Supporters of West Berkeley Shellmound flood Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting

Anne Maguire/Staff

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More than 50 community members packed the room — with more people than chairs available — for the Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting Thursday to protest development at 1900 Fourth St., a site commonly known as the West Berkeley Shellmound.

Development over 1900 Fourth St. has been contested for the past two years by representatives of the Ohlone tribe. In March, Blake Griggs Properties announced its plans to build a housing project on 1900 Fourth St. — half of which would include units for affordable housing.

Although the issue of 1900 Fourth St. was not an “action item” on the commission’s agenda, commission chair Steve Finacom concluded the meeting by encouraging commission members to review the project application filed by Blake Griggs Properties.

“It’s interesting that (the project application) seem(s) to be asserting that it’s no longer a landmark site, and I think the city needs to push back very strongly against that,” Finacom said at the meeting.

Corrina Gould, a member of the Ohlone tribe, said the Landmarks Preservation Commission had designated the West Berkeley Shellmound as a landmark 20 years ago, and thus, it was the commission’s duty to preserve the site at 1900 Fourth St. Many commentators also referred to the site’s historical, cultural and religious significance as reasons for its preservation.

Moni Law, a UC Berkeley alumna and a supporter of the Ohlone tribe, said in a text message that she believed development on 1900 Fourth St. would be “a costly and regrettable mistake.” Law added that the site, if preserved, would serve as a site for teaching future generations about indigenous history, ultimately benefiting the city of Berkeley.

“Ohlone people are not against development and affordable housing — almost our entire landscape has been built upon,” Gould said. “But as the very first site of our ancestors along the bay, it needs to be protected for Ohlone people and everyone that lives on it.”

California state SB 35, a bill by Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, that mandates cities to build more affordable housing, passed in September 2017. According to Lauren Seaver, vice president of development for Blake Griggs Properties, the company’s proposed project will provide 130 units of low-income housing, a substantial increase from the 17 units the city has produced since 2014.

“While we respect the opinions of the project’s opponents,” Seaver said in an email, “we have conducted extensive research on the site- archeology, geology, ground penetrating radar and historic maps- all of which unanimously confirm that the site was never the location of the West Berkeley Shellmound.”

According to Gould, SB 35 may provide a path for affordable housing, but it also has the adverse effect of not allowing the public to have a hand in the development of its cities.

“If those were white people buried there, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” community member Kim DeOcampo said during public comment.

A previous version of this article may have incorrectly implied that Blake Griggs Properties considers the site at 1900 Fourth St. as the West Berkeley Shellmound. In fact, the company does not recognize the construction site as a shellmound. 

Francesca Munsayac is the lead race and diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fcfm_dc.