The most talked about chunk of land in the Santa Ynez Valley was the focus of a heated meeting hosted Monday by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who hope to build new housing for tribal members on the property but face opposition from a group intent on shutting them down. The meeting’s downward spiral of discussion led to Tribal Chair Vincent Armenta ending things after an hour and 20 minutes and once the comments had shifted from the proposed housing plans to how much the Chumash had donated to the campaign of Assemblymember Das Williams, who moderated the Q&A session. Williams, who hasn’t taken a position on the project, said he came to find out more about the plans. “We’re not here to have a debate; we’re here to have a dialogue,” Armenta said. And with that, the meeting was over.
The Chumash purchased Camp 4, a 1,430-acre piece of property on the northeast intersection of highways 154 and 246, from Fess Parker in 2010 and almost immediately indicated their intention to build new housing. Monday night, to a crowd of more than 250 packed into a room at the Chumash-owned Hotel Corque in downtown Solvang, tribal leaders laid out a variety of potential plans for 143 homes on the property. Currently, the reservation has roughly 80 homes, Armenta said after the meeting, and there is a definite need for more housing.
Various schemes have been floated that range from one home for every five acres down to a home every one acre. One plan clusters all the one-acre homes in the northeast corner of the property, while another had one-acre lots in three clusters throughout the property. The land — in the county’s jurisdiction — is currently zoned for one unit per 100 acres. But tribal officials are hoping to make it part of their reservation, an idea opposed by a number of unhappy citizens.
There are two ways to bring the land into the reservation — taking it from fee-to-trust through legislation or by an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Because a Chumash application to bring a 6.9-acre plot of land adjacent to the reservation into trust has been held up for more than a decade because of litigation, the tribe is pursuing the legislative avenue, said Sam Cohen, Chumash government affairs and legal officer.
So far, the tribe has been unable to find a legislative sponsor. Former representative Elton Gallegly — who represented the district before retiring last year — said he wouldn’t sponsor legislation unless it had the support of local agencies, which it currently does not. A spokesperson for Representative Lois Capps said her office was beginning to meet with stakeholders in her new district, and the congressmember wouldn’t take a position until she’d gotten sufficient information on the local level.
The meeting Monday was held so the Chumash could receive feedback on the various potential development arrangements. But what they got was pointed criticism.
If the land is taken into trust and pulled out of the county’s land-use and property-tax jurisdiction, some worried, revenue would disappear, and the Chumash could do what they pleased with the land, regardless of the intent of the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan to keep the valley rural. “I came here with the opinion that we have a plan for the valley, and we spent years putting that together,” said Brooks Firestone, a former county supervisor and assemblymember. “We should all live under the same rules.”
And while the tribe has said it has no plans to expand gaming and only wants to build housing, citizens are worried. Former county planning commissioner Lansing Duncan called the plans a red herring. “There is nothing to constrain the tribe in terms of what they do in the future,” he said.
The Chumash hope to create a cooperative agreement with the county that would send the county $1 million over the next 10 years to help make up for whatever property-tax revenue is lost should the land go into trust. But after the meeting, a visibly frustrated 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr — who has publicly opposed taking the land off the county rolls — said she didn’t have a chance to correct the record. She noted $1 million was a “drop in the bucket” compared to the anticipated impacts of the development.
“If this were a public meeting to take input to say, ‘We’re trying to refine our options to present our plan to the county,’ that would be one thing,” Farr said after the meeting. “But if it’s to say, ‘We’re presenting this to federal legislators that there’s local community support for fee-to-trust,’ that’s a different discussion.”
Chumash officials said they will continue to hold meetings and that there would be increasing detail on the proposals as time goes by.