June 22, 2004


Board votes 5-0 to ask Bureau of Indian Affairs for “current and accurate” study
of tribe’s plans to annex land for shopping, museum and parking

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.—The Chumash tribe’s environmental assessment of a retail and cultural project proposed for construction across from the tribe’s casino is flawed and should be redone, Santa Barbara County supervisors said in a letter mailed Tuesday, June 22 to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

  The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to send the letter, meeting the BIA’s June 23 deadline for local governments to comment on the environmental assessment, or EA, of the tribe’s application to annex 6.9 acres along Highway 246 from county jurisdiction and place the land into federal trust.
“Overall, the County believes the EA contains serious omissions of current and accurate data sufficient to determine the potential impacts associated with the development,” the county’s 16-page letter read.

  In a separate letter to the BIA, the City of Solvang also criticized the environmental assessment as inadequate.

  The Chumash tribe has proposed building retail stores, a museum highlighting the tribe’s history, a park and a parking lot on the parcel, which is located across from the tribe’s casino and hotel, which is scheduled to open this summer. The tribe has filed a so-called fee-to-trust application with the BIA, which, if approved, would remove the parcel from local and state tax rolls, as well as zoning and environmental regulations, and give the tribe sovereign authority over the land.

   Through petitions, letters, faxes, e-mails and personal contact, hundreds of residents of the Santa Ynez Valley have complained to county supervisors and the BIA that the environmental assessment of the project was based on outdated and incomplete data. The citizens have called for the BIA to order a more thorough environmental impact statement to determine the proposed project’s impacts on traffic, water, public safety and other areas.

  “If a developer were to submit an environmental study as flawed as the one the tribe produced, it would be thrown back at them,” said Nancy Eklund, a board member of Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens. “We think it is only fair that the federal government require the tribe to produce a report as thorough and detailed as what local and state law would require.”

  Furthermore, Eklund said—and county supervisors agreed—the environmental impacts of the 6.9-acre project should be evaluated together with the tribe’s other fee-to-trust applications, including the Chumash plan to partner with developer Fess Parker to build hundreds of homes, a hotel and golf course on 745 acres of Parker’s pristine ranchland.

   “The shopping and cultural project is just one component of the tribe’s master plan to develop the rural Santa Ynez Valley,” Eklund said. “Together and individually, these projects have adverse environmental effects. A full study should examine all of them together.”

   County supervisors indicated they may order up their own environmental impact report of the 6.9-acre Chumash project. They also voted Tuesday to ask officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to visit Santa Barbara County and hear from the community.