Out of the almost 500 shellmounds that existed in the greater bay area, over the last few centuries, these have been systematically destroyed. The Berkeley Shellmound is the earliest of those shellmounds established in the greater Bay Area region by the people indigenous to this region, who first inhabited this area since about 3,700 B.C.E. Although destroyed on their surface, some of these shellmounds in Berkeley and Emeryville still extend 20 feet down in some parts and indigenous peoples of this area still perform ceremonies at these sites.
Now a strip mall developer is threatening the City of Berkeley to avoid due diligence in an Environmental Impact Assessment for plans to develop the Berkeley Shellmound. The Chochenyo Ohlone sacred site is in dispute currently, as the 4th Street location could either be a public common, a tribute to the indigenous people who live here and inhabited this area for thousands of years; or, it could be a strip mall with luxury loft apartments. Indigenous People Organizing for Change, a Bay Area-based organization led by Corrina Gould, has organized the submission of over 1500 letters to the City of Berkeley Planning Department supporting this space on the 1900 4th Street to support an eco-indigenous vision of a common park and indigenous monument and event area. Five letters supported a developer’s project. At the same time, a developer has proposed a 5-story condominium retail complex on the 2.2 acre site (at 1900 4th St.) that is Spenger’s parking lot.
The City of Berkeley has an easy win here. There is not a need for more retail, or luxury housing. While it’s true that the Bay Area has a housing crisis, further luxury housing isn’t going to ameliorate that. Density in places close to public transportation (i.e. close to BART), and close to UC Berkeley campus, at student and low-income-friendly prices, is the type of housing Berkeley needs. We don’t need another million dollar loft apartment to further gentrify our up and coming neighborhoods.
Transitioning this parking lot into a public resource, restoring the sacred site to the extent possible, and daylighting Strawberry Creek on this land, are all no brainers for the City of Berkeley to live up to hits reputation of open-mindedness and justice. It would be a shame for the City to rest on its now aging laurels and allow this rare sacred site to be converted into profits for some developer and awkward unneeded development.
Protecting the West Berkeley Shellmound should be a priority of the Berkeley City government and Zoning Board. To do otherwise will signal a strong rejection of its legacy of environmentalism, social justice, and sensitivity and commitments to diversity and indigenous peoples.
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