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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.”


  1. Leslie Stockdale on September 27, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Enough is Enough…Leave them in Peace

    • Carol Johnson on September 27, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Regrettably the headline of this article is misleading. The Park District has been very clear with its four year EIR process that it conducted numerous professional studies and consulted during the planning process with numerous Native leaders of the East Bay. The outside specialists concluded the site selected by the Board of Directors at Mission Peak was NOT considered a burial or village site.

  2. John Kelly on October 2, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Would we let someone build a parking lot on top the of Arlington national cemetery just because it was the cheapest way to accommodate visitors?
    The Parks board says it’s trying to do the right thing. But so far it has only shown how little it respects the original inhabitants of this land.

  3. Denelle Meagher on December 4, 2016 at 1:41 am

    I stand for Standing rock and will support the momentum of the protectors to bring awareness to the shameful disregard of the Ohlone sacred land. You don’t have to be native American to know this is wrong

  4. John English on April 13, 2017 at 9:57 am

    The Ohlone weren’t the first Californians. They were certainly early Californians, but not first. Also – every former Ohlone site is not a sacred site – even if there are burials there. If that were the case we really would be in a pickle because – fortunately or not – all of our East Bay neighborhoods are former Ohlone village sites. The 1,000 Oaks neighborhood in Berkeley for example, you know, up around “Indian Rock?” That was an extensive village complex. they were everywhere. What we need is a true place to commemorate and celebrate the Ohlone, a part of which should be public and a part of which should/could be just for current Ohlone to practice and worship, and reconsecrate as sacred.

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