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The land the Chumash purchased that they are trying to get put into trust was previously determined through the city planning process that it would be dedicated to agriculture. If the land does get put into trust the original plans will no longer apply, and as I have stated before, anything could be built on this land, whether it be a casino, or anything else not allowed in the county.

While the purpose of land to trust is to provide economic stability for Indian tribes, I think it is important to note the businesses run by the Chumash off the reservation.  They own a successful restaurant, hotel, and a number of gas stations in the town. Is it possible for the Chumash to generate revenue through a county approved business, and not through another casino? I don’t see why not…

 

 

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Casinos Around Us

While the Chumash Casino seems like an issue unique to my city, I have seen through research, and even through some of the comments on other posts, that Indian gaming facilities have affected other cities as well.

In the United States, there are 562 recognized Indian tribes. Out of those 562, 233 of them operate gaming facilities in 28 different states. That puts us at a total of 425 Indian casinos in this country, which means it is likely that up 425 different cities are having the same struggle that we are.

There are numerous national organizations and committees that are dedicated to promoting Indian Gaming. For example, the National Indian Gaming Association states its mission is “to protect and preserve the general welfare of tribes striving for self-sufficiency through gaming enterprises in Indian Country.” Other organizations include the National Indian Gaming Committee, and there are government departments as well, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Committee of Indian Affairs.

Although there are no Indian Casinos in Orange County, the neighboring Imperial, Riverside, San Bernadino, and San Diego counties all have multiple casinos. While I’m focusing on the problem of the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, I urge anyone else struggling with Indian gaming to take action, or share their stories here.

The Next Step…

Doreen Farr’s letter to Congressman Gallegly was a great start, but there’s more to be done. Through this letter Farr has started the process of becoming an government advocate for the cause, which means we are moving in the right direction.  There are several courses of action that I think Farr should take in order to continue the effort.

  • Call a Town Hall Meeting. While a great deal of the community is against the casino, this would be an opportunity for individual voices to be heard, and serve as a hatching ground for solutions.
  • Write a letter to the Chumash Tribe. While reportedly Farr has tried to communicate with the tribe before, I think an official letter explaining why the community is against the land to trust movement is only fair. It is important to begin a conversation with the Chumash in order to please both parties.
  • Ask Congressman Gallegly to take further action. Now that Gallegly has been informed of the situation, he needs to be convinced to help us move forward.  Aside from turning down the Chumash tribe’s request to put their land into trust, something more permanent would be ideal.

 

On March 3rd 2011 Santa Barbara County 3rd District Supervisor, and my change agent, in regard to the Chumash tribe’s request for assistance of the congressman to place the newly acquired land into the trust through direct federal legislation.  Farr expresses her opposition to the legislation. She includes some crucial key points:

  • “Any legislative strategy that bypasses public process or omits the opportunity for the local community to comment is of very high concern to me.”
  • “It is my understanding that the fee to trust process, whether handled through the Bureau of Indian Affairs or through direct Congressional action, was established to assist tribal governments in acquiring additional land in order to achieve economic success and provide long term fiscal stability for their members. This is not the case here.”
  • “I strongly believe that decisions on land use need to be conducted through a transparent process that not only allows, but requires, community input.”
  • “Any proposed development has many potential impacts that need to be thoroughly analyzed including impacts to police and fire services, to traffic and circulation and to the continued viability of agriculture, both on the property in question and on all the properties that surround it, just to name a few. If the property is proposed to have gaming on it, those impacts are only exacerbated.”

Those are just a few highlights of the eloquent letter. View the whole thing here.

I’m very satisfied with Farr’s letter.  She manages to explain the problem without resorting to demonizing the Chumash. She makes her arguments clear and points out not only why going over the citizens’ heads is unjust, and why we are so concerned about it.

With My Own Eyes

I feel the need to express my personal opinions on the casino. The two of us have a complicated relationship. I first started going to the casino because it was one of the few forms of entertainment in my very small community. It was almost like by going to the casino, we were able to forget the fact that we lived in a podunk town, even if just a few hours.  What  began as an occasional visit quickly escalated to weekly, and then to twice weekly visits, always leaving with that same smell of second hand smoke and broken dreams clinging to our clothes.

Once the “glitz” of the faux waterfalls and flashing lights wore off, I realized just how depressing that place was. I learned firsthand how addictive winning money is.  While losing large sums of money was never an issue for me, I saw the people around me time and time again betting chips like they were just M&M’s, and pounding on slot machines like they were arcade games.

It’s just sad seeing people walk along the freeway whether they’re on crutches or it’s 2 o’clock in the morning towards the casino, just like moths drawn to light. It’s sad working at a grocery store and having customers try and get cash back from their food stamps so they can presumably take that money straight to the casino. It’s sad that my family no longer feels comfortable leaving our doors and cars unlocked, when they used to be something we never even thought about.

While it may be fun every once and a while, you have to acknowledge how this establishment truly affects the customers and surrounding community, in every aspect.

My friend Kayce and me and my first [legal] trip to the casino.

In My Own Words…

So I’ve been wading through documents and documents filled with governmental jargon and unfamiliar usages of words like annex, trust, and sovereign.  I wanted to break down the situation in words the average human can understand.

The Chumash tribe was granted a reservation in Santa Ynez, CA, which is currently recognized as a sovereign nation, meaning they control their own affairs, and are exempt from county regulations. This sovereignty combined with Indian Gaming Acts allow the Chumash reservation, along with many other tribes, to freely run casinos on their land. Currently the Chumash tribe has purchased a many-acred nearby ranch, which is owned by the Chumash, but technically not part of the reservation…yet. The Chumash are attempting to add this newly acquired land to their reservation, so this too would not abide by the county restrictions. If added, the Chumash would be able to expand their casino. While some consider the Chumash Casino to be an economy booster, many recognize it comes at a heavy price.

Hope this clearly illuminates the issue.

I Am Not Alone

Through my research on this topic, I have discovered a number of organizations that share my beliefs regarding casino expansion. Many of these coalitions focus on the preservation of the Santa Ynez Valley, but it is impossible to do so without addressing the casino.

  • P.O.L.O. or Preservation of Los Olivos, is one of the leading voices against the Chumash Casino expansion in the Santa Ynez Valley. Started in 2002 by two families against a nearby housing development, P.O.L.O. has since expanded to more members, and more causes.  They said on their website, “P.O.L.O. believes one of the biggest challenges we face today to the quality of life we all enjoy in the Santa Ynez Valley is the desired tribal land expansion through flawed federal laws governing tribal land acquisition or fee-to-trust.” Their website also provides links to related statements, articles, and videos of meetings. Take a look here.
  • Women’s Environmental Watch, or WE Watch, focuses on everything from native plant restoration, to the Chumash annexation issues, under the mission statement, “Working together to sustain the beauty and environment of the Santa Ynez Valley.” Their website provides links to contact information to various government officials and local organizations.
  • The Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens are an organization completely dedicated to preventing Chumash expansion. Their website provides detailed background information and updates for example, “Thanks to your hard work, Santa Barbara County sent the Bureau of Indian Affairs a strong critique of the Chumash tribe’s plans to develop nearly 7 more acres along Highway 246.”

Finding all these organizations with overwhelming support from the community makes me hopeful that change will come.