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Casino's Success Breeds Tension

Residents in the Santa Ynez Valley go from helping the tribe to fighting its development plans.

December 25, 2004|Glenn F. Bunting | Times Staff Writer

"I know people who have homes up for sale because some of them are convinced the Chumash are going to buy up the entire Santa Ynez Valley," she said.

Chumash members say they have felt increasing hostility as they acquired new homes, luxury cars and other trappings of wealth. Each of the 153 enrolled members of the Santa Ynez band -- those with at least one-fourth Chumash blood -- has collected more than $1 million in casino proceeds in the last four years.

Adelina Alva-Padilla is the tribe's medicine woman and spiritual leader.

"People used to talk to me in town," Alva-Padilla said. "Now they just look at me and turn. I can see the hate people have for us.... They think we're so darned greedy."

Julio Carrillo, another tribe member, says valley residents have come full circle, from feeling sorry for the Chumash to resenting them. "We're the new dog on the block," he said. "And they need to get used to it."

Valley's Transformation

C.J. Jackson says he first noticed the casino's impact on a weekday in 1999, four years after moving to the area. He was driving to meet his children at soccer practice.

The casino was holding a drawing for a new car. Traffic backed up in both directions on Highway 246. Jackson says he saw locals speed through residential streets to avoid the congestion.

"I watched a couple of cars come around a curve awful fast as kids were walking to soccer practice," said Jackson, 46, who lives a quarter of a mile from the reservation. "That's why I got activated."

Jackson is the unpaid executive director of Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens, a nonprofit group devoted to preserving the area's rural landscape. Like most residents in the valley, Jackson says, he supported the 2000 ballot initiative on Indian gambling.

"I think everybody recognizes it is better than having poverty over there," he said. "The problem is nobody quite expected the Chumash would exploit it the way they have."

Jackson complains that the Chumash, as a sovereign entity, do not have to obey zoning laws, publicize their plans or hold extensive public hearings, as other developers do.

Chumash leaders say they have merely exercised their rights under federal and state laws to expand their casino operations. Development on reservation land is subject to scrutiny by federal agencies -- such as the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency -- but not to the detailed rules and elaborate procedures of local land-use agencies.

Chumash supporters suggest that Jackson has a personal motive for opposing the tribe's development projects. Since 1943, his family has operated the Alisal Resort in Solvang, a 10,000-acre cattle ranch with two golf courses, equestrian trails and a 100-acre lake.

"The leadership of the opposition has an economic stake in stirring the pot," said Parker, 80, who has lived in the valley for 17 years.

Cast in the new role of underdogs, Jackson and other opponents have waged a kind of guerrilla war on the tribe's development plans. If they could not block the casino expansion, they could complicate and delay it.

So residents fought sewer agreements that the tribe negotiated with local municipalities to treat casino wastewater. They protested a $60,000 annual contract between the Chumash and the local high school to handle overflow casino parking.

And they deluged state authorities with letters and appeals opposing the tribe's request to serve alcohol in the casino's gourmet restaurant and put tiny liquor bottles in hotel-room mini-bars.

The fight against the liquor permits was led by Curtis Moniot, a home designer who moved to Santa Ynez in 1993 and is president of the Concerned Citizens coalition.

"If a drunk driver from the casino hits my wife and family on the highway, I can't sue the tribe," said Moniot, 48. "I'm not opposed to the tribe having a license.... All I want is to make sure that, if they get a license, it is under the same terms and conditions as anyone else."

Chumash leaders took special offense at the effort to deny them liquor licenses. They say their liquor license is identical to any other issued by the state. They point to a provision in the California business code that prohibits sellers of alcohol from being held civilly liable.

They also question why the community has not expressed concern about the dozens of wineries and restaurants that serve liquor in the valley.

Before applying for the liquor licenses, the tribe agreed to numerous restrictions, including prohibiting alcohol on the casino floor.

Chumash leaders reacted strongly when an unsigned letter was circulated in Santa Ynez warning about "the added risk of our family and friends being killed or maimed from intoxicated persons" if the tribe received liquor licenses.

In a commentary published in a local newspaper, Armenta asserted that the anonymous message was from "an anti-Chumash hate group" and fell "into the category of a hate crime."

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