TimesOC: Original people of Orange County preserve ancestral land

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TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.

It’s Wednesday, Dec. 8. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

For years, tribal members of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians fought to preserve a small slice of land to pay tribute to their history and culture.


The Juaneño are considered to be the original people of Orange County, tracing their history back thousands of years in the area. But like many indigenous peoples, their land and culture was plundered, desecrated and devoured by development and Spanish colonialists.

In particular, a 65-acre piece of land in San Juan Capistrano considered to be one of the first Native American settlements in what became Orange County called the Northwest Open Space, was encroached on by the 5 Freeway, train tracks, a dog park, winery and other development. The Juaneño worked for years to preserve just a 1.5-acre part of the land to honor their ancestors, practice rituals and educate the public.

Despite several delays from the city, the Putuidem Village finally opened over the weekend. It was clear that the community had been waiting for the park for a while, as hundreds showed up to the ceremony.

While leading a prayer at the event, Adelia Sandoval, the tribe’s spiritual leader, thanked Juaneño leaders, city officials and employees and community members who supported the tribe’s efforts through the years.

“You gave us strength and courage through the ups and the downs and the ins and the outs. You sent the sacred winds to join with us today as we celebrate this opening of Putuidem Village park, a place that honors our grandmother, Coronne, and our mother village Putuidem, the village of the Acjachemen people,” said Sandoval, referencing the Acjachemen’s first female chief.

“Bless all the life that is here, Creator — every tree, every plant and every creature. We ask you to bless all those that step foot on this place, on this land. Bless the elders and the storytellers who will teach, and the young ones who will come to learn about the beautiful people. People of peace, who lived and thrived here. Who live and thrive here.”

Guests walk under the canopy of the Mother Tree at the Putuidem Village.
(Don Leach / TimesOC)

The Putuidem Village was seen as a long-sought tribal victory when the City Council first approved the educational park in 2016. But in ensuing years, the city delayed the project, and tribal leadership questioned whether the park would ever be completed.

Though it was expected to be opened as early as 2019, the Putuidem Village was stalled by various financial obstacles. The first came in 2018 when the city found that it lacked the funds to pay for the annual maintenance. Once that was resolved, construction bids exceeded the budget.

Then the city went back to the drawing board to put together a scaled-down version of the park. The city worked with a committee of Juaneño members — the Putuidem Committee — to revise the park. Construction of the park began in late fall 2020.

A few years ago, I interviewed Sandoval underneath an old oak tree that now stands in the Putuidem Village park. Sandoval had been regularly returning to the old oak, which she calls Mother Tree, to feel like a part of the land and ponder the history and future of her tribe.

She showed an unwavering faith in her tribe, as though the land had told her that things would work out.

“You see that yellow,” Sandoval had said to me, pointing to the hillsides. “That’s wild mustard. There was no mustard before the Spanish came here.”

The invasive mustard plant dappled the site of the old village and nearby mountains. The invader choked the native plants.

But the yellow was diminishing then, relenting space to the wild sweet pea — the definition of Acjachemen, the people from whom the Juaneño descended from.

“The mustard is dying now,” Sandoval said. “The wild sweet peas are blooming. When you get out of your car and breathe in, it is so fragrant. The red and purple and pink and white. They are growing everywhere.”

She paused.

“Resilience is in our nature.”

Private planes parked at John Wayne Airport. The airport will be offering free COVID-19 testing kits starting Wednesday.
(File Photo)


A school founded by a conservative think tank is looking to expand and operate multiple campuses across Orange County, bypassing normal rules that require schools to seek or secure approval from school districts. Reporter Sara Cardine wrote this week about the contentious history of the Orange County Classical Academy, which was barely voted into being by a divided Board of Education two years ago. This time, some members of the controversial, right-wing board have already expressed support for the school’s expansion. These members’ campaigns for office were backed by charter-related organizations and PACs.

Leave the wallet at home, soon you may be able to pay for items with a swipe of the sleeve. In a recently published paper, UC Irvine researchers detailed how they developed a flexible textile that allows clothing to communicate with nearby devices. The technology advances near-field technology, which is how people are able to use their smartphones to pay for items in a store. Aside from no-touch payments, the new technology could have a number of applications. People could no longer need a key or separate device to unlock their cars. Employees could also use their clothes rather than a badge to unlock facility gates.

Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach will choose their new mayors this week, though the positions will likely be given to Mayor Pro Tems Patrick Harper and Barbara Delgleize. Also during its meeting, the Fountain Valley City Council will consider whether to adopt a resolution supporting a ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling off the California coastline. My colleague Andrew Turner wrote that several cities have adopted similar resolutions in the aftermath of the Huntington Beach oil spill.

The Orange County Health Care Agency and John Wayne Airport will be providing free self-collection COVID-19 kits starting Wednesday to support the health and safety of travelers and airport employees. The move comes as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is beginning to spread. There have been no confirmed cases of the variant in Orange County yet, though Los Angeles County has confirmed a case.

Nonprofit Noble Cause Foundation members Saturday pose with Costa Mesan Merl Cornelius during a 100th birthday celebration.
Members with the nonprofit Noble Cause Foundation Saturday pose with Costa Mesan Merl Cornelius.
(Courtesy of the city of Costa Mesa)


A World War II veteran and beloved Costa Mesa resident celebrated his 100-year-old birthday with style over the weekend. Members of the Costa Mesa Police and Fire departments showed up to honor Merl Cornelius, along with members of the nonprofit Noble Cause Foundation. Cornelius also helped build out the famed South Coast Plaza mall.

The Balboa Yacht Club celebrated its 100th birthday over the weekend with dinner and fireworks. The club was founded by a group of men from the Newport Harbor Yacht Club who wanted to focus on sailing small boats. Initially, it was called the Southland Sailing Club until it took on its current moniker in 1928. “It is immensely satisfying to me that I get to celebrate the club’s centennial year with the people who, outside of my family, mean the most to me in my life,” said Russell Miller, the club’s general manager. “BYC is truly an exceptional club filled with exceptional people.”

Downtown Laguna Beach was turned into a huge block party over the weekend during the annual Hospitality Night, which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic. With a characteristic beach theme, Santa Claus rode into town on a lifeguard jeep flanked by police. The community showed up in droves to meet Santa and take part in the festivities.

Newport Harbor High's Josiah Lamarque runs for a touchdown.
(James Carbone)


The Newport Harbor football team’s season came to a crashing end over the weekend with a 42-28 defeat in a CIF State Southern California Regional Division 3-AA bowl game at Aquinas High. Despite the loss, Newport Harbor accomplished much this season, overcoming adversity to win a CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship and making the CIF State playoffs for the first time in program history.

Here’s a high school sports roundup from around Orange County, including Newport Harbor girls’ basketball claiming the Mariner Mayhem Tournament. “I think the confidence level of this group is really intense,” said Chase Dionio, Newport Harbor’s star player. “We are working really hard, and I think that we’re ready for whoever wants to play us.”

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