Protect Our Valley

Photo credit: Nick DiCroce

Making the best land use decisions possible is of foremost concern to our organization.  And, if there is one thread running through the community, it is our desire to protect the unique characteristics of our valley – its beauty, tranquility, healthy environment and sense of community.  We all want to preserve and enhance agricultural endeavors which enrich our quality of life.  The vision of a well planned future for the valley is sustained by the continuous protection of our many unique resources.

Our members can rest assured that WE Watch will continue to monitor new development plans, attend and speak at public meetings, work closely with other community groups, and watch for any land use changes to our valley.

Fee-to-Trust Transfers

Fee-to-trust is a process established by the Federal government to allow recognized Indian tribes to increase the size of their reservations by removing land from the county and state and placing it within the trust (their reservation).  This originated to allow Indians the means to survive economically.  Any lands within the trust are exempt from state and local taxes and regulations including zoning.

WE Watch continues to evaluate such transfers on the basis of land use issues.

The Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians (aka Chumash) purchased the 1400 acres, Camp 4, located roughly at the NE corner of 154/246.  There is an attempt underway to place that land with the reservation – fee to trust transfer.  If successful, it would result in the greatest threat to our Valley in the memorable past.  Such a transfer would increase the size of the reservation ten-fold.  As you may recall, our community plan was recently approved after ten long years of work.  One major problem we encountered was the “black hole” right in the middle because of the reservation.  While the current reservation results in substantial impacts to our Valley, it is exempt from the planning process.  This means that the community must deal with all sorts of issues; increased traffic, noise, law enforcement, fire protection, etc., etc., without corresponding revenues.  We would be contending with a reservation exempt from all zoning, county and state regulations.  The size of the area would jump from approximately 139 acres to a staggering 1539 acres.

The Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians chose to develop a portion of their reservation into the Chumash Casino and Resort.  They are a wealthy tribe.  The Tribe does not need to place Camp 4 into the reservation for their economic survival.  It is the position of WE Watch that at this time there is no justification for removing the Camp 4 property from the regulations of the county and state.

Several years ago the Tribe attempted to place 6.9 acres, roughly located at the corner of Edison St. and 246 in trust.  The community rose up in opposition.  The question was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the most general terms “standing” for community groups was won.  This sounds very simple but in fact its importance cannot be over emphasized.  Now community groups have the right to be heard in the process through the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  This seems to have resulted in the stymieing of any fee to trust transfers.

The Tribe approached Congressman Gallegly and requested that he put forward a congressional bill transferring the Camp 4 property into trust.  Such a bill would completely bypass the long established fee to trust process.  WE Watch sent a letter to the Congressman expressing our opposition to any bill authorizing the fee to trust transfer of Camp 4.  Congressman Gallegly’s aide for Indian Affairs told WE Watch that the Congressman would not proceed without approval from the County and City of Solvang.  The Tribe submitted a proposed agreement to the County to do just that.

Since 1992 we have been active in the efforts to Protect Our Valley.  The possibility of increasing the size of the Chumash reservation by ten times poses the greatest threat to the character of our Valley we have been forced to confront.  Having an area of 1539 acres (about the size of Solvang) which could be developed in any manner the Tribe chooses (i.e. casino, resort, box stores, etc.) without regard to the planning process, which applies to each and every regular county resident and business, and without regard to the concerns and well being of the community is alarming.

WE Watch will continue its opposition to any fee to trust transfer of Camp 4.  The community, county and state must maintain control of land use planning.  Without it the integrity of our communities are in great peril.

Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan Update

The process of updating the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan (SYVCP) has been a lengthy one.  It began in 2000 when a diverse group of valley residents developed the Valley Blueprint.  The Blueprint voiced a desire “to protect the unique qualities and character of the region while maintaining a sound base for economic sustainability of its quality of life.”

This was followed by the Santa Ynez Valley General Planning Advisory Committee (GPAC) whose members were appointed by former Supervisor Gail Marshall.  Over the course of nearly two years the GPAC held a total of 32 public meetings to discuss a wide range of issues including:

Photo credit: Nick DiCroce

Land Use
Public Services
Parks, Recreation and Trails
Biological Resources
Visual Resources
Agricultural Tourism and Wineries
Water, Wastewater, and Flood Hazards
Circulation and Highways
Community Design

In August 2004 the Board of Supervisors initiated a draft project description of the SYVCP update.  On February 15, 2005 the Board of Supervisors substantially reduced the area covered by the plan.

