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Bolsa Chica Land Trust marks 25th anniversary while fighting to preserve Native American site

Bolsa Chica Land Trust marks 25th anniversary while fighting to preserve Native American site
Kim Kolpin, Bolsa Chica Land Trust executive director, stands on the Bolsa Chica mesa in Huntington Beach in 2016. The possible development of a townhome complex on part of the site has long been a matter of dispute. (File Photo)

As the Bolsa Chica Land Trust celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, the group is focusing on acquiring 11 acres of developer-owned property on the Bolsa Chica mesa considered to be a sacred Native American site.

Kim Kolpin, the trust's executive director, said raising $1 million toward buying the Ridge and Goodell sites off Bolsa Chica Street in Huntington Beach is the group's primary goal.

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The property, where ancient Native American remains and materials were uncovered by archaeologists, was once eyed for development.

The trust has collected $600,000 so far, largely through its nearly 5,000 members, Kolpin said.

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The Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that facilitates and funds the creation of parks and protected lands, is working with the Bolsa Chica trust to try to secure the property. The amount the Trust for Public Land has to raise is confidential as part of an agreement with the property owner, developer Signal Landmark, according to Paolo Perrone, a project manager for TPL.

The purchase agreement arose after years of dispute between Signal Landmark and the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.

In 2008, Signal proposed a 22-unit townhome project on the property. The city approved the project in 2010.

The proposal then went before the California Coastal Commission because the parcel is in Huntington Beach's coastal zone.

The Bolsa Chica Land Trust sued the city later in 2010, claiming it should have prepared an environmental impact report rather than a mitigated negative declaration determining the project wouldn't have a significant impact on the environment.

The lawsuit was tabled pending the outcome of the commission's review.

At the time, the trust said the project risked endangering a site that was home to 9,000 years of Native American artifacts.

Kolpin said the site is particularly important because archaeologists uncovered a large collection of cogged stones there in the early 2000s. The palm-size stones have teeth-like protrusions around the exterior, similar to a cog wheel.

Kolpin said archaeologists aren't sure what the cogged stones were used for, but they were probably ceremonial.

According to an academic paper on the excavation, the site enabled researchers to develop a new cogged stone typology.

Kolpin said 176 ancient human remains also were uncovered at the site.

She said the battle with the developer "wounded" the local Native American community.

Archaeologists uncovered a large cache of cogged stones on the Bolsa Chica mesa in the early 2000s.
Archaeologists uncovered a large cache of cogged stones on the Bolsa Chica mesa in the early 2000s. (Photo courtesy of Kim Kolpin)

The city and Signal withdrew the original proposal from Coastal Commission consideration in 2014, and about two years later, the trust dropped its lawsuit and entered the current agreement, which has an option permitting the developer to build a 36-townhome development on 2.5 acres of the property if the money can't be raised to buy it.

The remaining land would be dedicated to open space to be controlled by a government agency or a nonprofit.

In late June, the Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted to move the 36-townhome project forward by allowing a host of amendments to the land-use and zoning classifications on the 2.5 acres, including modifying the use from open space to residential.

In the original agreement, the two trusts had until October this year to raise the money, but they can extend the deadline if needed.

Perrone said TPL will extend the deadline, though it doesn't yet know how much.

Kolpin said Signal has been working in "good faith."

Signal representatives could not be reached for comment.

The Bolsa Chica trust will hold a 25th-anniversary celebration from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Huntington Harbour Yacht Club, 3821 Warner Ave.

A brief update on the planned acquisition of the Ridge and Goodell sites will be given, and Charles Lester, former executive director of the Coastal Commission, will be a featured speaker.

Reservations can be made at bclandtrust.org/#feature. The organization suggests a $25 donation per seat.

Twitter:@benbrazilpilot

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