Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians have finally reached some common ground with an agreement on the future development of the tribe’s Camp 4 property. The Board of Supervisors signed off on the deal Tuesday on a 4-1 vote.
As we have come to expect, the dissenting vote was cast by 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, who is making a science of finding flies in the county’s soup bowl. In the agreement between the county and the tribe the fly is, in Adam’s words, “I think we could have done better.”
He’s probably right about that, but the reality of the situation is the tribe had the county over a barrel, and the board faced a deadline dictated by legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That may sound like a form of institutional blackmail, but in fact it’s just the game of politics, and frankly, the county got outplayed. That was Adam’s point in his dissenting vote.
The biggest issue, as Adam perceives it, is that the agreement requires the tribe to pay only $178,000 a year to the county, and in return has access to a full level of county services, which presumably would cost a non-tribe developer much more.
That’s true enough. But it’s also true that as the tribe’s casino-based business empire has grown in recent years, the Chumash have demonstrated a high degree of self-sufficiency with regard to providing their own services, so the overall impact of the agreement may not be as extreme as Adam suggests. For example, part of the tribe’s plan for the 1,400-acre property is a three-acre set-aside to build a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility.
The tribal agreement portion of Tuesday’s meeting took five hours to complete, with three of those hours devoted to public comment. Surprisingly, the majority of those comments favored the signing of the agreement.
Still, opponents weren’t happy with the outcome. There was even talk of a recall effort against 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who helped hammer out the deal in committee meetings with tribal leaders.
The 3rd District is certainly no stranger to recall efforts and hand-to-hand combat, in a strictly political sense.
There is one reality opponents of this agreement need to keep firmly in mind — the county really didn’t have a choice. The House bill is on the verge of passage, and if that had happened without the agreement signed Tuesday, the county could have ended up with nothing. In that context, you have to hand it to tribal leaders for staying the course of negotiations, rather than just waiting for federal legislation that would have given the Chumash essentially want they wanted from the beginning.
What we like about this deal is that both sides have now publicly agreed to work together on future issues — the government-to-government relationship the Chumash have sought throughout this difficult process.
The tribe bought the land from the late Fess Parker’s estate in 2010, and the Camp 4 property has been a lightning rod for controversy ever since. The debate has been heated to say the very least. Lawsuits have been threatened and filed. Tuesday’s deal may have partially healed the rift between county ands tribal leaders, but some Valley residents still are not happy.
However, Supervisor Hartmann put into words how we feel about the deal, that it is “not an ending, but a beginning” of a better relationship between the county and the Chumash. Let us hope that is so.