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Chumash tribe wins land-use victory in Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County supervisors vote not to appeal a federal decision to let Chumash tribe annex land near Santa Ynez casino. Some residents fear casino expansion.

July 11, 2012|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
  • The town of Solvang sits at the edge of the Chumash Indian reservation. There is community suspicion that the tribe has plans to expand its Santa Ynez Valley casino.
The town of Solvang sits at the edge of the Chumash Indian reservation. There… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Santa Barbara County supervisors Tuesday handed the Chumash tribe a land-use victory that, according to some neighbors, may set a precedent for much larger fights to come.

At issue was a 6.9-acre parcel owned by the tribe across Highway 246 from its busy Santa Ynez casino. Rejecting a request from anti-casino community groups, the supervisors chose not to appeal a federal ruling allowing annexation of the land to the Chumash reservation.

Opponents feared a tribal win on 6.9 acres would pave the way for the reservation's proposed annexation of the 1,400-acre property known as Camp Four. The land, previously owned by Fess Parker, who intended to build a resort, is earmarked for members' homes, according to the tribe. Residents are suspicious of more ambitious designs, including an expansion of casino operations.

The tribe plans to use the smaller plot for a museum, cultural center and retail complex. Neighbors at Tuesday's meeting said they're upset because tribal land, although subject to federal regulation, is not governed by local land-use codes. The tribe, they said, won't have to jump the bureaucratic hurdles that other residents do, even for projects as simple as expanding a closet or adding a carport.

"We're not opposed to the tribe, but we are opposed to gambling in the valley," said Jim Richardson, mayor of nearby Solvang. "This is the camel's nose in the tent. Many of us are afraid it means an expansion of gambling."

Supervisors voted 3 to 2 not to appeal the Bureau of Indian Affairs' annexation approval. The issue has been in and out of court for years, with the government most recently rejecting opponents' claims that the Chumash are not a legitimate tribe.

Tribal chairman Vincent Armenta told the supervisors that Tuesday's hearing was a needless bow to the tribe's critics.

"By holding this discussion and playing to those tribal opponents, you are questioning the existence of our tribe," he said. "How dare you."

Doreen Farr, the supervisor representing the Santa Ynez Valley, said the county will lose property tax dollars once the land is absorbed by the reservation.

"They can afford to take care of their people, their heritage and their land without fee-to-trust," she said, alluding to the legal process that allows tribes to expand their reservations.

But other supervisors said a county appeal would waste public money in a losing fight over Indian rights.

"The core of the issue is sovereignty," said Supervisor Salud Carbajal, "and the federal framework that was established to make a wrong right."

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