Just like any population, the family that is the Yoche Dehe Wintun Nation is expanding at a rapid pace.
To accommodate this, Yoche Dehe plans to secure more than 850 acres near its Cache Creek Casino Resort in the Capay Valley for possible development with a federal trust agreement. A portion of that land would be used for housing, schools, a water treatment plant and tribal government buildings.
But the proposal and its implications threaten to fracture relations between the tribe and Yolo County officials. Local government leaders say they’re sensitive to the need for growth, but they question taking already protected agricultural land into federal trust.
“We recognize the tribe’s need for additional land for housing and cultural uses — we’ve never disputed that aspect of the application,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor from Davis. “However, these uses only require about 100 additional trust acres, according to the tribe’s application.”
Under the agreement, the legal title of the property becomes the government’s, but the tribe remains the beneficiary. If the proposal were approved, it would allow Yocha Dehe more freedom in choosing uses for its 15 parcels of land along Highway 16.
Nine parcels of agricultural land, 753 of 853 acres, will remain unaffected by the tribe’s plans for expansion, according to Yocha Dehe. In the tribe’s application, the stated intention for this agricultural property is preservation.
“Our concern is that there is no reason to transfer the properties to trust if that’s the purpose,” Saylor said. “There are many ways of preserving agricultural properties within existing land-use planning processes.”
The process for having land taken into trust, which is mandated and controlled by the federal government, allows for public comment. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors took the opportunity to issue an official letter in opposition last month.
Yocha Dehe spokesman Greg Larsen expressed disappointment with the decision on behalf of the local tribe:
“Yocha Dehe has had a long, collaborative relationship with the county and, from the outset, had hoped for the county’s support for the trust application, even though it is not required.”
Larsen reiterated that the large amount of acreage not used in the construction of residential, community or cultural sites would remain unchanged — in the stewardship of those who harness a special bond to the land.
“(The land is) at the heart of the Yocha Dehe ancestral homeland,” he said.
Whether a federal trust transfer of this scale would be agreeable to local leaders has been a matter of discussion for nearly two years. The close partnership between Yocha Dehe and Yolo County, however, stretches back more than 10 years.
During that time, the tribe has contributed $41 million in needed revenue to Yolo County. Yocha Dehe is also the largest private employer in the county, providing nearly 2,500 jobs.
The land controversy is causing a divide in that longtime alliance, based on the understanding Yolo County officials have of their current ordinances and agriculture protection laws being rendered inoperative under the trust agreement.
“Frankly, the collaboration that has existed for so long is jeopardized by transfer of property,” Saylor said. “Once the property is placed in a federal trust for the tribe, there’s no longer any reason for the tribe to consult with local government around plans.”
The local leaders also took issue with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ finding in October that the tribal land plan would have no significant environmental impact on the area.
“The county’s concern about the tribe changing its plans in the future is not speculative,” the officials wrote in response to the Bureau’s findings.
While neither side could offer an expected timeline for approval, Saylor said it is clearly being “actively considered.” He continued, “That’s why it’s important that Yolo County go on record now in opposition to the transfer of the entire property.”
Tom Frederick and Pamela Welch, owners of Capay Valley Vineyards in Brooks, also are vocal critics of the plan. They are close neighbors of the Cache Creek Casino Resort and that has made them cautious.
Welch’s suspicion of the land-trust plan is similar to that of Yolo County’s supervisors, and is also influenced by the nature of families — and how they tend to change each generation.
“It could end up being very disruptive to a small rural area,” she said. “There’s a lack of legal accountability. … The use of that land can be anything they desire.
“Even though there may be good intentions behind it now, things may change with time.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052.