West Berkeley Ohlone Shellmound, Village & Burial Site

Urgent-Action Letter-Writing Campaign

For the West Berkeley Shellmound, Village and Burial Site

View of West Berkeley circa 1873 showing the shellmound covered with willows. Photo courtesy of Richard Swartz via the California State Library
View of West Berkeley circa 1873 showing the shellmound covered with willows. Photo courtesy of Richard Swartz via the California State Library

A parcel of land containing remnants of the West Berkeley Shellmound, Village and Burial Site, is slated for a development that would include shops, apartments, restaurants and an underground parking garage.

The West Berkeley Ohlone Shellmound, Village and Burial Site, is considered to be the oldest inhabited site in the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The site was the home to a thriving Ohlone Indian village roughly 5,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence supports the view that this site supported a population who lived a sophisticated maritime-based life. Ohlones would launch tule reed boats on the bay to fish, hunt for waterfowl and sea mammals. They would transport people and carry goods to other villages for trading.

Archaeologists have found evidence of a large ceremonial center that was a sacred center for those who lived there and for the descendants today. In addition, there were ceremonial animal burials, including a condor burial. Additionally, charmstones, quartz crystals and bird-bone whistles have been found there as well, all of which have spiritual significance to Native people today.

The site was also a cemetery, and past excavations have uncovered scores of human burials. Disturbing burials is a sacrilege and causes great pain and a deep sense of insult to Native people. Would the City of Berkeley even consider permitting a development on a non-Native cemetery?

We urgently need you to send letters of protest to the City of Berkeley Planning Department. Ask that permits be denied for this development! New Extended Deadline: Monday, March 13, 2017. Please mention points listed in the attachment.

If you would like to craft your own letter, please include some and elaborate on others of the following Bullet Points.

Note: Please refer to the site as the “West Berkeley Shellmound and Ohlone Village & Burial Site.”

You should head your comments with the following: Re: Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report on proposed 1900 4th Street Project

Send your letters to: Attn: Shannon Allen, City of Berkeley Planning Dept.

1947 Center Street, 2nd Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704

Email comments to: ShAllen@cityofberkeley.info

Deadline Extended to March 13, 2017

• This is our last opportunity to protect and preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound and Ohlone Village Site. Almost all of the other shellmound and villages sites have been developed and buried under concrete. Please do not approve the destruction of this unique, historic, irreplaceable site. We should preserve and enhance the remaining sites and our collective efforts should start with this site.

• This is the oldest sacred site in the Bay Area. It has to be protected. If destroyed by development it will be lost forever—and Berkeley will be responsible for a sacred place’s cultural, spiritual and ecological history being swept off the Earth.

• Berkeley is on record supporting the rights of indigenous people. The Landmarks Commission noted that this site is “highly significant to native descendants as a sacred burial site.” The city of Berkeley should not be approving and defending the destruction of a sacred site. The City of Berkeley has passed resolutions supporting the protection of sacred sites outside of Berkeley, such as the resolution passed supporting the Standing Rock Sioux opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. For the City to have credibility it must take action to protect the sacred sites within its boundaries that it has pledged to protect—including this important site.

• The draft EIR language and archaeological analysis cleverly seeks to distract from the larger landmarked village site by claiming there are no shellmound remains within the 2.2 acre parking lot site. This is deceptive and inaccurate. We are concerned about the entire site, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and whose boundary is already determined. 1900 Fourth St. sits within this larger site.

  • CEQA requires that 1900 Fourth Street be respected in a manner consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (1995) whose “Standards for Preservation” states: “A property will be used as it was historically… The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The replacement of intact or repairable historic materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property will be avoided.” The draft EIR fails to identify and address these state and federal protection requirements (as does the proposed project). Mitigation “below a level of significance” in thus impossible. The draft EIR is inadequate and should not be certified or approved even if revised.

• CEQA Guidelines under Section 15126.4 (b) Mitigation Measures Related to Impacts on Historical Resources. (3)(A), states: “Preservation in place is the preferred manner of mitigating impacts to archaeological sites. Preservation in place maintains the relationship between artifacts and the archaeological context. Preservation may also avoid conflict with religious or cultural values of groups associated with the site.” Mitigation “below a level of significance” is impossible. The draft EIR is inadequate and should not be certified or approved even if revised.

