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Chumash Question Santa Barbara County’s Assessed Property Value of Camp 4 Land

Tribe files property assessment appeal for the 1,433-acre agricultural parcel, its second appeal in two years

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is appealing the Santa Barbara County property valuation of the 1,433-acre Camp 4 property.
The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is appealing the Santa Barbara County property valuation of the 1,433-acre Camp 4 property.  (Bill Macfadyen / Noozhawk file photo)

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is skeptical of the way Santa Barbara County has valued its Camp 4 property — and the taxes it must pay — so the tribe is asking county officials to check their calculations.

The Chumash filed an assessment appeal with the County Clerk’s Office in late November, arguing the 1,433-acre agricultural parcel should be valued at nearly $8.8 million instead of the $35.1 million recorded by the County Assessor’s Office in 2015-16.

That’s about a quarter of the county’s assessed value, which would put Chumash taxes for the property at $88,000 instead of the $350,000 the tribe will pay this year.

According to the county, the Chumash paid $40 million to buy Camp 4 from the late Fess Parker in 2010.

The tribe has said it plans to build tribal family homes on the Santa Ynez Valley land which it wants to place into federal trust — thereby removing it from county planning oversight and tax rolls entirely.

Sam Cohen, the tribe’s government affairs and legal officer, doesn’t dispute the property is valuable.

He said the tribe believes the county is aggressively reassessing the Camp 4 property above its current market value.

When the tribe bought Camp 4, it was governed by the Williamson Act, which gives tax breaks for owners of farmland who maintain the agricultural use.

The tribe filed a non-renewal of the Williamson Act with the county in 2013, Cohen said, because that was required by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to file a fee-to-trust application to bring Camp 4 into its 138-acre reservation off Highway 246.

The Chumash understanding was the county would gradually increase Camp 4 to fair market value on its rolls over nine years, with a maximum assessment of $400,000.

“Clearly, it’s not a linear increase,” Cohen said, since the value has significantly increased just two years later. “That’s what caught the tribe’s attention.”

The tribe was paying $83,000 for Camp 4 taxes under the Williamson Act.

Nothing in the assessment process says the tax increase must be evenly spread across the nine years, said Keith Taylor, the county’s chief deputy assessor.

He said the county uses a formula for calculations provided by the California State Board of Equalization, which applied economic value to the land instead of normal base year value.

Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians chairman Vincent Armenta, left, and vice chairman Kennth Kahn talked about Camp 4 mitigation plans at an ad hoc meeting with county officials. Click to view larger
Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians chairman Vincent Armenta, left, and vice chairman Kennth Kahn talked about Camp 4 mitigation plans at an ad hoc meeting with county officials.    (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk file photo)

The County Assessor and the Assessment Appeal Board must review assessment applications within two years of filing.

“We will look at it,” Taylor told Noozhawk.

“It is kind of an interesting concept, with the Williamson Act and this non-renewal. We certainly will meet with them and provide the information on how the assessment was made. If they feel we made the wrong calculation, obviously we want to double check.”

An outcome could involve a settlement or, if there’s still dispute after months of discussion, a public hearing process, said Michael Allen, chief deputy clerk to the County Board of Supervisors.

More than 80 percent of such appeals end with an agreement, he said, but those that don’t go before a three-member Assessment Appeal Board, with supervisor-appointed members.

This is the second assessment appeal the tribe has filed in two years.

In late 2014, the Chumash filed an application questioning the valuation of its Escobar and Mooney properties, which are zoned retail/commercial and total 2 acres.

The tribe filed an application with the BIA earlier this year to also place those parcels into federal trust.

Taylor said the assessor’s office has been communicating with the tribe on that appeal, but both sides haven’t yet reached a conclusion.

The Chumash believe those parcels should be valued at $150,000, Taylor said, while the county has them assessed at $599,878.

All the tax wrangling could be moot, however, if the tribe is able to place any of this property into federal trust.

Chumash leaders have been regularly meeting with Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam as part of an ad hoc committee discussing issues of mutual interest — with fee-to-trust chief among them.

They have yet to conduct a productive talk on what amount of money the county would accept to allow the Chumash to absorb Camp 4 or future properties into its reservation.

The county has appealed the BIA decision to OK the tribe’s Camp 4 fee-to-trust application and is still waiting for the BIA to hear its appeal. 

Cohen said the assessment appeal shouldn’t contradict those talks, especially since the assessment issue might not see an outcome for two years. He hopes Camp 4 fee-to-trust questions will be resolved before then.

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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