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Why Chumash and County Are at Odds

An Open Letter from the County’s Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Tribal Issues


Contrary to statements made in the press, the Santa Barbara County Ad Hoc Subcommittee did not break off negotiations with representatives from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians at the meeting on March 3, 2016. Our goal, as we stated at the end of that meeting, was to formally update the full Board of Supervisors and the general public before scheduling any further meetings. That meeting at the board will be occurring on March 15 in Santa Barbara. It is factually incorrect to say that the county refuses to acknowledge the Tribe’s status as a sovereign government. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has long had an adopted policy that “recognizes and respects the tribal right of self-governance to provide for tribal members and to preserve traditional tribal culture and heritage.” That does not mean that we must agree to any particular proposal by the Tribe that we believe would be detrimental to the county and its residents.

Last fall, the full Board of Supervisors appointed us as an ad hoc subcommittee to hold open public meetings with both the chairman and the vice chairman of the Tribe. Our board gave us broad latitude to discuss whatever the Tribe wanted. Initially, we suggested that the talks include all land owned by the Tribe, except for the existing reservation. However, after the first meeting the Tribe chose to confine discussions to the 1,400 acre “Camp 4” property, and we complied, drafting a detailed term sheet to discuss and provide the basis for an agreement.

Unfortunately, after seven meetings, we have been unable to reach agreement on any of five main issues. Regarding the amount of property to be taken into trust, we proposed what the Tribe requested in their application to the federal government as to their stated need of property to provide housing and tribal facilities. We first offered about 200 acres and then later increased it to 900 acres, even though the Tribe had not moved from their position of wanting all 1,400 acres into Trust without providing additional information as to what the rest of the property would be used for. We provisionally agreed to the term length of their gaming compact with the state, with a reopener provision. Initially, the Tribe seemed to agree, but then came back at our last meeting with unclear language that would allow for the term to be shortened.

On fiscal considerations, the Tribe and the county are still far apart with a $1,000,000 difference each year after a 10-year build-out scenario. This huge gap is caused by the Tribe’s refusal to accepted methodology used by the federal government for the requested Payment in Lieu of Taxes, even though our calculation is the same. The Tribe has already committed to both Congress and the Bureau of Indian Affairs that there will not be gaming on Camp 4, but they have refused to give the county that same unequivocal statement. And last, despite our County Counsel’s best efforts to repeatedly answer their concerns regarding the needed language on a waiver of sovereign immunity and enforceability clauses, the Tribe has refused to agree to them.

In short, we feel that we have been negotiating in good faith to reach mutually agreeable terms with the Tribe, including considering cancelling the Williamson Contract and waiving fees. However, we feel that the Tribe has refused to meet us in the middle. At our last meeting the Tribe introduced a new map of all the properties they now want us to support converting from Fee to Trust. These included not just Camp 4 but approximately 400 additional acres of undeveloped land within and adjacent to the township of Santa Ynez. Both of us were very surprised and concerned by the size and scale of the new proposal as it would carry important consequences for the community and the county. If the process had included all these items from the very beginning, instead of being confined to Camp 4, our positions on the Term Sheet would be different. So it seemed an appropriate time to pause and report to the full Board of Supervisors all that had transpired since we were first appointed as an ad hoc subcommittee and see what suggestions our fellow supervisors might have regarding any of these issues.

The two of us began this process with open minds, believing that some kind of agreement with the tribe might be possible. Short of some signal from the Tribe that they are willing to make some concessions on the same value scale that we have made, we are not sure that there is any point in continuing the exercise. We encourage anyone interested in these issues to attend the board meeting on the 15th, and we welcome your comments.

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