Rediscovered evidence of Native American burials at the site of UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium—omitted in university environmental documents—raises new questions about the future of the oak grove beside the stadium where the university is planning a massive building project.
Despite evidence in the university’s files of the burial site, key environmental documents were adopted by the UC Regents for the project without the archaeological survey which appears to be required by the California Environmental Quality Act when human remains have been found on a building site.
“I’m quite concerned about this apparent whitewash of what could be a significant environmental resource,” said Stephan Volker, an attorney for one of the plaintiff groups now challenging university plans in court. “This appears to be a critical omission in the university’s environmental review.”
Zachary Running Wolf, the former Berkeley mayoral candidate and Native American activist who began the ongoing tree-sitting protest in a grove of coastal live oaks at the site of a planned high-tech gym immediately west of the stadium, agreed.
Running Wolf was arrested by university police Friday on suspicion of vandalism within hours of turning a copy of a record of the presence of human remains on the site over to the Daily Planet. He was served with an order to remain off-campus for 14 days, then released on $3,000 bail.
“I am going back into the tree,” he said after his release. “I told them that if they go into the tree after me, I will see it as a threat and respond accordingly. If they attack me, they are attacking my entire community.”
The record he obtained comes from the university’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology. a single sheet of paper he said was provided “by someone at the university with a conscience.” It reports the discovery of “burials removed during the building of the U.C. stadium.”
The activist described the discovery of the burials records as “very important for our people. I had always suspected there might be burials here,” he said.
University officials were unavailable for comment Monday because of the Presidents Day holiday.
Discovery of evidence of burials at the site could throw more complications into the university’s plans, bringing into play sections of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulating treatment of religious and burial sites as well as other provisions of state law.
The document, an archaeological site survey record for what was then the University of California Museum of Anthropology, identified the site as Ala-23, “beneath the present University of California stadium.”
The document is the record of one artifact taken from the burials, a “coin from Sonora, Mexico (dating in second quarter of 19th Century.” (sic) The university’s accession (acquisition) number for the coin is 12-3490.
The record cites a clipping from the June 21, 1925, San Francisco Examiner which noted the stadium burials as well as a second site, Ala-308, at the location of the university’s Faculty Club, then under construction.
A microfilm copy of the newspaper, available at the San Francisco Public Library, features an article on page eight with the headline “Third Skeleton Found in Grove on U.C. Campus.”
The skeletons cited in the headline were discovered during excavation for the Faculty Club, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Leslie Spier told the Examiner.
“In addition to the three skeletons found on the clubhouse site, several more were found during the building of the stadium, a short distance away,” the article continues.
Neither burial site is mentioned in either the draft environmental impact report (EIR) nor the final EIR on the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects (SCIP), the planning document for the university’s plans for building more than 300,000 square feet of new construction at and near the stadium.
The closest the documents come to acknowledging the prior discovery of any archaeological remains at the site is a single sentence: “Cultural remains may have been impacted by prior construction.”
A check with the university’s own museum would have revealed the discovery of burials at the heart of the immediate construction area.
The EIR recommends—but does not require—an archaeological survey prior to construction, but does require work to be stopped if remains are discovered “until impacts to the sites can be mitigated.”
“It appears that the university’s own records belie its EIR,” Volker said. “I will be filing a California Public Records Act request with the university for their files on any past and current archaeological resources at this location.”
Native burials are cited in numerous section of California law, with the most significant references in CEQA sections 21083.2 and 21804.1.
According to CEQA guidelines published by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, if the presence of unique archaeological sites is likely, “the lead agency should require a field survey by a qualified professional archaeologist in order to assess the significance of the resource.”
No such survey was undertaken for the EIR, which was produced by a Berkeley consulting firm, David C. Early’s Design Community Environment (DCE), under contract with the university. The same firm produced the EIR for the university’s Long Range Development Plan 2020.
While the state Public Resources Code created and empowered the Native American Heritage Commission and empowered it to regulate all native religious and burial sites in the state, government properties are exempted from commission oversight.
Other section of the same code may apply, including the sections governing the State Historic Resources Commission, which is charged, among other things, with regulating state and nationally designated sites. The stadium and its surroundings were added to the National Register of Historic Places last year, a listing that includes the site in the commission’s purview.
Another resources code specifically grants the state Department of Parks and Recreation oversight of archaeological resources on projects on public lands, including university property. The California Government Code also gives the state attorney general power to intervene in cases where native burials are threatened.
The most controversial of the SCIP projects is the 142,000-square-foot Student Athlete High Performance planned along the stadium’s western wall.
That site houses the grove now occupied by Running Wolf and the other protesters who have built platforms high in the branches, where they are supported by a crew of volunteers.
The SCIP projects are currently the subject of legal challenges filed by four plaintiffs, including the City of Berkeley. Volker’s suit, filed on behalf of the California Oaks Foundation, specifically targets the grove. The other actions, while mentioning the trees, are focused more broadly on the impact of the SCIP projects on the city and surrounding neighborhoods.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller has granted an injunction pending the outcome of a full hearing on the issues several months hence. That decision effectively blocked any construction plans for this year.
According to final project EIR—the document now being contested in Judge Miller’s court—the total amount of new construction planned under SCIP totals 451,000 square feet.