POLO believes one of the biggest challenges we face today to the quality of life we all enjoy in the Santa Ynez Valley is the Chumash tribe’s desired land expansion through flawed federal laws governing tribal land annexation or fee-to-trust.
Through our research over the last several years, we have documented the devastating effects of tribal land expansion/annexations across the country and we are very concerned about the future of this valley if the Chumash tribes’ land expansion is allowed to proceed under current federal policies governing tribal land acquisition and development. These laws are setting precedent throughout the country, and communities just like ours are searching for solutions to tribal land acquisition and the mass development that inevitably ensues for the development of huge casinos, commercial centers and the expansion of tribal enterprises that are not regulated by the same laws regulating the rest of the community and business owners.
The dispute over the 6.9-acre parcel that the Chumash tribe is asking to be placed into trust is a dispute we are having with our government. If this community had been allowed to be a part of a process that we feel as a community we have a right to be a part of, we would not be bringing a suit against the federal government. For this reason, POLO and Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY) have retained former U.S. Solicitor General, Theodore B. Olson, of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher to represent them in federal court. Our dispute has never been with a tribe, a race or a people.
When the community that is affected the most by tribal expansion is not even considered in the acquisition process and is basically being ignored by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals and told they are not protected under the law despite clear legal precedent to the contrary, there is something very wrong, and this community has the right and a responsibility to demand that our rights be protected. We think the decision by the IBIA was a miscarriage of justice and our call for judicial review is crucial if we are to protect, in perpetuity, our rights as citizens of this community.
The Chumash tribe taking the 6.9-acre parcel “into trust” does not benefit this community. The tribe has never answer the question of how the “annexation” benefits this community. This has never been about the tribe building a Cultural Center. We have always maintained that it is the removal of this land from state and local control that is the issue. The tribe could have built the cultural center over four years ago, as long as they complied with local zoning and building regulations. They do not need to annex the property to do that.
The tribe can buy as much land as they want as private property owners; we are just saying no more annexation. Let's not skirt the fact that if the 6.9 acre parcel is allowed to be placed in federal trust, the implications of this precedent are far reaching and can become the precedent for a routine "buy-annex-mass build" land policy. Indeed, the application for another 5.8-acre parcel was already in progress on the heels of the approval of the 6.9-acre property. This is just the beginning.
To allow land to be taken into trust and out of state and local rules and regulations that have been set up by this community and our elected officials to protect our community, our environment and natural resources is wrong. Circumventing fair and equitable land use rules and regulations by any individual or government is wrong. Telling a community they cannot be heard is wrong. Not having an open and transparent government process is wrong. Different land use rules and regulations for individuals or groups, tribal and non-tribal, living in the same community is wrong. Taxes imposed on tax paying neighbors to compensate for development that is outside state and local regulations is wrong.
Treating the Chumash tribe any differently than the rest of the citizens, property owners and business owners in this community is contrary to our democracy. Separate rules and regulations will never be equal or fair, and the existence of such distinctions fosters a difficult and contentious relationship between the tribe and the surrounding community.
Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) and Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY) have taken this dispute to federal court to ensure a voice for this community. We just want our day in court.
We look forward to a continued dialogue and believe this is an important local and national debate.
The beauty of our democracy is that we can disagree and we can look to our judicial system when there is a real or perceived injustice. We have the right to be heard. There is nothing extreme about our request – we just want to be heard.