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Hot Topics > Tribal Land Acquisition & Expansion > How We Got Where We Are Today

Following the brief summary below are highlights from the Documentary “Trust and Consequences” that debuted at the Town Hall Meeting on July 18, 2005. This is an excellent summary of how we arrived at where we are today in this dispute over tribal land acquisition and development.

In Summary:
In August of 2005, POLO and POSY filed an appeal of the BIA's decision allowing the 6.9 acres to be placed into federal trust.

On February 3, 2006 the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) dismissed the appeal on the grounds that POLO and POSY do not have legal standing in regards to this matter.

In response, on March 10, 2006, POLO and POSY filed an appeal of the IBIA's decision to deny POLO and POSY standing. The federal lawsuit names the United States Department of the Interior and Secretary Gale A. Norton as defendants.

It should be noted: Santa Barbara County had "automatic standing" and could have protected the community by exercising its authority.

However: The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0, not to file an appeal and enforce its right of standing. The County's failure to take any action forced POLO and POSY to pursue any and all legal actions on its own.

We believe this is the only way to give a voice to this community that has been ignored in this entire process.

The Santa Ynez Valley is home to more than 20,000 people including our neighbors, the Chumash Tribe. The current Chumash Tribe is made up of 158 enrolled tribal members. For decades, the Chumash Tribe lived in poverty on their 157 acres. All this changed with the introduction in the mid 90’s of gaming on their tribal land. In the year 2000, Santa Ynez Valley along with Santa Barbara County voted to support the creation of Indian Casinos in California. Since that day…everything has changed.

Quiet, bucolic Santa Ynez has become a gambling destination for more than 15,000 visitors each day. In counties and townships across the country, the proliferation of Indian gaming and tribal expansion is having a devastating impact on surrounding communities. Since 1988, Native American casino businesses have exploded in the United States from $100 million to more than $19 Billion dollars each year.

“There’s some way that we have to try to get more local participation in this decision making process because I’ve seen the impact on local communities.”

John McCain, U.S. Senator, Arizona
U.S. Senate Committee Hearing on Indian Affairs, May 18, 2005

A national pattern has emerged for tribal gaming all over the United States. A well-crafted blueprint for expansion of existing tribes is driving this unprecedented growth.

What does this blueprint look like?


Revenues from tribal casinos and funding from out-of-state or offshore developers are used to acquire land areas adjacent to the operating casino and to acquire lobbyists and litigators. Tribal council leaders, lobbyists and litigators begin to influence county officials, local city council members and other community leaders. Shall we remind our readers of the recent Abramoff scandal involving members of Congress and more than $50 million dollars in association with tribal interests.


Adjacent land is acquired and annexed to establish a larger land base. The Santa Ynez Valley is maturing through this stage. This additional land is used for either expanded gambling enterprises or other tribal, tax-exempt businesses that operate at a significant advantage over neighboring non-tribal businesses.

There are five more detailed stages of this blueprint, but in summary, the process of expanding the tribal land base is repeated annually until large areas of a county or region are morphed into a separate tribal “nation” operating under its own rules and not those of the host state or county.

With hefty supportive resources of federal subsidies, gambling revenues, special preferences and tax exemptions, tribal enterprises thrive and non-tribal enterprises within the region struggle to survive and ultimately are phased out.

To some, this may sound like paranoia. However, this “blueprint”…has been used over and over again throughout this country. Sadly the Santa Ynez Valley is in the early stages of this blueprint.

Over The Course of The Last Five Years

Over the course of the last five years, the Chumash Tribe has had an application submitted with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the annexation of 6.9 acres across the highway from the tribe’s 190,000 square foot Class III casino, hotel, and spa.

The tribe has stated the intended use for this property would be to build a cultural center, park and a commercial center.  These uses have been embraced by the community who share the same desire as the tribe to see these built.  The cultural center the tribe claims it wants to build could have been built and completed over four years ago as long as they complied with local zoning and building regulations.  There is no need to annex this property onto tribal land.  The tribe has never stated what the BENEFIT OF ANNEXATION is to this community.  This has never been about a cultural center.

