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Bolsa Chica Site Voted as Historic

Environment: State panel accords status to 18 acres of mesa that has been the subject of a 30-year fight.

November 03, 2001|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state Historic Resources Commission unanimously voted Friday to designate 18 acres of the Bolsa Chica mesa a historic site.

The decision means that a proposal to place the land on the National Register of Historic Places will be forwarded to the federal government. The 105-acre Bolsa Chica mesa where the acreage is located has been the subject of a 30-year battle between developers and environmentalists.

"We're thrilled that this site, which has so much significance for our state, was finally recognized," Flossie Horgan of the environmental group Bolsa Chica Land Trust said after the meeting at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. "So much is gone in Southern California."

An official with Hearthside Homes, which is trying to develop 387 houses on the two-tier mesa's upper bench, said Friday's vote would not affect the company's development plans.

"It doesn't change our activity at all," said Lucy Dunn, Hearthside's executive vice president. "Just as Native Americans liked being there, so will Orange County families in the future like living there."

Though its historic past is not apparent to passersby, the land--known as ORA-83--contains remnants of an 8,000-year-old Native American village and burial ground. Excavation has turned up ancient human remains as well as carved, disc-shaped stone artifacts called cogged stones.

Cogged stones, whose purpose is unknown, have been found in only two areas in the Western Hemisphere--coastal Southern California and central Chile. The Bolsa Chica site is the only known place where cogged stones were manufactured. The site's importance has been documented by officials with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The Historic Resources Commission proposed listing it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, but the nomination was never forwarded to the federal government, and no one knows what happened to it.

Although Dunn said the designation would have no effect on development plans, Hearthside attorney Susan K. Hori wrote that there were several reasons not to nominate the site.

A property can only be listed on the registry if the landowner agrees, she wrote. Landowner Signal Landmark, which is owned by the same parent company as Hearthside, does not agree, and therefore the site will never be added, Hori wrote.

She also wrote that the acreage already is afforded extra scrutiny because of the 1983 approval and that further action would do nothing more.

But Huntington Beach Councilwoman Debbie Cook, a longtime opponent of the development plan, said the state panel's decision will allow the California Coastal Commission to take a closer look at the area when it reviews the developer's plans.

"It's an extremely significant site, not just statewide, but nationally and internationally," she said.

Horgan said the designation will make it easier for the Bolsa Chica Land Trust to raise money to buy the land in its long-standing effort to keep it from being developed.

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