A consultant for the city has determined that no significant Native American or other archaeological relics are located within a planned development area of Costa Mesa's Fairview Park.
The months-long field work and research by Scientific Resource Surveys Inc. into the park's 53-acre southwest quadrant concluded that very minimal amounts of cultural remnants were found in the area where a turnaround space, tot lot, storm drain and trail improvements are planned.
Archaeological remnants are widely present elsewhere in the park, including just north of the project area, the firm noted.
Orange-based SRS presented its findings Wednesday evening to the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee. The company was hired last fall in response to state officials expressing concern about proposed Fairview Park developments and their potential effect on historical artifacts, including those at the Fairview Indian Site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
SRS' work included walking the southwest quadrant, doing historical research and excavating and drilling in an area near the end of Pacific Avenue, where the turnaround is planned, SRS project manager Destiny Colocho told the committee.
SRS' team included Henry Koerper, an archaeologist who completed survey work of the Fairview Indian Site in 1993, and Native American monitors from the Juaneño and Gabrielino tribes.
Two archaeologists with the Irvine-based California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance attended Wednesday's meeting.
Patricia Martz, a Cal State Los Angeles professor of archaeology and anthropology, and Sylvere Valentin had contended last year that the boundaries of the Fairview Indian Site actually extended farther south and into the project area than previously believed.
Martz said SRS "did a fine job for what [the report] was" but added that even "state-of-the-art is not good enough these days. We cannot see what's under the ground."
She noted that an archaeological dig performed in Newport Beach's Back Bay in the late-1990s involved 100 small excavation pits and yet missed 600 burial sites.
"You [too] could find burials," Martz told the committee. "You could find more archaeological things in your project. I want you to not feel too good about, 'Oh, it's all clear.'"
Costa Mesa's public services director, Ernesto Munoz, on Thursday said the projects will move forward in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act and that construction could begin next year.
He noted that one of SRS' recommendations — protective fencing around the "core" of the Fairview Indian Site, officially known as CA-ORA-58 — is on its way. The council approved $110,000 toward the project last month as part of the city's 2014-15 capital improvements budget.
SRS' full report will be on the city's website next week, Munoz said. The PowerPoint presentation given by Colocho on Wednesday is also online, he added.
Debate last year
The turnaround was hotly contested by residents of Pacific Avenue and elsewhere last year. It was originally conceived as a 42-space landscaped parking lot before being downgraded to a 10-space lot after a resident pointed out that the Fairview Park master plan called for only 10 spaces in that location.
Councilwoman Sandy Genis appealed planners' approval of the 10-space lot in September, bringing the matter to the council. Residents also circulated a petition opposing the proposal with the intention of keeping the park undeveloped and preventing more traffic along Pacific Avenue.
In an informal "Meet the Mayor" session on Pacific, a few feet from the project area, Mayor Jim Righeimer tested the idea of downgrading the 10-space lot to a turnaround space only, without any parking. It received largely positive reaction from the gathered crowd and was later approved by the council, with Genis and Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting.
Within a week of the council's decision, the California Office of Historic Preservation contacted the city. State Historic Preservation Officer Carol Roland-Nawi wrote of concerns regarding any potential "damage or destruction caused to resources through development of sites, such as construction of buildings or roads, and the problems of vandalism and [illegal digging for artifacts]."
Soon after the hiring of SRS, critics were dismayed by the choice, pointing to some controversial work the firm did on the Bolsa Chica mesa in Huntington Beach as part of a residential project. Unpermitted digging by SRS in the early 2000s led to a $600,000 fine for the developer, according to California Coastal Commission documents.
In response to the criticism, Colocho said last year that the Bolsa Chica project was different from Fairview Park.
"That was a completely separate project from what this is," Colocho told the Pilot in October. "I understand everybody is upset, but I just don't think that it's SRS that is really is to blame."
Joyce Perry, of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, in October called the SRS criticism "a witch hunt."
"Once you make a mistake in your personal or professional life, that's the focus," Perry said at the time, "but I can tell you that SRS has done some incredible preservation work."