Kenneth Kahn
Paul Wellman

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has given the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians the green light to annex 1,390-acres of land near its reservation, bringing to a close a long, bitter, and convoluted land-use battle over tribal sovereignty and development, while simultaneously triggering the start of a brand new one.

This Monday, the BIA issued a 42-page report brushing aside objections to the proposed land annexation filed by Santa Barbara County and several Santa Ynez organizations dedicated to protecting the rural character of the area. Together, they’ve complained the housing development proposed by the Chumash — 143 homes, supporting infrastructure, and a community center, among other things — would deprive the county of $311 million in property taxes over the next 50 years, change the rural character of land zoned for agriculture, and has not adequately addressed environmental consequences and mitigations.

According to Chumash Tribal Chairman Kenny Kahn, the BIA letter affirmed the bureau’s initial approval of the annexation made in 2014. The letter found that the annexation would enable the Santa Ynez Band — the land mass of its reservation is 138 acres — to provide for the housing needs of its members and that many of the organizations challenging the annexation lacked the legal standing to do so. “This is a very historic moment for the tribe,” said Kahn. “We can now get on with the process of planning and building our community.”

Kahn and the tribe enjoy anything but clear sailing, however. Two weeks ago, the county supervisors voted 3-to-2 in closed session to sue the BIA as soon as this decision was made. Santa Ynez preservationist organizations long critical of the Santa Ynez Band’s development plans have vowed to do likewise. In addition to the loss of property taxes, a majority of supervisors have objected that the plans proposed by the Santa Ynez Band are 20 times more dense than what current zoning allows.

How long that litigation takes is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be quick. “I’m sure there’s always the opportunity for litigation” Kahn said. In the meantime, he said, he filed the paperwork deeding the land — purchased from Fess Parker, the former actor famous for playing frontiersmen Davey Crocket and Daniel Boone — with the federal government to hold in trust to protect the tribe.

One Santa Ynez neighborhood organization is currently challenging the legality of the Santa Ynez band’s tribal designation. In recent years, the tribe has had legislation introduced by Congressmember Doug LaMalfa to enact the annexation over the objections of former Congressmember Lois Capps and the County Board of Supervisors. The most recent iteration died before it came to a floor vote of the House. Kahn said the tribe would examine its legislative options in the months ahead.


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