Park district approves Summit Peak parking lot on possible Ohlone burial ground
on September 23, 2016
The East Bay Regional Park District’s board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of building a 300-car parking lot on top of a possible Ohlone burial site at the Mission Peak Regional Preserve.
During a public hearing in Oakland before the vote, Ohlone descendants and dozens of their supporters spoke out against the project that district staff members say is needed to accommodate the recent surge in trail visitors. On average, 1,500 to 2,000 come to Mission Peak daily on the weekend, but there are only 43 parking spaces. Cars now park along nearby residential streets.
“We as a board have to make certain decisions,” board member Diane Burgis said in explaining her vote. “I can tell you for a fact that everybody who works for this park district cares deeply about doing the right thing.”
Earlier, opponents tried to convince Burgis and others of what that might be.
“I’m coming here to ask that the board not to approve this project today, and to look at another way of doing this,” said Ohlone descendant Corinna Gould. “It’s the entire landscape that is sacred to us.”
During the hearing, district officials said that the land has never been fully excavated. An environmental impact report finalized in August states that “the project could have a potentially significant impact on Native American archaeological deposits and human remains.”
But staff members said that the parcel is not a known village or burial site, and that testing of the land found only scattered shell fragments.
Nevertheless, the Ohlone people have demanded that the site be left alone.
The board’s vote effectively certified the project’s environmental impact report, which was initiated in 2012; approved the project to move forward at the staff’s recommended site on the left side of the park’s Stanford Avenue entrance; and authorized $1 million in development funds for the lot’s design and permitting. The project’s estimated costs are $6.5 million.
The district staff also considered building the lot on the land across from the approved site, but it would cost an estimated $9 million to build, according to Glenn Gilchrist, the district’s design manager. That parcel is also a well-documented Ohlone burial and shellmound site, according to the impact survey.
Descendants of the Native American tribe told board members that neither option respected their history.
Ruth Orta, who is one-quarter Ohlone, said she was not surprised when the board approved the potential burial site for construction. But she’s certainly disappointed,
“It’s the same old, same old,” Orta said after the meeting, which ran for three hours. “We fight and fight, and they’ve never given us anything.”
Robert Nesbit, the park district’s assistant general manager, said the staff tried to avoid areas that may contain “cultural resources,” a term that includes human remains.
“We believe we have exhausted our investigation into whether that is possible,” Nesbit said.
Ohlone leaders would be consulted in the event that human remains or cultural artifacts are unearthed, according to the plan.
Robert Doyle, the district’s general manager, said that the Ohlone people should be included in more discussions when it comes to their ancestral lands.
“We need to do a better job working with representatives of the first people of California,” Doyle said, but added that the district needs to also serve the park’s visitors.
Before voting, the majority of board members described a tough balance of maintaining public access and preserving an increasingly popular park.
For supporters of the Ohlone people, doing the right thing means leaving the land alone— –or finding other alternatives. Several community members proposed building a parking garage on top of the existing lot— – a project the district says would cost $20 million. The opposition also suggested commissioning a shuttle service to the park.
One archeologist reminded the board that its policy is to protect Native American sites at its parks. Lynn Gottlieb, an ordained rabbi, said that the Ohlone people are essentially asking the district to “protect its church.”
“This is their connection to their past lives,” Gottlieb told the board. “And we’re going to build a parking lot on that? Shame on us.”
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