The Chumash Indian tribe was dealt a blow last week after Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors voted to request Gov. Gray Davis’ help to halt an expansion of the tribe’s casino.
The Board of Supervisors drafted a letter to Davis on Jan. 16 asking the governor to take measures against the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians for not maintaining a good faith effort in reviewing the environmental impacts of a proposed expansion. The Chumash are currently planning to add a 21,000-square-foot casino/bingo center, which will include 2,000 new slot machines, and a 1,100-space parking garage to the already existing casino.
The letter to Davis from the board cited the lack of environmental impact and safety studies as the major issue of debate.
“The supervisor of the district in which the casino is located and county staff have met with the tribe in order to convince them of the need for additional analysis and consideration of the impacts on the communities in the Santa Ynez Valley. Various local agencies identified several important health and safety considerations – fire, traffic, air quality, wastewater and airport safety,” the letter states. “The tribe ignored or inadequately addressed these issues. In sum, the tribe did not make a good faith effort to analyze or implement reasonable mitigation measures or alternatives that would abate community concerns and did not provide meaningful opportunity for public comment on the project.”
The Chumash did not expect the county to take such a quick and aggressive stance toward the proposed expansion, according to Vincent Armenta, tribal chairman of the Chumash.
“I am very disappointed with the actions of the supervisors. We have been very careful in dealing with the county. It’s very confusing, their actions,” he said.
Since the casino’s expansion will affect the county as a whole, the county and the tribe need to work together in order to address all of the issues, Santa Barbara County 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall said.
“I hope that the tribe will take the Indian Gaming Pact more seriously,” she said. “Members of the tribe need to understand that they are a part of a larger community.”
Armenta said the Chumash have not broken Proposition 29 or 1A – the Indian Gaming Compact passed in 1999, which restricts certain Indian gaming activities but is questionably enforceable – and that the letter sent to Gov. Davis is not representative of the community of Santa Barbara County.
“I have a high standard of morals. The people of Santa Barbara are not being represented, there has only been 70 comments on the expansion,” Armenta said. “We have used a private company, John Wallace and Associates, to do environmental inspections, and we are working hard.”
Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Naomi Schwartz said the proposed expansion’s impact on the Santa Ynez Valley and the county needs to be more extensively studied before the expansion proceeds. “We need to regain a place as neighbors, together. We need to think how this will affect the future,” she said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Indian gaming to be legal in 1987 (California v. Cabazon Band of Indians) but Congress quickly forced participating tribes to negotiate a compact with their state as a gaming prerequisite. Armenta charged that the county has harassed the Chumash since the tribe negotiated a compact six years ago.
“It has been an ongoing thing. They first opposed gambling, now they are using environmental issues as a way to try and stop our expansion,” he said.