GAM­ING THE SYS­TEM Casino-rich Cal­i­for­nia tribes bat­tle over growth with anti-sprawl neigh­bors

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

CSANTA YNEZ, CAL­I­FOR­NIA all it Fess Parker’s re­venge. For years, Parker, the ac­tor best known as tele­vi­sion’s Daniel Boone, was thwarted in his ef­forts to de­velop 1,400 acres of rolling green hills known as Camp 4 nes­tled in the lush Santa Ynez Val­ley. Shortly be­fore he died in 2010, how­ever, Parker sold the prop­erty to the Santa Ynez Band of Chu­mash In­di­ans for $42 mil­lion.

What Parker could not do — build a hotel, a vine­yard and a win­ery on the Santa Barbara County par­cel zoned for agri­cul­tural use — the 140-mem­ber Chu­mash tribe can.

The Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs agreed in 2014 to take the prop­erty into trust, mean­ing that the acreage is now fed­eral prop­erty and no longer sub­ject to Santa Barbara County’s strict zon­ing codes. Tribes also ben­e­fit from a tax break on trust land, which es­sen­tially be­comes part of the reser­va­tion and thus ex­empt from most state and lo­cal tax­a­tion.

The Chu­mash have des­ig­nated a sec­tion for tribal hous­ing and a com­mu­nity cen­ter, but it’s the tribe’s plans for the rest of the prop­erty — which are still un­clear — that have neigh­bors up in arms. The casino-rich band un­veiled in March a map that in­cluded a com­mer­cial zone, rais­ing fears that the Chu­mash will trans­form the iso­lated farming and ranch­ing val­ley into a gam­bling and resort mecca.

“I think the casino was just the be­gin­ning,” said Les­lie Mosteller, a small­busi­ness owner who moved to the area two years ago to take ad­van­tage of its world-class sta­bles. “I think what they want to do is ba­si­cally build Las Ve­gas.”

Santa Ynez isn’t the only com­mu­nity grap­pling with the un­fore­seen con­se­quences of In­dian gam­bling. The boom­ing 15-year-old in­dus­try has fu­eled a tribal land-buy­ing spree, spurring de­vel­op­ment that is col­lid­ing with en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious com­mu­ni­ties that have long held the line on sprawl.

Ex­ac­er­bat­ing the con­flict is the Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs with its ag­gres­sive push to take lands into trust on be­half of tribes. The di­rec­tive comes from Pres­i­dent Obama him­self, who pledged at the out­set of his first term to ex­pand tribal trust land by 500,000 acres. So far, the bureau has taken about 300,000 acres into trust.

Sovereignty dis­putes

Chu­mash tribal Chair­man Ken­neth Kahn says the con­flict rep­re­sents a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of tribal sovereignty. The Chu­mash tribe is a sov­er­eign na­tion, not a Wal-Mart that can be scared off by a vo­cal not-in-my-back­yard con­tin­gent.

“There’s a small group of peo­ple that has op­posed the tribe in ev­ery which way pos­si­ble,” said Mr. Kahn. “There’s a lot of con­cern out there, there’s a lot of pro­pa­ganda that gets pushed around. For us, the chal­lenge is ed­u­cat­ing the com­mu­nity about what the fee-to-trust process is re­ally about.”

Be­sides, ad­vo­cates of In­dian gam­bling sites ar­gue that the ben­e­fits out­weigh the costs: Tribes are spurring eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and pro­vid­ing jobs to en­tire com­mu­ni­ties while lift­ing tribal mem­bers out of poverty. Tribal gov­ern­ments have in­creas­ingly pur­sued agree­ments with coun­ties that in­clude pay­ments in lieu of taxes to mit­i­gate the rev­enue hit from trust land


Fess Parker (right) talks with Vin­cent Ar­menta, chair­man of the Santa Ynez Band of Chu­mash In­di­ans. The tribe’s pur­chase of Parker’s land set off a bit­ter dis­pute.

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