Will Irvine Co.'s Sacred Heritage Trump Native Americans’?

Does Orange County need another 2,500 homes near Turtle Rock?

Absolutely. How else are we going to fill up the San Joaquin Hills toll road or the parking lots at Fashion Island?

If that’s not a good-enough reason for you, there’s not much more I can say.

Recently, however, an unexpected element was added to the mix.


A small wall carving--clearly the relic of the ancient Indian civilization that inhabited the area--has been found on land that would be bulldozed for modern-day development.

That has led to this seeming mismatch: local American Indian groups that say the carvings are part of a sacred heritage versus the Irvine Co. landowner, which views building new homes as part of a sacred heritage.

In a contest like that, it’s inconceivable that I’d side with the Irvine Co.

And yet ...


No, I’m not partial to another 2,500 homes.

And, yes, I’m aware that Juaneno and Gabrielino Indians--both still represented in Orange County--first inhabited the area. Local lore has it that the Gabrielinos named the actual rock Turtle Rock in the first place.

Over the years, they’ve laid claim in a spiritual sense to the now suburbanized Turtle Rock community, all the while agonizing over what has been built atop their hallowed ground.

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Kathy Sandoval, who describes herself as cultural liaison with the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians in South County.

I’ve been unable to hook up with her, but her e-mail speaks eloquently: “Today, I look out from my eyes and see all the giant machines slowly methodically changing the face of this Earth,” she writes. “I feel like a tiny voice that cannot be heard.”

She’s writing specifically about the proposed tollway in South County, but it could just as easily be directed at home construction on original Native American land.

There is no disputing the power of Sandoval’s lament.

But what to do when the source of the dispute is a small etching on a small cave wall? Archeologists have described the Turtle Rock discovery as little more than a doodle--a wavy line 4 inches long with a circle at one end.


Does it mean anything? Does it mean nothing?

Of course, it means something, but published reports so far indicate that even experts can only guess at what it is.

For me, the threshold has to be higher.

This isn’t the first finding in the county that links us to an ancient people--some reports indicate the civilization may go back more than 2,000 years.

For historical reasons--if not out of simple respect--a lasting legacy of that civilization should be maintained.

To its credit, the Irvine Co. has publicly acknowledged the need to preserve many Indian sites and has pledged to do so. It also has demonstrated in the past that it is quite willing to build atop Indian burial sites (the remains were relocated), so the company’s record is mixed.

The vexing question, however, is whether every site where people once lived, farmed and walked must be preserved.

My heart says yes; my head something else.


I won’t lose a moment’s sleep if the Irvine Co. decides to build elsewhere. The burden of proof, however, lies with the Indian groups to make the case for the sanctity of the land.

As I always do with underdogs, I’d advise them to choose their fights wisely, and with an eye toward winning the more important battles.

But because my viewpoint makes me uneasy, I’ll give Sandoval the last word. Again, she’s writing about a proposal to extend a tollway, but her words resonate beyond that:

“I feel like a tiny voice that cannot be heard. I have to scream as loud as I can and not let despair silence me.... It seems as though people want to develop every inch of land--every corner, field and lot.”


Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to