person or group is entitled to, violating the equal protection rights of all other citizens of Santa Barbara County,” members of P.O.L.O. wrote.
The Chumash tribe has been requesting a dialogue regarding Camp 4 since June 2011, according to Sam Cohen, government and legal specialist for the Santa Ynez Band.
Cohen said the tribe has several reasons to request a productive discussion, including its role as a major county employer that participates in many charitable functions and is a safety net for more than 136 members.
“Nonetheless, the tribe is hopeful that a county-tribal dialogue will find areas of mutual agreement amid our usual areas of controversy,” he said. “While the tribe’s angry neighbors make the same hostile comments over and over again, such repetition does not make them facts. We are hoping to elevate our dialogue with the county away from name calling and deal with substantive areas of concern.”