The biggest bombshell during Thursday’s Chumash-county subcommittee meeting came when Santa Ynez Valley resident Bob Field announced he is jumping in the 3rd District supervisorial race. Field — a self-described old-fashioned conservative and characterized as a staunch anti-development advocate — has for years ardently opposed expanding the tribe’s existing reservation. Most prominently, the tribe is seeking to annex a 1,400-acre property, better known as Camp 4, which would effectively remove it from county tax rolls and pave the way for development without following the county’s strict planning process.
Field’s candidacy seriously increases the chances the election will be decided in November rather than in the June primary election. (A candidate would need 50 percent of the vote plus one vote to win in June.) The other three candidates already in the race — Isla Vista resident Jay Freeman and valley residents Joan Hartmann and Bruce Porter — were also at Thursday’s meeting at the Marriott in Buellton.
The heated meeting was the seventh in a series of public talks between supervisors Doreen Farr and Peter Adam and Chumash chairman Vincent Armenta. The gatherings convened last September after members of Congress threatened to move forward a federal bill that would immediately add Camp 4 to the tribe’s reservation. Currently, the tribe’s Camp 4 application is tied up in an appeal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the federal agency tasked with overseeing contracts between local governments and tribes. (The county and several valley groups are the appellants.)
On Thursday, Armenta announced he would recommend that the tribal board submit applications with the BIA to annex every property they own, or seek federal legislation to do the same. “I don’t think the county has left us any option,” he said.
Armenta also presented a color-coded map depicting the tribe’s global vision, which Adam previously requested. The map shows the tribe’s proposed land use for three properties it owns in the valley: the 350-acre so-called triangle property, a two-acre, narrow property known as Mooney-Escobar, and Camp 4. (On the map, the triangle property is marked as about half “general commercial” and half “open space/recreation”; Camp 4 is marked as largely “tribal government” and “open space”; Mooney-Escobar is also commercial.)
The room buzzed with frustration. One public speaker called Armenta’s remarks a “blatant chase of profit for a few at the expense of an entire community.”
“What does this mean?” asked valley resident Mike Brady. “Does this mean you are going to put a motorcycle track there? A golf course? What is open space recreation zoning?” He also objected to the tribe’s complaint that county officials fail to treat them like they treat UCSB or cities. “They all are for the public good,” Brady added. “This is for 143 people.” Another critic lamented: “This is a quantum leap backwards. I am disappointed, Vincent. I feel like I’ve been toyed with.”
For his part, Armenta argued he was shocked to learn that the county supervisors voted 3-2 in closed session on Tuesday to appeal the tribe’s application to annex Mooney-Escobar. (The tribe applied to the BIA to place the narrow property along Highway 246 into trust in 2013.) Armenta said the county’s opposition further demonstrates its hostility toward the tribe and its projects. “For all intents and purposes,” he said, “the county has abandoned these parcels and has provided no meaningful services such that these parcels are de facto parts of the Santa Ynez Reservation.” (Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Steve Lavagnino dissented from the closed-session vote.)
Farr said she was prohibited from thoroughly discussing closed-session matters. She added the supervisors had to protect the county’s interests and needed to submit the appeal now before the deadline passed. (The BIA approved the acquisition on February 16.)
Since September, the subcommittee has made steps to draft a terms sheet. That document outlines the following key issues: payments in lieu of taxes, mitigation, county services, and — especially controversial — gambling. “I believe through this process we have given the county everything that they have requested,” Armenta said. The tribe agreed to pay 38 percent of one percent of the market value for services to compensate for ongoing property tax loss. The tribe also agreed to pay sales tax and Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) equivalent to county rates (25 percent), with the money split between the county’s general fund and the area school districts.
But for county officials, a waiver of sovereign immunity is at the top of the list — any agreement with the tribe is not enforceable without it. “I’m sorry we are not at a point where you agree,” Farr said. As for the other terms of the agreement, Farr said she felt “kind of at a stalemate at this point in time.” “If you had given us everything we wanted, then your last column would be identical to our last column,” she said referring to the current draft term sheet. As for the new sales tax offer, Farr said, “Until today we didn’t have anything on the map that showed sales tax out there.”
Adam shared Farr’s frustration. “You got us to chase you awhile, and it’s not working for me. In terms of the five big issues, I don’t think we’ve achieved any understanding here,” he said. “We’ve gone so far away from where I was trying to take this thing in the beginning.” He went on to acknowledge their fiscal concessions.
Field’s decision to run for Farr’s seat was also surprising because late last year he donated $1,000 to Hartmann’s campaign. (Farr, who is retiring at the end of this term, has endorsed Hartmann.) And just recently, Field worked with Hartmann on an alternative proposal that would allow the tribe to develop housing on the triangle property with an accelerated permit process. In exchange, the tribe would drop their application to annex Camp 4. On Thursday, Armenta dismissed the idea and said someone in the community would oppose any project they proposed.
During public comment, Hartmann expressed disappointment that “just as we were getting close to an agreement,” the tribe “upped the ante.” “The latest proposal seems to be a giant step out-of-bounds,” she said during public comment. Porter, who was in attendance but did not speak, said in an interview earlier this week he is opposed to putting more properties into trust. During public comment, Freeman asked if the meetings were set up to fail and asked that everyone take a step back.
A hearing will be held at the Board of Supervisors to continue the discussions. A date has not been set.