Sacred cultural site returned to Ohlone people

A parking lot was purchased with money raised by descendants of the Ohlone people, whose sacred burial site and shell mound lie underneath it.

The City of Berkeley put the brakes on a development project that would have put a big apartment building on the site, and a local land trust was created by Ohlone people who still live in the area. The land trust raised $ 25 million, and the city contributed an additional $ 1 million to purchase the parking lot. The City has transferred the deed to the trust and a monument and cultural center will be placed there to honor the shell mound and its meaning to the community that once thrived there.

"This was the site of a thriving village going back at least 5,700 years and there are still Ohlone people among us and their connection to this site is very, very deep and very real, and this is what we are honoring," she added.

The agreement with Berkeley-based Ruegg & Ellsworth LLC, which owns the parking lot, comes after a six-year legal fight that started in 2018 when the developer sued the city after officials denied its application to build a 260-unit apartment building with 50% affordable housing and 27,500 feet of retail and parking space.

The settlement was reached after Ruegg & Ellsworth agreed to accept $27 million to settle all outstanding claims and to turn the property over to Berkeley. The Sogorea Te' Land Trust contributed $25.5 million and Berkeley paid $1.5 million, officials said.

The trust plans to build a commemorative park with a new shell mound and a cultural center to house some of the pottery, jewelry, baskets and other artifacts found over the years and that are in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Corrina Gould, co-founder of the Sogorea Te' Land Trust, addressed council members before they voted, saying their vote was the culmination of the work of thousands of people over many years.

The mound that once stood there was "a place where we first said goodbye to someone," she said. "To have this place saved forever, I am beyond words."

Marin IJ

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