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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 11:33 pm | Fair 51º


Chumash Refute Claims Against 12-Story Hotel Tower, to Proceed with Casino Expansion Now

Tribe agrees to fund more law enforcement but approves its own environmental evaluation to push project forward

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will help fund additional fire and police personnel but is otherwise prepared to begin a planned expansion of the Chumash Casino Resort — and a new 12-story tower — this fall.

Tribal leaders last week self-certified the project’s environmental evaluation, which included lengthy responses refuting concerns from Santa Barbara County officials and residents, with some concessions.

The Chumash comments follow recent meetings with residents, county staff and the Board of Supervisors — all involving a myriad of concerns about air quality, aesthetics, water supply, law-enforcement resources and more.

The tribe plans to add 215 hotel rooms, 584 parking spaces, gaming floor space and other improvements to ease overcrowding at the 190,000-square-foot complex on its federally recognized reservation at 3400 E. Highway 246 in Santa Ynez. The existing hotel has 106 guest rooms and 17 luxury suites.

Because the tribe does not adhere to the county’s planning process, the Chumash were able to respond to remarks and move forward, with construction to begin soon. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the valley, sent a letter to constituents last week, explaining the tribe’s intent to ignore mitigations and alternatives, particularly to the 12-story tower and hotel rooftop pool near the existing four-story hotel.

She said the tribe and county staff agreed to continue discussions, but the Chumash subsequently decided to push forward because the county hadn’t supported claims of off-reservation impacts with actual evidence.

The tribe’s offer to fund a full-time equivalent local county Fire Department position (not to exceed $400,000 annually), pay 50 percent of a new full-time firefighter and/or replace a county fire paramedic with a full-time paramedic, and to provide an on-reservation tribal ambulance was insufficient, Farr said.

Likewise, suggestions to pay about 50 percent (not more than $480,000) for one full-time sheriff’s deputy position in Solvang and offer one on-site patrol vehicle were also deemed inadequate.

“The county’s position on this project is certainly hampered by the fact that the requirements of the 1999 gaming compact are so few and with little to no ability for the county to require certain mitigations,” Farr said.

In its responses, the Chumash asked the county to fund the balance of a full-time deputy and to provide maintenance and fuel for a new patrol vehicle to be funded by the tribe.

The final environmental evaluation dismisses concerns about the rooftop pool and impacts to water, air quality, traffic and noise, because commenters didn’t provide specific details as to how the report failed to evaluate impacts.

The 136-foot hotel tower design will align with the existing resort, the report said, so it would not clash aesthetically. Enhanced landscaping would help shield it from view.

Avoiding a county fire request, the tribe contended fire safety has more to do with building design — such as fully sprinklered buildings — than ladder trucks.

The Chumash also vowed to maximize recycled water use on its reservation (to reduce impact to groundwater and water supply) and emphasize mass transit to lessen traffic impacts.

Farr said the matter would soon come back before supervisors for discussion, since the County CEO is drafting a response letter.

Farr will also continue working with state agencies and the Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to ensure counties have stronger standing in such future discussions.

Tribal chairman Vincent Armenta has said the expansion would provide a much-needed increase in revenue and provide more local jobs.

“Supervisor Farr’s objection to the tribe self-certifying its own projects is insulting,” Armenta said in a statement. “What she’s saying, essentially, is that the county as a government can self-certify their projects, but our tribal government shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

“Once again, Supervisor Farr claims the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has turned its back on the county, or as she notes, is ‘discounting’ most of the county’s concerns. In fact, the tribe has brought numerous proposals to the county yet Supervisor Farr has continuously led the charge to reject every one of them. The tribe, however, has and will continue to meet with county fire and sheriff’s officials to work out any concerns they may have.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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