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Development endangers 6,000-year-old Luiseno village

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TEMECULA, Calif. - A business park development on a 6,000-year-old Luiseno Indian village has been temporarily halted at the request of the Luiseno's descendants, the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, while they await a second archaeologist's review.

The city planning commission of Temecula, which has been trying to mediate the dispute between the band and developer Bill Dendy decided to delay a decision on the construction until mid-July, pending an archeological review. Dendy wants to expand his Westside Business Center over the remains of the village which extends over two parcels, one of which he owns.

Tribal members say the city initially agreed with Dendy, without their knowledge, and that they found out about the green light given the developer when they went to check on the site and found a public posting.

After appealing to the commission, the lead agency designated by the state, there was an early June hearing in which tribal members were asked to decide on mitigation measures, on the spot. The tribe objected that the archaeology study was not complete and said a decision would have to wait.

Bruce Love did an archeological review last year, hired by Dendy, as required under the California Environmental Quality Act.

"There were significant findings in which I felt that the site needed further review," says Love who has been accused by Dendy of trying to make more work for himself.

Love said he removed himself from the project to avoid any kind of conflict of interest that may arise. Still, he says he is facing a potential lawsuit from Dendy who apparently is not happy with further delay in the project. Love says he is happy to turn over the project to another archeologist.

Calls to Dendy were not returned.

Both Pechanga and Love claim significant damage has been done to the site. The tribe reported that Dendy had hired a crew for weed abatement that apparently destroyed more than weeds.

Benjamin Masiel of the Pechanga Cultural Resource Center says the weed abatement crew disturbed 2 to 3 feet of the sedimentary layer of the site. He estimates an additional 2 to three feet remain undisturbed.

"Once archeological sites are developed, they're gone and lost forever," says Matt Hall, an archeologist at the Eastern Information Center at the University of California, Riverside, speaking about development of archeological sites in general.

Part of the site, part of the second parcel, had been disturbed when a motocross track was built in the 1980s.

Artifacts were discovered while that track was being built and Pechanga was able to successfully lobby for closure of the track. The band then was able to reclaim remains that were left and rebury them elsewhere.

Planning commissioner Dave Hogan says that once the second archeologist review is in, the city will review it and send a copy to Pechanga for its review. The city planning commission will suggest mitigation measures for the tribe to accept or reject.

Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro says "mitigation is the preferred method of CEQUA (California Environmental Quality Act). In the end, when you can mitigate, projects tend to be cleared."

Masiel says that no matter what the findings are, he expects the project will go ahead and the best the tribe can hope for is to recover all of the artifacts from the site. He says the only way to get the site entirely protected, is to have the state of California step in and designate it a historical landmark.

The tribe has not ruled out the possibility, but John Gomez, who works at the cultural resource center for Pechanga, says that it's not very likely. "We probably wouldn't prevail if it came to that."

The village is designated as Site Number 237 by an archeological cataloging system that numbers sites according to county. The sites are numbered from the oldest discovery to newest and 237 is relatively high up on the list that includes more than 4,000 sites in Riverside County. Tribal members say that it was first documented sometime in the late 1940s. It is thought to be one of the most significant and largest remains of prehistoric Luiseno society.

"This was no small temporary settlement for hunters or fishermen," Gomez says. "This was a significant village that was a permanent year-round settlement."

Site 237 was at one time on the banks of Murietta Creek that now runs more than a mile away. This is because of geologic changes that give evidence to the antiquity of Site 237. Gomez and Masiel also say that carbon dating of human remains from the site confirm the site is at least 6,000 years old.

An article in the Escondido-based North County Times reported this village probably numbered around 300 people, a virtual metropolis for the Luiseno of 6,000 years ago.