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Friday, March 22 , 2019, 7:42 am | Fair 44º


Santa Barbara County Appeals Federal Decision to Place 2-Acre Chumash Property into Federal Trust

Santa Barbara County officials are appealing a recent decision allowing the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to place two more acres of land into federal trust — a move that could all but end any progress the two parties made over six months of special ad hoc committee meetings.

Thursday’s ad hoc meeting between tribal leaders, Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam at the Marriott in Buellton was tense, according to tribal chairman Vincent Armenta, who said he was “completely disappointed” in the county’s action.

No future meeting dates were set, but officials are planning to bring issues to the full Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for discussion.

Armenta was the first to bring up that supervisors voted 3-2 in closed session Tuesday to appeal the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Feb. 16 decision accepting the tribe’s fee-to-trust application for reservation-adjacent land known as the Mooney and Escobar properties.

The properties total just over 2 acres and are used — and will continue to be used, the tribe says — for landscaping, recycled water irrigation and as a Caltrans easement.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino opposed the majority, which voted to appeal to the BIA decision up to the U.S. District Court, if necessary, according to County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni.

The county already has a pending appeal with the BIA 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. Armenta has said the tribe wants to build 143 homes for tribal families on that land.

That appeal — along with other objections from valley groups — has yet to be heard.

According to the BIA application, the Mooney-Escober properties located south of Highway 246 and east of the Chumash Casino and Resort cost the tribe $24,047.22 in taxes in 2013-14.

“I let them know I was disappointed they did not have the courtesy to have a conversation with us,” Armenta said late Thursday. “To them, transparency is a one-way street.”

Both sides had been trying to find middle ground on Camp 4, with county officials saying what it might take for them to support fee-to-trust applications.

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

Armenta said the appeal made him question whether officials would oppose everything the tribe does, reiterating confidence that the BIA would rule in favor of the Chumash no matter how long they have to wait.

“If it’s a longer appeal process, it’s a longer appeal process,” he said, noting the tribe could still go the legislation route.

“I will try any avenue to move this forward. It’s just a matter of how many years it will take.”

After seven meetings, Farr said it seemed like time to bring a report back to the board.

While she believed some progress had been made, Farr said the committee felt a bit stuck, with the tribe unwilling to meet the county in the middle.

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

“It’s been very educational for everybody,” Farr said. “I’m looking forward to that continuing.”

Regarding the latest county appeal, she said: “It’s our job to do what we think is most protective of the interest of the count. It doesn’t mean that things can’t be settled later.”

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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