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Sovereignty and the Legislative Platform

Debate of the Tribal Gaming Compact Is Warranted


Since I questioned the whole idea of sovereignty during a discussion of the County Legislative Platform, there has been much said by many people. Both pro and con views have been expressed concerning my statements. Let me explain how we go about adopting that platform, one specific issue about the Chumash Tribe, and my position for the record.

What you may not know is that most counties have lobbyists. Santa Barbara County has two: one who concentrates on influencing Washington politics, while the other works in Sacramento. The Board of Supervisors must decide the issues that these lobbyists should focus on, and the way we accomplish this is through the Legislative Platform. This year, the Legislative Platform contained 34 “planks.” I had objections to 15 of them.

I chose two planks to discuss: one on the Williamson Act, and another on Tribal Gaming Compacts. I discussed my opinions regarding these and requested a separate vote on them. I was denied the ability to have a separate vote. The board made it clear that I could either accept the entire package as presented by the Legislative Platform Committee, led by Supervisors Carbajal and Farr, or I could take a hike. I chose the latter and voted “no.”

By this “all or nothing” procedure, my colleagues put the Legislative Platform beyond discussion by the full board. I think this is a mistake. I believe that in government, nothing is above discussion. In order to have an open and transparent system that truly serves the people, we must tirelessly debate important issues.

By addressing such issues, I try to make sure that we are asking the right questions. Regarding the Tribal Gaming Compact and Tribal Land Use, I’m sure that we are not.

A significant question I have is what is the limit? If the current rules are followed, I am concerned that there may be no end to the removal of properties from the tax rolls through fee-to-trust transfers like the Camp 4 property. What will prevent the Chumash Tribe from purchasing land on the Gaviota Coast and developing it beyond the control of our county or even the State of California?

The Chumash Tribe has done very well. Because of the lucrative gambling monopoly they have been given by the federal and state governments and the people of the State of California, they are operating a veritable “money printing press” with significant tax exemptions, available to no other group of Americans. If they are not limited in any way, they will remove a property here and a property there over time. Taken to its furthest logical extreme, whether in a hundred or a thousand years, the tribe will own large portions of their entire “aboriginal claim,” which is a triangle from Morro Bay to Malibu to Bakersfield. That will require the taxpayers of Santa Barbara County and other jurisdictions in a similar position to raise taxes on the remaining portions to pick up the slack.

That leads me to ask the question: “What about Tribal Sovereignty?” Since “Federal Indian Policy,” including the existing reservation system, is a creation of Congress, perhaps, as we decide what instructions to provide our lobbyists, we should discuss the ramifications of our current policies? Maybe we should seek some limitation on tribal expansion and privileges? Maybe they should be subject to California’s environmental rules? Maybe there should be a means test? Maybe their business should be subject to income and sales tax? Maybe, if we had the discussion in open session and had the public, including the tribe, comment on these ideas and others, we’d come to different conclusions.

I want all of the residents of Santa Barbara County to be successful, including the Chumash Tribe. For the record, I did not suggest removing the existing casino from tax-free reservation status, and I have not made up my mind on this issue. I want to make sure that we ask the right questions and have a rigorous and vigorous debate before we do anything, particularly when instructing lobbyists what they should work toward on our behalf.

Supervisor Peter Adam represents Santa Barbara County's 4th District.



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