The ball is back in play regarding Camp 4 and whether it will become part of the Chumash reservation. After buying the 1,400-acre property from Fess Parker’s estate in 2010, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has been trying since 2013 to make it part of the existing reservation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved the property transfer in 2014, but Barry Cappello, attorney for plaintiff Nancy Crawford-Hall, made the case that the man who signed the final decision in 2017 had no authority to do so. According to the Central District Court ruling, issued on February 13, now that BIA’s decision is overturned, the environmental review issues Cappello raised are premature.
The line of authority for the Interior Department’s assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs is a complicated bloodline to follow. “The credit for figuring it out goes to Wendy Welkom, who’s a 30-year attorney,” Cappello said. Suffice it to say that Lawrence Roberts, when he signed off on the transfer of county land to a federal reservation and denied all appeals, was a principal deputy, about five months past his wear date for such actions as the acting assistant secretary. “The act of the principal deputy Roberts was ultra vires,” Cappello clarified, “or against the law.”
The federal court vacated not only Roberts’s decision but also the tribe’s subsequent transfer of the grant deed on Camp 4 from Santa Barbara County to federal jurisdiction. The court also postponed any other actions on the appeal until the signature issue was resolved; the plaintiffs then could bring their challenge back. The county agreement signed with the tribe in 2017 follows the fate of the land transfer effort, and its terms, which sunset at the end of 2040, are active as long as fee-to-trust exists and inactive when it does not.
Tribal Chair Kenny Kahn termed the ruling “unfortunate,” asserting, “We firmly believe, as does the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that Deputy Roberts was within his authority to issue a final decision on our fee-to-trust application in 2017. … The tribe will continue to fight to ensure adequate housing for its members.” A bill to enact the land transfer from county to feds was introduced in the House of Representatives in January, the fourth in a line of bills to do so since 2013, which could leapfrog Bureau of Indian Affairs actions should it pass Congress.