It’s a small victory for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
The long legal battle over a 6.9 acre piece of land could be closer to an end.
The tribe wants to add the property, located just across from the Chumash Casino on Highway 246, to its reservation.
Tribal leaders say they plan to build a museum, cultural center and park on the land.
Several community groups have spent the lasteight years fighting to keep that from happening.
“We envision opening it up to local schools and to be a resource to everyone in the Santa Ynez Valley, and students of Santa Barbara County,” explains Sam Cohen, the Governmental Affairs and Legal officer with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
Opponents worry those plans could change. They argue if the land is no longer under local jurisdiction, tribal leaders could use it however they want. That could mean expanding the casino.
They filed an appeal last year.
In a surprise twist, a judge dismissed the appeal saying paperwork wasn’t filed in time.
He said opponents sent the paperwork to the wrong address causing them to miss the deadline to appeal.
One of the groups involved in the appeal, Preservation of Los Olivos, or POLO said they are frustrated by the decision.
“Three citizen groups filed appeals timely, as instructed and in accordance with federal regulation. All three were told they mailed their appeals to the wrong address. Our attorney, Ken Williams, informs us that the IBIA reasoning doesn’t make sense, is internally contradictory, and is wrong. This is yet another example of attempts by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Appeals Board to ignore community objection to tribal land expansion – fee-to-trust. The BIA and Appeals Board operate on their own time table and have stalled for months and years before making a decision,” said Kathy Cleary, POLO Board President.
“We can’t help but be a little pleased that even though they had the worst of intentions they weren’t able to effectively make an appeal,” said Cohen.
Tribal leaders say there is still a long road ahead, and it could take years before they get approval to acquire the land.
POLO says it will continue to fight for the community.