Our Congressman, Salud Carbajal, has built his political career as a staunch advocate for environmental protection.
Chairman Kenneth Kahn, representing the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, stated as recently as April of this year that the Band “? has a cultural heritage of environmental stewardship, even as it works to restore public lands.”
What are the real actions hidden beneath these public positions asserting environmental advocacy?
The Tribe’s publically stated intent is to develop 143 housing units and a tribal center on Camp 4, 1,400-plus acres of agricultural land in the Santa Ynez Valley.
This year, rulings issued by Judge Stephen Wilson of the 9th District Federal Court stated that the Bureau Of Indian Affairs’ (BIA’s) Environmental Assessment (EA) used as the basis for the Tribe taking Camp 4 into its sovereign nation for development was inadequate “? especially considering the duration of time that has elapsed since the BIA’s initial environment review.”
So being environmentalists, have Mr. Carbajal and the Tribe done anything to comply with, let alone acknowledge, Judge Wilson’s clear and straightforward opinion that the BIA’s Camp 4 environmental analysis is now insufficient?
Simply put, to the contrary, both Mr. Carbajal and the Tribe have doubled-downed on their efforts to push HR 317, federal legislation that if passed into law would eliminate all analysis of potential environmental impacts of the Tribe’s development project.
In a recent attempt to sidestep environmental review, HR 317, the federal bill to take Camp 4 into trust, was attached as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. What? Yes, that’s right. Of the over 400 bills that were attached to this defense bill, in Christmas-tree-ornament-like fashion, only three were not related to the defense of our country. This is just one more example of the tactics used to circumvent proper and legal land-use review.
In another ploy to eliminate environmental review, the BIA on behalf of the Tribe briefly took Camp 4 out of trust earlier this year, attempting to have environmental lawsuits dismissed on the basis that Camp 4 was not in trust status and, thus, the suits before Judge Wilson were moot and should be dismissed. The judge didn’t buy this tactic to circumvent his court.
What is at stake?
The development of Camp 4 will be vastly more extensive than what was analyzed in the 2014 environmental assessment (EA). The EA states the purpose and intent of Camp 4 is “? to provide housing to accommodate the Tribe’s current members and anticipated growth.” And: “The Tribe has a population of 136 tribal members and approximately 1,300 lineal descendants which it must provide for.” Thus, within the core of this document is the Tribe’s intent to build hundreds of additional houses that will inevitably expand into what it publically says is 869 acres reserved for open space. In essence, this open space is nothing more than portions of Camp 4 being “land-banked” for future development.
What is the Santa Ynez Valley faced with in addition to the Camp 4 development?
The unknown of additional development of tribal-owned lands, not the least of which is The Triangle, 369 acres it owns between Camp 4 and its existing “sovereign nation,” where the current casino/resort operates.
Since 2014, the casino/resort has been expanded to a 12-story tower, the largest building in Santa Barbara County. Tribal statements, over the past several years, assert the casino/resort draws over 6,000 visitors a day.
In 2018, the Tribe began construction of a $33 million museum and cultural center that once complete is being touted as a major western U.S. tourist attraction.
If the Tribe and Mr. Carbajal are allowed to ram HR 317 through Congress, Camp 4 will be the first domino to fall of many yet to come. Next up is 369 acres, The Triangle. After that, it could only be a matter of time before the Tribe, with its wealth and using Camp 4 as a precedent, purchases land along the Gaviota coast to develop a beachside adjunct to its commercial holdings.
We are all faced with a perplexing contradiction. Publicly, Mr. Carbajal and the Tribe state they support environmental protection while, on the other hand, their actions aggressively seek to eliminate environmental law in an attempt to get HR 317 passed through Congress.