Camp 4 Trust Decision Reversed
Camp 4 land (Photo: Santa Barbara County)
By edhat staff
On February 13, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson found the 2017 decision to take the land known as “Camp 4” into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians was unlawful.
The plaintiff's attorney Barry Cappello, with Cappello & Noel LLP Trial Lawyers in Santa Barbara, released a statement with the announcement.
Camp 4 property was purchased by the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians in 2010, and is comprised of over 1,400 acres in rural Santa Ynez Valley. The land had been dedicated to low-density agriculture under a specific community plan that took several years to develop after many meetings with Santa Ynez Valley residents and under California’s Williamson Act.
In 2013, the Band filed an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), asking the BIA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) to take the land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act. This would allow the Band to avoid all local and State land regulations, while it developed a high-density housing and tribal facility plan. The BIA conducted an Environmental Assessment but did not perform a complete Environmental Impact Report. It then issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), and a 2014 Notice of Decision to take Camp 4 into trust, according to Cappello's statement.
Plaintiff Anne Crawford-Hall filed an administrative appeal of the 2014 decision as her family had previously owned Camp 4, and her properties sit directly across the street.
The court’s ruling came down to Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, who resigned before the ruling. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts held Washburn's position for 210 days before returning to his deputy role. In 2017, on the final day of President Obama’s administration, Roberts issued the Department of the Interior's final decision affirming the 2014 decision to put the land into the trust, then resigned.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs put Camp 4 into the Federal Trust, transferring ownership of the land to the Band, which would then add to its Reservation.
Last week, the Court vacated the 2017 Decision of the Principal Deputy, and vacated the Band’s transfer of Camp 4 to the government. The Court sent the case back to the agency to handle the matter properly, and retained jurisdiction to review their action.
"Crawford-Hall’s success in this litigation was of enormous benefit to the entire valley, and she is to be commended for single-handedly fighting the entire U.S. government to preserve the natural beauty of the valley," says Barry Cappello, managing partner of Cappello & Noël LLP who is representing Crawford-Hall.
The Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians had previously stated the land would be developed for tribal housing.
"Our client didn't want to watch as this agricultural valley became filled with casinos and high rise hotels," says Wendy Welkom, an attorney at Cappello & Noël who worked on the case.
Kenneth Kahn, the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chairman, released the below statement to KEYT after the court's ruling:
“Today’s ruling on Camp 4’s trust status was unfortunate, and we firmly believe, as does the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that Deputy Roberts was within his authority to issue a final decision on our fee-to-trust application in 2017. The tribe purchased the Camp 4 property in 2010 with the intention to build homes for our tribal members, and nine years later, we are still working on making that dream a reality. Camp 4 has always been historic tribal land, and the tribe will continue to fight to ensure adequate housing for its members.
The 36-page decision from the court is available below.
- October 26, 2017: Complaint Filed to Block Camp 4 Agreement