March 20, 2023
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Editorial: Government to government talks needed in SYV debate


Depending on which headline you choose to believe, the Santa Barbara County board of supervisors either has or has not begun a dialogue with the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians on the development of a huge tract in the valley.

By a narrow, 3-2 vote, the supervisors voted Aug. 20 to direct county planners to engage in talks aimed at figuring out the terms for developing Camp 4, a 1,390 parcel that formerly was owned by the late Fess Parker and his family.

The Chumash sparked the discussion when they moved to begin a process called “fee to trust” that would have made Camp 4 part of their tribal holdings and taken the county out of the process. With newly elected Supervisor Peter Adam as the swing voter, the county has decided to shelve, for now the idea of actual “government to government” negotiations. Instead the dialog will happen between county staff and Chumash staff.

We think that eventually government to government negotiations are the only way to get a development plan going that makes sense for the county — and we’d be inclined to think that supervisors Steve Lavignino and Salud Carbajal were correct in wanting the talks to start now.

Although every move the Chumash make draws howls of protest from local residents and the NIMBY crowd, he tribe actually has a good track record of developing quality properties, including Hotel Corque in downtown Solvang.

Which brings us to the point of this editorial. Santa Barbara County has a whopping big revenue problem. After years of cutting and cutting it still has not reached a point where it can comfortably operate in surplus from year to year. There are four large revenue opportunities staring the supervisors in the face:

• A deal with the Chumash to get fees in lieu of property taxes and additional cash to pay for road, sewer and other improvements.

• A deal with Rick Caruso to build the Miramar Hotel without incentives.

• A deal to explore onshore for energy in North Santa Barbara County.

• Any one of a number of additional low-probability opportunities that contain high political risk, including the long-shelved Tranquilon Ridge deal to drill offshore for oil in return for eventually dismantling platforms.

Santa Barbara County’s board of supervisors can huff and puff a lot about the Chumash and their plan for Camp 4. But the county can’t really afford a protracted legal battle to stall the project nor can it afford to buy it from the Chumash.

Let the talks begin.