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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 5:47 pm | Fair 65º


Santa Barbara County Supervisors Agree to Work With Chumash Tribe

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors wrestled Tuesday with whether to open up a better line of communication with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, ultimately deciding to give it a try.

After hearing about another tribe request to place land into federal trust — this time two reservation adjoining parcels totaling two acres — the supervisors unanimously voted to create an ad hoc committee to work closely with the tribe on issues of mutual interest.

Reporting back to the full board will be Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam, who will sit on the board ad hoc committee featuring Chumash council members and necessary legal and planning staff.

The sticking point of whether those discussions get off the ground, however, remains the same.

Supervisors say they are recognizing the tribe’s sovereignty, but will be asking them to waive sovereign immunity so officials could enforce any agreements.

“I think today we have a real opportunity to move forward,” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.

Farr emphasized that ad hoc committee meetings would be open to the public, with proper noticing.

Before now, all discussions between Chumash representatives and the county regarding specifics have taken place behind closed doors.

Late Tuesday, Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta said opening those discussions to the public would not improve communications.

"The tribe in 2011 offered the county $1 million a year plus an enforceable waiver of sovereign immunity," said Armenta, who did not speak at Tuesday's meeting. "Now it’s 2015, and the county is asking the tribe for the same sovereign immunity waiver.

"It’s ironic. It’s also interesting to see that they now want to have a discussion with the tribe. But, unfortunately, what should be government-to-government discussions are really government-to-public-to-government discussions. They’ve set them up to fail."

Farr, Adam and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said the county has always acknowledged the Chumash as an equal government, but Carbajal and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino disagreed.

The somewhat heated discussion began after officials heard an update on HR 1157, the bill working its way through Congress to place the 1,433-acre agricultural property known as Camp 4 into federal trust — thereby removing it from county tax rolls and planning oversight.

The Chumash bought that land from the late Fess Parker in 2010 with the intent of building homes for tribal families.

Farr called the federal legislation inappropriate, opting to heed a request by lawmakers to work with the Chumash on a local level.

If not, staff said HR 1157 could progress through Congress or get bundled into another law that does pass.

The supervisors are still trying to block the Camp 4 fee-to-trust process on a separate track, having appealed the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs decision to allow the tribe to place the land into trust. That appeal — along with other objections from valley groups — has yet to be heard.

Wolf rebuked Lavagnino for attending the June federal committee hearing for HR 1157, where she said County CEO Mona Miyasato was thrown “into the lion’s den” and disrespected by committee members.

Wolf called him out for telling the committee that the supervisors hadn’t treated the Chumash fairly.

Miyasato later clarified that Armenta went up to her after the hearing to apologize for its harsh tone.

“What’s been embarrassing is the way the county has ignored the tribe,” Lavagnino said, admonishing Wolf for not speaking with him privately before the meeting.

The tribe’s latest request to annex the so-called Mooney and Escobar properties near its 138-acre reservation at 3400 E. Highway 246 created a sense of urgency for officials, since the county needs to respond to the BIA on the subject.

According to county records, the parcels are zoned as retail/commercial and have some tax value, although an exact amount wasn’t confirmed.

The Mooney property is on the southern shoulder of Highway 246, and the Escobar parcel contains the bridge on Sanja Cota Road and part of the road.

An ad hoc committee also plans to discuss the tribe’s June purchase of 350 acres of land between Meadowvale Road and Highway 154 along Highway 246.

Two of seven public speakers were in favor of starting the dialogue, with five against.

Farr pointed out she’s always been willing to talk to the tribe, even though she said Chumash representatives have walked away from several discussions in her tenure.

“I think that there are many issues of mutual concern that we can have a discussion with the tribe about,” Adam said, citing economic, gaming and planning purposes.

Legal counsel confirmed starting a discussion wouldn’t interfere with progressing litigation and appeals the county has filed against the Camp 4 fee-to-trust application.

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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