Report reveals origins of human remains found at construction site

Simon Greenhill/File

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A report published in November shows that human remains found last March and April at a construction site bordering the West Berkeley Shellmounda city-designated historic landmark —  were those of Ohlone Indians.

The report states that the remains, which were found at a construction site adjacent to 1919 Fourth St., near Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, come from at least five different Ohlone individuals. The property is owned by development company Jamestown.

Andrew Galvan, a representative of the Ohlone Tribe, said the origin of the remains was determined last April. The Native American Heritage Commission determined the remains to most likely be those of Ohlone Indians and named Galvan the most likely descendant.

“(An archeologist) came out and first identified the bones as being human,” Galvan said. “The Alameda coroner … was in agreement with the archaeologist that these must be Indians.”

Galvan said the city should have required the developers to abide by The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA,  a statute that requires state and local agencies to minimize significant environmental impact before receiving a construction permit. The city gave the developers a construction permit in 2014 without requiring the site to undergo an environmental impact report because the project fell under an exemption which defines it as a historical maintenance project.

Because developers were given approval of the project without being required to administer a report, they were able to begin construction on the site without supervision from a relevant expert.

“They failed to place a condition on the site,” Galvan said. “The city of Berkeley, their planning commission, they gave … an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act … therefore the project developer was able to dig unsupervised.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email, however, that the city followed all protocols required for the development of the project. The city Planning Commission could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Galvan said archaeological records had shown that the site of development was part of the historical West Berkeley Shellmound site but the city had not included it in their designation. He added that the discovery of the bones proves that the area should have been included as part of the historical landmark designation.

Because Galvan was appointed by the state as the most likely descendant of the individuals, he was given custody of the bones. According to Galvan, the remains are currently being stored in a secure and undisclosed location before a burial site is determined.

“The preferred option is to rebury on-site,” said Galvan. “If that is not possible, then I am open to relocation to the Ohlone Cemetery in Fremont.”

Contact Michael Lee at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @_HyunkyuL.