“One of the reasons why we’re having this hearing today is I keep hearing bitter complaints from people who live near Indian tribes or live near land that they hear is being taken into trust solely for the purpose of gaming.”

– John McCain, U.S. Senator, Arizona
U.S. Senate Committee Hearing on Indian Affairs, May 18, 2005

John McCain continues, “If a tribe commits not to acquire land for the purposes of Indian gaming, it is free after acquiring that land to change its mind. Is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s what I said…” –George Skibine, Office of Indian Affairs

“How often does that happen?” – John McCain

“That apparently has happened a number of times. I don’t know exactly.” –George Skibine

The reason for the deep concern over the annexation is because it is key to the next stage of the blueprint. The 6.9 acre annexation is just the beginning because, as we now know, there was another 5.8 acre annexation already in process.

As part of the application process to the BIA, the Chumash Tribe prepared an Environmental Assessment. Though many inaccuracies and deficiencies were contested by experts, no new Environmental Assessment or EIS was requested by the county and the community’s input was not reflected in the final findings of the BIA. Yet letters of recommendation from several out-of-area politicians weighed heavily. These same politicians received substantial contributions from the Chumash Tribe:

$130,000 to Los Angeles Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (Los Angeles)
$130,408 to Superintendent Jack O'Connell (Statewide)
$43,200 to Monterey County Assemblyman Simon Salinas (Monterey)
$40,500 to Senator Tom McClintock (Ventura, Santa Barbara)
$30,200 to Senator Abel Maldonado (Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo)
$30,000 to La Puente Assemblyman Ed Chavez (Los Angeles)
$20,000 to Fresno Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (Fresno)
$15,500 to Senator Nell Soto (Riverside)
$10,000 to Santa Ana Assemblyman Lou Correa (Orange)
$10,000 to Senator Richard Polanco (Los Angeles)
$8,000 to Culver City Assemblyman Herb Wesson (Los Angeles)
$6,000 to Carson Assembywoman Jenny Oropeza (Los Angeles)
$3,000 to Montebello Assemblyman Ronald Calderon (Los Angeles)
$3,000 to Los Angeles Assembyman Marco Firebaugh (Los Angeles)

Undetermined to Senator Jim Battin, Mike Briggs, Robert Pacheco, and Juan Vargas

TOTAL:  $479,808 not including the "undetermined"

These totals are as of July 2005.
(Source: and

In 2004, the Santa Barbara Board Of Supervisors expressed frustration and helplessness in dealing with this issue. They finally requested an information meeting in November 2004 with representatives of the BIA. This was too little, too late. Out of this newly acquired knowledge, no action was taken in regards to the 6.9 acres.

In January 2005, the BIA awarded the Chumash tribe annexation of the 6.9 acre parcel. This was a blow to the community. They felt serious review of the BIA findings were completely ignored. It became apparent that the lack of county leadership, responsiveness and involvement with this application made this annexation a reality.

The makeup of the new Santa Barbara Board Of Supervisors had to deal with a situation that two of them inherited. On February 8th, the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors held a hearing on whether to appeal the BIA’s decision on granting the annexation. Many community members spoke on a broad range of concerns. The testimony of these community members was a plea to the Board of Supervisors to appeal.

“As we’re here now, I think by the facts of the case and the very excellent testimony we’ve heard today, I think there is a compelling case for appeal. There’s a good case for a Cultural Center along with the Carriage House, The Elverhoj, and the Mission; it should take its place proudly. But that isn’t to say that this annexation is in the interests of the people of the county, in fact, I think there is no benefit to the county by annexation. On the contrary, there is every reason not to have annexation if we represent in addition to the tribe, the greater population of the county.” – Brooks Firestone, 3 rd District Supervisor

“I am not sure we have to make this decision today. I think there might be an opportunity for continued dialogue. There is plenty of time before the appeals process expires.” –Salud Carbajal, 1 st District Supervisor

‘I feel very, very bad about the way the Chumash tribe has been treated by this Board of Supervisors for the last six years. It was unforgivable.” – Joni Gray, 4 th District Supervisor

“I would hope that we could get together with the Chumash people and their representatives, I’m talking about their elected Chairman and sit down with some of our elected people within this next week to see if we could accommodate each other with some kind of MOU if you will.” –Joseph Centeno, 5 th District Supervisor

They concluded with a motion that passes 4 to 0 to draft an agreement with the tribe and hold off any decision on the appeal until the following Board Of Supervisors meeting. With the threat of an appeal hanging in the air, the tribe, offered to try to work out an agreement with the county. It took four years and in the eleventh hour, the tribal government was finally ready to sit down and discuss a memorandum of understanding or MOU.

