One day after receiving the Tuesday’s bad news that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors would not be engaging in a government-to-government dialogue with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the tribe’s government affairs officer Sam Cohen reached out to Glenn Russell, the head of the county planning department, to see what options were on the table.
On Thursday, upon hearing that news, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr — who, like many of her constituents, vehemently opposes the tribe’s ongoing attempt through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to annex the 1,400-acre Camp 4 property into its Santa Ynez Valley reservation — sent a letter to the Chumash, stating that she was “pleased” to hear they contacted Russell and explaining that she directed county CEO Chandra Wallar to attend that meeting as well “to assist the Tribe and answer any questions Mr. Cohen may have about the County’s entitlement process.”
Cohen confirmed that outreach but did not seem overly optimistic about the opportunity, explaining that he was simply following the direction given by the board. In an email to The Santa Barbara Independent, Cohen said he is “not sure what realistic options exist” but that it was “still worth a staff meeting.”
Tuesday’s board decision came after dozens of residents spoke out against an official government-to-government dialogue, as many fear that would make it easier for the tribe to annex Camp 4 as well as future properties through the federal fee-to-trust transfer program. Those fears were compounded this week when it was discovered that, as part of the Camp 4 application, the BIA had approved the tribe’s designation of 11,500 acres of Santa Ynez Valley land as their “tribal consolidation area,” or TCA.
That move, which was based on historic records of what was once considered Chumash country, does not implicitly mean that the tribe intends to take over an area the valley the size of, as critics have estimated, the cities of Goleta and Carpinteria combined. But it is seen as a strategic way of making it easier to annex Camp 4, which is technically an “off-reservation” property, meaning that the BIA is supposed to take a more critical look at such a proposal. Though making Camp 4 part of the Chumash tribe’s TCA doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly an “on-reservation” annexation — it’s easier for tribes to take over lands already surrounded by or adjacent to a tribal reservation — it presumably makes the BIA look more favorably on the request. Cohen has also pointed out that Camp 4 is a mere 1.6 miles from the existing 127-acre reservation, not very far away, at least in the eyes of the feds.
Another lingering question for many in the valley is that if Camp 4 is annexed and developed into the 143 homes that the tribe keeps promising for housing its members, what might happen to the existing residential part of the reservation, which surrounds the Chumash Casino and Resort along Highway 246? Might that become a new resort development once all of the housing is moved to Camp 4?
Cohen says that’s a hollow worry, pledging that “all current land assignments on the existing Santa Ynez Indian Reservation shall continue to be maintained unchanged.” He explained that the reservation lands are “highly constrained due to a variety of physical, social, and economic factors,” most notably that most of the property is in a floodplain that’s susceptible to flooding and drainage problems. Only about 26 acres, or 18 percent of the reservation, has residential capacity, Cohen explained, and another 16 acres, or 11 percent, has economic development possibilities. The remaining 99 acres, or 71 percent of the reservation, is consumed by creek corridors and steep slopes, which Cohen said would be “difficult to impossible to develop.” The usable size totals about 50 acres, said Cohen, most of which is already developed.
He further explained that of the 136 tribal members and roughly 1,300 lineal descendants, only 17 percent have housing on tribal lands, hence the tribe’s desire to develop Camp 4.