By Lori Denman-Underhill
There is a new Wildlife Corridor Ordinance passed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on March 12th 2019. This ordinance was at the Board’s direction to regulate development on natural passageways of wildlife and it effects private property. It was passed on March 12 at a hearing held by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on the Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor project. David Daniel Diaz is one of the two hundred members of the Barbareno Indian tribe. The tribe covers the lower Eastside Santa Barbara, down to Carpinteria, La Conchita and Northern Ventura County. His great aunt owned property where horses roamed up in the east end of La Conchita. His Native name, Yaminquan Kakin translates to “Blue Wolf,” and he is a Native cultural expert and liaison in the Los Padres National Forest region of Southern California. Diaz has been a monitor since childhood, protecting local tribes’ sacred burial and archaeological sites.
The background on the wildlife corridor project can be found on the Ventura County Resource Management site. The stated goal is to assure that native plants are preserved and animals move freely during migration. The County claims that development patterns within the unincorporated areas have hindered animal migration.
The Board, at its Planning Department, claims to have the best intentions in assisting the survival of native flora and wildlife. However, there are numerous aspects of the ordinance that various parties disagree with. Aside from farmers and property owners, local Native American tribes – the first people of Ventura County – represent a portion of that opposition.
Opposition points include the following:
- There seems to be a violation of state and federal laws as they passed with ordinance with no completed Environmental Impact Report nor any information on CEQA upon the website describing the ordinance.
- There are no listed Native American monitors who worked on the ordinance project. They apparently left Native American cultural experts out of the process.
- The rezoning covers over 160,000 acres and the complicated rules affect thousands of parcels, placing restrictions on new and replacement structures, security fencing and lighting. Any deviations will require expensive and time consuming discretionary permits including an environmental analysis and a public hearing.
- Restrictions on brush clearance within the County along identified water features will hinder efforts to prevent fires from spreading into neighborhoods and cropland. Restricting brush clearance to 100′ around structures within drainages will endanger homes, increase fire insurance rates and render some structures uninsurable.
- The possible consideration of the corridor including the entire Boeing, Santa Susanna Field Lab land in the HCWC overlay zone and adding exemptions for temporary cleanup actions.
- Restrictions on security fencing and lighting will likely increase property crime in these largely remote areas. The fencing limitation of 10% of a parcel zoned OS or AE will allow criminals and trespassers unimpeded access onto your property as will the requirement for a 24 inch gap every 50 feet in a fence. These unrealistic rules will increase the burden on County Sheriff resources.
- Adequate security fencing and lighting is necessary to deflect predator animals around neighborhoods thereby protecting both humans and animals from conflicts.
Diaz has additional concerns, aside from the previously listed opposition points. He stated that the Native American perspective has not been taken into consideration by the planners who worked on this ordinance. Diaz said, the architects of this“[were] are in a rush to get it passed.” He believes that the ordinance’s restriction on security fencing and lighting will decrease the protection and preservation of sacred Native archaeological sites. The new ordinance affects local tribes and property owners. He stated that with the ordinance, the Board is now using its own new rules and regulations to trump previous agreements made with the citizens in the region.
“Many times the rules and agreements are never respected,” Diaz said. “It is very similar to the dog park up there at the Veterans Cemetery Park. There are American Veterans, I am also a veteran, who were buried there with their tombstones and everything. The city said, ‘forget it.’ They came in and took all the tombstones out, threw them in the dump and said they were going to make it a park. Natives and veterans were very upset. We don’t want this type of dictation to our culture and to our people. We just want to be Native people taking care of our own land.”
“The Wildlife Corridor Ordinance will allow for non-indigenous people to come in, and desecrate land, and affect our cultural heritage,” Diaz told Citizens Journal. “We are striving to keep as much of it intact as possible. By taking down the fencing that protects the land, we see it as if they are trying to keep our souls and our spirits of our ancestors. And by federal law, under treaties, they are not supposed to do that. Fences are designed to keep Americans and foreigners out, but Native Americans still have the right to be there.”
