West Berkeley Shellmound Battle Continues

Toby McLeod – November 29, 2017

Sacred Ohlone Village and Burial Site Threatened

The site of the oldest and largest Ohlone village around the shores of San Francisco Bay is the proposed site of a five-story condominium and retail complex at 1900 4th St. This sacred place lies under the asphalt of Spenger’s Fish Restaurant’s two-acre parking lot in west Berkeley. Two ancient burials were disturbed by trenching just across the street at another development last year. The site and surrounding area were given historic landmark status by the city of Berkeley in 2002, making it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. A growing chorus of Ohlone descendants and Berkeley residents are calling for a memorial park, a two-acre green space to honor Ohlone history and culture, both past and present. We need your help as we await the final Environmental Impact Report and a decision by the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB), which will approve or deny the project. Stay tuned.

Read more about about the recent controversies swirling around this sacred site in my previous blog post.

Thank Your for Comments on the draft Draft Environment Impact (EIR)!

You can find the draft EIR — and many excellent comments — here:

The campaign to generate comments on the draft Environmental Impact Report was a great success. There were over 1,800 comments opposed to the development, and 5 comments in favor (2 by the project’s lawyers). Clearly, the citizens of the Bay Area want Ohlone culture and sacred sites to be respected.

Many letters endorsed the Alternative “Ohlone Memorial Park Open Space Concept.” This vision was presented by Ohlone leader Corrina Gould to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on February 2, 2017 and will be released to the public after the Ohlone community can discuss it internally and the concept is developed further. Read about it here.


Information about the site can be found here: West Berkeley Shellmound Facebook Page and Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC)


On March 9, 2017, Chochenyo Ohlone leader Corrina Gould made a presentation to Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), which had taken three rounds of public comment already. With more than a hundred supporters behind her, Corrina presented the alternative vision for a memorial open space park on the site. (Concept aerial is below at right.) It is the ZAB commissioners who will vote either to certify and approve the final EIR next year, or they will deny the project.


Events Where You Can Learn More:
On April 7, 2018 at the Berkeley Art Museum, the Hearst Museum will display Ohlone cultural artifacts that archaeologists dug out of the West Berkeley Shellmound in the early 1900s and 1950s. Ohlone artists will be on hand to discuss what we are seeing. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is being organized by writer Malcolm Margolin, author of The Ohlone Way.


Donate to the cause here:



Background — Help Respect Sacred Ground

The West Berkeley Shellmound (CA-ALA-307) needs you.
by Stephanie Manning

A habitation site of the Chochenyo Ohlone people from 3700 BC to 800 AD, the “West Berkeley Shellmound” is the oldest of more than 425 shellmounds that once rose on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Originally, what is now Spenger’s parking lot and the surrounding blocks were at the Bay’s edge. It’s no wonder the Bay Area’s first people chose this spot to settle: it is where Strawberry Creek flowed into the Bay, the village sat directly opposite the Golden Gate, and shellfish were abundant. Over 45 centuries, spanning hundreds of generations of Ohlone families, a mound of discarded shells grew to more than 20 feet in height and several football fields in width and length. The people lived, worked, played with their children, conducted ceremonies and buried their dead here, a true homeland. In 2002, the site was designated a Berkeley City Landmark. In 2003, it was found eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In 2004, California recognized the village site as eligible for the State Register of Historic Places. Now, a coalition of native and non-native people is working to ensure this sacred site’s future as a memorial green space park for the ancient founders of the Bay Area. Please join us in recognizing and honoring this site and protecting it from further development projects.

For more information visit Indian People Organizing for Change.
Email: shellmoundwalk@yahoo.com


In the News:

Indigenous women lead effort to reclaim ancestral lands, San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2017

Berkeley Shellmound alternative proposed by activists, East Bay Times, March 7, 2017

Activists draft alternative plans for Shellmound property, Daily Cal, March 7, 2017

Berkeley Shellmound EIR prompts call for do-over from landmarks commission, The Mercury News, February 8, 2017

Berkeley Shellmound proposal comment deadline extended again, East Bay Times, February 4, 2017

Berkeley project site has long historical record of Native American discoveries, East Bay Times, January 18, 2017

Dispute over Berkeley project: likely sacred Indian burial site, San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 2017

West Berkeley Shellmound site is sacred – project opponents say, East Bay Times, January 11, 2017

Comment deadline extended for West Berkeley Shellmound site plan, East Bay Times, December 24, 2016

Critics question impacts of ‘Spenger’s parking lot’ project on Berkeley Fourth Street, Ohlone heritage, Berkeleyside, March 14, 2016

Ohlone human remains found in trench in West Berkeley, Berkeleyside, April 8, 2016

Second West Berkeley human remains discovery prompts call to re-examine shellmound boundaries, Berkeleyside, May 11, 2016


For the Academics:

Why Here? Settlement, Geoarchaeology and Paleoenvironment at the West Berkeley Site (CA-ALA-307),” by Christopher Dore, Stephen Bryne, Michael McFaul & Garry Running (2004)