By Raiza Giorgi
The U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice-vote H.R. 317, on the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2019. This action comes after the Department of Interior reversed itself and vacated its previous Camp 4 trust decision. The agency took this action in order to conduct an environmental review of the impacts of the Camp 4 fee-to-trust on threatened and endangered bird species.
The March 29 reversal by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney claimed a regional director determined that additional endangered or threatened species exist on the land.
“The regional director determined that additional endangered or threatened species had been determined to exist within the geographic region of the subject property since 2014. As a result, the BIA must determine whether the species may be affected by the agency’s decision,” Sweeney’s March 29 order said.
Upon House passage of H.R. 317, the bill now goes to the Senate.
“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. 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,” said Chairman Kenneth Kahn.
The tribe purchased the 1,400 acres known as Camp 4 in 2010, and said it plans to build 143 housing units and a tribal administrative building while protecting the vast majority of the property as agricultural land or environmental open space. The tribe will comply with the terms of the state Williamson Act, keeping the property in agricultural use until Dec. 31, 2023. Then the tribe would begin making annual payments of $178,500 upon completion of the first home and continue paying through 2040. Those payments over 17 years would total about $3 million. The full draft agreement is available at www.countyofsb.org/tribal-matters.sbc.
“It is disappointing that the House of Representatives, including our own local Congressman, again chose to further enrich a wealthy special interest at the expense of local residents. 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,” said Bill Krauch, Chair of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition. “We are committed to again making our case in the U.S. Senate which is where the previous versions of this legislation failed.”
Krauch has also called for the completion of a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and environmental impact statement.
Sweeney’s February ruling came days after a federal judge vacated another official’s 2017 decision to take the land into trust and remanded the matter back to BIA.
The judge’s ruling involved a summary judgment for the lawsuit filed by Santa Ynez Valley property owner Anne (Nancy) Crawford Hall, who is represented by Santa Barbara attorneys A. Barry Cappello and Wendy Welkom.
The U.S. government recently filed a motion asking a federal judge to toss out Crawford-Hall’s lawsuit, citing the fact the BIA leader had reversed its decision and arguing the federal court lacked jurisdiction.
Noozhawk’s Janene Scully contributed to this story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.