The edge of wine country in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is the site of the latest water war. A group of landowners there are rolling the dice with an 1897 lawsuit in an attempt to stop an expansion of the Chumash Casino and Resort.

Amidst the pastoral landscape where only the mountains are higher is where you’ll find the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians 12-story tower being built. The tribe is shelling out $170 million on the massive expansion of its Chumash Casino and Resort and has also acquired an additional 1,400 acres for housing of residents of its reservation.

The landowners who dug up and dusted off the 19th-century suit say the Valley is being ruined by the Chumash. They say that the Valley, which accommodates the only wine-tasting day trip from Hollywood and was the backdrop for the 2004 Alexander Payne directed film “Sideways,” and the land being utilized for the build out, isn’t part of the Chumash’s federally recognized reservation, according to Bloomberg. Subsequently, the landowners have brought the case to court in hopes that the judgment from the 1897 suit is applicable and will prevent the tribe from tapping the local creek for the resort. The threat of choking off the tribe’s water supply comes when water is like liquid gold in California where a four-year drought has left the state parched. It also coincides with the conflict growing between Indian tribes and local communities over the casino industry.

The tribe enjoys sovereign immunity and as such its property isn’t subject to local safety and environmental regulations, according to Steve Pappas, the executive director of Save the Valley LLC, the group suing the tribe. Last year California officials sent the tribe’s chairman, Vincent Armenta a letter expressing, among other things, concern over the projected 36,000 gallon a day increase in water usage by the casino. As part of the tribe’s renewed gaming compact with the state, in August it agreed to address local environmental concerns. That however isn’t good enough for Pappas who says the Chumash has been has been taking advantage of its sovereign immunity status to acquire land, power and wealth. As a result Pappas’s group uncovered the 1906 judgment, which followed the 19th-century suit. That suit against the Indians who were living on the Catholic Church’s land was originally filed by the bishop of Monterey who wanted to establish living terms for the Indians; therefore he restricted water use to domestic purposes.

Save the Valley claims that the 75 acres the casino in on east of a creek, the water supply, was never formally made part of the reservation, which means that the acreage must comply with local land use rules. If the judgment is successfully applied, the water will be limited to irrigation and domestic purposes for tribe members living on the east side of the creek, and prohibited for use by the casino.

Land in trust is held for the tribe by the government, which has moved the case to a Los Angeles federal court, arguing that the case involves the question of sovereign immunity. Whether or not Save the Valley will be permitted to resurrect the 1897 lawsuit will be decided by the judge.

2 Responses

  1. Arleen Coggins-Robles

    Over the years the Santa Ynez Valley have continued to express their concern over what the Chumash are doing with the land. During the 50’s 60’s and 70’s the valley could have cared less what was happening on the reservation. They did not care if we lived or died and always waited to take what ever the could from us. We were treated like animals and people of the valley would spit on us rather than help us in any way. Today we have turned the other cheek and provided many things to the people of the valley. We could take all the lands in the valley and make you all return all that has been stolen from us. But we chose to try to live in peace. You people of the Santa Ynez Valley never asked for our permission to live here, we welcomed you and all you have done is spit on our graves, in our faces, and called us money grabbers. So when you say that we should not be greedy and make the most of our situation I say that we are just following your example we have finally assimulated to what you practice everyday.

    Reply
  2. tanya

    A step backwards.
    During this time in 1897, were the Indians in Monterey allowed to be heard in court? Because as I recall my history Indians and blacks were not allowed to testify for or against any white person in the United States court system.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.