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Questions raised about tribal land purchases in Santa Ynez Valley

The recent announcement that the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians (Chumash casino) closed escrow on 1,400 acres in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley is the latest in what is becoming a long list of purchases in this small valley that includes 6.9 and 5.8 acres across from the casino, the largest hotel in Solvang, a restaurant turned Chumash employee center in Buellton, two gas stations and plans to develop a third.  

Although the Solvang hotel, Buellton employee center and gas stations are not in federal trust they do support the Chumash casino gaming facility, seemingly a violation of sections 2.8, 4.2 and 15.6 of their tribal-state gaming compact. This has been challenged as expansion of gambling into our community but has been ignored by the Governor and those in power.

As we understand from Santa Ynez tribal members, the reason for the 1,400 acre purchase is further expansion of gambling by moving existing tribal housing off the reservation and onto the newly purchased 1,400 acres for the 140 tribal members and expanding the existing casino, and to build a hotel, golf course and for other bigger development to service this expansion on the 1,400 acres. Other plans include 300 more acres and the large Dos Pueblos Ranch on the Gaviota Coast.

All of these purchases give our community, and communities across the country, great cause for alarm. These casino tribes are armed with hundreds of millions of gambling dollar purchasing power, have tribal consortiums influencing decision-making (as reported by Malcolm Maclaclan, Capitol Weekly 4/1/10), and clearly have the ear, if not more, of the federal and state government.

Take this testimony by Santa Ynez casino tribal leader Vincent Armenta before the House Committee on Natural Resources on 2/27/08:
“The Chumash desire to regain the lands of their ancestors, even if it means buying them a piece at a time. We would hope that the Secretary would work with us to re-establish the former aboriginal territories of our tribe.”

“In prehistoric times the Chumash territory encompassed some 7,000 square miles. Today, this same region in Southern Central California takes in five counties including Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and Kern.” (See http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/images/Docume nts/ 20080227/testimony_armenta.pdf)

Given the development plans of casino tribal leader Armenta that are inconsistent with current zoning (agriculture, minimum lot size 100 acres, Williamson contract), and potential additional purchases, our community is extremely alarmed that Armenta will request that the Secretary (of the Interior) “work with them” to take this land into federal “trust” and out of local and state taxation and regulatory authority.

Another concern is the use of the windfall of their casino profits to expand land or authority through political means as they have already attempted through legislators Assembly Members Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) and Joe Coto (D-San Jose), and Senate Majority leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) who were behind bills AB 2686 (would have given tribal governments authority over the public water supply), bill SB 170 (would have dismantled the Williamson Act), and the renaming of highway 154 to the “Chumash Highway.”

Casino tribes are now the largest political contributors in the state, surpassing the trial lawyers and teachers unions. They are closed governments and unaccountable to the people they impact, they operate autonomously and under their own tribal constitutions, they are outside the United States Constitution, and many of them, including the Chumash casino tribe, do not fulfill the requirements to be a tribal government recognized in 1934 and eligible for a casino.

At the core, expanding tribal land by placing it into federal “trust” for a casino tribe, or expansion of the authority of these entities impacting but not accountable to the public, is a hostile takeover of communities.

It is politics taken to a new level – using historical injustice against a people to create a mechanism of bypassing the Constitution for new injustice against another people.  
And although most of the politicians actively perpetrating this have a “D” after their name, the “R’s” act impotent and are silent.


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