Costa Mesa officials have denied a public records request for a 20-year-old archaeological study about the Fairview Indian Site.
The Daily Pilot, which filed the request Sept. 23, had sought a copy of the 1993 report, conducted by the Keith Cos.
According to Los Angeles Times archives, the detailed investigation of the site within Costa Mesa's Fairview Park cost $83,000 and recommended various protection and preservation measures for the area.
It was not clear whether the study was made public at the time.
In their denial issued last week, the city's attorneys cited state law that exempts from disclosure records related to Native American graves, cemeteries and sacred places.
City spokesman Bill Lobdell said revealing the report's specifics could lead to some "amateur archaeology" at the site or looting.
"The city wants to be very sensitive about Native American ancestral lands and the interest a report might spark in them," Lobdell said.
The Pilot requested the study as part of its general inquiry into the history of the Fairview Indian Site.
The park's master plan, in mentioning the Keith Cos.' report, says the site — officially known as CA-ORA-58 — should be "restored to its original natural plant communities and [be] preserved as high-quality habitat in a combination of native grasslands and coastal sage scrub."
Since 1972, the Fairview Indian Site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In recent weeks, it has been the topic of debate because of plans for a nearby turnaround.
Some state and local experts have contended that the Fairview Indian Site actually extends farther south than originally thought, to where the turnaround would be built. As such, special measures should have been followed, the experts said.
City officials have countered that they know of no archaeological sites in that section of the park, though other portions of Fairview Park are labeled on the master plan as archaeologically significant. Last week, the city hired an archaeology firm, Scientific Resource Surveys Inc., to investigate.
Updated, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 9: The Keith Cos.' report and others not being made available doesn't help the public know the significance of archaeological sites, said Patricia Martz, professor emeritus of archaeology and anthropology at Cal State Los Angeles.
"That's a big problem, as I see it," she said. "The reason that archaeological excavations are done as mitigation for development is because the items are important for the information they contain. That information should be disseminated to the public because the laws are saying that this is done for the benefit and inspiration of the public.
"The public should get a nontechnical report or something, and they don't get anything."