Chumash Tribal Chair Vincent Armenta announces that the Interior Board of Indian Appeals recognizes the 6.9-acre property, across Highway 154 from the casino, as part of the Chumash trust (May 5, 2014).
Paul Wellman

After nearly a decade of appeals, the Chumash announced Friday that the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) ruled in favor of placing a 6.9-acre plot of Santa Ynez Valley land into federal trust. Standing on the bare parcel, tribal chair Vincent Armenta told reporters the decision — which will become final in early July — is one of the biggest that the tribe has ever seen. The move takes the land out from under local land-use rules and into the federal trust, which will prohibit the county from collecting property taxes.

For years, two distinct points of view have surrounded fee-to-trust land acquisition for the 6.9-acre plot. The Chumash have long said they solely intend to build a museum — which was reiterated Friday — on the plot located across Highway 246 from the Chumash Casino. “Since we applied for this application, we actually started collecting items to put in our museum,” said Armenta. “We now have the largest collection of Chumash baskets in the world.”

But opponents — active in groups such as Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO), among others — have contended that nothing would stop the tribe from extending gambling on the site in the future. Over the past several years, citizen groups appealed the fee-to-trust application, which they will likely continue to do, Armenta said.

The Chumash's 6.9-acre property, across Highway 154 from the casino, now in the Chumash trust (May 5, 2014).
Paul Wellman

Two years ago, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-to-2 not to appeal the annexation approval of the property from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who was on the losing end of the vote, said Friday that it is unfortunate the county will not be able to secure sales-tax revenue or funds generated from development of the site. “It’s not just for law enforcement and fire, but [also] roads and other things,” she said.

Farr added she didn’t get the sense that the community was “wholeheartedly” opposed to the creation of a museum on the 6.9 acres located so close to the reservation. “There are varying opinions about fee-to-trust philosophically,” Farr said. Some vocal community members are ardently opposed to all such applications. “It was designed to help tribes that were struggling economically, but the discussion is now much broader for our county and across the nation.”

Though an entirely separate matter, the larger debate is surrounding the Chumash desire to annex the 1,400-acre Camp 4 property. Valley residents have showed up en masse at forums to argue against such plans. “In my heart, I believe it is going to go into trust,” said tribal vice chair Richard Gomez. “It might not be during my generation.”


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