The Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians will begin the second phase of expansion of the Chumash Casino, despite complaints from local citizens.
The Chumash Consolidation Plan will expand the current casino off state Highway 246 in the Santa Ynez Valley in an attempt to further its efforts at a “self-reliant lifestyle,” proponents say. The 18-month construction project, which is expected to begin mid-June, will double the size of the casino to 190,000 square feet.
The building plan includes a 120-room hotel on top of a new gaming building, a snack bar, three to four restaurants, administration offices and a 1,000-seat auditorium for special events and bingo.
Once the construction is completed, the old casino will be torn down and replaced with a three-story parking structure that will hold an additional 660 cars.
Some Santa Ynez Valley residents say the construction will adversely affect the surrounding community.
“[The Chumash Tribe] said if the state allows gaming – what they call self-reliance – the tribe would do their best to mitigate the impacts of gaming in the community,” 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall said.
As part of a contract with the local government, the Chumash tribe will share its gaming revenues with other non-gaming tribes. The tribe also agreed to set up an Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund, which allocates another portion of the revenue to ensuring minimal impact to the surrounding community. The fund also helps to treat gambling addiction and assist the state gaming commission with the administrative costs of gaming.
Chumash Relations With Community
To make up for infringement on their neighbors, Marshall said the Chumash have donated about $1.5 million to charity, schools and community-based projects.
The 3rd District office said the Chumash plan to install two traffic lights and a turn lane in front of the casino. But, Marshall said, these efforts do not help the community as a whole.
“They are picking and choosing areas to relieve when they need to be mitigating all areas,” she said. “I really do appreciate the need for the Chumash tribe to be self-reliant and provide for their future generation, but a contract is a contract. They said they would do things they have not done. Anything beyond that fact is superfluous.”
The Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens formed in 1997 when people complained of on-street parking on non-reservation property and bright lights near residences when the first casino was built.
“We do not oppose gaming or the tribe, but this is a building project that produces a large amount of off-reservation impacts on the community, and the tribe is not responding to our concerns,” SYVCC Co-chair C.J. Jackson said.
The SYVCC said the negative impacts include aesthetic contrast, traffic, air quality, water and sewage plant resources, out-of-town commuters and an increase in fire, police and social service activity.
“The tribe is not involved in any of these burdens and they don’t follow California building codes or participate in the overall planning of the community,” Jackson said. “Since they don’t pay taxes, they would not be paying for the construction’s effects.”
Phase one of the expansion took place in October of 2000 and included a temporary building to house 2,000 gaming machines and a parking structure.
The tribe’s contract with the state requires that two public hearings be held before construction begins. During a 30-day comment period, the Chumash received 50 letters from citizens describing their concerns about the project. About 200 people gathered at the casino on Friday, May 10, for a second public hearing on the second phase of the expansion.
Tribe officials said the Chumash business council will consider the comments and may include them in a final evaluation of the proposed plan. However, concerned citizens feel the tribe is not considering the logic of their complaints.
“The Chumash interprets the compact requirement for public hearings as ‘we must have a meeting, but we don’t have to listen,'” Jackson said. “When they filled out the environmental evaluation, they did a half-ass job at explaining the environmental impacts. The citizen’s comments were much longer than their entire evaluation.”
Marshall said the first evaluation was less than adequate because the tribe did not account for all the broader impacts the casino would have on the rest of the valley and its citizens.
“This is not what people had expected. They kept saying they have no plans, yet they kept developing,” Marshall said.
The California building standard requires an Environmental Impact Report to address all the off-site environmental impacts. This includes how the building will impact the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley and what the current and future development plans of the whole area entail.
Hoping For Compromise
Santa Ynez Valley resident Lammy Johnstone-Kockler said citizens should not criticize the tribe for efforts to improve.
“First of all, the property belongs to the Chumash. It’s a sovereign nation, so they can basically do whatever they want,” Johnstone-Kockler said. “What have they done? Try to provide housing, education and self-reliance to a small band. What have they done for the valley? Given money back into the community.”
Marshall said an end to the conflict would come down to whether or not public pressure would make the tribe more amenable. If settlement cannot be reached within the community, the compact between the government and the tribe is up for re-evaluation by the state in 2003.
“I’m working with a group that was asked to form by the organized tribes of California, working with the Special Distribution Fund to make sure the revenue comes back to the local government,” Marshall said.
“Relations with the tribe need to improve,” Marshall said. “I live in Santa Ynez Valley and in this small of a town, relations are very important.”