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[whitespace] Charlie Higuera A Voice in Waiting: Charlie Higuera, chair of the Amah-Mutsun Tribal Council figures that after a couple of centuries, his people are entitled to an opinion about the new Depot Site.


Whose Park Is It?

At first glance, the plan for the dully named Depot Site--an $11 million, 60-acre community park with sports field, transportation hub, 214 parking spaces, Natural History Museum, public art, and walkways/bikeways connecting the wharf, Fun Spot, downtown, Neary Lagoon and local neighborhoods--seems like a great idea. "It's going to establish a real continuous central park in the City of Santa Cruz," Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice proudly told Nüz.

Only one problem: the Depot Site Task Force, which includes reps from the Santa Cruz City Council, Parks & Rec, Public Works, the Transportation Commission, the Natural History Museum and local community members, never bothered to ask the site's original residents--the Amah-Mutsun (Ohlone/Costanoan) tribal band--what they thought.

To redress that oversight, self-described "naturalist advocate" Chris Kili Shea convinced the Depot Site Task Force to invite Amah-Mutsun Tribal Council representative Quirina Luna--whose direct ancestors were railroaded (literally) out of their Santa Cruz dwellings--to belatedly join their deliberations, as well as to invite tribal officials to their Aug. 23 meeting.

And so more than 200 years since his people (to their very great regret) first met the white man , Pacific Grove resident Charlie Higuera, chairperson of the Amah-Mutsun Tribal Council, was granted three minutes of public comment by task force chair Andy Schiffrin.

During the meeting, Luna did point out that as the plan stands, "Native people and plants have no place in the park," a point that he thinks needs to be corrected. Shea agreed, saying that with tribal approval, the city should "help restore the indigenous habitat and native culture, hire members of the tribe to rediscover lost knowledge and check for native archeological sites."

Here again, the tribal council was not consulted, Higuera claimed. Asked if Indians were involved, Mary Doane of Archeological Consulting of Salinas, which recently completed an "archeological reconnaissance" of the site for the city, replied, "I'm too busy. No comment."

Though Doane said "nothing significant" was found, State Parks and Recreation archeologist Mark Hylkema told Nüz "the area is culturally sensitive, and there are known site locations that must be evaluated under CEQA." Hylkema says that with a surface study "cultural resources may not be visible, because it's possible that land use, such as railroads, may have obscured or removed them."

Another contested part of the plan is the six-acre "Y" at the site of the old railroad terminal, which currently includes the unsightly wharf maintenance yard. The city originally voted to include this area, but now the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission is negotiating with Union Pacific to acquire rail right-of-way between Watsonville and Davenport.

Fitzmaurice agreed that the maintenance yard "should be dedicated to neighborhood uses. I'm the one that brought it up originally," the Fitz told Nüz. But ethnohistorian/anthropologist Alan Leventhal wants to go further, citing 1913 federal legislation that encouraged the railroads to sell land back to the Indians or the local government for $2.50 an acre. "The city should offer Union Pacific this amount and deed it over to the Indians," he suggested.

Ironically, the Amah-Mutsun tribe has also been left out of Ohlone Day, scheduled for Sept. 22 in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. But when contacted by Nüz, Jeannie Eldracher, executive director of Mountain Parks Foundation, though unfamiliar with the tribe, agreed to invite them.

Coastal Dagger

Calling the state Senate's proposed redistricting lines "a dagger in the heart of the Central Coast," Assemblymember Fred Keeley has launched a Save Our Central Coast campaign to fight changes that would splinter Santa Cruz and Monterey counties into three Senate districts--and possibly derail the term-limited Keeley's bid for a Senate seat.

Reached by phone, Keeley was quick to insist "this fight isn't about me. I've had a fine life in politics. It's about the Central Coast. As this redistricting stands, we're gonna get ourselves an anti-choice, anti-environmental, anti-worker Republican."

Keeley says Gov. Gray Davis had been supportive of his efforts, "though Davis did say it was the practice of the governor not to get involved in redistricting as such interventions would make him more enemies than friends." Keeley, who concedes that redrawing district lines is a very difficult task, added, "For every line redrawn, a ripple effect is created. But I'm committed to us having a voice here in the Central Coast, whoever's voice that is."

When Nüz wondered how a Democrat-dominated Senate got the Central Coast into such a predicament, Keeley, who is second-highest ranking leader in the state Assembly, explained that "redistricting is a fine example of how legislation is often less about Democrats vs. Republicans and more about Senate vs. Assembly."

"Our job as Assembly members is to respond to the Senate's first draft," said Keeley, who predicts lots of coalition politics this week as the Legislature nears its redistricting approval deadline of Sept. 14. "The Women's Democratic Caucus is very troubled by the Senate maps, as is the Latino Caucus," explained Keeley, who recently endorsed former Santa Cruz mayor John Laird to succeed him as representative for the much less dramatically impacted 27th Assembly District.

Response to Tragedy

After hearing the news of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Santa Cruz City Council canceled its Sept. 11 meeting out of respect for the victims and in deference to affected city staff, families and community members.

Councilmember Mark Primack apologized in advance for any disruption that might be caused. "People are intent on coming to speak on the issues, but city staff need to be with their families today," said Primack, shakily adding that a picture that his wife took of him standing on the observation deck of one the destroyed towers hangs on his bedroom wall.

"It's a dark, dark day, what with the news saying that over 10,000 may be dead, and then to hear [Dick] Cheney using this as an excuse for beefed-up intelligence," Primack said.

All City Council business will be rescheduled for a special meeting on Sept. 18. Local residents seeking information on family members in affected areas can call the Santa Cruz County Red Cross at 831.462.2881. Those interested in donating blood can call 1.800.448.3543 to make an appointment. Gov. Gray Davis has ordered all state buildings closed.

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From the September 12-19, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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