SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The expansion project includes a proposed 12-story, 215 room hotel tower that was revealed in graphic detail at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors weekly hearing in Santa Maria on Tuesday.
The tower was highlighted in purple in a visual presentation by County Staff that made for a striking contrast to the rest of the expansion project that includes another parking garage for more than 500 vehicles and the near doubling of the casino floor that will also include administrative offices, meeting rooms and more restaurants but no additional slot machines.
The Board of Supervisors reviewed the project and the Chumash Tribe's "environmental evaluation", or EE, of its various impacts.
"The premise here is the EE is insufficient", said Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network, one of a handful of people who spoke out against the size and scale of the expansion project at the Board hearing, "not just how you mitigate what they are trying to do, but it includes premises that are inaccurate or wrong, that's why the Governor's office is calling for an EIS."
Governor Brown, through the State Attorney General's Office, sent a letter to Chumash Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta outlining the state's concerns about the casino-hotel expansion project and requesting a more thorough environmental impact study, or EIS, of the project to ensure it complies with federal and state land use regulations.
"This Attorney General's letter, which is specifically stated in the letter, at the behest of the Governor, is an extraordinary letter", Jordan told the Board, "it's the first time the Governor has instructed the A.G. to comment on a situation in Santa Ynez."
Specifically, the A.G. letter cites concern about the visual impacts of the 12-story hotel tower to the mainly rural Santa Ynez Valley, increased vehicle traffic and visitor numbers to the Casino and Hotel and its impact to air quality and transportation infrastructure, the strain the project will place on County fire protection, law enforcement and emergency services and the need for more water and groundwater access for the project at a time when the Santa Ynez Valley Groundwater Basin is in overdraft amid the ongoing drought.
The Chumash Tribe says it has legal rights to groundwater under its reservation under the obscure "Winters Rights" claim despite the fact that the local water purveyor, the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation and Improvement District, or ID1, is not accepting new requests for service due to the drought.
"The Hastings Law Review Journal article specifically says that it (Winters Rights) does not extend to groundwater in California", Susan Jordan told the Board pointing out the issue is addressed in the letter from the State Attorney General to the Tribal Chairman.
"We are concerned about the possibility that this entire project is nothing more than a red herring", said 50 year Valley resident Gerry Shepherd at the Board Hearing, "its a project alien to the character of the Valley, a visual nightmare, a project deliberately made so repugnant so our Board of Supervisors will accept mitigation of the project as trade bait for inappropriate development on the 6.9 acre parcel or perhaps in exchange for Camp 4 negotiation generosity."
"We call on our Board of Supervisors to continue to represent the entire community and county in their dialogue with the Tribe", Shepherd added.
Chumash Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta was in attendance at the hearing but did not address the Board and declined to comment afterwards saying only that he was there to "listen to what was said."
County representatives will meet with the Chumash Tribe later this week to discuss potential mitigation measures to the casino-hotel expansion project.
But because the project is on Tribal land and is governed only by a 1999 Gaming Compact between the Chumash Tribe and the State of California, there is little Santa Barbara County can do to change or stop the expansion from moving forward beyond securing "good faith" mitigation efforts by the Tribe.
"Everything is negotiable, most things can be mitigated", said Andy Caldwell of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business or COLAB, "but instead the county, more so residents in the Valley and elsewhere, have decided to abandon negotiation, mitigation in favor of litigation and I don't think its working."
"I don't negate the fact that the Valley has changed as a result of the Casino operation, I don't deny that at all", Caldwell told the Supervisors, "this project produces change, but the question is how can you accommodate it, mitigate it, and minimize it? Living things want to grow, they either want to grow up or they are going to grow out, you are either going to have height or your are going to have sprawl, and the question is can you plan for it."