Santa Barbara County officials will challenge a move made by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to add a large swath of agricultural land to its nearby reservation.
The county Board of Supervisors' decision came after a lengthy, heated public-comment period that was kicked off with a bombshell from the tribal chairman — a withdrawal of the Chumash's Tribal Consolidation and Acquisition application.
On Sept. 11, the supervisors filed an appeal to the BIA’s decision to grant the Chumash tribe 11,500 acres via a Tribal Consolidation and Acquisition Area Plan application.
Despite Tuesday's announcement, the supervisors voted 4-1 to oppose a recent BIA decision to approve the tribe’s fee-to-trust application for Camp 4, a 1,400-acre parcel of land near the 138-acre reservation.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino cast the lone dissenting vote in favor of communicating with tribal leadership regarding its fee-to-trust application for Camp 4.
The tribe bought the land in 2010 from the late Fess Parker, and has said it wants to build homes there for tribal members.
The fee-to-trust process would effectively remove the land from the county’s tax rolls and from the oversight of the county planning processes.
Tuesday’s vote came after the supervisors and residents offered opinions on an environmental assessment of Camp 4, which is near the Chumash reservation, and sits near Highway 246 and Highway 154.
At the start of that discussion, tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta told the supervisors that the Chumash decided to withdraw its TCA application “without prejudice” last week after listening to the concerns of some constituents.
Armenta emphasized that the act was not done to appease opponents, but to help focus on Camp 4 and starting a dialogue with the county.
“We didn’t do it to change anyone’s property value,” Armenta said, referring to the TCA application as a tool to plan for the tribe’s future. “We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do.
"We want to be good neighbors. We will continue to do what we need to do.”
Armenta and tribal representatives then filed out of the meeting in an exodus that the nearly 40 public speakers — many of whom still wore “No TCA” badges — viewed as a blatant disregard for any opinions of opposition.
Most speakers still devoted some of their two-minute comments to the TCA application, citing a distrust of the tribe’s seemingly last-minute move.
C.J. Jackson guessed that tribal representatives withdrew the application out of fear, knowing full well that public notice should have been given and that they lacked proof to support land claims.
“I think that’s why,” Jackson said.
Santa Barbara City Councilman Dale Francisco spoke as a concerned citizen and referred to the fee-to-trust process as outdated federal law.
“What we’re faced with in the Santa Ynez Valley is a very powerful and wealthy developer organization,” he said. “You are our policy makers. Clearly, this is something that has to change at the federal level.”
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, made a motion for the supervisors to pursue all avenues of opposition to the Camp 4 application.
The action also included sending a letter to the BIA with strong language opposing the current Camp 4 application for not properly addressing the negative potential impacts of annexation on the environment or on the loss of tax revenue.
“No matter what angle I look at it from, I can’t find any public benefit in this fee-to-trust application,” Farr said. “Until we hear from the BIA about the resolution of that, we should assume that (TCA) approval is still there.”
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said there were several inaccuracies in the current Camp 4 application, and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam pointed out that tribal members may have “overplayed their hand” by saying they will be able to put the land into trust through Congress instead.
Lavagnino said he was “depressed” that just one speaker viewed the TCA withdrawal as a good sign.
“It was a positive move in the right direction, I thought,” he said. “Now people are upset that Mr. Armenta got five minutes (for public comment) and everybody else got two. If you shut off communications, you’re sending a message to Congress that the local government will not work with the tribe.
"We’re going to end up here with all the impacts and a goose egg.”
Although First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal agreed with Lavagnino, he said he voted in support of Farr’s motion to make clear the point that some compromises must be made.