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Daily Pilot

Group says park area includes burial ground

California's Native American Heritage Commission urges Costa Mesa to take extraordinary care if it proceeds with building a turnaround.

By Jeremiah Dobruck

7:20 PM PDT, October 4, 2013

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A project planned for Fairview Park could disturb religiously significant Native American land that includes a burial ground, a second state organization warned Friday.

California's Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) sent a letter to City CEO Tom Hatch advising him and other officials of the site's archaeological importance.

"At least one set of remains has recently been reburied at Fairview Park," according to the letter, which says the area may qualify as a "sanctified cemetery" or be eligible for another designation that would affect development.

"The fact that it is such an important archaeological and burial site should impact the design of the project," NAHC program analyst Dave Singleton said, referring to the City Council's approval Sept. 17 for a turnaround to be installed in the park where Pacific Avenue dead ends.

Residents along Pacific Avenue and others interested in the park have bitterly opposed the idea, which represented a compromise to plans for an even more invasive project, a 10-space parking lot.

Less than a week after the council's approval of the turnaround, the California Office of Historic Preservation wrote to Costa Mesa city officials, warning them that the development could damage a known Native American site in the park that may extend farther south than previously thought.

While the NAHC's letter doesn't outright object to installing the turnaround, it pushes the city to make sure the site is treated properly during any work.

"I've seen some of the plans, and they're rather extensive," Singleton said. "And it sounds like — to us — that they didn't acknowledge or understand or take seriously the archaeological evidence at that site and of course the fact that it's also a burial ground."

The letter recommends public hearings, consultations with local tribes and Native American monitors, among other measures.

NAHC also expressed its support for the Office of Historic Preservation's letter, which recommended "avoiding the site, rather than monitoring and the recovery of artifacts."

The city last week retained an archaeology firm to respond to the first letter.

Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz said Friday that he hadn't yet seen NAHC's correspondence.

If regulations dictate what can be done on the site, the archaeological firm will probably make corresponding recommendations to the city, Munoz said.

"They're hard at work right now to find out exactly what the letter says and do all the research that's required to provide a proper response," he said.

It could take six to eight weeks before the firm, Scientific Resource Surveys Inc., has finished its work.

Costa Mesa could be vulnerable to litigation or the NAHC could ask the state attorney general to intervene if the city moves forward without the recommended vetting, according to Singleton.

NAHC hopes the city avoids that path by creating a satisfactory mitigation and monitoring plan.

"We prefer a win-win," Singleton said.