Indian Tribe Clashes Over Growth Plan
Chris T. Nguyen, AP, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jun. 7
SANTA YNEZ, Calif. (AP) — California’s Santa Ynez Valley is the capital of quaint, a region of oak-filled rolling hills northwest of Santa Barbara that is home to horse ranches, family vineyards and a gingerbread town that celebrates all things Danish.
Lately, it also has been the unlikely scene of a bitter dispute. Residents drawn to the area’s decidedly nonurban way of life are fighting plans by a local Indian tribe to buy hundreds of acres for a massive housing and country club development.
The tensions mark the latest, and perhaps most bitter, example of similar conflicts playing out across California. Tribes, many of them flush with gambling revenue, increasingly are seeking to buy land and develop it in a way that often conflicts with local regulations.
“We don’t need growth here,” said Manny Lawrence, owner of a horse stable near the property desired by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “That’s the reason we are here. We don’t want the urban sprawl.”
Tribal members said they are angered by the community’s opposition, saying it smacks of racism in a valley where the largest towns, Santa Ynez and Solvang, are predominantly white.
Chumash Chairman Vincent Armenta said the tribe is pursuing the project to broaden its investments and continue improving the lives of its members.
“We’re asking to do things that are within our rights. We don’t make the laws. The federal government made the laws,” he said. “It’s old money against new money. People don’t believe we should have money.”
The feud also is beginning to receive widespread attention because of the land owner with whom the tribe is negotiating — former “Daniel Boone” and “Davy Crockett” television star Fess Parker.
Parker paid $6 million for about 1,400 acres in the valley in 1998. Since then, he has made repeated efforts to develop a hotel and golf resort, attempts that have been rebuffed by Santa Barbara County officials.
The land is zoned for agricultural use, and such a massive development would require changing the zoning in a region that historically has opposed urban growth.
Frustrated, he turned to the tribe. The two struck a deal in which the tribe would buy 745 acres of the property for $12 million, building a hotel, golf course and 155 homes for tribal members. Another 200 homes would be built for general sale.
After the development plans are completed, the tribe will apply to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire the land and take into trust. If the plan is approved, the land would become part of the tribe’s reservation and protected by sovereignty rights, which exempts tribes from many state and local regulations.
In this case, the tribe would not have to ask the county for permission to change the zoning. That’s a sore point for many local residents who fear the creep of suburban sprawl in the region, which is about 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
“What concerns me is there’s a group of people that is able to operate different than the rest of the community, and that strikes me as wrong,” said Curtis Moniot, a 48-year-old architectural designer who has lived in Santa Ynez for about 12 years.
Parker, 79, would keep the other half of the property, primarily for a vineyard. He said the Indian development would help the region’s economy and provide jobs. It also would help a tribe that once had nothing.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in the movie business, but I’ve had more happiness developing,” said Parker, who owns a resort in Los Olivos and a hotel in Santa Barbara. “I have an instinct for undeveloped property, and I always feel that there’s a logical development in the wings to be discovered, to be created.”
As the influence and financial prowess of California’s gambling tribes rise, more of them are seeking to buy land or develop their reservations. In some cases, those plans conflict with local wishes.
Twenty-two California tribes have requests pending to acquire land beyond their reservation borders for casinos, businesses, tribal homes or cultural preservation, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Most are approved.
“They’re able to afford to purchase these properties, where before they were able to only purchase small acreage,” said Kevin Bearquiver, lead realty officer for the BIA’s Sacramento office.
Chumash spokeswoman Frances Snyder counters the critics by saying the tribe’s casino profits already have paid dividends for the community, like its $1.5 million donation to the county fire department and funding of a wastewater treatment plant.
“The American dream is OK, but they don’t like us having it,” Snyder said.