Dead horses, red herrings, and fruit metaphors peppered this week’s Board of Supervisors discussion on the Chumash resort expansion plans. First floated in March and elaborated on in July via a 556-page environmental study, the tribe’s idea to ease overcrowding at its existing hotel-casino involves the construction of a 12-story hotel tower, a five-story parking garage, and 75,000 square feet of additional gaming space. The plans have attracted the attention of not only four county departments but also State Attorney General Kamala Harris, a law firm representing the Santa Ynez Valley Airport Authority, and the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District.
On Tuesday, the supervisors made their thoughts known to county CEO Mona Miyasato, who is set to meet with tribal leadership on Thursday. Touched on most often were worries about the tower’s height and the resort’s water needs in an ongoing drought. But while concerned commenters — most of the supervisors and members of the public alike — accounted for much of the discussion, several speakers said the issue really stemmed from a divided vote to deny the tribe a government-to-government relationship with the county. That vote, a year ago this week, preceded the supervisors’ denial of the tribe’s request to annex the 1,400-acre Camp 4 property. Soon after, the tribe took its bid to Congress, where the annexation is now a piece of proposed legislation.
But 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said the long-brewing Camp 4 issue and the newly proposed expansion are “separate conversations” and that she wants to focus on the size and scope of the additions, which she said would worry her no matter the applicant. “However, the concerns are exacerbated because this is a project on tribal land and does not go through the local land-use process,” Farr declared. “This is our opportunity to try to get all of those concerns expressed. I think that we are trying to negotiate here and have a real dialogue.”
Save for the supervisors’ comments that Miyasato will bring to the negotiations this week, a “second bite at the apple” for the board will only happen if discussions are “successful,” the county CEO said. According to County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni, the state will determine whether the tribe’s mitigation measures are in “good faith.”
In her letter, Attorney General Harris noted “deficiencies” with the Chumash proposal, questioning why the resort’s water usage wasn’t further studied and asking how the tribe could think that a 12-story building would mesh with the area’s otherwise rural landscape. The Santa Ynez Valley Airport Authority said the tower would impede the use of one of its two runways during bad weather and called on the tribe to “reconsider the location and height” of the 140-foot-tall building.
Chris Dahlstrom of the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District — which supplies the casino-hotel with 22,600 gallons of water per day — said the extra 35,700 gallons the expanded resort would require would be a tough sell for his department, already dealing with the drought and chromium-6 issues. The tribe hasn’t applied yet, Dahlstrom said, but he cautioned that no new water services are being issued now.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who voted with 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino in favor of open dialogue last year, said the county could have been better off with a different approach. “Not to beat a dead horse any further,” he said, “[but] I still am a firm believer that if we had a government-to-government dialogue, perhaps we could have discussed this and other plans in advance.” Carbajal said the refusal hasn’t resulted in “fruitful outcomes.”
Tribal leadership has said previously that its expansion plans are unrelated to its Camp 4 push, and Chair Vincent Armenta said as much on Tuesday, using the phrase “scare tactic” to describe such allegations. “This has nothing to do with Camp 4,” he said, adding, “If they want to give us Camp 4, we’ll certainly accept it.”