The following week, on February 15 th, 2005, the county council updated the board on the status of the agreement which appeared to be very positive at this stage. This was heralded in the press as “historic” and everyone held out a lot of hope for reaching a new level of cooperation between the Tribe and the county.

“Last Tuesday, the Board met and determined that instead of appealing, and I urged the appeal, but on a 4-0 vote, we decided that we should engage in discussions with the Chumash Tribe regarding this and about the project rather than appeal and delay that appeal. Last week the attorneys of the tribe met with county attorneys and had a good discussion and yesterday we had extensive discussions and I am happy to say that they turned out very positively.” – Brooks Firestone, 3 rd District Supervisor

“Thank you Madam Chair and Supervisors Firestone and Gray for meeting with us yesterday and county staff. As mentioned, I believe this is more of a start to a long-term relationship which I believe is well overdue with the tribe and the county government. I think what we did yesterday is clear up the air in regards to what the tribe had anticipated to put out into this area, the concerns were addressed, Mr. Firestone was extremely open as well as myself and everybody else that was at the meeting. Again, I can say thank you very much. I have been waiting for this day. The day finally came and I think this is the start of something that is going to be beneficial to both the tribe as well as the county. So, thank you very much” – Vincent Armenta, Tribal Chairman

“Chairman Armenta followed me out the door and said, I want you to know the goal is to get a great big plan for everything that’s going to go on so we work together and know what is going to happen. So I certainly felt that the county and the tribe had the same goal which was to just - let’s talk about what’s happening in the Santa Ynez Valley.” – Joni Gray, 4 th District Supervisor

“I would also like to add that this is the entire board moving in this direction together and so I think that’s a very important message we’re sending to the tribe and to the community.” – Susan Rose, 2 nd District Supervisor

“And my motion would be that we do not appeal this annexation of the 6.9 acres.” – Joni Gray, 4 th District Supervisor

“Mr. Allen, this is historic. Would you please read the role.” – Susan Rose, 2 nd District Supervisor

“Ms. Gray” Aye “Mr. Centeno” Aye “Mr. Carbajal” Aye “Mr. Firestone” Aye “Ms. Rose” Aye

“The county by agreeing to let its no cost option to appeal expire, before the tribe has even put its half of the deal on the table is demonstrating an astounding amount of trust, for which I congratulate you. But I believe it is now inherent to the tribe to respond by rewarding this trust because the failure to do so would be catastrophic and I believe that they will.” –Bob Field, citizen of Santa Ynez Valley

Just one month before: January 2005, Santa Barbara Magazine, in an interview with Chumash Chairman, Vincent Armenta he is quoted as saying, “The Federal Government needs to start enforcing the fact that the tribes are sovereign governments and don’t need these relationships with local governments.”

On closer examination, the agreement clearly lacked any enforceability. The weakness of the agreement between Santa Barbara County and the Chumash Tribe left no alternative but to file an appeal. Knowing that time was ticking on the ability to file an appeal on the community’s behalf, Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO), Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY), Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens and Women’s Environmental Watch filed an appeal.

During the following months, the County’s Legal Counsel and the Tribe’s legal team continued government-to-government negotiations. Months went by with no public knowledge of what the status of the agreement was.

At the June 21st Board Of Supervisors meeting, it was addressed that the apparent “historic” agreement was falling apart.