“The acknowledgments and the agreements that are made in creating these types of zones are different for Native American Indians,” Diaz continued. “We have leeway to those rights by being the First People of the region. Sometimes the government agencies, irregardless of where they come from, they have a habit of not working with local tribes from the regions.
“What is happening in Montecito, for example, is that the County and the residents neighboring a sacred Native burial ground are aiming to gentrify it. The county is now spraying – what they call ‘organic’ – pesticide on the plants over our burial grounds holding of our ancestors, and much more”
Regarding the corridor project, Diaz said, “They are managing the land, but they are leaving a big portion of it out. It’s just like the fires. One would think that a Native Indian would need to be there in order to protect the cultural resources — ours. One would think that they would place us in the loop, but they don’t. It’s like, they keep us on the sidelines in order to facilitate their own purposes.”
Diaz has lived and seen all of the goings on, and speaks from both knowledge and experience. He tells tales of wandering the back country of Santa Barbara and the rest of Ventura County as a child in the 50s and 60s.
“The areas were mostly within the Los Padres National Forest, which stretches behind Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties,” Diaz explained. “There is also an extension of it that goes into the Big Sur area. I was taught how to be an Indian in the forest by my uncles and grandfathers,” Diaz said. “As a result, I am able to assist anthropologists and archaeologists.”
By gaining this knowledge and being a local Native, Diaz grew to be a “monitor.” A monitor must be a descendant of a Native American tribe and is obligated to protect sacred Native archaeological sites, including burial grounds. Diaz has guarded sites in Ventura County and has witnessed a constant degradation of these sites by developers and others who proceed with certain projects. Diaz is keeping an eye on one of these present day projects such as the Wildlife Corridor Ordinance.
As he keeps watch, Diaz utilizes a law established in 1970 that must be followed when developing new land projects. It is called CEQA–the California Environmental Quality Act – and requires state and local agencies to note the environmental impacts, including those affecting Native archaeological sites. Diaz is questioning the validity of the Wildlife Corridor Ordinance by not utilizing this law.
“The best we can do right now is just continue to document the impingement of Native American rights upon Public lands,” Diaz explained. “We need to go to City and County meetings to assure that they are honoring CEQA protections and work to find resolutions. It’s an uphill battle. Violations of CEQA are very common. We need to speak with them about consulting with the Native people of our local regions. We need to make sure that they are not violating Federal and State statutes and treaties.”
Diaz has many concerns with the Los Padres National Forest, that is affiliated with the ordinance. These include a lack of fire protection and cultural sensitivity. The person in charge of cultural sensitivity issues is in their Tribal Relations department. However, Diaz claimed that this person works alone, with no assistance.
“One example of how the Los Padres National Forest needs assistance, especially with fire control. Just look at their Tribal Relations department head, Pete Crowheart. He works the jobs of five men, and during fire season, he has to travel to and from most districts in Southern and Northern California.”
In conclusion, Diaz hopes that someday, CAL FIRE and Los Padres National Forest representatives will work with the Indians who could assist them in protecting sacred Native sites. Diaz claimed, “The Los Padres National Forest representatives should work with us, not against us, in preserving land. CEQA dictates that they have to.”
He also urges CAL FIRE to learn more about the canyons and their cultural history, in order to not disturb the petroglyphs and cultural sites.
As for the Wildlife Corridor Ordinance, he sees alternative solutions. One that is suggested by Fish and Wildlife agencies, would ensure genetic diversity of wildlife. The loose ends of the ordinance remain, as opposition continues.
Additional information on the ordinance can be found at this site. Ventura County Planning representatives were unavailable to comment or respond to inquiries regarding an EIR, CEQA or presence of Native American monitors on the ordinance project. To view an online map depicting the Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor here.
Lori Denman-Underhill has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, Surfline.com and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.