Last week, the Chumash appealed the tax assessment for the 1,400-acre Santa Ynez Valley land known as Camp 4. Five years ago, the tribe purchased the property — previously owned by the late Fess Parker — for about $40 million. Three years later, the tribe officially applied to annex the property into its reservation, which would remove it from county tax rolls.
Now, the property is assessed at about $35 million, which translates to about $350,000 in property taxes. But the tribe argued this week the land should be revalued at one-fourth of assessment — about $8.8 million. That would equate to about $88,000 in taxes.
The reason for the discrepancy in land value, according to Chumash spokesperson Mike Traphagen, has to do with the fact that two years ago Camp 4 was removed from the Williamson Act, which gives property owners a tax break in exchange for keeping the land open space.
While under the Williamson Act, the tribe paid $83,000 in property taxes for Camp 4. Traphagen argued as part of the nonrenewal of the Williamson Act, the property is gradually reassessed to its current fair market over several years. County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni declined to comment on the matter.
The larger context is that the tribe and county representatives have held a series of public meetings since September after county officials were given strict orders at a congressional hearing in June in Washington, D.C. Congressmembers in the Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs subcommittee threatened to move forward a federal bill that would place Camp 4 into trust, bypassing the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) application that is currently tied up in an appeal.
The productivity of those talks has been mixed. Chumash tribal chair Vincent Armenta said in a letter to the county dated November 4 that he was initially hopeful about the process but has become “increasingly concerned that this process is designed to fail.” He wrote, “Instead of addressing the substantive issues … the county has allowed this process to devolve into yet another forum for the deeply misguided anti-tribal individuals to personally attack me, Vice Chairman Kahn, and the motives and goodwill of the Chumash Tribe.”
Specifically, Armenta’s beef dates back to 2011, when the tribe said it offered the county $1 million each year for a decade to mitigate the impacts of the purchase of Camp 4. Armenta called the county’s “refusal to either acknowledge” it or “propose its own agreement” disheartening.
Swinging back, supervisors Doreen Farr and Peter Adam — who are part of an ad hoc group leading the talks — said in a letter dated November 9 they were surprised because “the county has consistently communicated our desire to work in good faith with the tribe to achieve mutually beneficial solutions.” They called the aforementioned agreement problematic for several reasons, including that there was “no formal project description, development plan, nor environmental review existing from Camp 4.” Further, they claimed the county has no record of the offer.
The next meeting will take place December 10 at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriot.