State Sen. Alan Robbins, City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and a mammoth proposed development project in Marina del Rey all got caught up in the Indian wars Friday.
At issue were charges that construction of Admiralty Place--a 2-million-square-foot residential and shopping complex proposed for land owned by investors, including Robbins, in Galanter's district--would dig into an ancient Indian cemetery.
Rival Indians argued over who was best qualified to look out for Indian interests, but one side appeared to gain a powerful ally when Galanter supported their demands for more intensive examination of the site, threatening to impede city approval.
Vera Rocha, saying she is "tribal chairperson" of the Gabrielino Indians, the tribe that once inhabited most of what is today Los Angeles, held a news conference to complain that the development would desecrate an ancient Indian cemetery of the long-vanished village of Sa'angna.
She told reporters gathered on Olvera Street that she is planning an Indian prayer protest at the site later this month. She attacked Jim Velasquez, the Indian monitor working for the firm that is drawing up the environmental impact report for the proposal, accusing him of not being a real Gabrielino and of not looking out for the interests of the tribe.
Velasquez replied that he has papers from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs attesting that he is one-quarter Gabrielino.
"She is a Gabrielino because she has papers from the federal government," Velasquez said. "I have the same papers. If my papers are no good, neither are hers."
Rocha contended that when she first met Velasquez four years ago, he said he was a Navajo.
Velasquez said he has been a Gabrielino historian and shaman for 25 years and is registered with the state Native American Heritage Commission as a tribal representative to be entrusted with the care of recovered Gabrielino remains and Rocha is not. A commission spokeswoman confirmed that Rocha is not listed but said that only a few Indians are designated to care for recovered remains, and that the absence of her name does not mean that Rocha is not a Gabrielinos.
Velasquez countered that Rocha and her husband, Manuel, are trying to "muscle in" on his business as a tribal monitor on Indian artifacts and remains. Contractors now must frequently employ such monitors to meet environmental laws on construction sites in suspected archeological areas.
"Ever since this law started about consultants and developers, our people have been at each others' throats" for the jobs, Velasquez complained. "The greed is getting out of hand. Somebody's going to get their throat cut some day, it's getting so dangerous."
The Rochas in their news conference referred repeatedly to the proposed construction project as the work of Sen. Robbins (D-Van Nuys).
Robbins said he is an investor in a partnership that owns the land--the Oxford Triangle, 16 acres bordered by Lincoln Boulevard, Admiralty Way and Princeton Drive--which will be developed by another firm. He would not say how much of the partnership he holds, except that it is a minority share in the partnership, which includes a large savings and loan, an insurance company and six other individuals.
The problem of Indian remains is being looked after by Planning Consultants Research, which is preparing the environmental impact report on the site.
Welcome to Dig
"But if anyone thinks there are Indian artifacts on our property, they are welcome to come and dig," Robbins said.
The water table at the ocean-side site is only 12 feet below the surface, Robbins said, and he doubts that artifacts or remains would survive below that point, "but they're welcome to come and dig till they hit water."
Barry A. Fisher, attorney for the Rochas, dismissed Robbins' offer.
"A jocular invitation to Mrs. Rocha to come out there with a shovel accomplishes nothing," Fisher said.
The Rochas want the site surveyed by an archeologist of their choosing, such as Gary Stickel, who appeared at the news conference with them.
Stickel said he had been fired by Planning Consultants Research for urging greater efforts to identify and preserve Indian remains and artifacts.
Jay Kaplan-Wildmann, project manager for the consulting firm, denied Stickel's version, saying the company allowed his contract to lapse because another archeologist had proposed more extensive research. The other archeologist examined the sites Stickel suggested "and they were sterile," Kaplan-Wildmann said, but then found Indian artifacts in other locations.
Stickel said he based his research on the discovery of the skeletal remains of six Indians at the site by a British archeologist 25 years ago. The remains were turned over to UCLA.
A UCLA spokesman confirmed that some skeletal remains are still preserved from a dig in 1961.