A coalition of organic gardeners, community activists, Native Americans, and activists from the Peter Carr Peace Center has emerged to oppose the administration's plans to first, pave the organic gardens for a temporary parking lot and then, develop the entire area as the West Village Center, a commercial development to include retail shops, restaurants, an inn and conference center, apartments, and townhomes. The developing struggle is weaving together a variety of threads--from wildlife preservation, through Native American religious freedom, to the arrogance of bureaucratic elites at our University.
Last Wednesday, reacting to an imminent threat to dig up and remove three olive trees (University workmen were literally cutting down the olive branches) from the organic garden, activists began a vigil at the garden. With slogans such as
"Go Dig Up Your Own Grandmother!"
the gardeners built a makeshift barricade of dirt, wood, and scrap metal to impede the movement of heavy equipment onto the site. Signs were posted outside the garden, stating: "This Indian Burial Site Is Protected By State/Federal Law. No Removal of Trees or Earth. No Trespassing." Faced with this resistance, the administration appears to have backed off, and agreed to negotiate. But the struggle to preserve the organic gardens is not over; it has simply entered a new phase.
The struggle began last fall, when the University community became aware of the administration's plans for the West Village Center and the organic gardeners were told to move out by February 28, in preparation for the construction of a temporary parking lot. A Committee to Save the Organic Gardens was formed and began collecting petitions and mobilizing community opposition to the project.
In December, the administration filed a "Initial Study and Negative Declaration for: Temporary Parking Lot, California State University, Long Beach," as required by state law, stating that there would be no environmental impacts involved in the paving of the organic gardens and that there were no cultural resources on the site. It was learned, however, that the organic gardens are located on an important archaeological site, LAn-235. This site, together with the adjacent LAn-234, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the probable location of the Gabrielino village of Puvungna, a place where a central figure in Gabrielino religion, Chungichnish, lived and taught his people. Puvungna is one of only about three or four Native American sites in Los Angeles county listed in the National Register.
The University has recognized the importance of this area as a cultural resource by placing a wooden sign, clearly visible from State University Drive and Bellflower Boulevard, on LAn-234 which states: "Gabrielino Indians once inhabited this site, Puvungna, birthplace of Chungichnish, law-giver and god."
The administration's failure to disclose this Native American site provoked responses from the State Office of Historic Preservation, the Native American Heritage Commission, and the Gabrielino Nation of Southern California, as well as from Department of Anthropology and the American Indian Studies Program. According to Dr. Lynn Gamble, coordinator of the Archaeological Resource Center at UCLA, "Seldom do you see an archaeological site that has so much documentation to it, and here they're saying there's nothing there."
The administration's actions appear to violate Executive Order W-26-92, signed by governor Wilson on April 8, 1992 which directs all state agencies "to administer the cultural and historic properties under its control in a spirit of stewardship and trusteeship for future generations."
The Initial Study/Negative Declaration also failed to disclose the administration's plans to lease the area to developers for commercial use. Such commercial development would destroy Puvungna. And it is unlikely that it would really make any money for the University or improve the quality of education at CSULB. Various rumors have been floated among the faculty, such as that the administration expects to make over a million dollars the first year alone, and that it will provide inexpensive housing to attract new faculty. These are no more than rumors. The project has not been reviewed by the Financial Affairs Council or any other organ of faculty governance, and there has not been any opportunity for faculty to ask hard questions: Where is the money coming from? How will any revenue be used? How will instruction benefit? Is this legal?
Although some students and faculty are ready to accept the administration's claims uncritically, skepticism and outrage are more common reactions. Student Body President Henry Funderburk, himself part Cherokee, has declared February "Save the Gardens Month," and is planning a series of events leading up to large demonstrations to protect the gardens on February 28 and March 1, the scheduled date of destruction of the gardens.
The administration's plans have aroused strong opposition from the local community and, on Tuesday, February 26, the Long Beach City Council has directed the City Manager and City Attorney to study this question in reaction to community protests.
The Committee to Save the Organic Gardens has completed a title search which indicates that entire tract of land deed to the University in 1950 was for the purpose of college level instruction only. It is not clear if the administration is even aware of this limitation, much less how they will get around it.
In short, the entire venture is just another boondoggle by the same folks that gave us the incredible collapsing music building. We don't need more asphalt and mini-malls. We need a University that understands the interconnectedness of the natural and human worlds and that respects the cultural heritage and religion of the original people of Southern California .
Rather than recognizing the common purpose behind the protests, the administration apparently has begun a policy to divide the various groups from one another, negotiating separately with students, organic gardeners, Native Americans, and archaeologists. The administration has also forced the removal of the signs posted by the activists.
In spite of the administration's efforts, our struggle to preserve Puvungna and the Organic Gardens remains unified. Our sentiments have been well expressed by Vera Rocha, Chief of the Gabrielino Nation of Southern California:
Puvungna is most sacred to the Gabrielino people, as well as to other neighboring tribes, as a spiritual center from which Chungishnish, lawgiver and god, instructed his people. Perhaps this tradition of learning and teaching which began with our elders has yet to be understood by this University. Perhaps we, as the first people, have a knowledge of and respect for the natural ways of Mother Earth and the beings, including man, that are dependent on her, that could be of value to this University and its students. We must tell you now that to destroy what is sacred to us, will not be of benefit to you or to your children, for we share the same present and future and must respect one another.
But I still don't know why I see all this and feel it and they don't, the managers, who don't care that the sea and all my trees are dying. Where do they live anyway? I am sending them messages now, all the time, on behalf of the wind and the seabugs in the wet sand, and for you and for me and for the mountains of California. I keep telling them. I keep telling them to quit messing with the steam beds and the sycamore flats and the redwoods up the coast. I keep telling everyone down here that we have to stop those nuclear businessmen and their helpers.
In the summer we still go to the mountains.
This document posted: July 18, 1995.