SYV Star Staff Report

The House Natural Resources Committee has unanimously passed House Resolution 1491, which is known as the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2017.

The legislation approved by the committee on July 26 ratifies a decision to place approximately 1,400 acres of agricultural land into trust for the benefit of the tribe.

Since purchasing the property east of Highway 154 in 2010 the tribe has sought to place the land in trust, which makes it part of the Chumash reservation and therefore the tribe’s sovereign property. Tribal leaders have said they want to build housing for tribal members and their lineal descendants. However, moving the land from private ownership into tribal trust will put it outside the reach of local planning laws, and local opposition groups say that could have disastrous economic and environmental effects.

In unanimously approving the bill, the Resources Committee has brought the tribe one step closer to achieving its goal.

“Today we took a step in the right direction,”  Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn said on the day of the vote.  “The committee’s action, and the Trump Administration’s recent decision to dismiss lawsuits alleging that Department of the Interior officials lacked the authority to take this land in trust, demonstrates that Washington, D.C., is upholding its trust responsibility to Native American tribes.”

Members of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which was created to defeat legislation that would take the rural land into trust, is focused on land use and preserving the valley’s rural character, which they say can be drastically altered if the Chumash are allowed to annex the property. Members of the SYV Coalition say they have no ill will toward the Chumash, but they want the tribe to follow the same land-use codes and regulations that everyone else does.

“This legislation is just another example of bad faith on the part of the Chumash Tribe. The tribe has entered into negotiations with Santa Barbara County to address the tribe’s housing needs in a manner consistent with local land use policies. At the same time, in Washington, it is seeking federal legislation that would deny Santa Barbara County and impacted residents the opportunity to challenge what we believe to be an illegal action by the federal government that renders those local land use policies irrelevant,” the SYV Coalition said in a press release.

The Chumash tribe said they remain committed to working with Santa Barbara County officials to reach a mutually agreeable cooperative agreement that addresses land use and financial mitigation.

“This agreement is not required by law; however tribal leaders believe that governments must work together to address common goals,” the tribe said in its press release.

“The unanimous support from the committee today sends a clear message that the sovereign rights of the Chumash, and all federally recognized tribes, are inalienable. I expect that HR 1491 will continue to move through Congress in short order so that the admirable efforts of the Chumash to meet the housing and community needs of their members can finally be realized,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Richvale who represents Northern California’s 1st District in Congress.

LaMalfa sponsored the bill and is chairman of the Indian Affairs and Alaskan Natives Subcommittee.

“I, like many, would hope for a local solution, but history of this issue has shown us that it is not forthcoming,” added Indian Affairs Subcommittee Ranking Member Norma Torres (D-CA).  “So it is up to us to act.”

“The legislator who doesn’t even live locally backing the tribe has never responded to requests from our group to visit the area and understand both sides of the issue,” said CJ Jackson, of the SYV Coaltion.

LaMalfa became a key player by submitting three bills to allow Camp 4 to be taken into trust. Two of those were rejected and the third, House Resolution 1491, was submitted on March 10.

The Star asked LaMalfa for comment last fall. His staff members said then that he was not available but he was committed to helping the tribe.

“I had hoped an agreement between the Santa Ynez Chumash Tribe and Santa Barbara County could be reached prior to administrative action by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. However, I believe there is still an opportunity for local parties to work together to achieve a compromise. It is critical that the community, Santa Barbara County, and the tribe continue to work together to achieve the best long-term outcome for all stakeholders,” said Congressman Salud Carbajal, formerly a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

H.R. 1491 will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.  Should the tribe reach an agreement with the county, the legislation can be amended to incorporate that arrangement.

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