The battle to move a 1,400-acre piece of land into the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indian reservation took a step forward on Monday with the passage H.R. 317 in the House of Representatives. It also took a step backward on March 29 when the Interior Department’s Indian Affairs secretary decided to re-review February’s approval with an eye to endangered species. Known as Camp 4, the land had been bought by the tribe from Fess Parker’s estate in 2010, and since 2013, lawsuits, appeals, congressional testimony, and ad hoc county committees have sought to negotiate a means to either block or pass the land into the federal reservation trust. With passage of the House, the bill now faces a Senate vote.
“We are pleased that the House of Representatives voted without objection to pass our land affirmation act bill, H.R. 317, which now moves on to the Senate,” wrote Chumash Chair Kenneth Kahn in an email to the Independent. “This bill includes the Memorandum of Understanding with Santa Barbara County and a perpetual exclusion on gaming. Our tribe is committed to building Tribal housing on our historical homelands.”
Before the unanimous voice vote, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, of New Jersey’s 2nd District, noted the decade that had passed since the tribe started the fee-to-trust action. He stated only 40 of the current reservation’s 100 acres could be used for homes or offices and that only 17 percent of the tribe could be housed there. The legislation’s chief sponsor, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (D-CA Dist. 1), spoke about the history of the Chumash, who were first mentioned in European records by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542 and that Camp 4 was included in the Santa Inés Mission lands that housed and were granted to the Chumash in the early 1800s.
Many in the Santa Ynez Valley opposed the move, including Nancy Crawford-Hall, whose family owned Camp 4 before Parker. She challenged the Bureau of Indian Affairs approval over a signature error and prevailed, but the judge in the case postponed a ruling on her environmental arguments, stating that they should be reviewed in the future. The correct assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, Tara Katuk Mac Lean Sweeney, signed the document in February. She then told her regional director to perform an environmental review regarding endangered bird habitat, which could include the California condor. Her office stated that as the issue was being litigated, no other information could be provided.
The chair of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, Bill Krauch, expressed his disappointment with the House vote in a press release: “Instead of allowing the federal agency to address the deficiencies identified by the Federal Court, it chose to cut that process short and deny residents their day in Court. We are committed to again making our case in the U.S. Senate which is where the previous versions of this legislation failed.”
The last Congressional term saw H.R. 317 make it out of the committees dealing with Indian Affairs in both houses, and its passage on Monday sends it next to the Senate. Both California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, had supported it last year. Neither of their offices would judge its chances of passing the Senate this term.
Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carbajal was a co-sponsor of the House legislation as well as a county supervisor during a determined fight to retain an equivalent property-tax income from Camp 4. “The House unanimously passed a bill yesterday that reflects the long-sought local compromise between Santa Barbara County and the Chumash governments,” he said. “After the County and Tribe worked in good faith for several years with the public’s input, I believe this resulting legislation succeeds in balancing the interests of all stakeholders.”