Although 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal broke precedent in October by voting against the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, his vote — to send a letter to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) opposing the tribe’s plan to annex its 1,400-acre Camp 4 property — was more symbolic than anything else. His fellow supervisors had already made clear what their votes would be — 3-1 in favor of sending the letter. Though Carbajal’s decision didn’t change the outcome, it was something to appease his annexation-opposed constituents.
But the Chumash administration saw it as a betrayal. In a November 26 letter addressed to Carbajal — a draft of which was obtained by The Santa Barbara Independent — tribal chairman Vincent Armenta asked Carbajal to remove himself from a White House–appointed climate-change task force for which the Chumash wrote a letter of recommendation.
“As the chairman of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, you have been invited to sit on a Climate Change Task Force that includes federally recognized Tribal governments,” Armenta stated. “To the extent that you continue to express the opinion that tribes are not governments worthy of engaging in government-to-government negotiations, we respectfully request that you immediately withdraw from the Climate Change Task Force as you cannot fully support its mandate to support tribal preparedness for and resilience to climate change.”
Accompanying the letter was talk that it would be passed along to members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, a Sacramento-based group that works to get Latinos into elected office, but there is no word of whether it has actually been circulated yet. Armenta and other members of the Chumash administration declined to be interviewed, and State Senator Ricardo Lara — the caucus’s chair and one of many recipients of several campaign contributions from the Chumash — did not return multiple requests for comment. Carbajal, who according to county elections records received $5,000 from the Chumash during his 2004 election campaign but nothing since, declined to comment on the letter until he received an official version directly from the tribe.
The Chumash weren’t alone in supporting Carbajal for the task force, a 26-member panel of various political figures and tribal leaders selected to help the Obama administration tackle climate-change issues nationwide. Carbajal — who was the only county supervisor in the country, and one of only four California politicians, to be appointed — was also recommended by Representative Lois Capps, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, and State Assemblymember Das Williams, among others.
In the letter, Armenta states that Carbajal earned the spot “based in part on the support of the Tribe” but that his October vote doesn’t align with one of the task force’s aims, which is to support climate-change preparedness for tribes. Armenta goes on to suggest that Carbajal’s vote goes against a federal order to recognize tribes as sovereign and a state order that advocates for dialogue between state governments and tribal governments. But many of those with knowledge of the supervisor’s voting history, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed surprise and confusion over the letter’s apparent nose-thumbing of Carbajal. On the dais and behind closed doors, he has been one of the tribe’s most consistent supporters.
Earlier this year, the Chumash put in motion a proposal to annex Camp 4 into its reservation in the Santa Ynez Valley. During initial board meetings on the issue, Carbajal advocated for the Chumash. At a hearing in August, he (along with Lavagnino) voted to establish a special government-to-government relationship with the tribe, a vote that was shot down by the three other supervisors. He was also the sole supervisor to oppose sending the federal government a different letter challenging the Chumash’s right to form a proposed Tribal Consolidation Area. And in a recent closed-session meeting, multiple off-the-record sources said, Carbajal was pro-Chumash, arguing that the outside legal counsel hired by the county to deal with tribal issues shouldn’t consider litigation as an option and that the amount paid to the law firm should be reduced from $150,000 to $25,000.
Several people questioned the tribe’s motives behind last week’s letter. It is widely believed that Carbajal would consider running for Congress if Rep. Capps declines to run again, but many people acknowledged that although the state’s Latino Caucus has been growing, it holds far more sway statewide than nationally.
Shortly after that October vote, the tribe took its Camp 4 case to Congress, introducing legislation through Northern California Rep. Doug LaMalfa. Where the county stands in its negotiations with the tribe remains fuzzy, but Carbajal said his participation in the task force — scheduled to start next Tuesday — is anything but. “I’m looking forward to my first task force meeting at the White House,” he said.