Life in the Santa Ynez Valley is too often dominated by friction between the majority of residents and members of the Chumash Tribe. Most recently this has been manifested with incredulity and dismay over the 12-story hotel being built on the Reservation, a structure totally out of scale with the pastoral scenes of Valley. But the bigger struggle has been over Camp 4 and the Tribe’s efforts to make it virtually part of the Chumash reservation through the “fee to trust” process. The struggle has played out in the courts, in county and state government, and even in the executive Office of the President and the United States Congress. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to pause, take a deep breath, and see how we might work this out as neighbors before we wind up with an externally imposed solution that will leave us permanently, bitterly divided.
The underlying issue is the Chumash Tribe’s need for 143 houses for its members. Some Valley residents might not agree, but the need has been validated by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). That validation has led to the BIA’s decision to take Camp 4 into federal trust, to allow the Tribe to build the housing. Comments by BIA officials and even some U.S. Congressmembers have indicated, given the inflexibility of land use policies and permitting processes in Santa Barbara County, they see no other way to provide the housing.
County government and many residents are unhappy with removing land from county control and moving it into federal trust, because once the land is removed from county tax rolls and land use regulations, it remains that way forever. The “forever” part also leads to deep fears that sometime in the future the Tribe could decide to use part of Camp 4 for purposes beyond housing — intensive development such as that proposed by Fess Parker on the very same site just a few years ago, or even expanded gambling facilities.
Given the acrimony and distrust generated by the Camp 4 annexation proposal, is there a way to compromise so that all parties achieve at least some of their goals? Success for the Tribe is their needed 143 houses. Success for the county is keeping Camp 4 under its stewardship and on the tax rolls. Success for the community is the assurance that a beautiful, agricultural gateway will not devolve into unsightly and uncontrolled development.
The Tribe’s recent purchase of the nearby “Triangle” property opens a pathway to a win-win-win scenario. All three parties will have to be flexible and give a little bit … but might end in a result that keeps us all good neighbors and ends some of the unhappiness.
As a civil engineer and Stanford-trained infrastructure planner, to me the Triangle property (bordered by Highway 246, Highway 154, and Meadowvale Road, to the immediate east of the Santa Ynez urban boundary) is a far better place for the Tribe’s 143 houses. The houses would be appended to the existing Santa Ynez urban area, instead of displacing prime agricultural lands to the east of town. It would be more efficient, inexpensive, and environmentally responsible to hook up to existing utilities such as electricity, water, and sewage. The tribal members would be within walking distance of the amenities in Santa Ynez. It would also be an opportunity to improve the eastern gateway to Santa Ynez, which is admittedly a bit raw with respect to aesthetics as viewed from Highway 246.
All parties will have to be flexible. The Tribe will have to give up their plans for an expanded reservation — but achieve a “win” by getting the housing they need faster and cheaper. The county will have to be flexible and move quickly to update community plans and approve permits — but achieve a “win” by keeping all lands under county stewardship. Members of the community will have to swallow hard and watch the Tribe gain privileged permitting — but achieve a “win” by being assured there is no pathway to expanded development or gaming.
Win-win-win. An end to lawsuits, external meddling, escalating distrust, and fear of the future. And when it’s all over, we’ll be better neighbors that have worked together to find solutions to our own Valley’s challenges.
Bruce Porter is running for Santa Barbara County Supervisor for the 3rd District, which includes the Santa Ynez Valley.