“The key issue hanging it up is the term of the contract or MOU and at this point, the tribe believes that a regulation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs would limit the term of the agreement to 6 years and 364 days, just short of 7 years.” – Mike Brown, Chief Executive Officer of Santa Barbara County

“The negotiations have been going on now for over 4 months at what point did this element enter into the negotiations?” – Brooks Firestone, 3 rd District Supervisor

“I would say maybe two or three weeks ago, the tribe transmitted a letter from the BIA that was very basic that simply said, we believe this agreement is subject to BIA approval.” – Jennifer Klein, County Counsel

“There was no time limit contemplated in our original discussions and as such it seems unusual that this constraint of less than seven years would come up only in the later part of the four months of negotiations.” – Brooks Firestone, 3 rd District Supervisor

“If the county does not immediately join the appeal currently in place, how does the timeline work to give all parties the necessary time to conclude the negotiations in progress now to a satisfactory finish? Since everyone wants this to work, why not guarantee the time to do it?” – Nancy Crawford, citizen of the Santa Ynez Valley

“You are being told that to achieve a written agreement with the tribe you must relinquish one of if not the most significant elements of your hand-shake agreement, the non-proliferation of gaming off the current reservation in perpetuity. Take this opportunity today immediately to represent the other 99.9% of your constituents and demand that the tribe honor its agreement in full. Challenge the tribe to demonstrate they are worthy of the trust you have placed in them, when contrary to the advise you were given, you unilaterally gave up the public’s right of appeal for nothing more than a promise.” – Nancy Eklund, citizen of the Santa Ynez Valley

“I believe we have an obligation to join the appeal because that is what we gave up in February.” – Brooks Firestone, 3 rd District Supervisor

“I would like the tribe to hear this because I have supported, encouraged, spent hours and hours on us trying to get along. I want them to know, they are losing a really good friend here because we’re feeling like we’re being ignored.” – Joni Gray, 1 st District Supervisor

The only options the Board Of Supervisors had at this time was to continue to try to make something of the agreement or join the appeal. Even faced with a failing agreement, the Board was still not ready to join the appeal. Instead, they voted to ask the tribal government to join them in requesting a delay in the briefing period for the appeal that was already in place. This unlikely request served nothing more than another delay while the clock was still ticking on an effective appeal.

The tribal government declined the request of a delay to the BIA. With another two weeks passing by, the Board Of Supervisors was faced with the same decision…do they join the appeal or hold out any hope for an enforceable agreement? That decision was discussed in closed session on July 12 th, 2005.

The next day, the Santa Barbara News-Press reported the supervisors decided to negotiate with the Chumash leaders for another two weeks over the future of the 6.9 acre parcel. Yet another blow to this community.

It has become very clear that the ability to appeal has been stalled by the Tribal Chairman and the Board Of Supervisors…most of which have received political contributions from the Chumash Tribal government and/or benefit monetarily from business dealings with the Chumash Tribe.

On July 14, 2005, Santa Barbara News Press reported the Department of Interior had confirmed that the window for the county to appeal the 6.9 acre annexation actually closed February 21, 2005…30 days after the county received notice of the annexation.

It seems hard to believe that no one on the Board of Supervisors knew that the window of opportunity to file and/or join the appeal had already closed. They had an army of attorneys giving them counsel on this matter and no one knew the window of opportunity to appeal had closed? The public was told on June 21 st by the Board of Supervisors and county counsel, Mr. Shane Stark, that if an acceptable agreement was not reached by July 12 th, that the county and the Board of Supervisors could reconsider the option of appealing or join the community groups’ appeal. As it turns out, that option did not exist and has not since February 21, 2005.

It becomes very clear that the blueprint crafted many years ago by crafty attorneys financed by big gaming is playing out in our own backyard. The future of our valley can only be protected if we can all understand this process, get involved, contact local and federal officials to demand that our communities not be bought up by big gaming business. This valley is not for sale.

We are not alone. Other communities are learning they can be effective in the process and it appears that the tide is beginning to change on a state and federal level. Strong and informed county officials that are not influenced by big gaming dollars can be effective in dealing with the BIA and protect the interests of their county while still working cooperatively with tribes.



P.O.L.O. is a non-partisan, non-profit organization. P.O.L.O. was founded in 2002 for the purpose of being an advocacy group for the preservation of Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez Valley.