Santa Ynez woman buys paper, covers tribal casino

Nancy Crawford Hall didn’t like how her local newspapers were covering the nearby Chumash tribe and casino. So she did something that people have fantasized about for centuries: She bought her own newspaper.

Last October, she purchased a small monthly, the Santa Ynez Valley Journal. She turned it into a weekly and quickly began having her staff crank out stories that a spokeswoman for the Chumash has labeled “propaganda” and “conspiracy theory of the month.”

“It’s an interesting paper,” said Frances Snyder, and tribal member and spokeswoman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “Frankly, every week I dread looking at it. All of the stories are inaccurate. All of the stories are biased.”

Hall claimed that hers is the only paper printing the truth about the casino–and that the community has responded. The Journal had a circulation of 6,000 when she bought it, she said, but has since grown to 22,000. She said she started looking into buying a paper after years of the other local papers refusing to print anything critical about the tribe or the casino–even in their “letters to the editor” sections.

“I can’t go anywhere in town without people saying ‘thank you for the paper,'” Hall said. She added, “I think we’ve really hit a chord. We’re telling the stories no one else will tell.”

Hall pens a column each week called “On the Ranch.” About every third or fourth column deals with the Chumash, she said. But the paper regularly covers the group, including printing numerous letters to the editor–including one by a disgruntled tribal member, Hall said, who asked that their name be withheld.

For many in Sacramento, the first they heard about the dispute between the Chumash and local activists came in the last few weeks when Assemblyman Joe Coto, D-San Jose, successfully carried a bill to rename a section of Highway 154 as the “Chumash Highway.” This angered local anti-casino activists with groups such as No More Slots and Preservation of Santa Ynez. Hall said she has never belonged to any of the local anti-casino groups.

Snyder had harsh words for the activists who oppose the renaming of Highway 154. The route had long been used by the tribe, she said, and the naming followed all legal and Caltrans rules, she said.

“Is it named the Chumash Casino Highway? No,” Snyder said. Nowhere in the regulations around naming a highway, she added, does it “say you need the permission of [anti] tribal hate groups.”

While the Journal has weighed in on the Highway 154 renaming, the paper has focused more squarely on what they allege are the tribes plans to expand the casino. This past spring, the Journal printed that the tribe was in negotiations for 5,000 new slot machines, along with tribes such as Pechanga and Agua Caliente, that got amended compacts in August.

The Chumash responded by saying the article was inaccurate–a point they sought to emphasize with full-page ads in several competing papers. On April 18, the Journal responded by reprinted the minutes of Chumash Tribal meeting, along with a 4,000 word story titled “Tribal Chairman Claims ‘Whackos,’ Tribal Government Minutes Say Otherwise.” This included a quote from tribal chairman, Vincent Armenta stating: “We met with the Governor’s Office but there has been no progress yet.

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