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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 2:42 pm | Fair 66º


Chumash Tribe, Santa Barbara County Leaders Talk Fee-to-Trust Agreement

Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians could be poised for compromise, with both sides coming together Thursday to discuss what officials would want from the tribe in order to let it place land into federal trust.

All it might take is the tribe considering a limited waiver of sovereign immunity — so the county could enforce an official agreement — and making other financial and planning concessions to the county, which would then drop its Camp 4 fee-to-trust opposition.

That’s part of a proposed memorandum of agreement that takes center stage this week during an ad hoc committee meeting with Chumash leaders and Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam.

The proposal was continued from a December meeting because Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta said tribal leaders had not yet mulled over the letter.

At the core of committee discussions, which began last September, is the tribe’s request to place a 1,433-acre agricultural parcel known as Camp 4 into federal trust — thereby removing it from county planning oversight and tax rolls.

The Chumash bought the land from the late Fess Parker in 2010 with the stated intent of building tribal family homes there. 

Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe’s Camp 4 fee-to-trust application, but the county and valley groups swiftly appealed the decision, which awaits a hearing.

Under the county-proposed agreement, officials pledge to drop opposition for moving Camp 4 into trust via an act of U.S. Congress or the BIA process — the tribe has tried both — if the Chumash agree to some conditions.

The agreement would cover the 194 acres of land the Chumash would designate for tribal housing on Camp 4 and 30 acres designated as special purpose zone for a tribal community center.

Waiving tribal sovereign immunity, which would hold the Chumash responsible should a contract be reached, has been a key sticking point with the county for years.

Even as leaders embark on these discussions, the Chumash tribe fended off a lawsuit questioning its very existence.

A U.S. District Court judge threw out that lawsuit for good last Friday.

It was filed by Save the Valley, a staunch Chumash opponent, and asked a Santa Barbara County and then federal court to intervene in the 1906 case that helped establish the Santa Ynez Indian Reservation. 

The court deemed the suit wasn’t timely because it was filed more than 100 years after that final judgment.

“Not only was this yet another frivolous lawsuit brought on by the local tribal opponents, but it stands to undermine every land title that can be traced back to the Catholic Church,” Armenta said in a statement.

The proposed agreement would ensure the Chumash financially support county services, with an ongoing payment of 38 percent of 1 percent of the market value of Camp 4.

The county also asks the tribe to pay sales, property and transient occupancy taxes on all and any projects within Camp 4, and to make sure all development complies with the county’s height limit of 35 feet, setback of 50 feet from the road centerline, and 20 feet from the edge of the right-of-way.

All Camp 4 development would comply with county environmental health regulations for wells and sewer. The Chumash would also cooperate in pursuit of grants available for projects and make a one-time payment to the county for traffic-impact fees.

If signed, the proposed agreement would go to the Secretary of the Interior for approval, if required.

Thursday’s discussion is expected to continue into future meetings, where a framework for the Chumash to absorb land into federal trust could be laid.

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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