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Santa Ynez Valley Ranch Promises Lawsuit If County Allows Fee-to-Trust for Chumash Property

Santa Barbara County’s legal counsel doesn’t have a response for a local attorney’s implied intent to file a lawsuit if officials allow the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to annex land without going through certain planning channels.

Well-known Santa Barbara attorney Barry Cappello promised county officials litigation last week if they agree to let the tribe take Camp 4 into federal trust without first amending the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan

The plan, approved after a lengthy process in 2009, limits housing developments in the valley area, which would include the 1,433-acre agricultural parcel known as Camp 4.

The tribe has worked to place that land into federal trust — thereby removing it from county planning oversight and tax rolls — so it can build tribal family homes on the parcel purchased in 2010 from the late Fess Parker.

Cappello, who represents the reservation-adjacent San Lucas Ranch, made his announcement during a recent ad hoc committee meeting with Chumash leaders and Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam.

“We will bring litigation, and I made that clear,” Cappello said this week.

“I pointed out that the county cannot enter into cooperative agreement with the Chumash unless or until they reopen hearings on the plan to amend it. The type of zoning requested by Chumash, that process is instilled in the law.”

Both sides have been meeting since September to discuss issues of mutual interest, predominantly hashing out what officials would want from the tribe in order to let it place land into federal trust.

Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe’s Camp 4 fee-to-trust application, but the county and valley groups swiftly appealed the decision, which awaits a hearing.

Under a county-proposed agreement, officials would drop opposition for moving Camp 4 into trust via an act of Congress or the BIA process — the tribe has tried both — if the Chumash agree to some conditions.

Because appeals have yet to be heard, County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said he couldn’t comment on Cappello’s statements.

“The Board of Supervisors appointed the two-supervisor subcommittee of Supervisor Farr and Supervisor Adam to engage the Santa Ynez Band about land use and financial matters of mutual concern,” Ghizzoni said in an email, citing Camp 4.

“Since the county is in litigation about this matter, my practice is not to discuss that litigation or issues that may be related to that litigation.”

Cappello said his firm has been representing San Lucas Ranch owner Nancy Crawford Hall since before the valley community plan was approved, which limits the amount of housing projects in the valley by retaining agriculture zoning.

Amending the community plan would include a public hearing process and environmental impact reports, he said.

Cappello guaranteed litigation either way, however.

If the fee-to-trust decision is taken out of the county’s hands — with the BIA or Congress upholding the Camp 4 decision — his firm promised to take the case up to the federal district court of appeals.

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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