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Bill in Congress addresses Chumash plans for development of 'Camp 4'

Randol White, KCBX News

A bill in congress, HR 1157, may decide how the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will move forward with a planned housing development. The issue revolves land purchased by the tribe back in 2010, known as Camp 4.

Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta testified before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indean, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Wednesday. He said relations with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has become "toxic" in recent years.

Armenta also discussed the need for housing on the Camp 4 land, saying his tribal nation is currently facing a housing shortage on its reservation.

“Only about 17 percent of our tribal members and lineal descendants live on our reservation and in some homes, multiple families live under one roof,” Armenta said. “Building homes on Camp 4 for our tribal members and their families would create a meaningful opportunity for tribal members and their families to be a part of a tribal community revitalization effort that rebuilds tribal culture, customs and traditions.”

HR 1157 would bypass the Board of Supervisors, enabling the federal government to move Camp 4's 1400 acres into trust, allowing the tribe to build 143 homes for tribal members on it. A prohibition on gaming is included in the measure.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) also spoke during Wednesday's hearing and said Congress should not intervene on Camp 4 as this is a local issue and is being handled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

"After roughly a year-and-a-half of review, the BIA approved the Tribe’s application last year on Christmas Eve," said Capps. "The process may not be moving as fast as the Tribe would prefer, but the application was approved in a timely manner and the appeals will be considered under new rules that expedite the process."

A group known as the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance is appealing the BIA's decision to accept into trust the Camp 4 property. The Alliance says it wants to preserve as much of the land as possible.

County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino also spoke at Wednesday's hearing, and said HR 1157 is the result of a communications breakdown between the Chumash and the board.

The Board of Supervisors voted in 2013 against negotiating with the Chumash as a recognized government body.