Tuesday, February 20 , 2018, 6:12 pm | Fair 56º


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County Will Continue Ad Hoc Committee Meetings With Chumash

Supervisors say discussions center on whether tribe will waive sovereign immunity

Locals debated the productivity of talks between Santa Barbara County officials and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, but everyone ultimately decided Tuesday to keep those ad hoc committee discussions going — albeit with a little time apart.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to continue to August the monthly meetings at the Santa Ynez Marriott due to budget hearings and the board’s July break.

Future meeting dates won’t be determined, however, until attorneys from both sides reach an agreement that gets the tribe to waive sovereign immunity.

The ad hoc committee meetings started in September after members of Congress asked the county and tribe to find a fee-to-trust compromise that doesn’t include enacting federal legislation (something the tribe has tried twice with Camp 4).

The county has a pending appeal with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding Camp 4, a 1,433-acre agricultural property the Chumash is trying to place into federal trust — thereby removing it from county tax rolls and planning oversight.

Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta, who sits on the ad hoc committee with Vice Chairman Kenneth Kahn, Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam, has said the tribe wants to build 143 homes for tribal families on that land.

After seven meetings, Farr and Adam said they wanted to bring a report before the full board to highlight progress as well as some sticking points.

Namely, what the tribe would pay to place land into trust, how much land that would include, the length of such an agreement, a guarantee of no gaming, and a waiver of sovereign immunity.

Armenta reiterated the tribe’s willingness to waive its sovereign immunity but said the county has to do the same.

County staff has thus far steered supervisors away from that process, trying to instead work out other details of a Camp 4 deal.

Armenta took issue with the board’s 3-2 vote in closed session earlier this month to also appeal the BIA’s approval of the Chumash placing its Mooney-Escobar properties into trust.

The reservation-adjacent properties total just over 2 acres south of Highway 246 and east of the Chumash Casino and Resort.

More than the decision, Armenta was upset with how the supervisors did it behind closed doors while these discussions were going on in public.

He also mentioned the county using information from Camp 4 discussions to file a motion to reopen its BIA application.

“You’re asking us to sit down and talk to you,” Armenta said. “And you turn around and use it against us. I find that very upsetting. The purpose of fee to trust for tribes isn’t to make the county money. It’s to provide necessities for the tribe.”

Thirteen public speakers were split on whether to continue ad hoc discussions, but nearly all showed outright opposition to striking any deal allowing fee to trust.

“The fact is that we have to meet in closed session to discuss certain items,” Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said, noting that ad hoc meetings thus far had been educational.

Farr called the ad hoc committee important for her personally as someone outspoken in opposition of fee to trust. She suggested future meetings better clarify limitations of discussions and if they should include more than just Camp 4.

“I pushed for dialogue from the very beginning,” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said. “I don’t want to give up now. If we do nothing, we’ll end up with nothing. I don’t think litigation is the path.”

He was the first official to suggest a “cooling off period.” His colleagues agreed, although Adam said he could go either way on discussions continuing.

“I’m willing to sit through as many meetings as I need to,” Kahn said. “We don’t want to have this contention in the community. It’s very important for us to try.”

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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