Len Wood / Santa Maria Times
Thursday, October 12, 2017
One morning last week, Karen Jones cracked a bad egg and shrieked, throwing the raw brown goop in the air. “I skipped breakfast,” the Santa Ynez Valley resident announced at a recent public hearing about the county’s tentative land-use deal with the Chumash. “Sometimes it is better to do nothing than to do something foolish.”
The metaphor was an indication of the resentment and bitterness that has built up for years in the Santa Ynez Valley. Valley residents have adopted a “just say no” approach to the tribe’s plans to expand the existing roughly 138-acre reservation. This tentative agreement surrounds Camp 4, the 1,400-acre property east of Highway 154.
County supervisors Joan Hartmann and Das Williams met privately with Chumash chair Ken Kahn and vice chair Raul Armenta for six months after years of public negotiations failed.
The tribe has for six years petitioned the U.S. government to bring Camp 4 into the reservation, saying they need to build more housing. Annexation, which was granted on the last day of the Obama administration, frees the land from the county’s firm development codes and property-tax rolls. It is still in appeal.
The deal would stipulate that the tribe would pay $178,500 annually while the county would drop its formal opposition. The property would be divided into 143 one-acre plots, one for each tribal member. Nearly 900 acres would be protected open space. The tribe would not build within 985 feet of Highway 154. Three-quarters of the houses would be single story, and the tribal hall would be located in the center. Gambling would be prohibited. The county could sue the tribe if it didn’t abide by the terms. The agreement would be in place until 2040, which Hartmann said is about longest timeframe federal regulators at the Department of the Interior would likely allow.
But many residents wondered, “Why now?” One reason is the politics of personalities — Hartmann and Kahn appear to get along better than their predecessors, former county supervisor Doreen Farr and former tribal chair Vincent Armenta.
If approved, the deal would augment the federal bill, House Bill 1491, which would immediately place the land into the Chumash reservation. Hartmann emphasized that the legislation has been placed on the noncontroversial “suspension calendar” in the House, meaning it could be heard on the floor at any time. Republicans, who have control of both Houses, have been overwhelmingly supportive of Native American tribes.
Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carbajal said in an email, “I have long advocated for an agreement being reached at the local level and have encouraged my colleagues in Congress to delay action on federal legislation as these negotiations are ongoing.” The bill would terminate Camp 4’s Williamson Act contract, which provides tax breaks for landowners who do not develop their property for 10 years.
At three recent hearings that felt like barn burners in Santa Ynez, Jones — an unsuccessful 3rd District county supervisorial candidate — has served as a key agitator. “In less than 20 years I’ve watched a bingo hall turn into a 12-story skyscraper,” she said, referring to the tribe’s new 12-story hotel. Her freewheeling speaking style was cheered by the audience, a mostly older Anglo crowd, so loudly that Hartmann banged her gavel and said, “This is not a sporting event.”
“If this were a sporting event,” Jones later objected, “I’d think you were trying to run out the clock.”
Hartmann insisted it was this deal or no deal at all. “Without a local agreement, there are no guarantees about what happens on Camp 4,” Hartmann, who represents the valley, told the skeptical crowd for a third time on Monday night. They were not sold.
Resident Mike Hadley claimed Supervisor Williams accepted $171,000 from Native American tribes in California, a figure that could not be confirmed. For his part, Williams said, “Fundraising is a necessary part of serving” in government. “My position has never changed.” This deal is “the best solution that is achievable,” he said, adding, “Notice that I didn’t say the best solution.” Previous efforts could have proved more fruitful for county coffers.
Evoking Jones’s egg metaphor, Williams said just because an egg was rotten, he would not throw out the whole batch. “I am not an all-or-nothing person,” he said.
Residents charged the deal was being forced “down our throats.” Bruce Porter, who ran against Hartmann, attended all the meetings. At the last meeting, Porter was the last speaker. He looked right at Hartmann and said, “You have failed us.”
Karen Jones, a staunch Republican, had endorsed Hartmann after losing the primary election. Jones said she continued to believe in Hartmann, saying, “Joan, your intentions are good, but I think you are succumbing to bullying from your own party.” After the meeting, Jones flashed a recall petition against Hartmann to the person sitting next to her. Last week, she said she would “not confirm or deny” she had such plans.
For her part, Hartmann appeared unfazed during the meeting. “I didn’t make the fee-to-trust law,” she said, adding that she believes the federal law requires reform.
Many residents pointedly questioned the motives of the tribe. Why did they even come to the table if they were going to get what they wanted through federal government process anyhow? “We are here because we are part of this community,” Kahn answered. Their kids go to the same schools; they shop at the same grocery stores. “We stick through the process to ensure we can all live together in harmony.” Kahn added, “We have heard you. That’s why we stand here.”