City officials on Tuesday approved construction of a Ventura Boulevard project whose proximity to the "Lost Village of Encino" archeological site has embroiled it in controversy and delays.
But members of the city Building and Safety Commission, which approved the work, noted that the project was near a known archeological site and ordered that an archeologist and a Native American representative monitor grading to ensure that no Indian artifacts or human remains are destroyed.
The commission also required that the developers, Katell Capretta Partners of Gardena, choose the Indian observer from a list recommended by the state Native American Heritage Commission. Building and Safety commissioners took that step to ensure that the observer would have tribal ties to the site, particularly because experts from opposing sides tried to discredit each other during the hearing in Van Nuys.
Located near the northeast corner of Ventura and Balboa boulevards, the site of the proposed 140,000-square-foot, $35-million office building lies across the street from the "Lost Village," a major archeological dig unearthed in 1984.
Experts have said it is possible more remnants of the village lie beneath the Katell Capretta site. But a survey conducted for the developers last month turned up only a few artifacts of questionable historical significance, a UCLA professor who reviewed the finds said Tuesday.
The archeologist hired by the developer, David Van Horn of Riverside County, recommended allowing grading to begin, provided it was monitored in case more artifacts are encountered. Van Horn, who did not attend the hearing, said afterward that a full, preconstruction excavation wasn't practical because the site is covered by asphalt and concrete and large machinery would be needed in either case to reach the dirt.
Van Horn's methods and credibility were challenged by Richard Angulo, the Native American monitor who worked with Van Horn. Angulo told the commission that enough artifacts were found to warrant a full excavation.
Angulo maintains he is of Chumash descent, a tribal heritage that would link him to the "Lost Village," believed to have been occupied by Chumash and Gabrieleno Indians.
But Angulo's own credentials were later challenged by another Native American activist, Charlie Cooke of Acton, who said after the hearing that Angulo is not Chumash but Yaqui, or of Mexican Indian descent rather than American Indian. John Johnson, a Santa Barbara anthropologist who specializes in tracing Indian genealogy through mission records, substantiated Cooke's claims.
Cooke, who maintains he is a hereditary Chumash chief, told commissioners that whoever monitors the project should be an Indian with ties to the San Fernando Valley, not "an outsider." He acknowledged later he was referring to Angulo.
The commission also decided Tuesday that the city Building and Safety Department had not erred when it issued a building permit for the project without requiring an archeological investigation. Indians and neighborhood activists, some of whom oppose the development, had challenged the department's finding, arguing that a preconstruction archeological survey should have been required by city planners.
Gerald Silver, the activist who first raised the archeological issue and a well-known opponent of development on Ventura Boulevard, said he was not happy with the commission's "failure to recognize an egregious error by its own staff." Silver, who is president of Homeowners of Encino, also said he would have preferred a full excavation prior to construction.
But officials from a rival homeowners group, the Encino Property Owners Assn., said they were pleased with the outcome and praised the developers for voluntarily conducting an archeological survey.
"It's a good decision," said Rob Glushon, the group's president.