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The third finger

This past Tuesday (July 10), the Board of Supervisors, whose salaries are paid for by the residents of the Valley to represent their wishes, faced with hundreds of bused in paid to be there casino employees, gave you the third finger. Following a convoluted path from 2000 to the present, they voted 3/2 in an unusual manner to not appeal the recently granted fee-to-trust application for the 6.9 acre parcel in Santa Ynez across the highway from the casino.

The vote was unusual for two reasons. First, this board and previous ones had fought to stop this transfer of authority to the casino numerous times. I will give examples further on. Second, it is usual for the board to respect the wishes of a fellow supervisor when a given vote affects their district. In this case, while the supervisor from District 3 voted for the appeal where the issue was located, three of the other supervisors voted against appealing and against the supervisor in whose district this issue appeared. This is highly unusual but does give cover to the supervisor who voted for it because it looks like she tried but was unable to garner enough votes to pass it. Actually, a number of us knew ahead of time that that was going to be the vote the night before, so I imagine we weren’t the only ones who knew.

As to the history of the board actions on this fee-to-trust issue, in 2001 they wrote a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), signed by Joni Gray, to try to stop this effort with arguments about zoning, building standards, architectural review, environmental regulation, impacts to county property tax revenue, how movement of tribal offices will result in additional casino expansion and therefore an increased need for services such as law enforcement, more traffic and potential violations of NEPA.

One of the criteria to satisfy the requirement to justify this removal of land from county jurisdiction is a declaration of “need.” The county’s response in this letter was “-Tribe does not “need” the subject land to be in trust to locate the contemplated administrative and community facilities on trust land because it already has trust land on which to expand.” They also mention that perhaps the real reason is to avoid paying taxes and according to tribal minutes, they don’t like the county having the ability to tell them what they can and cannot do on their land.

This letter by the county was in response to the application made by the California Indian Legal Services to Mr. Virgil Townsend, BIA on Nov. 8, 2000, on behalf of the casino. It stated “The 6.9 acres in question is necessary to provide property which can be developed for needed reservation-oriented services. These services would include relocation of the Tribal hall from its current location on the south side of Highway 246, as well as provide additional land for an expanded tribal administration and community center.”

The county complained that this parcel was zoned highway commercial and these would not qualify under that designation. By 2004 the project morphed into a commercial retail facility, museum and cultural center a 105-space parking lot and an open community commemorative park. There would be 41,925 square feet of building development.

Again in 2004, the county commented on the 6.9 application regarding environmental concerns including water resources, air quality, biology, socioeconomic conditions, public services, noise, traffic and circulation, land use and visual resources and the cumulative impacts of the proposed project. Aside from the obvious usual issues, the county brought up the problem with having a retail facility in the midst of an existing retail area that was not required to pay the same taxes and fees that the rest of the business community did, therefore giving an unfair advantage to the new project.

In 2005, Santa Barbara County objected to a new application for a fee-to-trust on 5.81 acres on the south side of Highway 246. The application stated that there was no planned use for the property but was intending to “land bank” it for future long-range planning. This application is still in the works but while we are waiting, the Planning Commission gave permission for a gas station and car wash to be built there on the crumbling banks of a creek. This is rather questionable as the county had earlier complained that buildings should be setback at least 100 feet from the banks of a creek. So if permission was given for that enterprise, why would a fee-to-trust be needed or justified? Except for the same reason as before to avoid paying taxes to support local services, and so as to have no one who can say what can and cannot be done to the land?

The county objected to the piecemeal way that the various attempts for fee-to-trust applications were being handled. They expressed concerns about the impact on state-mandated affordable housing requirements and made a special point about the categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) being inappropriate. Piecemeal investigation of projects is contrary to the principles of NEPA and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The county stated that they “strenuously opposed” the acceptance of the 5.81 acres into trust.

Meanwhile, a number of valley citizen organizations filed a lawsuit to stop the fee-to-trust application from going forward. Lawyers were hired, meetings were held and the next few years were filled with community meetings, lawyers’ bills, flights to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and conversations about how best to protect the value and beauty of the Valley. It was clear now that the Community Plan that we had all agonized over for 10 years was at stake and was being materially threatened.

The county tried in vain to develop a government-to- government agreement but finally gave up when it was obvious nothing positive was going to come out of it. These government-to-government agreements are not enforceable anyway. Then they tried to file a motion for an amicus or friend of the court brief but they were too late. So the burden to protect the Valley from unwanted development was left on the shoulders of the citizens. In 2010, in a letter dated Sept. 17, regarding the “Carcieri fix” that had to do with whether tribes not recognized as such before 1934 could be eligible for fee-to-trust or reservation status, the County made the following statement: “This reform is necessary as the current federal fee to trust process as exercised under the IRA and as used under the “restored lands” exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is contrary to the original legislative intent; is without clear and enforceable standards; does not take into account county interests; and, at times, interferes with county ability to provide essential services to the community.” They state further “The county opposes any legislation that would erode the land use authority of local governments.”

So what happened last Tuesday? Were they overwhelmed by the huge number of people who carried signs and were somewhat hostile to those of us from the community who came to speak to the topic? Were they convinced ahead of time somehow that they should go against not only their own history of opposition but also the community they purported to represent? Where were they when community people were harassed and booed outside after they spoke? Where were they when obvious lies were being told in flowery terms?

Aside from the excellent historical explanation of the current situation that came from the Governor’s office, this is who and what we are talking about: a 1933 letter regarding the “reservation”- Santa Ynez Reservation is 75.75 acres—the title is not in the United States. The Indians reside on it and have use and occupancy only. These Indians all are of Shoshonean origin, with an admixture of Spanish.”

Further in a 2002 letter from the casino attorney it is stated, “Both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribe have verified that there are no living lineal descendants of the five original families.” And from the 2005 letter from the California state governor, “Simply put, in pre-contact times, there was no Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians or any single independent political entity constituting a collection of the many different villages in the Santa Ynez Valley.”

So, what are we talking about here? Once again, the residents have had to file an appeal because our government won’t. Isn’t that shameful?