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Santa Barbara County signs government-to-government agreement with Santa Ynez Valley tribe

Bree Zender
Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn on the Camp 4 land in December 2016. Shortly after, the land was put into "fee-to-trust."

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday in favor of an agreement regarding the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ Camp 4 reservation land. 

For years, the tribal government has been butting heads with a group of Santa Ynez Valley residents over the expansion of the tribe's reservation in the valley. Earlier this year, the federal government added a 2.2-square mile parcel known as Camp 4 to the tribe's reservation, making it immune to county government regulations.

Some valley residents say they want to preserve the area's rural character and fear the construction of another Chumash-built casino or other commercial development on the newly-added reservation land, purchased by the tribe from the Fess Parker estate in 2009.

In the ensuing years, however, the tribe has maintained a plan to build a Chumash tribal center and 143 homes on one-acre plots in starting in 2023, for the use and benefit of tribal members.

On Tuesday, county officials held a public hearing to vote on the proposed agreement, which has the tribe pledging to limit building on the land, adhere to environmental regulations, and ban gaming on the land. The tribe also agreed to pay the county $178,500 annually to pay for public services once the new housing is built.

The board of supervisors took public comment prior to the vote.

Kathleen Marshall is a Chumash tribal member. She said she grew up on the Santa Ynez Band's reservation, and wants her children to grow up there too, around other tribal members. However, she can't move there because there's not enough homes on what has historically been a quarter-square-mile reservation. And until the Camp 4 property was added to tribe's land, there was no room to expand.

"[My children] are learning about our culture and our language, but in a much different way than I did, due to a lack of space,” Marshall said.

Penny Knowles is from the Women’s Environmental Watch. She said the agreement is mostly a good deal for the environment.

“In meeting with the tribe’s environmental officer, we have been impressed with the tribe’s commitment to recycling and drought-tolerant planting on the reservation,” Knowles said. “And we believe that the tribe is committed to environmental stewardship.”

Santa Ynez Valley resident C.J. Jackson said in public comment he still had many concerns about the agreement, including an anticipated increase in valley traffic.

“I drove the other week on Wednesday from McMurray Road to the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital. I left at [5:15] to be able to sign documents at 5:30. I could not do so,” Jackson said. “I got there at 5:45. This is what we’re facing.”

Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn said the tribe was not required to negotiate with the county regarding outside regulations on the Camp 4 land, as it is entirely part of their jurisdiction as a sovereign nation. However, Kahn said, he wanted to ensure the surrounding community is involved with the way the tribe is planning to develop Camp 4.

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