Native American Community Organizes Against Development

BY DAVID COPITHORNE staff writer

While digging a trench on Fourth Street in Berkeley for the redevelopment of the Spenger’s Fish Grotto and adjoining properties on March 29, construction workers uncovered pre-contact Native American remains. It is believed that the remains are around five thousand years old. On a parking lot across the street from the property, there is talk of a redevelopment of the land. The redevelopment would include a shopping center and 155 apartment units.

Due to the location of the remains and how close they are to the lot, some believe that there could be additional remains near by. Developers state that they’ve concluded research on the land and that no remains were found. Local Native American groups are skeptical, as the site is in the middle of the West Berkeley Shellmound, a location believed by archeologists to be the first inhabited area in the Bay Area.

In a report created by Blake Griggs Properties, a developer of the site, it is stated that the ground is empty of significant artifacts and remains. Richard Schwartz, an archeologist who has studied and researched the area, is untrusting of their findings. “[The] BG report did not even mention one of the four hundred burials and other cultural remains that my historic data presented to them,” Schwartz stated. Schwartz is an advocate of leaving the land as it is and a member of a steering committee to try and prevent the development of the site.

Corrina Gould, an Ohlone activist and organizer, is fighting to keep the developers from building on the land through raising awareness of the site and its significance. “ … it’s a parking lot, so nobody would understand that it’s a sacred site. There’s a burial site here; there used to be a creek that ran through here. There was a huge mound sixty feet high. People lived here,” stated Gould.

Some apartments will rent at nine hundred dollars per month. This amount would make it some of the lowest housing rent in Berkeley and an affordable living option for low income families. According to developers, the buildings will be eco-friendly and include “green building features and high-efficiency materials [to ensure that the] building well exceeds California energy codes.” The building is to fulfill goals of Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan by providing housing oriented to alternative transportation, including bike access and amenities, bike share, car share, public transportation via bus and train, and will be walkable to many services, cutting down on emissions released by car transportation.

The future of the site is unclear. Protesters have pushed back the proposal comment deadline, but the deadline falls short of the 120 day extension suggested by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to allow native Ohlone and Lisjan people to provide consultation to the city. Currently, Berkeley is consulting Andrew Gavan, a Chochenyo Ohlone who is president of Ohlone Indian Tribe Inc. of Fremont. Gavan also happens to be on the development team for the site. This conflict of interest has created weariness among the Native American community. Brad Griggs, one of the head developers, stated “Mr. Galvan is recognized by the State of California Native American Heritage Commission as an authority to represent the Ohlone and throughout his career and life he has had vast experience throughout the Bay Area in supervising and providing valuable input from the Ohlone perspective on Ohlone related issues, similar to the situation at 1900 Fourth Street Under the state guidelines of AB52, the City ran an objective, independent process that resulted in Andy Galvan’s role. The development team had nothing to do with this selection process.” Galvan was not hired to create bias, but is one of few representatives selected by the state of California to legally represent the Ohlone.

When discussing the reports that Richard Schwartz supplied to them, Griggs said that “None of his reports refer to our property. They fall around the area, but none of his evidence adds up to our evidence supplied by Allen Pastron.” Pastron is an archeologist who has been working in the Bay Area for years. The data supplied by Pastron suggests that the site was submerged in water until the 1850s, which raises questions about the legitimacy of a shellmound ever being placed on the site to begin with. Griggs added, “We don’t want to argue with people’s opinions, but logic and facts need to prevail.”