An effort by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to start a dialogue with the public Monday night about how to best develop housing on its land turned into a springboard for opponents who don’t want to see the development at all.
The Chumash hosted the well-attended meeting at the Hotel Corque in Solvang to present proposed options for developing Camp 4, a 1,390-acre parcel of land adjacent to the reservation along Highway 246 in the Santa Ynez Valley. The tribe bought the land in 2010 from the late Fess Parker to build homes for tribal members.
While the tribe goes through a federal legislative process to place the land in a trust, Chumash officials decided to give the public a chance to offer opinions for the best way to develop the 143-home development.
In all, the Chumash presented nine options conceived during a land-use analysis, each considering varying levels of density, topography, community attributes and preservation of natural beauty.
“The purpose of purchasing Camp 4 was for tribal housing,” tribal chairman Vincent Armenta said. “When we bought it, we said the exact same thing. This is the start of a great dialogue.”
The first option called for five-acre parcels for each home, another created buffers at all roadways by placing a development in the middle of the land, and others called for one-acre lots in varying corners to preserve some natural attributes.
Steve Davis, vice president of Summit Project Management, said each of the plans except the five-acre lot would preserve the vineyards, wetlands and other natural features.
“We want to respect and avoid developing in these areas and compromising these features,” Davis said.
Some community members seemed grateful for the PowerPoint presentation, but most wanted further guarantees from the Chumash that a casino would not be built on the land. Others called for the tribe to go through the county’s land-use process like everyone else who owns and wants to build on land.
During a question-and-answer session facilitated by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, local residents voiced concerns about the increase in traffic and where water for the development would come from.
Williams urged citizens to put politics aside to choose the least upsetting housing plan.
“There could be no plan here that is perfect, but I think it would still help the tribe and the conversation if some of the options were taken off the table early in this process,” Williams said. “I don’t like it either, but it’s going to happen. I don’t think having a conversation about how to minimize those impacts is a bad thing.”
A speaker who said he was born and raised in Santa Barbara praised the Chumash’s efforts to be transparent in such a contentious issue.
“There are some people in life who are never truly happy unless they are protesting something,” he said.
Community members expressed an uneasiness about the land going into trust, which would mean the county loses out on potential property taxes and the power of developmental review.
Sam Cohen, government affairs and legal officer for the Chumash, reiterated that federal law prohibits the tribe from opening a casino on the land.
He said the tribe already has delivered a cooperative agreement to the county, offering to pay $1 million a year for 10 years.
“Actually, tribes feel like they don’t get special treatment at all,” Cohen said during the sometimes heated discussion. “It often feels we get treated in special ways, but not in a way that’s fair or favorable. The tribe is hosting this meeting, and I personally promise we will host future meetings.”
Armenta abruptly ended the meeting about 90 minutes in after dialogue had seemingly turned unconstructive. He said he looked forward to a more productive discussion during a future meeting.