Camp 4 vineyard vista

Vineyards cover a portion of the Camp 4 property off Baseline Avenue in Santa Ynez as seen in this photo taken in 2019.

A settlement has been reached between Santa Barbara County officials and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who lost a Superior Court challenge last year over a $175,000 refund in taxes it sought to recover from a 2015 assessment of its Camp 4 property.

In the settlement, which was dated Jan. 14 and obtained March 5, county officials agreed to keep the original Jan. 1, 2015, assessment of four parcels comprising the 1,400-acre Camp 4 to $34,898,645 but reassess the same property at a taxable fair market value of $29 million at its Jan. 1, 2016, lien date.

As a result of the settlement, the Chumash won't pursue any further action after dismissing its 2015 challenge seeking to reduce assessment, which was subsequently denied by the Assessment Appeals Board in May 2018 and resulted in a civil complaint filed Oct. 31, 2018.

The complaint led to a four-day virtual bench trial that concluded Oct. 29, 2020, and was presided over by Judge Jed Beebe, who ruled in favor of the county.

Chumash officials declined to comment for the story. Santa Barbara County counsel did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In the civil complaint, the Chumash accused the Appeals Board of arbitrarily denying its claim and taking advantage of the tribe's need to acquire land for additional housing, then failing to properly investigate Camp 4's 2010 sale, which the tribe also contends was not a fair market transaction.

The tribe purchased Camp 4, which sits near the intersection of Highway 246 and Highway 154, in 2010 after Chairman Vincent Armenta negotiated a price of $40 million from previous owner, Eli Parker, who purchased the property for $6 million in 1999, according to the lawsuit.

A county assessor valued the property at $37 million, and adjusted it to $34,898,645, although an independent assessor hired by the Chumash appraised it at $18 million after adjustments in the same year.

The county's assessment led to the tribe overpaying $175,000 in property taxes, according to the complaint.

During a 2018 assessment appeal hearing, Armenta testified that, after other owners of nearby properties were unwilling to sell to the Chumash, Parker allegedly took advantage of the tribe's immediate need to find land for additional housing and the price had nothing to do with Camp 4's appraised value. 

"Owners of nearby properties were unwilling to sell their properties to plaintiff due to the negative feelings in the community towards the tribe," according to the lawsuit.

Camp 4 is now in federal fee-to-trust, effectively preventing the county from collecting taxes on the property in the future.