Last month the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians filed an application with the Pacific Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to place 1,390 acres of land — a parcel known as Camp 4 — into federal trust.
That simple act of filing an application with the BIA has created quite a stir among those following tribal issues. I would like to clear up some misconceptions and provide information on placing land into federal trust.
There are two ways to place land into federal trust: administratively through the BIA or legislatively by introducing a bill in Congress. Initially, we had planned to take the legislative route with our Camp 4 land and were working diligently through that process. However, one of the stipulations made by congressional representatives was to work with county government prior to introducing a bill. And that’s where we have faced a significant roadblock.
As of this writing, it has been more than 800 days since we submitted our Camp 4 Draft Cooperative Agreement to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. That’s more than two years of inaction on the county’s part. More than two years of refusing to speak with us to negotiate an agreement that would provide significant economic benefits to Santa Barbara County.
We know that one of the major objections of taking land into federal trust is the loss of property taxes. So one of the key features in our Draft Cooperative Agreement included our pledge to provide a payment in lieu of property taxes that would have resulted in a million dollars per year for Santa Barbara County.
We don’t know why there has been indecision from the county to even begin a dialogue on Camp 4. It couldn’t be because an agreement like this is untested or unusual. The Revenue Neutrality Agreement between the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta exists — and it’s based on many of the same factors we are suggesting in our draft agreement.
That agreement ensures that Goleta will be able to operate in the black financially from the outset without a net loss to the county. That’s what we propose. It agrees to provide an annual fee to the county for a designated period. That’s what we propose. It ensures that the county is compensated for its loss and Goleta maintains services critical to its residents. That’s what we propose.
Interestingly, prior to her role as 3rd District Supervisor, Doreen Farr was instrumental in getting the Goleta agreement established with the county. But she has been steadfast against any type of negotiation with our tribe and publicly vocal about her opposition to taking land into federal trust.
In fact, based on what she has said in the past, Supervisor Farr has made it quite clear to us that she has no desire to ever meet with us — whether to discuss our fee-to-trust application for Camp 4 or our fee-to-trust application for 6.9 acres across the street from our reservation where we would like to build a museum. Listening to what she has said over the years has been telling.
At first, Supervisor Farr said she didn’t want to meet because we hadn’t filed a fee-to-trust application. Then she didn’t want to meet with us because the application hadn’t been approved and it was “premature” to meet. All the while, she has been working to fight our journey to place our land into federal trust. Apparently, for Supervisor Farr, it is never the right time to meet with the tribe.
During her candidacy for 3rd District Supervisor, Farr ran on the idea she is open to talk to everyone. But “everyone” just doesn’t seem to include our tribe.
A small group of local and vocal tribal opponents — who, incidentally, represent less than one percent of the total population of Santa Ynez Valley — continue spreading misinformation about placing land into trust. Let me just dispel their myths in one fell swoop:
• The tribe is a government.
• The tribe was officially recognized as a tribe in 1901.
• The tribe will follow rules — federal rules.
• In trust, land is under the jurisdiction of two governments: the feds and the tribe.
• We are not building a casino on Camp 4.
When our tribe purchased Camp 4 in 2010, one of the primary goals was to build housing for tribal members and their families. Currently, only about 17 percent of our tribal members and lineal descendants live on our reservation. This federal trust land application for Camp 4 is an integral part of accommodating current and future generations of Santa Ynez Chumash and creating a meaningful opportunity for tribal members and their families to a part of a tribal community revitalization effort that rebuilds tribal culture, customs and traditions.
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Vincent Armenta is the tribal chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.