Activists draft alternative plans for Shellmound property

Indian People Organizing for Change/Courtesy

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A coalition of activists led by Corrina Gould, a member of the Ohlone tribe, has drafted an alternative to the commercial development plan for the parking lot at 1900 4th St. — a remnant of the historic Ohlone village and shellmound.

Gould is a cofounder of Indian People Organizing for Change, or IPOC, a grassroots organization involved in preservation and protection work for the Ohlone. She said she is proposing a series of conceptual drawings for a memorial and educational center on the site in the hopes of heeding development efforts by West Berkeley Investors, which include 155 apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurants and a 372-space parking garage.

The drawings, which artist Chris Walker helped create, include a 40-foot mound covered with orange poppies that would serve as a natural amphitheater. The visual concept also includes a dance arbor and a more visible Strawberry Creek that runs through the 2-acre site.

According to Gould, the shellmound is a significant place, as it serves as a spiritual reference point for the Ohlone. She added that the Ohlone tribe currently uses the parking lot for prayers and performances.

“(The development is) a huge complex that would obliterate anything that we would use as a sacred place,” Gould said. “It’s important for the public to see the opportunity to begin to dream about what it could be other than a retail space and market rate housing that would have no green space.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said he had no position on the issue.

“The staff role at this stage is to ensure that the project complies with all applicable zoning and land-use regulations,” Chakko said. “There is no staff position on it besides that.”

Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, Chair Igor Tregub also said he couldn’t offer his opinions on the project because it was a “pending quasi-judicial matter.”

If plans for development do not pass, Gould said money would be raised for the Ohlone to purchase the site. She said she hopes to portray what the site may have looked like thousands of years ago when her ancestors occupied the area.

Toby McLeod, who has been an ally to Native Americans for about 40 years, said he supports Gould’s project because he thinks it would be inappropriate to build an out-of-scale retail structure on a landmarked sacred site.

McLeod explained that the concept includes meeting rooms for the Ohlone community, as well as a natural history museum. He added, however, that this concept was just one option, and he emphasized the importance of collaborating with the Ohlone people for their input and consent.

“It’s an opportunity to protect the sacred place and restore it,” McLeod said. “It’s an environmental justice and a historical justice kind of proposal that honors what’s happened to the Ohlone. They’ve been paved over and we’re trying to fix that — trying to bring green back.”

Gould will present her proposal for the site to ZAB on Thursday.

Contact Michelle Perales at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @machellelucy.