Early in 2005 Third District Supervisor, Brooks Firestone, appointed a new Valley Planning Advisory Committee (VPAC) to refine and offer alternatives to the previous work of the GPAC.  Another series of public meetings was held.

On September 26, 2006 the Board of Supervisors sent the SYVCP update out for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  The Draft EIR was released for comment in July 2007.  The Draft EIR was then revised in response to public comment.  The SYVCP and EIR went on to the Planning Commission in May 2009.  The Commission conducted five public hearings on the Plan before certifying the EIR and recommending adoption of a revised SYVCP to the Board of Supervisors on July 15, 2009.

The SYVCP was then sent to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.  The Board voted to approve the Plan on October 6, 2009.

W.E. Watch has been very active in this lengthy process.  Our members served as part of the Valley Blueprint, GPAC and VPAC committees presenting a perspective in keeping with our Mission Statement and Guiding Principles. (See About Us.)  When the Draft EIR was released, W.E. Watch members reviewed and commented section by section on all the topics including the sufficiency of mitigation measures.  Multiple WE Watch Board members were present at each of the Planning Commission hearings and presented both oral and written comments..

The Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan can be found at:

Possible Neverland Ranch Scenarios

WE Watch is carefully monitoring any future plans that might be submitted to our County planners that are at variance with our mission statement, strong environmental emphasis and support for agriculture.

Chumash Fee to Trust Land Annexation Issues

Fee to trust is the process by which an “Indian” tribe removes land from local jurisdiction and places it within its “reservation”.  The U.S.  Bureau of Indian Affairs is the authorizing agency for these transfers.

Such transfers affect the local community in many ways.  First and foremost, once land is in the “trust” the local community has lost its ability to influence its use.  Local zoning, ordinances, and regulations no longer apply.  For example, land previously zoned for agriculture might be used for high density housing with no input from the community.  This is possible because the ”trust” is no longer part of the county.  It becomes part of the reservation which is considered a sovereign nation.  In our case, it is as though a separate country exists within our valley.

Once land is placed within the “trust” no property taxes or state taxes apply.  This is a potentially substantial revenue loss for the county.

Loss of community control and reduction of the county’s tax base are the reasons WE Watch believes any fee to trust transfer application demands very careful, thorough review, with community input, before action as appropriate is taken.

Pending Fee to Trust Transfer of  6.9 Acres

In the past the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) routinely approved ”fee to trust” transfers without regard for community opposition.  The February 2005 application to place 6.9 acres, owned by the Chumash on Highway 246 across from the Casino, into federal trust was approved by the BIA in spite of more than 900 letters of opposition.

Anticipating an agreement with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash, Santa Barbara County failed to file a timely appeal of the transfer.  Subsequently, no such agreement was reached.  By not filing an appeal, Santa Barbara County gave up the public’s right to appeal.

A lawsuit demanding “standing” was filed in federal court by POLO and POSY.  This suit was successful.  The ruling sent the proposed transfer back to the BIA with notice that community opposition must be considered.  This was a very big victory for communities and community organizations throughout the U.S.

Final determination for the 6.9 acre transfer is still pending.

Santa Ynez Airport Expansion Background and History

The SYV Airport Authority was created in 1993 and is responsible for managing the airport. As required, a Land Use Plan was prepared and accepted by the Board of Supervisors in January 2002.

Subsequently, the SYV Airport Authority submitted an application for expansion of the airport. After numerous amendments, an Initial Study was released in May 2007, stating that only a Mitigated Negative Declaration would be required rather than an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Concerned about the possible effects of an airport expansion, a diverse coalition of community groups, including W.E. Watch, began meeting in 2006. This group submitted comments on the Initial Study in June and August 2007 and stated that an EIR should be required. Ultimately, the coalition hired a graphic artist and an attorney to press the claim that an EIR was required due to visual impacts alone in addition to other concerns.

The SYV Airport Authority has withdrawn the previously submitted expansion application and has stated that another will be submitted.

Other Projects We Are Currently Monitoring

  • Camp 4
  • Winery Ordinance