- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
Committee on Indian Affairs
- senate Committees
- The house has not voted
Indigenous Peoples of the United StatesCommittee on Natural ResourcesIntroducedJanuary 8th, 2019
- house Committees
What is House Bill H.R. 317?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 317
In-Depth: Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to affirm the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) decision to take land into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians per the tribe’s request. Chumash tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn says this bill would protect the tribe’s 1,400 acres of land, known as “Camp 4,” and affirm the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ January 19, 2017 decision to place the site into federal trust:
“We continue to seek the opportunity to place our Camp 4 property in federal trust through legislation. We were successful in placing Camp 4 in federal trust through the BIA’s administrative process, and we’re confident that with the progress we’ve made over the last two years, the legislative process will be just as successful.”
“Our main focus for Camp 4 is housing. Our current reservation is one of the smallest in the country and only provides enough space for 17 percent of our tribal membership to live. It is our inherent right to secure Camp 4 as part of our reservation to restore tribal homelands, promote self-determination and bring many of our members back home.”
The Santa Ynez Valley Coalition (SYVC), comprised of the Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens, No More Slots, the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance, and WE Watch, is opposed to this bill and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ agreement with the Chumash. Its chairman, Bill Krauch, has previously argued that passage of this bill would allow the Chumash to build a development that “massively violates local zoning and planning restrictions.” He says:
“This is the third time the Chumash have gone to Congress to deny residents their rights to challenge the illegal Camp 4 fee-to-trust decision in court. We are disappointed our [C]ongressman would sponsor a bill on behalf of a wealthy special interest group that will violate the Community Plan, allow unregulated development and be partially subsidized by the taxpayers of Santa Barbara County. We will continue to oppose this action.”
The opposition has been driven by fears of a loss of local control and tax revenue, a casino on the site, unsightly development along Highway 154, and an expectation of increased water use. The SYVC says they don’t oppose the Chumash building homes and furthering their cultural goals, but would like the tribe to follow county code and pay permitting fees and subsequent taxes like anyone else in the valley. Krauch clarifies:
“[T]he Santa Ynez Valley Coalition stands ready to work with the Chumash to address their housing needs while protecting the property values and the economic viability of the surrounding area and ensuring that local taxpayers are not on the hook to support tribal development.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, it had 13 House cosponsors, including eight Republicans and five Democrats, and passed the House and Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, but didn’t receive a full Senate vote.
Reportedly, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential race and has a history of challenging tribal land-into-trust applications during her tenure as California Attorney General, contributed to the bill’s slow movement. However, after this bill unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last Congress, Sen. Harris joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in joining the Chumash in asking for its quick and favorable consideration.
Over the past several years, Rep. LaMalfa has introduced three separate bills to allow Camp 4 to be taken into trust. Each time, these bills have died when Congress adjourned without a vote on them by both houses.
Of Note: In 2010, the Chumash purchased the 1,400 acre tract in question from the Fess Parker estate in order to build 143 homes for tribe members and descendants, as well as a 12,000 square foot tribal center. The tribe then submitted a land-into-trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in July 2013. Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which Congress adopted to promote native self-governance, tribal governments can petition to add land to their reservations through an administrative process called “fee-to-trust” or “land-into-trust.” When land is made part of a tribal reservation, it becomes exempt from state and county laws regarding development, as well as property taxes.
In 2014, the BIA published an environmental assessment and said it’d acquire the Camp 4 land. However, the decision was never finalized due to opposition in Santa Barbara County. However, on January 19, 2017 — the Obama administration’s last full day — the BIA approved the application and the land was placed into trust the next day.
Under a memorandum of agreement with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, the Chumash would be required to follow state and county codes and provide compensation for services provided by Santa Barbara County. In the case of Camp 4, having the land taken into trust by the federal government is necessary for the Chumash to achieve their goals with the land. Since Camp 4’s land is zoned for agriculture, converting it for housing and tribal center use would be difficult under state laws and Santa Barbara County zoning regulations; but having it taken into trust by the federal government would effectively make it part of the Chumash Reservation, negating state and county laws’ jurisdiction and allowing the housing and tribal center development to proceed.
Cheryl Schmidt, director of Stand Up for California!, a California-wide citizens group with a focus on tribal gaming in the state, observes:
“The [Chumash’s] plan to build housing and other economic development, unveiled in 2013, has touched off legal and political trench warfare with local residents and Santa Barbara County officials, who have rejected similar plans twice before because they violated the local land-use plan and threatened the Santa Ynez Valley’s rural character.”
Despite numerous administrative appeals and a lawsuit by a Santa Ynez Valley resident, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved the Chumash’s request after-hours on the Obama administration’s last day. However, in February 2019, a federal judge, Steven Wilson, ruled that the BIA shouldn’t have placed the land in trust because the Obama administration official who signed the approval document, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, didn’t have the authority to do so. Wilson ruled that the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs was the only person with the authority to issue a final decision about Camp 4, and since that position was vacant at the time of the January 20, 2017 decision, he concluded that the BIA’s trust acquisition was invalid.
Schmidt argues that the current debate over the Chumash’s plans for Camp 4 are symptomatic of a larger issue with the fee-to-trust system in general. Rather than pass this bill, Schmidt contends that Congress should instead seek to fix the fee-to-trust system by creating “clear directions that balance tribal self-determination against the rights and powers of states and local governments” that “incorporate the right to exert some measure of local control by affected communities, making sure those most affected by tribal developments have a credible voice in the outcome.”
Should the Chumash’s effort to have the Camp 4 land placed into a federal trust via an administrative avenue fail, the legislative avenue through this bill is an alternative route. Even if this bill doesn’t pass, the Chumash could still complete the land-into-trust process through the administrative route; but it’d likely take years due to appeals from opponents.
- CBO Cost Estimate (115th Congress)
- San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed (Opposed)
- Santa Ynez Valley News
- Santa Ynez Valley Star
- Santa Maria Times
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Nature, food, landscape, travel)