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Burials Prompted First Tree-Sitter

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday September 18, 2007

Zachary Running Wolf, pointing to two little known UC documents, said that the university has admitted that the place where it plans to build its $125 million Student Athlete High Performance Center is a Native American burial ground. 

“They want to build a gym where my ancestors are buried,” he said. 

Running Wolf said he recently found the two short entries in the environmental impact report (EIR) the university assembled for its 2020 Long Range Development Plan—a plan that specifically excludes the stadium area projects. 

Buried in that EIR’s public comments section are two paragraphs, one from a local historian and the other an unsigned response from the university—or rather Design Community Environment, the Berkeley company hired by university to prepare the document. 

Richard Schwartz, a Berkeley author and amateur historian, notified the university that “there is a record of about 18 Indian burials unearthed when constructing the UC stadium. There would be many more still there.” 

His e-mail pointed to the state archaeological records repository at Sonoma State University. Those documents are unavailable to the press and general public—a measure to protect burial sites from those who raid burials for bones and artifacts. 

“UC Berkeley has conducted a records search at the Information Center and is aware of the burials you mentioned,” stated the university’s response. 

The university has prepared an “archaeological site sensitivity map” of the area, and if “ground-disturbing” work is begun in highlighted areas and, the brief report added, “UC Berkeley will take appropriate steps to ensure any resources that may be present are properly treated in accordance with archaeological protection laws.”  

“That proves there are burials here,” said Running Wolf. “Let them build their gym someplace else that isn’t over our graves. And it’s on the earthquake fault, too.” 

The four-story, $125 million combination gym and office complex is planned adjacent to the stadium’s western wall, which would be seismically retrofitted before gym construction starts. 

The stadium itself is literally split in half from end to end by the Hayward Fault, which federal geologists predict will be the source of the Bay Area’s next major earthquake. 

The city and three different community organizations have sued to block construction pending completion of a new EIR for the complex of buildings the school plans in its southeast campus quadrant. 

Those buildings were included in a second EIR approved by the UC Board of Regents last year. 

For the City of Berkeley and neighbors, the key questions involve the impacts of the stadium area development stemming from construction and increased traffic of heavy trucks it will bring, as well as long-term effects from the growing demand on city infrastructure and the potential for enhanced dangers from earthquakes, wildfires and landslides in an area with limited access and narrow roads. 

For environmental activists, concerns focus on the fate of a large stand of Coastal Live Oaks, some dating from before the stadium was built.  

Running Wolf said the trees are important to him, as they are to many Native Americans. But it is the burials that are his main concern. 

Leigh Jordan, coordinator of the Northwest Information Center for the California Historical Resources Information Center, located at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park—the office cited by Schwartz in his e-mail to the university—said she couldn’t comment on any burials at the site. 

“I really can’t say anything, particularly about Native American sites,” she said. 

The California Public Records Act, which gives public and press access to most official records of state and local governments, exempts information about archaeological sites, she said. 

“Only landlords and participants in a project with a need to know” are able to access the information in the state files, she said. 

A two-day court hearing starting Wednesday in Hayward will determine the fate of the lawsuit, and with it, the fate of any burials that may lay beneath the loamy soil at the foot of the oaks now occupied by the tree-sitters.