Sunday, January 26, 2014


We've been struggling with an interesting question in the Santa Ynez Valley that frankly, about which I don't quite know how to feel.

first some of the details...

Some time ago the Chumash people purchased a large tract of agricultural land (2.2 square miles) in the Santa Ynez Valley, near their reservation, and then proceeded to apply to annex the land to their reservation.  There is no question that the Chumash people lived here before Europeans arrived and while I think their cultural understanding of ownership of the land was very different then, it doesn't seem too far off base to say that they were the owners until the Spaniards confiscated it. 

Centuries passed and much has changed.  The Santa Ynez Chumash band has a small reservation in a very expensive part of the country... and a casino.  Annexing the land would move it into the Chumash Nation and remove it from the property tax rolls and from the zoning restrictions of the county.

The members of that small band own the casino and each individual member receives payments from it each year that today's local paper says are $600,000 annually. (I have heard smaller numbers from other sources the smallest being $100,000 per person, per year)

Building is highly regulated and controlled in this area for a variety of reasons, one being that water is a very precious and rare commodity.  Infrastructure in the area of that land is limited and would struggle to support a significant influx of new residents.

The Chumash say they want to build homes for tribal members.  Local residents fear a second casino.  In any case, if the land is annexed, the Chumash can do whatever they please with no say from anyone else.

The Chumash could own the land without annexing it and go through the normal permitting process to build the homes they want, keeping them on county tax rolls, and their members could easily afford to purchase the homes.  Indeed, many currently live off of the reservation.  The tribe also owns businesses and hotels outside of the reservation.

The federal annexation law requires the tribe to have an "immediate need" or "necessity" for housing or economic development.

It does not look to me as if there is any real immediate need or necessity involved but it feels as if maybe there is room to reimburse the Chumash for all that was taken from them.  On the other hand, they have benefited significantly by the development of the broader community and have incomes significantly above the rest of the community.  Is it just to allow them to skirt laws that the rest of the community must observe while at the same time increasing stressors on the infrastructure and the environment without sharing any of the costs.  I have to say that the thought of displacing the cattle feeding on those rolling hills and adding more houses, aimed at wealthy folk who can afford to live basically anywhere they want makes my heart ache.

And I am sure there are complexities I do not understand.

So what is just?  What is right?  What should I think about these possibilities a few miles down the road from me?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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