Chumash Expansion Plans Scrutinized

Four County Departments Express Concern Over Massive Project

<b>MAJOR MISSIVE:</b> Of the tribe’s plans, county CEO Mona Miyasato said, “The county looks forward to hearing more about the project’s off-reservation mitigation measures.”
Paul Wellman

Four major County of Santa Barbara departments — Fire, Planning and Development, Public Works, and the Sheriff’s Office — made one thing clear in letters they wrote to the Chumash last week: with the tribe’s expansion plans come unanswered questions. In July, the tribe detailed its dreams of building a 12-story hotel wing complete with 215 rooms, a rooftop pool deck, a conference room, and a restaurant. Also included were ideas for 75,000-square-feet of additional gaming space and a five-story parking garage.

In their comments, County Fire officials touched on “areas of strong concern,” noting that the department hasn’t yet been granted “full access” to both the expanded resort (during its construction and after) and the existing hotel-casino. To respond to a fire at the 12-story tower within five minutes “would commit the entire” county fire team, the letter stated, and response measures would require a 100-foot aerial ladder truck (costing $1.7 million), associated personnel ($3.1 million), plus five more fire engines, a rescue squad, and two battalion chiefs — all on the tribe’s dime. And because a bigger hotel could bring more visitors — an estimated 1,200 more per day — the likelihood of an “aircraft emergency” at the nearby Santa Ynez Airport would jump, fire officials wrote.

Sheriff Bill Brown said his office and the tribe have revived conversations over installing a round-the-clock deputy position on the reservation, for which the Chumash would pay the $840,000 annual bill. But Brown said the expansion “will place additional strain” on his department and he and tribal chair Vincent Armenta plan to bring a “modified” agreement before the supervisors soon.

Planning director Glenn Russell didn’t mince words, calling the tower’s height “patently inconsistent with and destructive” to the Santa Ynez Valley’s character and some of the water mitigation plans as “vague and insufficient.” Russell added the Uplands Basin (which the reservation sits on) is in a state of overdraft, not a surplus; the proximity has activists worried, as the basin provides water to much of the valley. The Public Works Department submitted a shorter letter, mainly asking the tribe to redesign the intersection of Cuesta Street and Highway 246.

Armenta said a final report of the plans will come out “when all of the comments have been reviewed and responded to accordingly” and that, with regard to County Fire’s requests for funding, “we are reviewing their demands carefully.” Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she was “very concerned” about the plans and would be “no matter who was going to propose a development of that size and height.” The supervisors and county staff will hear an overview of the proposal at the August 26 meeting.


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