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Supervisors OK Sheriff’s Contract with Chumash Tribe, Vote to Pursue Litigation Over Camp 4

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors both appeased and opposed the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians on Tuesday in two separate actions.

In what was lauded as a compromise, the board unanimously approved a contract to provide-law enforcement services on the Chumash reservation in the Santa Ynez Valley, effective Jan. 1.

During a closed-session meeting later, the board voted 3-2 to pursue all legal avenues against a recent U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs finding that a housing development the tribe proposed as part of its fee-to-trust application for Camp 4, near its reservation, had “no significant” environmental impacts locally.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino disagreed with the majority.

The Chumash offered the county Sheriff’s Department an initial proposal earlier this year — one the supervisors sent back with further questions last June.

Sheriff Bill Brown outlined the proposed agreement, with the tribe funding five full-time-equivalent deputy sheriff positions, or one round-the-clock deputy, a $65,000 fully equipped marked sheriff’s patrol vehicle (and cost of operating for six months) and a fully equipped on-site office.

The Chumash would pay $425,000, to cover the cost through the 2014-15 fiscal year, which ends next June 30, with an ongoing annual price tag of $849,000, according to the contract.

Brown said the department would buy and install technology for computer access at an on-site reservation office for a one-time cost of $4,500, with an annual ongoing cost of $5,160. He added that services such as detectives and administrative support were not included.

The modified contract proposed a length of 20 years, instead of three, with an opportunity for either side to terminate with 90-days notice.

A deputy would cover the service area within the reservation’s existing boundaries, but could respond as backup throughout the valley, Brown said.

“The 20-year term is still a good faith gesture,” he said.

A main issue of contention remained, he said, because the Chumash would not agree to waive the tribe’s sovereign immunity.

Brown emphasized the Chumash would pay on top of what they already allot to the state’s Special Distribution Fund, which will soon no longer fund local government tribal mitigations.

The contract could be reopened to address increases in salary or benefits in the future, he said.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf asked about the state fund and risk of someone suing the county because of something a deputy did on the reservation.

“That situation is no different than what exists today,” Brown said. “Regardless of this contract, we would incur the liability.”

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, wanted to know who had access to the computer system, and whether the contract applied to areas that might change, such as Camp 4 and the expansion of the Chumash Casino & Resort.

Brown said only deputies would use the password-protected computer system.

County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said the county could reopen contract negotiations after the expansion or opt out if the tribe wasn’t amenable.

Seven public speakers were split on the subject, with three alleging the contract opened the county up to lawsuits or gave the tribe more control over deputies.

Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta threw out a planned speech and asked supervisors to see what the contract was really about — improving public safety.

“It’s not about Camp 4,” he said. “It’s not about the casino expansion. This isn’t punishing. This is trying to reach out and work with the county, again and again and again and again.

“Let’s put the politics aside. This is about what’s doing right for once in the community. The sheriff already has this responsibility. You always say you want to work with the tribe. Step up and do it.”

After counsel assured Wolf the contract was worthy, she called it a compromise.

Although Farr shared some of Wolf’s misgivings, she agreed the contract could better protect the valley without diminishing the sheriff’s authority. The fact that the Santa Barbara County Fire Department already has a similar contract also offered comfort.

“I do see this as a way to replace what we used to have not that long ago,” Farr said.

She added a condition to approval, emphasizing the vote was not a show of support for the Chumash Camp 4 fee-to-trust application.

Later, counsel announced plans to fight the BIA’s most recent finding in the federal trust process, which would effectively remove the land from the county’s tax rolls and from the oversight of the county planning processes.

According to the federal agency, which has not yet made a final determination on whether to place the 1,433-acre agriculture parcel into trust, a BIA finding cannot be appealed — but a final decision could be.

A determination could come as early as later this month, and Armenta has said he’s hoping for a decision by the end of 2014.

The Chumash could also bypass the county, with the introduction of the HR 3313 bill into the U.S. House of Representatives a year ago.

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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