A federal agency that oversees the government’s relationship with Indian tribes in the United States has accepted a Santa Ynez property owned by the Chumash ​— ​long the subject of controversy in the valley ​— ​into federal trust.

According to a notice of decision filed June 13, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has accepted 6.9 acres of property in the Santa Ynez Valley ​— ​across from the Chumash Casino ​— ​into federal trust, which means the property is removed from local and state jurisdiction. The decision comes 12 years after the Chumash applied for the move.

The tribe has talked about building a cultural center and museum, retail building, and a park on the land, but opponents ​— ​of which there are many ​— ​worry that the Chumash may have different plans in mind or that the tribe’s plans will change down the road. The tribe, according to a spokesperson last week, had no comment on the decision.

“I thought it was really important given the history with this annexation application,” Doreen Farr, the board chair, explained.

The announcement leaves a 30-day window for the move to be appealed, and the County Board of Supervisors will discuss possibly doing just that on July 10, just days before the appeal window closes. While the matter was on the closed session agenda for the supervisors on June 26, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr ​— ​whose district includes the property in question ​— ​requested that there be a public hearing on the issue in addition to having the county discuss the issue behind closed doors. “I thought it was really important given the history with this annexation application,” Farr, the board chair, explained.

That meeting will take place in Santa Maria at 10 a.m. on July 11. The public hearing will be followed by a lunchtime closed session for the supervisors.

Taking property into trust means the property leaves the jurisdiction of the county. That translates to no property tax for the county, and county land-use rules then no longer apply to the property.

The tribe first applied to take the 6.9 acres into trust in 2000. Since then, they have endured a long battle with residents. After going through the BIA process, the land was accepted into trust in 2005. The county had the opportunity to appeal but didn’t because the Board of Supervisors were in negotiations with the tribe. The tribe eventually backed out of those negotiations, according to county officials.

A group of citizens, however, filed a lawsuit to try to halt the move in 2005, and the litigation has been ongoing ever since. In a 2010 filing in the matter, POLO (Preservation of Los Olivos), which has opposed the plans of the Chumash at nearly every turn, argued that the tribe was not recognized under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act was enacted in 1934. It was this issue that the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) has been considering for the last two years.

“In this recent decision, the BIA is, yet again, blatantly ignoring harm to non-Indian individuals and decisions by the United States Supreme Court,” said POLO board president Kathy Cleary in a statement. “It continues to give itself the authority to review its own decisions and the authority to create the process to support its own decisions.” But the ruling may once again open the door for the county to appeal the decision to accept the land into trust.

Farr has already made herself clear when it comes to the 1,400 acres the Chumash purchased in 2010 known as Camp 4 ​— ​she has said in the past she favors keeping the land under local control. If the land is taken into trust, the county loses out on property tax, and development can have an impact on emergency services and traffic, she explained. “The issues are pretty much all the same,” Farr said of the 6.9 acres. “We’re just not dealing with as much property.”

The Chumash have said they want to build housing on just a small portion of the Camp 4 property.


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