Hoping for a happy ending with Glen Cove demonstrations
By Tony Burchyns / Times-Herald
Posted: 07/21/2011 01:00:58 AM PDT
An activists' encampment has been at a proposed GVRD parksite in Glen Cove for more than 12 weeks, protecting lands sacred to Native Americans. An agreement is to be voted upon by the Vallejo City Council and GVRD board tonight that reportedly grants the tribes legal oversight in all activities at the shell mound burial site. (Mike Jory / Times-Herald file)
Vallejo city and parks officials are crossing their fingers that a protracted fight over plans to build a park on an ancient American Indian burial ground will end peacefully tonight.
If it does, a mostly peaceful months-long standoff that has included a protest encampent at the park will likely end soon afterwards.
Both the Vallejo City Council and the Greater Vallejo Recreation District board are set to vote at about the same time on a proposed agreement negotiated with two tribes. It would allow a scaled-back Glen Cove waterfront park project to proceed.
Talks have been held over the last few weeks in response to the months-long protect encampment at the planned park site on 15 acres at the end of Whitesides Drive. The city and GVRD also were under pressure from some Glen Cove residents complaining that the encampment had become a nuisance.
Other residents, however, supported the demonstrators or stayed neutral, hoping for a speedy resolution.
On Wednesday, the city released the proposed agreement's terms. They include the scrapping of a planned bathroom facility, which had particularly offended the protesters. It also includes relocation of a down-sized parking lot.
However, the deal's specifics leave some ambiguity about how GVRD's park development project can proceed. A key concern for park opponents has been the proposed flattening of a hillside, which would remain part of the development.
But Committee to Protect Glen Cove member Corrina
Gould said she has faith that ancestral remains and cremations will not be further disturbed or desecrated.
The negotiating parties represented the city, GVRD and two federally recognized tribes -- the Yocha Dehe and Contina -- whose ancestral lands include the Glen Cove area in south Vallejo. Those at the encampment -- which has lasted 99 days and nights -- were not at the bargaining table.
In recent weeks, the two negotiating tribes distanced themselves from the demonstrators, saying that the protest could draw looters to the former shell mound burial sites.
Any lingering tensions about how the deal was struck, however, gave way Wednesday to a sense of relief as details emerged about a proposed "cultural easement" between the city, GVRD and the tribes.
The proposed deal would forever guarantee the tribes the ability to closely monitor activities impacting the sacred sites. In exchange, the tribes would agree to pay the city $100,000.
"The cultural easement is an important victory," Gould said. "However, we are concerned about the lack of specific language that would prevent grading on the western portion of the site."
"We will be communicating this to the tribes and we have faith that they will take all necessary measures to ensure that ancestral remains and cremations are left undisturbed," Gould added.
The land's historical and cultural significance dates back some 3,500 years and continues to be spiritually important to California tribes, according to the Committee to Protect Glen Cove.
The proposed agreement doesn't exclude going through the courts to resolve future disputes. The agreement allows the demonstrators and their representatives 10 days to leave the park site. If they remain after that period has elapsed, the city would agree to provide an alternative "reasonable, time place and manner" location for demonstrators to express their concerns.
Should the demonstrators not peacefully leave, however, the tribes may choose to enforce their rights under the easement in a court of law. The city and GVRD separately would be free to pursue enforcing their own laws and ordinances.
How far the city would go to enforce the law if the protest continues remains unclear, Assistant City Attorney Claudia Quintana said.
But at this point the potential for conflict appears to be fading, GVRD General Manager Shane McAffee said.
"Not only have we worked with (the Yocha Dehe and Cortina) tribes for many years, but now there is a formal agreement for how the shell mound sites will be handled," McAffee said. "And we still have a project that will serve the entire community."
Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (707) 553-6831.
Shell mounds saga timeline
* 1907: University of California archaeologists identify remains of native American Indian villages and burial grounds dating back to 1000 A.D. in south Vallejo. Further excavations are recorded five years later. The sites are believed to be the remains of either the Southern Patwin or Ohlone Indians.
* 1983: Greater Vallejo Recreation District acquires 15-acre site on north side of Carquinez Strait. District later deeds the land, located at the end of Whitesides Drive, to the city for future park.
* 1984: Portions of the archaeological sites are apparently uncovered during construction activities.
* 1988: Park plans approved, but never implemented.
* 2007: Final plan for a scaled-down park approved, with construction slated to begin in late April 2011.
* April 14, 2011: A group of native American people and their supporters begin around-the-clock spiritual ceremonies and occupation of burial site. They vow to block bulldozers and prevent any work that would "desecrate" the land.
* April 18: More than 150 people join protesters in anticipation of a police conflict. However, city decides to allow activists to remain pending further talks.
* May 31: Two Patwin tribes that are among the native people whose ancestral lands include the Glen Cove area propose a solution to protect the burial site. The tribes remain in talks with the city about a cultural easement within the park.
* June 7: San Francisco Bay Trail Project officials announce they are suspending a $200,000 grant to GVRD for trail construction. The action was in response to ongoing demonstrations against the park project.
* July 12: More than 100 park opponents attend Vallejo City Council meeting to support a resolution with the tribes to protect the entire site.
* July 14: Dozens of park opponents attend GVRD board meeting to support an agreeable resolution.
* Today: Vallejo City Council set to meet in special meeting to execute the proposed cultural easement and park modifications. If approved, park opponents say they will end their encampment and prayer vigil with a ceremony.