Beyond the bright lights and hum of regular Friday night activity at the Chumash Casino, a panel of representatives from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians presented information on the tribe’s plan to build housing on Camp 4. The 1,390-acre piece of land sits on the northeast corner of the Highways 154 and 246 and was purchased by the Chumash in 2010 for around $40 million.
The Chumash insist they want to develop residential properties that would be occupied by the tribe’s members, saying the reservation right now is woefully overcrowded and that many of its homes are in need of major renovations and not safe for the elderly.
Opponents of development – members of Concerned Citizens of the Santa Ynez Valley and Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO), for instance – worry that they will lose say in the fate of the land if it is moved into reservation boundaries, which the tribe has expressed an interest in doing. That process, called “fee-to-trust,” would remove the property from Santa Barbara County jurisdiction and place it in a federal trust, eliminating certain restrictions on density or development.
Detractors say if that happens, the Chumash will be free to do whatever they want with Camp 4, sans regulations, such as building another casino, sewage plant, or other facility incongruent with the area’s rural character. The Chumash have continually insisted, as they did last Friday, that it makes no economic sense to build second casino so close to the existing one, and that their only intention is to construct homes.
Last week’s presentation – titled “You Heard the Fiction, Now Hear the Facts” – was attended by close to 200 community members from both sides of the issue. It was put on partly as a rebuttal to the packed town hall meeting sponsored by the Concerned Citizens for Santa Ynez two weeks ago, and featured several experts on the legal and historical elements involved in the issue. The panel included Vincent Armenta, tribal chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians; Carl Artman, former Assistant Secretary to Indian Affairs; Dave Schaffer, Executive Director of All Mission Indian Housing Authority (AMIHA); Kevin Bearquiver, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Pacific Region, and Dave Broussard, a CEQA/NEPA expert.
Carl Artman was first to speak. He mentioned the unneighborly articles written in area newspapers directed at the Chumash tribe, explaining that they filled him with “disdain and loathing.” He said opponents to the land trust concept are “feeding off each other in a cannibalistic frenzy of myopic reactionism.” Artman then gave a lengthy historical explanation on the rights of tribes as sovereign nations to acquire lands, as their claims predate the formation of the United States. He defined sovereignty as the “absolute right to govern,” and that the elected tribal government operates much the same as a city.
Once the land is taken into trust by a sovereign tribal nation, Artman went on, there are plethora of limitations and restrictions on potential development. The tribe must fist seek permission from the Bureau of Indian before it can build, which he called a “cumbersome process” that can get can get very expensive.
Dave Schaffer detailed how AMIHA is a multi-tribe organization committed to providing “safe and decent housing” for people living on reservations. In the 1970s, he said, AMIHA built 60 low- to moderate-income houses on the Chumash reservation. Schaffer said the two biggest issues with the dwellings now are that they aren’t energy efficient and they’re overcrowded. They’re also not handicap-friendly, he explained, so elderly members of the tribe are forced to live off the reservation.
Elaine Schneider, a Chumash elder, concurred by explaining many older folks live outside the reservation, but that their “dream” is to move back. “I want to live on the reservation, and I want to live on our home,” she said. In terms of overcrowding, Schaffer said that there are 140 members living on the reservation, which is built on 137 acres, and that the average size of a lot is 0.21 acres. He compared that to the Santa Rosa Reservation in Riverside County, which has a similar population but sits on 5,500 acres.
In response to the persistent question of “What is to stop the tribe from doing whatever it wants with the land?” the Chumash brought in CEQA/NEPA expert Chad Broussard to clear things up. CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) is the state law requiring environmental analysis prior to development, and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) is the federal version. Should Camp 4 become a federal trust, it would fall under NEPA regulations and be subjected to thorough review including a public comment period, Broussard explained.