A defense budget bill making its way through Congress includes language to place 1,400 acres into trust for Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
It’s a step that could finalize protracted efforts to include the land as part of the Chumash reservation, a milestone that has seen supporters and opponents battle for several years at various levels.
The bill cleared the House of Representatives, and once it earns Senate approval the matter will head to President Trump’s desk.
The tribe purchased the 1,400 acres known as Camp 4 in 2010, and said it plans to build 143 housing units and a tribal administrative building while protecting the vast majority of the property as agricultural land or environmental open space.
The property sits near the intersection of Highways 246 and 154.
If approved, the bill places nearly 2,000 acres into trust for two Indian communities in California, including 1,427 acres for the Chumash tribe in Santa Barbara County plus 511 acres for the Lytton tribe in Sonoma County.
“This agreement is the culmination of many years of work by both tribes and the local counties. At long last, the provisions will allow the Lytton and Chumash tribes to establish permanent communities on tribal homelands and serve their citizens,” Feinstein said.
Gaming by the Chumash tribe on the land could not occur under the terms of the bill, which also would ban the Lytton tribe from gaming anywhere in Sonoma County, Feinstein’s office said.
A Chumash representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Representatives of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which has challenged other efforts, believe there’s a high-degree of certainty this one will end with the property placed into trust.
“We’re very disappointed in that congressional action because once it’s put into trust it becomes a sovereign nation and they’re not subject to county or state laws or ordinances,” Bill Krauch, chair of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, told Noozhawk Wednesday.
He said the Chumash development plan proposes higher density uses and thus is contrary to the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan. County staff, elected officials and local residents hashed out the details of that plan over 10 years.
“That’s very disappointing to us and the county has no control over it,” he said.
The congressional action may be the end of the road for challenges to placing the land into trust.
“If it is successful as a congressional action, there is no recourse,” Krauch said.
Efforts to put the land into trust — and battles to stop it from becoming tribal property — have occurred at the administrative, legislative and legal levels.
This year alone has seen a roller coaster of decisions to place the property into trust and later have it withdrawn.
In February, a federal judge, for a lawsuit filed by Santa Ynez Valley property owner Anne (Nancy) Crawford Hall, vacated an official’s 2017 decision to take the land into trust and remanded the matter back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In March, a BIA official reversed a weeks-old decision putting the land into the trust, saying additional environmental analysis was needed.
During the summer, the judge declined the U.S. government’s motion claiming lack of jurisdiction as a reason to dismiss the Crawford-Hall lawsuit. Instead, the judge issued a stay.
On Wednesday, the SYV Coalition’s leader pledged to remain vigilant, including regarding the tribe’s memorandum of understanding with Santa Barbara County.
“Inadequate as it was, that is something we hope they would abide by,” Krauch said.