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House Subcommittee Sides with Chumash on Camp 4 Bill

Santa Barbara County officials better work out their differences with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians or the federal government is going to step in.

That was the major takeaway from a meeting Wednesday before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in Washington, D.C., where local and out-of-area elected officials took no action but debated the fate of a bill that would place a parcel of land near the Chumash reservation into federal trust.

HR 1157, known as the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2015, went before the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, whose members berated County CEO Mona Miyasato for not being able to effectively communicate with the local tribe.

The bill proposed by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican representing California’s 1st District, would authorize the U.S. Secretary of Interior to take the 1,433-acre agriculture parcel known as Camp 4 and place it into federal trust, joining it to the tribe's sovereign territory and removing it from county tax rolls and planning oversight.

Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta was on hand in the nation’s capital to explain how the Chumash bought the land along Highway 246 from the late Fess Parker in 2010 to build homes for tribal families, since just 17 percent of members currently do.

HR 1157 would prohibit gambling on the site where the Chumash hope to build 143 residential units, but the bill has no other development restrictions.

Despite the language, many locals still fear the tribe could build or further expand its existing reservation casino. The county Board of Supervisors has repeatedly objected to the annexation, citing inadequate mitigation for traffic, noise, etc.

Their opinions might not matter, however, if legislators push HR 1157 forward.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe’s fee-to-trust application in late 2014, but the decision isn’t official until appeals filed by the county Board of Supervisors and other Santa Ynez Valley organizations are resolved. No hearing date has been set, and a federal law would make all appeals moot.

“What is it you’re looking for?” Rep. Paul Cook, R-CA, asked Miyasato. “You either believe in tribal sovereignty … or you don’t.”

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino also testified despite the fact that a majority of his fellow board members voted last week to send Miyasato only as a representative.

Lavagnino said supervisors have ignored his pleas to establish government-to-government relations with the tribe, which would’ve eliminated a need for federal legislation.

As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, spoke in opposition of HR 1157.

“This is ultimately about local housing, zoning and land use,” she said. “These are issues best resolved by county and municipal officials in consultation with local residents and the tribe, not in Washington D.C. by members of Congress who don’t even live near the area. No matter how well-intentioned, without the support of the local community, we here in Congress should not intervene in this local issue.”

Subcommittee members wondered what outcome the county would most prefer, arguing that passing legislation would be better in the long run because officials could impose some conditions — something a BIA appeal decision wouldn’t provide.

They called the county a “roadblock” and its actions “backwards” for not recognizing the Chumash as a government, saying Congress needed to keep fire under the county’s feet to keep the process moving.

Armenta said he wasn’t optimistic the county would agree to negotiate further but said he was willing to try.

“The issues that we saw need to be addressed,” Miyasato said, related to the appeal.

Rep. Don Young, the subcommittee chairman from Alaska, said the tribe’s tax mitigations and development plans seemed well within reasonable.

“Tell the county they better sit down with the chief (Armenta), or I’m moving this bill,” Young said.

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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