HB Property Owner Fined for Disturbing Bolsa Chica Site

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A Huntington Beach property owner was fined $430,000 by the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday for disturbing the protected Bolsa Chica wetlands and the site of a Native American village, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The fine comes after archeologists dug several 3-foot-deep pits in parts of the property believed to contain artifacts, when they only had approval for “surface-level studies that would not disturb the soil,” the Times reported.

A Native American tribal chief whose group asserts ancestry at the site told the paper that the penalty is insufficient.

“When it comes to the destruction and desecration of someone’s culture, I don’t think that you can put a price tag on it,” said Anthony Morales of the Gabrielino-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.

From the Times story:

State officials said the excavation damaged prehistoric shells, animal bones, scorched rocks and other cultural artifacts that might help determine the boundaries of the 9,000-year-old village and burial site on the mesa, above one of the state’s most treasured coastal wetlands.

The panel approved the settlement on a 10-1 vote Wednesday after an emotional hearing in Santa Monica in which staff members for the agency hastily negotiated with the property owners for a penalty more than triple the $130,000 they had initially proposed.

Ed Mountford, a representative for the Goodell Family Trust who also works for Bolsa Chica home builder Hearthside Homes, told the panel “they deeply regret that this mistake occurred” and said they had misinterpreted the agency’s guidelines.

Several coastal commissioners said they didn’t buy his explanation and pushed for the heftier penalty.

“This is not a mistake,” said commission Chairwoman Mary Shallenberger. “I think [the penalty] is inordinately low, and in my opinion it is disrespectfully low. … We cannot have destroying these archaeological resources be the cost of doing business.”

The money will be used to offset damage to the Native American site by funding an archaeological conservation project in coastal Orange County. The settlement also requires the property owner to restore the site, document and rebury the artifacts, screen the excavated soil for additional prehistoric items and arrange for Native American monitors to oversee the work.

Bolsa Chica was also in the news this week when The Huntington Beach City Council rejected a proposal from the wireless company T-Mobile to put a cell phone tower near the wetlands. T-Mobile says the tower is needed to fill gaps in service, while residents were concerned about the effect on property values, the sensitive wildlife at Bolsa Chica and other issues.

— NICK GERDA

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