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Letter to the Editor: Not Trusting ‘Fee to Trust’ Process

Historically, Congress granted specific privileges to Native Americans to help impoverished Tribes off the welfare roles. These privileges were never intended to help wealthy Tribes avoid the tax roles. We hear a lot of reference to sovereignty when it suits our local Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indian’s agenda. Native American Tribes vote in County, State, and Federal elections. They have the privilege to hire lobbyists to work for them in Washington DC, and they are able - like all citizens - to make campaign contributions. However, this Tribe is expecting special privileges that Santa Barbara County cannot afford - both financially and environmentally.

Chairman Kahn recently stated that he is satisfied with the progress of the negotiations of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians with Santa Barbara County regarding development of the 1400 acres called Camp 4. To the point, Chairman Kahn is pleased that the fiscal impacts of development of Camp 4 will burden all Citizens of this county, and not the Tribe, if this land is annexed into the reservation via the federal “fee to trust” process.

He believes he is cutting a pretty good deal - for the Tribe. If the terms the Tribe’s last offer to the County on October 12, 2016 are accepted by the County, the following is some of what all of the non-Tribal citizens, the rest of us, will be facing:

#1. At the request of the Tribe, the State of California - with no input from the citizens - renamed San Marcos Pass the Chumash Highway. By any name, Highway 154 is a State designated “scenic corridor” through land zoned Agricultural. The Tribe offered a 20 foot building setback along Highway 154. A 20 foot setback is analogous to the width of a two-car garage. So, imagine if you will, the scenic beauty of rolling hills and age-old valley oaks protected by the width of a two-car driveway….and this “protection” is only along Highway 154. The Tribe did not offer building setbacks from Baseline Avenue, Armour Ranch Road, or the neighboring properties.

Miles of properties and roads are alongside the 1400 acres of Camp 4. From almost every vantage point around the perimeter of Camp 4, site line visibility extends into the property from a quarter to well over half mile. The preservation of open space will not be at all protected by the 20 foot setback offered by the Tribe. A 20 foot building setback is not an offer to protect open space.

#2. The Tribe will withhold payment of fees/taxes on any Tribal land; zero fees/taxes paid. Nor will it pay on any structures or buildings the Tribe chooses to develop. This includes the planned Tribal Hall Facility along with a 200 space parking lot. The thousands of daily car trips generated by this facility will be free of paying for the impacts to all County roads. The roads that surround Camp 4 will be maintained with the tax dollars of all Non-Tribal County citizens.

The only fee/tax the Tribe offers is for improvements (the houses, not the land) on “… land assignments for Tribal members alive when Camp 4 was acquired…” In this offer, the number of houses has morphed from the previously stated 143 to an undetermined and floating number. The fee/tax offered for these houses is 38% of 1%, less land value. Long story short, the Tribe offers only about 18% of what all other Santa Barbara County residents pay in property taxes.

#3. The Tribe is limiting the time it is obligated to pay fees/taxes to as long as it has income from the Casino. This is an interesting concept. And is an exclusion of tax burden not available to any other citizen in Santa Barbara County. If you’re a property owner and can’t pay the tax on your property, it remains an obligation due accruing penalties and interest until the tax is paid. You don’t get an “out” if you lose your income.

#4. The Tribe has recently drilled the largest well in the County The Tribe will not be specific about restrictions to harvest water. While the rest of us restrict our water usage and replace landscaping to conserve water, the Tribe now owns the 2 largest wells in the County and a 12-story building of bathrooms and bedrooms. This hotel is unprecedented in size in the entire County, and was built amidst disapproval by residents and County government.

These are a few of the Tribe’s offers in the October 12 term sheet. Most others are couched in qualifying language such as “… the Tribe will TRY …” (emphasis added). All in all, it boils down to the same thing. If the 1400 acre Camp 4 is annexed into the reservation through any Federal intervention, the Tribe can build and develop as it chooses, when it chooses, without compensation to us less privileged citizens living outside the reservation.

The economic and environmental burdens will be ours, the citizens of Santa Barbara County, if this 1400 acres is annexed into the reservation via the federal “fee to trust” process.

Leslie Mosteller
Santa Ynez

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