Faith group coalition meets, discusses how to protect West Berkeley Shellmound

Manooshree Patel/Staff

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A collection of faith-based social justice organizations held a coalition building event Wednesday in support of the preservation and restoration of the West Berkeley Shellmound, which — according to Native groups — is located at 1900 Fourth St.

Corrina Gould, an Ohlone activist and co-founder of Indian People Organizing for Change, was asked by faith leaders to give a presentation on the effort to preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound. Gould spoke about the history of shellmound protection efforts, which once existed throughout the Bay Area, and how Native peoples’ religion is often rooted in sacred sites.

“The difference with indigenous sacredness and their places is that we are place-bound by where we have our ceremony,” Gould said. “We are not supposed to do it somewhere else.”

The development proposal from West Berkeley Investors for 1900 Fourth St. was recently denied fast track approval under SB 35 by the Berkeley City Council. SB 35 allows development projects that include a certain percentage of low-income and affordable housing units, along with other criteria, to qualify for a streamlined approval process.

In a letter to the city’s planning department, West Berkeley Investors claimed that 50 percent of the housing units, or 130 units, will qualify as low-income housing.

According to Gould, however, the units will not be affordable, because many people in the Bay Area earn less than even low-income levels, which are skewed by the Bay Area’s high median income. She said the developer is trying to create a divide between the ideas of building affordable housing and preserving sacred sites.

Even though the project was denied a fast track because the site is a city landmark, Gould said she is concerned because West Berkeley Investors is preparing to sue the city of Berkeley over the application’s denial. She said during her presentation that a potential court decision could hinge on whether the location is considered a historical structure.

“We are looking for help with legal fees,” Gould said during the presentation. “The city will probably take on some of it, but we will have to help with tribal law and sovereignty issues.”

West Berkeley Investors has previously claimed that the shellmound is not located on the site, and that it is not listed on any federal, state or local historical location registers. Native American remains have been discovered, however, during construction projects in the surrounding area.

Attendees at the meeting offered ideas, such as including Ohlone history in California’s K–12 education. Gould asked for supporters to spread the word about the project and display posters that were distributed at the meeting.

The coalition of faith groups will meet again at Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish, which is located at 2700 Dwight Way, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 31.

“We, as Christians and especially Catholics, have an important role in decolonization because of all the harm that has been done in the name of Christ,” said Kristi Lentz-Taylor, who attended the meeting and is a student at the Graduate Theological Union.

Contact Ryan Geller at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @rashadgeller.