Friday, July 20 , 2018, 6:42 pm | Fair 71º

 
 
 

Harris Sherline: Judging the Chumash

We all have an opinion on the Chumash Casino Resort and the tribe that operates it. Regardless of which side of Highway 246 you're on, does the rhetoric fit the facts?

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The contentious debate about the Chumash Casino Resort that has dominated Santa Ynez Valley politics for 10 years is frequently highlighted by the claims and counterclaims of the two sides, dividing the community and creating confusion in the minds of many people.

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It appears the parties will never be able to coexist peacefully, let alone agree, and the constant harangue makes it almost impossible for the average observer to decide who’s right. Both sides claim the other is lying or, at best, is misrepresenting the “facts.”

POLO, POSY, No More Slots and other casino opponents have repeatedly claimed that the following impacts are among the many disadvantages of the casino’s presence:

• Increased crime in the area that is directly attributable to the casino.

• Heavy traffic burdening roads and infrastructure.

• More drunks on the roads.

• Encouraging and taking advantage of compulsive gamblers, especially the elderly, who often lose their rent money.

• The Chumash are not paying their fair share of the cost of the impacts that are created by the casino, such as fire, police protection, roads, etc. — because they are not subject to the same oversight by Santa Barbara County when they build or operate a facility on tribal lands.

• Transferring 6.9 acres across Highway 246 into the trust for Indian lands will remove the property from the county tax rolls while increasing the casino’s negative impacts, such as traffic, the need for more police, etc.

• The Chumash plan to negotiate with the state for an additional 5,000 slot machines.

• The Chumash have an unfair advantage because they don’t pay taxes, such as corporate income taxes, sales taxes and transient-occupancy taxes on the rooms at the casino’s hotel.

From the Chumash point of view, meanwhile, the Chumash Casino Resort provides many benefits to the community:

• With more than 1,500 employees and an annual payroll of approximately $62 million, the Chumash Casino Resort is one of the largest employers in the county, offering well-paying jobs with full benefits to their personnel. (Note: Ask any employee about his or her job and you invariably hear high praise for the way the Chumash treats its employees.)

• Tribal members pay federal income taxes on the distributions they receive from the casino resort operation and those who do not live on the reservation pay state income taxes as well.

• The Chumash have projected a $436 billion ($959 million a year) economic benefit to the county over a 50-year period, based on the multiplier effect of its expenditures for the goods and services it purchases. (Note: That’s a very big number, and without knowing the factor that was used, it’s hard to tell what the tribe used to estimate its annual expenditures for goods and services. It was reported to be $74 million in 2005.)

• “The tribe pays a portion of education expenses — including tuition, housing, transportation, books and supplies — for any tribal member or descendent who attends college or trade school.”

• Millions of dollars of charitable giving and grants that would otherwise not have been contributed to many county nonprofit organizations and government entities. The Chumash tribal Web site indicates that more than $10 million has been donated to charities over the past nine years, listing 115 nonprofit organizations as “Community Partners.”

However, notwithstanding the many contributions to the community, we continue to hear not just negative but sometimes gratuitously insulting comments from some of the locals who are strongly opposed to the casino. Here’s just a sampling of various remarks that have been made about the Chumash:

• …They have ruined the character of the Valley, with massive ugly development, buses and workers to feed it, and crime that goes with it.

• I agree with the former letter to the editor of SB News Press ... any way you look at it, it’s still "dirty money."

• … I sense (that) a lot of people in this valley remember, (or their parents and grandparents remembered) what low-lifers this particular band represented. Utterly uneducated, no written language.

• Read ...  about how appalled the Spanish were with their morals, the male prostitutes, the constant gambling, thievery, squalor, and so on. Very, very backward.

• How does it feel, Frances, to be the only brown person living in your neighborhood?

• The Casino is a cancer on the Valley.

I have been privileged to work with many successful people, in addition to managing a number of business ventures in a career that has spanned more than 50 years. Some of the people I worked for or with were intensely disliked, others much beloved, but it became clear to me that, for the most part, they were successful because they had ability, whatever their personal qualities or individual backgrounds may have been. In general, they demonstrated a willingness to work extremely hard, learn and grow, and most of them didn’t start at the top. They worked their way up, learning and improving as they went.

Vince Armenta is often dismissed as a person with little ability and limited background, who worked as a welder before the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians got lucky and found its way into the gaming business. But, I submit that it’s easy to criticize. And I wonder just how many of those who are so quick to find fault could head up a $200 million-a-year enterprise as successfully as he and the other tribal leaders have done.

For the record, I have no connection to or involvement with the tribe or the casino. But I do have some understanding of what it takes to run a large business, and my sense is that Armenta and the tribal leadership, along with their management team, have done a very good job of creating and running a large and very complex enterprise.

They’ve had their problems, including some poor decisions and false starts, but they have persevered. And, it’s important to note that they have been consistently represented by well-qualified professionals, which speaks to their willingness to seek advice and learn from others.

As to their antecedents, so what? Every successful group or family started at the bottom, and just about every American dynasty — such as the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Astors, the Roosevelts — was founded by an individual who had limited background and little or no training. American history is replete with such people, many of whom started out as push-cart peddlers, hucksters and perhaps even thieves. One notable example is Joseph Kennedy, who was a bootlegger during Prohibition and created the fortune that ultimately produced leaders like John F. Kennedy and his brothers, Robert and Ted.

It’s not about where people start or how socially acceptable their forbearers were, it’s about where they end up, what they accomplish and what they do for others in the process.

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog, Opinionfest.com.

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