Documents obtained by the Daily Forty-Niner show that Long Beach State intended to use the dirt dumped on Puvungna in September 2019 as the foundation for a 500-spot temporary parking lot, despite President Jane Close Conoley denying those plans ever existed.
However, these plans never came to fruition, and construction workers ceased dumping on Sept. 28, 2019, according to an email sent by Jeff Cook, associate vice president for strategic communications at CSULB, on Nov. 23, 2020.
The documents are exhibits in a lawsuit filed against the university by the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes and California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc.
In October 2019, JBMIAN-Belardes filed the lawsuit in hopes of establishing a memorandum of understanding that would require the university to consult with the tribal groups before making any further decisions regarding the 22-acre plot of land. In addition, State Historic Preservation officer Julianne Polanco criticized the university’s actions saying they violate state law.
The university filed a response on Feb. 11, 2021, denying all allegations of any wrongdoing.
Cook said in an email response to the Forty-Niner that “deliberations about temporary parking in 2019 did not evolve into an actionable plan,” despite emails between other university officials suggesting otherwise.
“The most valuable insight, I believe, is President Conoley’s January statement which defines where we are today and our plans moving forward: namely, that no structure of any kind will be proposed for the land in our 10-year master planning process,” Cook wrote.
Emails between school employees dating back to Aug. 26, 2019 show that there were intentions to compact the dirt and use it as a foundation for the 500-spot temporary gravel parking lot. Conoley said at the time that the temporary lot was intended to alleviate impacted parking in the first eight weeks of the semester.
A map obtained by the Forty-Niner shows that the university had intentions to create a parking lot on either side of the existing lot, G2. The proposed lot would lie directly on land that is considered to be Puvungna.
The emails show school employees debating about whether to contact Craig Stone, professor of American Indian Studies and director of the Committee on Native American Burial Remains and Cultural Patrimony, or anyone else from the Native community before moving forward with construction.
Stone said in an email at the time that no one from the community was contacted prior to the start of this project. In fact, Stone said in September 2019 that he was “told that there would be no activity on the site.”
Winter King, a partner at the Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger law firm who is representing the JBMIAN-Belardes, maintained these claims in a press conference on March 15, 2021.
Activists within the Native community have recently begun to speak out against the university for these proposed plans. When approached about this topic in December of 2020, Conoley told a reporter with the Forty-Niner “there has never been a plan to do that.”
The president maintained in a video address on Jan. 21, 2021 that plans for “a new parking lot” were “untrue” and that “there are no plans in place for a structure of any kind.” She did not address in the video whether there had been any plans in the past, however.
Conoley also denied that there was any debris in the dirt, however, reporters with the Forty-Niner went out to the piles that remain on Puvungna on Nov. 30, 2020 and found construction-related materials still remaining.
In December 2020, Conoley told a reporter with the Forty-Niner that approximately three years ago, the university was asked by the Native community to provide dirt from the campus to be used as a berm, or barrier, for the site when ceremonial activities were being held at night.
“We were asked by Native Americans on our campus to use dirt that might become available from the campus to build earthen berms, you know, little hills, around the ceremonial area, around the undeveloped area on our campus,” Conoley said, referring to Puvungna. “So when we started construction of the new student housing…we had Native American monitors at that site as the dirt was dug up. ”
King said that in the plaintiffs’ documentation, no record of such a request exists, however, she was unable to deny that the request was ever made.
The plaintiffs also filed for a review from the Office of Historic Preservation in conjunction with the lawsuit.
Polanco said in August 2020 that CSULB did not properly consult with the OHP before the construction project began, something required by PRC 5024 and 5024.5.
According to Polanco, CSULB only submitted an initial draft of its treatment plan as of Aug. 10, 2020, when the review was filed, despite the OHP requesting a final copy. She said the draft “appears to reflect an ongoing need to consult further with tribes.”
Construction companies began dumping the trash-laden dirt on Puvungna on Sept. 20, 2019. The dirt was being relocated from the construction site where Parkside North Dormitory is being built.
Polanco said that the use of heavy machinery on the land is not only “inappropriate” on any NRHP-listed property, but also the vibrations caused by the machinery may have serious side effects on the buried artifacts.
The university’s treatment plan, submitted to the OHP, includes plans for sensitivity training for all persons involved with future developments and monitoring by Native Americans and archaeologists, soil stabilization and no future vehicular traffic on the land. There is no current plan to remove the dirt piles in question.
The OHP’s review concluded that the university must seek other solutions to reallocate construction-related debris, as “the action of soil deposition has the strong potential to become an adverse effect to the historic integrity of the NRHP historic district.” Polanco said she supports the JBMIAN-Belardes’ terms of the lawsuit in seeking an MOU with the university.
Rebecca Robles, Acjachemen Tribal Culture Bearer of the Juaneño Band, also maintained during the March 15 press conference that the “correct tribal leaders” were never contacted.
“It’s supposed to be a dialogue with the tribal leaders, whose information comes from their tribal councils,” Robles said.
King maintained that the actions that were taken in 2019 still violated the law.
“It was clear to me that the university had violated this state’s premier environmental protection statute,” King said. “It’s really the most blatant and obvious CEQA violation that I’ve seen in my 16 years doing this kind of work.”
The California Environmental Quality Act, along with California Penal Codes 5024(f) and 5024.5(a), both mandate that agencies must seek commentary documentation from the office before embarking on projects or making changes to locations registered with the National Register of Historic Places. Puvungna received its registration in 1974.
By definition, failure to contact the Native community caused the university to violate both of these laws.
King said that according to the environmental impact report filed for construction on the Parkside North Dormitory, the university maintained that Puvungna would be untouched.
Joyce Stanfield Perry, tribal manager and cultural resource director for the Juaneño Band, said during the press conference that “it’s unfortunate that the university is unwilling to put in writing what their intentions are for the land.”
“People should not be confused by seeing posts or videos. Legal actions speak way louder than words, and we need a legally binding agreement,” Stanfield Perry said.