County Supervisor Joan Hartmann went to Washington, D.C., this week to urge Congressmember Doug LaMalfa to pump the brakes on legislation that would immediately annex the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indian’s Camp 4, a 1,400-acre property in the Santa Ynez Valley. “We’re making a lot of progress locally,” Hartmann said in a telephone interview as she boarded a plane at LAX. “The community understands the need for housing and a tribal center, [but] we need a little more time to solve this locally.”
Nearly two years ago, County CEO Mona Miyasato went to D.C. to ask LaMalfa the same thing. It did not go well. Northern California’s LaMalfa — and members of the House subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs — slammed county government for failing to negotiate with the tribe. They threatened to move the bill forward. So county officials started public negotiations with tribal leaders, including Kenneth Kahn, who is now the chair. (The public meetings were painful and ineffective; Kahn and Vice Chair Raul Armenta now meet privately with Hartmann and County Supervisor Das Williams.) For his part, Kahn said he doesn’t know what Hartmann is expecting to hear from LaMalfa. “The tribe is confident that the process we followed is by the book,” he said.
The fight over Camp 4 dates back to 2010, when the tribe purchased the land, saying they intended to build housing. Neighbors worried they would overdevelop the bucolic property. A year later, the tribe submitted an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to place the land into trust, freeing development from the county’s strict building codes. (This process is separate from the legislative route.) This year, their application was affirmed (after it had been approved in 2014). But the matter is still tied up in appeals, as there is a six-year statute of limitations for any land placed into trust, Kahn explained. “Really for us, it’s just a matter of time and money,” he said.
Asked if they were close to reaching an agreement, both Hartmann and Kahn expressed similar reservations. “I wouldn’t say that,” Hartmann said. “We are trying to start from our interests and how we can best reconcile those.” Kahn said, “The relationship is improving. … It’s hard to say how close we are or not.”