Reportback from Landmarks Preservation Commission Meeting

On April 5, 2018, Ohlone representatives—flanked by about 50 supporters—attended the City of Berkeley’s monthly Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting. On the agenda was a discussion of the zoning application submitted by developer West Berkeley Investors for a new, enlarged mixed use development at 1900 Fourth Street.

Over 30 members of the public spoke during the comment period in support of preserving the West Berkeley Shellmound Landmark, and urging the Commission to take action to prevent the proposed retail and housing project from destroying the last two undeveloped acres of the landmarked site.

Many speakers emphasized the unjust invocation of SB 35, a new state law that 1900 Fourth developers are attempting to use to circumvent any public process and force the city to approve their project. “It would be an over-the-counter administrative approval without us knowing, without consultation,” Lisjan Ohlone community leader Corrina Gould said of SB 35. “Wiping out indigenous rights, taking away our sovereignty, not allowing us to have a voice in these places that we hold sacred.”

83-year old Ruth Orta of the Him’re-n Ohlone tribe emphatically asked the commission to ensure the site is protected, saying she would like the Ohlone community to regain stewardship of the land. “I want to see it in my lifetime. For my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren and my great great grandchildren, and all my relatives that live in the Bay Area,” Orta said. “It’s hard to bear all the things I’ve seen in my time—to see the destruction of the area, no more land, the outrageous prices for homes and rent.”

“Would it be too much to ask, for something to remain sacred?” Kim DeOcampo of the Tuolumne Miwok tribe asked. “To leave something untouched by industry or for-profit real estate?”

Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Steven Finacom concluded the hearing by highlighting concerns about the language used by the developer in their application. “It’s interesting that they seem to be asserting that [1900 Fourth St.] is no longer a Landmark site, and I think the city needs to push back very strongly on that.”

“I’d also like to know—how is it possible, on the designated landmark site, for the owner to do intrusive trenching and boring without coming to this commission?” Finacom also remarked, referring to unpermitted archaeological excavations conduced by the 1900 Fourth developer in an effort to disprove the significance of the site. “That’s something that would be really useful to have clarified for us.”

It’s interesting that they seem to be asserting that [1900 Fourth] is no longer a Landmark site, and I think the city needs to push back very strongly on that.

—Steven Finacom, Chairman, Landmarks Preservation Commission