• There is no feasible way to mitigate the disturbance of burials. These impacts are unavoidable significant impacts and cannot be mitigated.

• The alternatives analysis is inadequate and insufficient. The draft EIR does not adequately assess alternatives as required by CEQA. A reasonable range of alternatives should have been considered. A reasonable range of alternatives would have considered designating the entire site as culturally-significant, memorial, open space, as the site would be excellent for wetlands mitigation and state agencies are ready and willing to step in and assist in culturally-appropriate ecological restoration. There are few such properties available for wetlands mitigation. This site also has the potential for an urban creek restoration project that could provide restoration of a portion of what was the nature landscape of the area, enhancing water quality, promoting climate change mitigation, and allowing protection in perpetuity of this critical tribal cultural resource. The developer should have also analyzed an alternative location for this mega-development; a site that is not as close to the freeway, and not located within the boundaries of the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site.

• The project proposes housing close to the freeway and train tracks, with 155 apartments and perhaps 3-500 new residents and 372 parking spaces: The The DEIR does not adequately address traffic impacts in that it fails to include all approved and ongoing projects in the area. The failure to address these other projects means that the cumulative impacts analysis is fatally flawed. The DEIR fails to account for safety issues that will result from additional traffic in the area and the railroad crossing. The DEIR does not fully address potential air quality impacts nor does it adequately discuss studies regarding increased asthma and other respiratory problems for people living near freeways and industrial areas. The DEIR does not sufficiently address the potential for release of hazardous chemicals through ground disturbance. The DEIR does include a sufficient discussion of potential impacts to water resources on site that could result from development on the site, nor does the document include an adequate alternatives analysis.

  • The EIR ignores the many hundreds of burials already known to have been removed from sanctified burial ceremonies that laid them there. Burials have been found from 2-13 feet below the surface in the site. They surround the site and are likely within the 2.2 acres from which 8-feet of subsurface soil would be excavated. The developer should not destroy this site, disturb burials and separate us all from ever knowing them and their world.

• The city and the developer have not complied with AB52, having failed to consult with members of the Ohlone community. The Ohlone comprise more than a dozen tribes and languages yet the draft EIR consults only one individual.

• The West Berkeley Shellmound and Ohlone Village Site is still used for prayer and ceremony by members of the Ohlone community. This will no longer be possible if the project is approved. These important facts are not mentioned in the draft EIR.

• The draft EIR fails to mention or address the proposed project’s violation of Berkeley Municipal Code 3.24.260 “Permit application-—Review standards and criteria” which states (italics added): “Approval of permit applications pursuant to this section may be granted only upon determination that the proposal conforms to the criteria set forth in paragraph 1: For permit applications for construction, alteration or repair: For applications relating to landmark sites, the proposed work shall not adversely affect the exterior architectural features of the landmark and, where specified in the designation for a publicly owned landmark, its major interior architectural features; nor shall the proposed work adversely affect the special character or special historical, architectural or aesthetic interest or value of the landmark and its site, as viewed both in themselves and in their setting.” Hence, the 1900 Fourth Street’s Structural Alteration Permit #LMSAP2015-00005 application should be denied.

• I am concerned that the consultant to the project developer, Mark Rhoades, former City Planning Manager, may influence the city planning staff in terms of whether an objective analysis is conducted for this project. I am also concerned that the sole Ohlone consulted with works for the developer, is advocating for the project, stands to benefit as a paid archaeological monitor (also MLD, most likely descendent), may remove human remains to a cemetery under his personal control and for which he is paid a fee, and is CEO of the non-profit organization that is singled out in the draft EIR as deserving recipient of a $75,000 donation to upgrade the Ohlone Cemetery.

• The 1900 Fourth Street draft EIR is fatally flawed, inadequate and defective. The city should review, reject, reissue and not certify this EIR, and never approve commercial development of the West Berkeley Shellmound and Ohlone Village Site.



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