[The most recent version of this story can be found here.]
Facing widespread opposition from neighbors in the Santa Ynez Valley that would likely lead to years of delays, the Chumash tribe is now calling on the U.S. Congress to speed up its dreams of annexing Camp 4, the 1,400 acres it purchased from actor-turned-vintner Fess Parker for about $40 million in 2010.
On Wednesday night, Rep. Doug La Malfa, a Republican who represents the entire northeastern corner of California, brought legislation before the House of Representatives that would make the property part of the Chumash reservation, thereby taking it off the County of Santa Barbara’s tax rolls and, more worrisome to many, allow development to proceed there without having to endure the region’s strict planning rigamarole.
The Chumash have long maintained that they solely intend to build housing on the property for tribal members and descendents — many of whom lived in relative poverty until the building of the Chumash Casino a decade ago — and the bill, according to those who have seen the text, would prohibit gambling facilities from ever being built on Camp 4. Co-sponsoring the legislation, known as H.R. 3313, are five additional representatives: Tony Cardenas, a Democrat from northern Los Angeles; Jeff Denham, a Republican from Modesto; Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from Palm Springs; David Valadao, a Republican from Visalia; and Joe Garcia, a Democrat from South Florida.
CORRECTION: Rep. Raul Ruiz is not a co-sponsor of this bill, and was only included on an early draft as a clerical error.
Rep. Lois Capps, however, will not be adding her name to that list. “I do not support Rep. LaMalfa’s legislation,” said Capps, whose district includes all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obsipo counties. “I understand how important this issue is for residents of the Santa Ynez Valley, the Chumash tribe and, indeed, the entire county. That is why I continue to believe a local resolution between the county and the tribe is best for all parties involved.”
This was not an entirely unexpected maneuver for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians — they’ve actually been open about their desire and intent to do so all along — and the tribe is also still simultaneously pursuing the more traditional fee-to-trust process to take the land into its reservation. But the County of Santa Barbara has already called on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reconsider that approval, indicating that it will likely raise official appeals that could delay any final decision for many years.
“It was a momentous day in the history of our tribe,” said the tribe’s chairman Vincent Armenta of the bill’s introduction. “Members of the tribe, their children, and their grandchildren need a place where they can live and raise their families on tribal land governed by their own tribal government and the Camp 4 land is ideal.” A fact-sheet distributed by the Chumash also pointed out that the no gambling provision was included at the tribe’s request, that the property is less than two miles east of the existing reservation, that only 17 percent of members and descendants currently live on the reservation, and that all development there will be subject to reviews by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It’s very unfortunate but not unexpected,” said county supervisor Doreen Farr, whose 3rd District includes the Santa Ynez Valley. “This has been coming and, clearly, they were working on it before the board ever took this last vote on Camp 4.” That vote occurred last week, when the supervisors decided to officially opposed the fee-to-trust annexation process and request further environmental reviews.
Upon learning of the news, Farr’s office was immediately in touch with Capps’s staff, and they have sent out emails to all of their constituents. “The word is out,” said Farr. “The community was alerted to it right away. I’m sure that both Congresswoman Capps as well as the offices of those members of Congress will be hearing from the community.”
On Thursday afternoon, Rep. La Malfa’s legislative director Kevin Eastman defended the congressman’s entry in regional affairs by explaining that the bill’s sponsors are a bipartisan group, including every Californian on the Indian Affairs Subcommittee, which had discussed this exact issue during the last session. “The authors of the bill recognize that the tribe has a legitimate need for housing, one too pressing to go through the decade-plus bureaucratic maze of the BIA’s procedural hurdles,” said Eastman in an email, “and that the tribe’s long-term investment in the land and efforts to ensure that county budgets are positively impacted speak to their willingness to be good neighbors.”
Eastman dismissed the notion that the Camp 4 annexation was widely opposed, noting that county supervisors have split votes on the issue and that the state legislators are also split. He chastised the recent decision by the county supervisors to not open up a government-to-government dialogue with the tribe. “I doubt the local officials who have refused to talk with the tribe would treat any other landowner with such disregard,” said Eastman, “and it’s disappointing to see that such behavior still exists in California.”
When asked whether Rep. La Malfa had received any campaign contributions from the tribe, Eastman said he had “no knowledge of fundraising efforts.” A quick web search, however, revealed that La Malfa had received a $1,000 contribution from the tribe in the 2013-2014 campaign cycle.
The bill’s co-sponsors have also been sent a list of questions related to their involvement in the Camp 4 annexation, and their answers will be published when they arrive. In the current 2013-2014 campaign cycle, the Chumash tribe has contributed $5,200 to Rep. Cardenas, who also received $5,000 in the 2011-2012 cycle and now counts the Chumash as one of his top five funders. Rep. Denham accepted $5,000 from the tribe this cycle, and $3,500 from them last cycle. Representatives Garcia and Valadao do not show any contributions from the tribe in their Top 100 funders.
Those concerned about the Camp 4 annexation continued sounding their alarms on Thursday upon hearing the news. Susan Jordan, who has been tracking the Camp 4 issue in her role as head of the California Coastal Protection Network, said she was “deeply disturbed” the tribe ignored the county’s request to sit down and “work in partnership” on the property. “This attempt to force fee-to-trust on Camp 4 via an act of Congress is an affront to the county, the community, and the state of California,” said Jordan. “I urge all our elected officials at the state and federal level, including the governor, to take whatever steps are necessary to stop this unprecedented legislation.”
UPDATE, OCTOBER 25, 11 A.M.: On Friday morning, Congressman Jeff Denham’s press secretary Jordan Langdon replied to a series of questions about the representatives involvement. “Congressman Denham has been concerned about Native American issues since the time he came into office in the California state senate,” explained Langdon. “As the vice chair of the Native American caucus, he has worked diligently on this issue and many others.” Noting that Denham is also working on other Native American bills in different parts of the country, Langdon explained, “This bill is a product of lengthy consultation between the community, the tribe, and Congress. It will ensure that tribe members have access to tools for self-reliance, including food, housing, education and clean water.”
This is a developing story. Expect updates in the hours and days to come.