A bill that would ratify a controversial decision by the federal government to take more than 1,400 acres of land into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians was approved Tuesday, Nov. 28, by the House of Representatives and will now move on to the Senate.
House Resolution 1491, sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District, was passed without a hearing on a voice vote, so there is no record of who supported and who opposed the bill.
However, Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, the former Santa Barbara County 1st District supervisor, submitted a statement of support into the official record prior to the vote.
“I believe that the locally negotiated agreement concerning Camp 4 between the tribe and the county, which is incorporated in today’s amended version of HR 1491, is in the best interest of my constituents, and is an important step toward establishing a long-term collaborative relationship between all the parties involved,” Carbajal said.
The bill was considered along with other legislation under a suspension of the rules, a procedure normally used to pass noncontroversial bills through the House of Representatives.
The Chumash hailed the House’s passage of HR 1491 and expressed optimism that it will be approved by the Senate, then signed by the president and become law, allowing the tribe to move forward with construction of tribal housing and a community center.
“Camp 4 is about tribal housing on tribal land, it’s about preserving our Chumash culture, and it’s about bringing tribal members home,” Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn said. “We are pleased that HR 1491 continues to move forward, and we look forward to the day that it becomes law.”
But a spokesman for a coalition of Santa Ynez Valley residents said if HR 1491 is signed into law, it will give the Chumash a “blank check” to develop anything on the property with no oversight by the county, which he said was forced by the impending legislation into a hasty and inadequate agreement with the tribe.
“The citizens who live in this area have a strong interest in preserving its character, as well as their property rights and quality of life,” said Bill Krauch, chairman of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition.
“Any major development, such as major commercial development or even ultimately a casino resort, will put a significant strain on the current infrastructure, and local taxpayers will end up footing the bill because the tribe is exempt from paying property and sales taxes,” he said.
However, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, said House approval of the bill was expected, and it benefits the county to have HR 1941 refer to the agreement, which includes funding to offset the cost of providing services to the area and incorporates a number of restrictions on development.
“A key assumption shaping the county’s negotiations was that this bill would inevitably pass the House of Representatives with ease, much in the fashion that it did this week,” said Hartmann, following the Nov. 28 vote.
Hartmann said based on that assumption, she met with members of both the House and Senate last April in Washington, D.C., and convinced the House of Representatives to delay a vote on HR 1491 to give the county and tribe time to reach an agreement on the fee-to-trust implications.
The resulting memorandum of agreement was first approved by the tribe, then on Oct. 31 by the supervisors on a 4-1 vote.
“As stated in the (memorandum of agreement), HR 1491 additionally affirms a key provision prohibiting gaming on Camp 4,” Hartmann said. “The MOA restricts the tribe to building 143 homes and a tribal center on Camp 4 and will provide the county over $3 million through the terms of the deal.”
The agreement also includes Santa Barbara County’s pledge to support HR 1491 and drop its federal lawsuit over the secretary of the interior’s fee-to-trust decision.
Titled the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2017, HR 1491 affirms the Jan. 19 decision by the secretary of the interior to place the land known as Camp 4 into trust for the tribe.
Krauch called that decision an “illegal last-minute action by the previous administration” that is “under legal challenge in federal court.”
“The Chumash Tribe has sought to circumvent Santa Barbara County’s current land use policies by going straight to Congress with their demands and found a Congressional sponsor for their bill who lives in another district more than 400 miles away,” he said. “The bill has not received a proper Congressional hearing, despite multiple requests from affected citizens.”
Krauch said the coalition will continue to push for “sensible changes” to the land use agreement between the tribe and the county and strongly opposes what he called “the overreach of HR 1491 into a local matter.
“Essentially, Congress has determined that it is better suited to make local land use policies than elected local governments,” Krauch said. “This is a dangerous precedent for all local communities.”
The Chumash purchased the Camp 4 property located along the eastern side of Highway 154 between Armour Ranch Road and Baseline Avenue from the Fess Parker estate in 2010 specifically to build tribal housing and a tribal center.
Kahn has previously said only 17 percent of tribal members and lineal descendants currently live on the Santa Ynez reservation, which can’t be further developed because of its topography and other restrictions.
But converting the agriculturally zoned Camp 4 land for those uses would be difficult because of state laws and county zoning regulations, so the tribe applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the land taken into trust by the federal government, which would negate the effect of state and county laws.
Although the application was approved, it was appealed by local landowners and the county, which also filed legal action.
In the last Congress, LaMalfa sponsored HR 1157, which would have ordered the secretary of the interior to take the Camp 4 land into public trust for the Chumash.
The bill made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources on a 29-1 vote, with then-Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, the sole dissenter.
But it died Jan. 3 when the 114th Congress adjourned without voting on it.
LaMalfa, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, then introduced HR 1491 on March 14, and it unanimously passed the House Natural Resources Committee on July 25, which sent it on to the House floor for a vote.