When the federal government tries to intervene in local issues, the outcome is rarely desirable for those in the affected community. There are usually special interests at play, led by those who have the resources and sway to ask Congress for a favor. This is the exact big government scenario that has been playing out in the Santa Ynez Valley of California during the past year. 

Plans for the expansion of the reservation belonging to the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians had been progressing smoothly at the county level for some time.  The small casino tribe is looking to acquire a 1400-acre agriculturally zoned parcel known as Camp 4, and has claimed they want to build additional housing for their members.  However, that is hardly the case.


Santa Barbara County officials have held multiple meetings with the tribe, discussing the plans in detail, but recently became aware of the tribe’s plans to build commercial development in the form of another casino or an “entertainment complex” on the newly acquired land. The concerned county officials were quite surprised at this addition.

A casino or any commercial development would be a significant departure from the original plan for the land, and completely change the direction of this project. The second bombshell dropped when Congressional lawmakers decided to push for legislation that would force county officials to meet the demands of the tribe, and put the land into a federal trust. The bill, H.R. 1157 would negate all of the efforts of the county to work with the Chumash, and give the recipients of the land an exemption from county oversight, zoning laws, and certain water and environmental regulations. 

In fact, the 150-person casino tribe has spent over a $1 million on lobbying and campaign donations over the past two election cycles according to OpenSecrets.org in order to pass this single piece of legislation.  The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), lives about six hundred miles away and has ignored the opposition of our local Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), the County Board of Supervisors and the community on this measure.  This is exactly what President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE means when he said that the system is rigged against hardworking people by lawmakers in Washington.

What Members of Congress who aren’t from this area may not realize is that the Santa Ynez Valley is largely rural and agricultural, and is known for being quaint and scenic. A large commercial development in the community would require significant resources, which current infrastructure may not be able to handle.

If the small government ideals of a Republican Congress and a Republican President are going to prevail, local government and tribe officials must continue working together using the original terms agreed on at the beginning of this process. Intervention from Washington, D.C. is unnecessary and even damaging when officials who are not from the area try to legislate success for one side of the issue.

Indian casinos, while a significant financial boon for the tribe, can be detrimental to the surrounding community, residents, and small businesses. President-elect Trump, who himself was in the casino business at one time, testified before Congress in 1993 on suspected corruption of the Indian gaming industry. 

We oppose any attempt made to try to tuck this legislation into an Omnibus package during the Lame Duck session.  Ronald Regan, a long time resident of that area, once said, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Congress needs to step aside and allow local negotiations to continue between Santa Barbara County officials and the Chumash. 

C.J. Jackson is the spokesman for the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.