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Santa Ynez Valley residents continue fight over Camp 4 fee-to-trust

Bree Zender/KCBX
A view of the Camp 4 land.

Residents in the Santa Ynez Valley are holding a public meeting Thursday to discuss their efforts to block the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians from annexing property into the tribe’s reservation. 

In January, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) accepted the land, known as Camp 4, into federal trust, making it tribal land in a process known as fee-to-trust. Once the land is in federal trust, Santa Barbara County no longer has control over zoning, land use and taxation on the 2.2-square-mile property, which is now undeveloped agricultural acreage and a small vineyard.

In March, valley residents - in the form of the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance - filed a legal briefwith the federal government asking for the decision to be reversed. They say the transfer was executed without a proper appeal process.

The reason for their appeal, the Alliance's attorneys write, is that the “BIA failed to adequately consider (1) compliance with [the National Environmental Policy Act], (2) the location of the land relative to the reservation, and the implications of that location on the local jurisdiction, and (3) potential land use conflicts.”

Lansing Duncan is a 30-year valley resident and former Santa Barbara County planning commissioner. Duncan said communities need to provide the necessary services for residents and businesses.

“The way we do that is to have a tax structure that gather those revenues and then redistributes them. Otherwise we wouldn’t have roads, and schools, and police and fire protection,” Duncan said. “And the problem with fee-to-trust annexation is that that interrupts that whole cycle.”

Many Santa Ynez Valley residents oppose the expansion of tribal land because they fear more commercial development on the Camp 4 property.

The Chumash tribe says it plans to build 143 homes on the 1400 acre property for tribe members to have decent housing.

“Currently, only about 17 percent of Santa Ynez Chumash tribal members and lineal descendants live on our reservation,” the tribe writes on a website about Camp 4. “It would create a meaningful opportunity for tribal members and their families to be part of a tribal community revitalization effort that rebuilds tribal culture, customs and traditions.”

Duncan said the 2009 Santa Ynez Community Plan that he and other valley residents worked hard to form won’t apply to the Camp 4 property if the fee-to-trust effort prevails. That community plan guides development to keep the valley scenic and rural.

“If you ask the tribe, one of the things they are interested in is a destination resort,” Duncan said. They may not say that’s what they plan right now for the Camp 4 property, but if you simply look at how they’ve developed their property on the reservation now, it’s not just a casino - it’s also the hotel, and it’s also the entertainment facility they have, the concerts they put on, etc. "

The Santa Ynez Valley Coalition invites the public to the meeting, taking place from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday (4/27/17) evening at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Solvang, CA.