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Chumash Meet Opposition

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A proposed plan to expand the reservation of the
Santa Ynez Band of Chumash by five-fold is contending with strong
opposition from county officials, that the tribe is calling at best
premature.

Nestled in the picturesque mountains near Santa Barbara about 90 miles
northwest of Los Angeles, the Chumash are attempting to secure the purchase
of 745 acres from local real estate developer Fess Parker. The tribal
membership approved a motion that would allow the tribe to pursue the land
purchase last month.

Normally county opposition to such purchases is in reaction to proposed
gaming developments. In this case the Chumash already operate a large-scale
casino and it is a development of a different kind that is raising the
opposition.

Apparently preliminary talks are in the works to build a 500-home
development that would include a golf course and luxury hotel. The county
is contending that the land in question is zoned only for rural development
and under the current development scheme the land could only support seven
houses.

Meanwhile, Chumash tribal sources claim that only preliminary discussions
have taken place and that it is too early to tell whether or not plans for
the housing subdivision will even be put forth.

Calls to the Chumash tribal council were referred to Frances Snyder who
works with a Truckee, Calif.-based public relations firm called Tribal
Counsel. Snyder claimed the tribe is in a no-win situation with the local
government. She recounts criticism leveled at the tribe last year when they
sought to consolidate their casino, which was formerly housed in three
separate buildings.

"At that time they [county officials and the public] criticized us for not
making our plans public sooner," Snyder said. "Now when we made public
mention [of the potential land acquisition and development] they criticize
us for that. It makes no sense."

The tribe now holds 138 acres and Snyder claims that much of it is on a
floodplain and that the extra acreage is necessary for tribal housing. Not
all of the housing would be set aside for the tribe as non-tribal members
would be eligible to take long-term leases on the property since they would
be precluded from owning the land.

Critics contend that their fear is that if the land goes over to the tribe
there will be little local recourse and since the land would be in tribal
hands they would not be subject to local environmental and zoning laws.

Furthermore they charge that the project will be a front for developers who
are looking for ways around increasingly stringent laws designed to protect
diminishing open space.

Snyder counters this criticism and claims that the tribe will work with
Santa Barbara County to make a deal acceptable to both sides.

Currently the situation is this: Parker would sell the land to the tribe
for $12 million and would retain a 49 percent share to help develop the
land. The tribe would have the remaining 51 percent for a controlling
share.

Though Parker made his name in Hollywood, famously playing Davy Crockett in
a 1950s Disney film and portraying Daniel Boone on television, in recent
years Parker has made his money in real estate. A landmark luxury Santa
Barbara beach resort bears his name as well as a local winery.

Luxury would also be the key to the development in Santa Ynez. In recent
years real estate prices have skyrocketed throughout most of California's
coastal region and Snyder describes the homes that will be built as "market
rate," which given the nature of the market in the area translates to
expensive.

Even if the land sale is successful the tribe still has several hurdles to
cross before even presenting the land. The complex nature of Indian land
holdings would dictate that the tribe clear a BIA process to put the land
into trust.

Though BIA officials in whose district Chumash sits were unavailable for
comment due to a meeting, Jim Fletcher, a BIA superintendent, was quoted in
a Los Angeles Times story as saying that a proposed project of this
magnitude would be subject to rigorous federal environmental review.

Additionally, Fletcher pointed out in the Times story that there would be a
forum where the public could express their views on the project and the
whole process could take up to four years.

This is not the first time the tribe has tried to acquire land. Snyder said
the original reservation was only 99 acres and was recently added upon to
make separate parcels contiguous.