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Kenneth Kahn signs Camp 4 fee-to-trust deed

Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, signs the Camp 4 fee-to-trust deed to the United States, making the property part of the reservation and clearing the way for development on the site.

Two Santa Ynez Valley residents have filed a brief asking the U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary of Indian Affairs to pull the land called Camp 4 out of federal trust and convey ownership back to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

In their brief filed March 20, Brian and Suzanne Kramer allege the Jan. 19 decision to take the land into trust for the tribe is not final because it was challenged by them and two others — Lewis P. Geyser and Robert B. Corlett — within the allowed appeal period.

Brian Kramer, a lawyer with an office in Manhattan Beach who lives near the Camp 4 property, said he doesn’t know when a decision might be made on the request in their brief.

A representative of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.

A Jan. 19 decision made by Lawrence S. Roberts — at that time principal deputy assistant secretary of Indian Affairs — affirmed the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional director’s Dec. 24 notice of decision to take the land into trust.

In the brief, the Kramers assert that since their appeals were filed in a timely manner, the Jan. 19 decision is not final, so the Camp 4 land can’t be taken into trust.

They also assert title to the 1,427 acres of Camp 4 was improperly transferred from the Chumash to the federal government.

In the brief, they say Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn executed a grant deed conveying Camp 4 to the federal government on Jan. 12 — a week before the regional director’s notice of decision was affirmed by the deputy assistant secretary.

They claim the regional director formally accepted the grant deed Jan. 20, and on Jan. 23 the tribe announced the federal government had taken the land into trust and development of the site could begin.

The Kramers assert that both the Chumash executing the grant deed and the Bureau of Indian Affairs accepting it were done prematurely because citizens had a right to appeal the decision before those actions were taken.

“Appellants claim the taking of Camp 4 into trust for the tribe was arbitrary, capricious and abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law, as appellants had a right to appeal the decision pursuant to (the Code of Federal Regulations) and, in fact, appellants have filed a timely Notice of Appeal,” the brief states.

Based on those assertions, the Kramers ask the assistant secretary take immediate action to remove the land from trust and deed it back to the Chumash.

The brief says that “while this appeal is pending, Camp 4 must remain in fee in the name of the tribe and no development may proceed before this appeal is final and before the land is lawfully taken into trust.”

“It is not known when a decision will be made; hopefully, it will be soon,” Brian Kramer said via email Thursday. “It is not known how the change in administrations may impact the decision-making process.

“There is a 30-day time limit to file the initial appeal, but I am not aware of a time limit for the government to act or decide the appeal,” he said.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has also filed suit to block the federal government’s action to place the land in trust for the tribe.

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Complicating the issue, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to “reaffirm the action of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the benefit of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians.”

The apparent goal of the legislation, introduced March 10 and referred to committee the same day, is to trump the success of any lawsuits — such as the one filed by Santa Barbara County — and appeals filed over the BIA’s administrative decisions.

Camp 4 is an irregular-shaped parcel that extends east from Highway 154 between Armour Ranch Road and Baseline Avenue, wrapping around the Shepherd Ranch, the Santa Ynez Valley Pony Club and related properties.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians purchased the tract in 2010 from the Fess Parker estate with the goal of building tribal housing and a tribal center.

Kahn said currently only 17 percent of tribal members and lineal descendants live on the Santa Ynez reservation.

If the land is taken into trust by the federal government, it can become part of the Chumash reservation and neither the state nor the county would have any jurisdiction over how the land is developed.

It also would have consequences for the county, which would lose property tax revenues and would have to provide such services as law enforcement and fire protection to the area without compensation through taxes.

County officials and Valley residents are also concerned that development on the land might not be consistent with the community-developed plan for the Valley.

The county has been negotiating with the tribe to resolve those and other issues, but as yet, no signed agreement has been reached.