Eugene E. Ruyle
Peter Carr Peace Center
Professor of Anthropology
California State University, Long Beach
Long Beach, CA 90840
Watergate began with what Richard Nixon called "a third rate burglary." The questions raised by that burglary, and continuing efforts at cover-up, led to the first resignation of a U.S. President in one of the worst scandals in U.S. political history. Puvungna-gate began with the concealment of a Native American archaeological site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As one Cal State Long Beach official said, "Just because someone checked the wrong box on a questionnaire, there's no reason to think there's a conspiracy here." Yet the behavior of planning officials at the Long Beach campus and the CSU Chancellor's office suggests that there is much more than simple bureaucratic error involved.
The controversy centers on the plans of Cal State Long Beach officials to pave the campus's Organic Gardens for a parking lot and destroy the last remnants of the once-great Native American village of Puvungna--compared to Jerusalem or Mecca by Gabrielino Indians--to build yet another southland shopping mall, the West Village Center.
As the controversy over Puvungna, the Organic Gardens, and the West Village Center continues to escalate, CSULB faculty have called for a General Faculty Meeting to hear the concerns of Native Americans and organic gardeners and to try to understand what is going on. The controversy is raising important questions about the mission of the University and how it is governed: Who made the decision to lease campus land for commercial development? Who decided to conceal the historic and religious nature of the site? Who is really going to benefit from all this? What does commercial real estate speculation have to do with quality education? Why is there such hostility to the organic gardeners?
The plan to replace Puvungna and the Organic Gardens with the West Village Center must be placed in context. As state support for the University is cut, faculty are laid off, and enrollments decline, the University is nevertheless expanding with $210 million in new construction projects. A new Sports Pyramid is being built for Long Beach's successful basketball team and a new office building for the CSULB foundation will provide space for research and development. The University is also planning to acquire surplus Navy land in West Long Beach for a research park. None of this will add any classes or improve the quality of education at Cal State Long Beach. At CSU Fullerton, funds raised by leasing campus land to a hotel chain went toward a new sports complex, not instruction.
The Master Plan for Higher Education approved by the California legislature in 1960 established the mission of the California State University system as providing affordable, quality instruction at the undergraduate and master's levels, in contrast to the research orientation of the University of California system. Budget cuts and fee increases are eroding the ability of the CSU system to fulfill its legislative mission. Instead of seeking innovative ways to fulfill this mission, the response of University officials is to expand into research and real estate speculation. There is no indication that any of this will benefit instruction. Instead, all indications are that it will simply feed the growing bureaucratic empires of CSU administrators.
There is more than mere bureaucratic ambition and incompetence here, though there is enough of both. It appears that Puvungna-gate is part of a land-grab on the part of California's developers, this time for the urban real estate owned by the CSU campuses. Critics speculate that this is the real agenda of Chancellor Barry Munitz, who was once called the "Texas Chainsaw Chancellor" by the Anderson Valley Advertiser for his role in Maxxam Corporation's takeover of Pacific Lumber. Thousand year-old redwood trees and the workers' pension fund alike were plundered to pay off Maxxam junk bonds. Are we seeing a similar hostile takeover of the CSU system by Barry Munitz and the forces he represents? As faculty are laid off, classes cut, and student enrollments reduced, what do we need all those new buildings for? The downsizing of instruction and expansion of the CSU system into research and development represents a de facto overthrow of the Master Plan, accomplished by accountants and bureaucrats, not elected officials.
The choice facing the CSU system is well encapsulated by the two opposing symbols on the Long Beach campus: the Organic Gardens, a ramshackle refuge of ecological sanity, or yet another shopping mall, the West Village Center. Perhaps we still need to heed the message of those who came before us. Vera Rocha, an elder of the Gabrielino nation, said it well:
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.
This document posted: July 18, 1995.