The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has denied an appeal by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, which objected to a Los Olivos family’s plan to redraw lot lines without first undertaking a thorough archaeological study for ancient artifacts believed buried on the property.
The 5-0 decision in favor of the family came after a discussion on the appeal’s specifics took a rather tense detour into the historical factors that led to the creation of Indian reservations in the first place.
Tuesday’s vote upholds an earlier approval by the county Planning Commission, and means veterinarian Douglas Herthel and his family will be able to redraw the boundary lines on 16 acres of their farmland property near the 2500 block of Grand Avenue, possibly in preparation to sell some of it.
But if people choose to purchase and develop some of the lots — which used to be part of the historic Montanaro Farm — they still must hire an archaeologist to do a dig, officials said.
The tribe, which owns the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez but does not currently own any of the Los Olivos land in question, argued that the county’s own initial study turned up what they believe to be an ancient tool near a creek on the property. As a result, the tribe believed the county should have followed up with a more detailed study before allowing the lot line adjustments.
Their claim that the land contained artifacts was bolstered by the testimony of archaeologist Larry Spanne, the retired chief of cultural resources at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“It’s very probable that there are buried deposits on that property,” he said. “This project is located along trail corridors that connected several villages.”
Spanne added that he believes people started using the trails as early as 10,000 years ago.
The Herthel family’s representatives argued that redrawing the lot lines is simply a “paper and pencil” procedure that needn’t involve detailed archaeological analysis.
The family’s attorney, Barry Cappello, further argued that the tribe is not an “aggrieved” party, because it is not a neighbor of the property. (Santa Ynez is about seven miles away from Los Olivos.)
He added that the Chumash is a “sovereign nation,” and as such, its members are “not citizens of the county.”
“They have no right to take the position they’ve taken,” he said.
Cappello said it appeared to him as though the tribe was taking a jab at a political enemy.
“I hate to say it, but let’s call it what it is,” he said. “The Chumash and the Herthels are politically on different sides of the issue of whether there should be more developing or gaming for the valley.
“This is simply a way for one political enemy to get at another political enemy.”
Cappello’s comments drew fire from tribal representative Freddie Romero, who said he feels like a citizen of Santa Barbara County, because he and other members of the tribe must live with the decisions concerning areas near the reservation.
“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “I’m here to express my concern over the possibility of losing cultural material that is very, very meaningful to me, as well as my elders.”
At one point, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, who represents the area in question, interrupted Romero to ask him if he found it “fair and equitable” that the Chumash should get involved with projects located on land outside their reservation, when the county cannot have any say on developments that occur within the reservation.
Romero answered: “(The reservation) was created by your government. … It wasn’t our choice to be put on those reservations.
“As a people we lost a lot of our culture and identity,” he added.
When Cappello returned to the podium to deliver his closing arguments, he addressed Romero’s objections.
“I’ve got to say this. White man in this country owes an apology to the Indians in what we did to them, absolutely no question about it,” said Cappello, adding that cavalry troops wiped out bison and were alleged to have given Indians blankets covered in smallpox. (The latter offense is widely believed to be a myth.)
“The Indian nation known as the Chumash today suffers from the same arrogance that (the white man’s) ancestors did. … It’s that arrogance and that lack of credibility that I question here today.”
Ultimately, the board agreed with Cappello’s client, the Herthels.
Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno said the family isn’t trying to do anything more than draw “some imaginary lines.”
“It just seems to me by moving lines over we’re not creating any hazards,” he said. “That is created once the permits are issued. At that point in time there has to be some severe studies done.”
The 16 acres in question are separated into two halves by a chunk of land between them that is owned by the same family but not in need of lot-line adjustments. As a result, Tuesday’s discussion on the matter took the form of two separate appeals on the same topic — one for each segment of land.
Because the seven lots in question were drawn up in the 1800s, some of the boundaries bisect existing buildings. Also, some of the lots are landlocked, meaning if they were purchased in their current form by a developer, the developer would need to get permission from owners of the surrounding lots to put a road through their properties. Redrawing the lot lines will eliminate this possibility, officials said.