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Coastal Panel, Developer Fail to Reach Accord on Burial Ground

Archeology: Stop-work order will remain in effect until builder of gated community in Seal Beach files plan for handling remains of Native Americans.


California Coastal Commission officials and a developer failed Tuesday to agree on how to handle the remains of at least 18 Native Americans, meaning the company still can't resume work on a gated community in Seal Beach.

At issue is how to handle human bones and artifacts that have been unearthed at the 18-acre Heron Pointe site and whether digging can continue if more remains are found on the land.

The property, which is considered sacred by the Tongva people and may have been an ancient burial ground, is part of the 196-acre Hellman Ranch between the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station and the San Gabriel River. The Tongva flourished in what is now Los Angeles and Orange counties for 7,000 years before the late 18th century arrival of the Spaniards, who established the San Gabriel Mission and renamed the indigenous population the Gabrielinos.

Peter Douglas, the commission's executive director, issued a cease-and-desist order against John Laing Homes last month after the developer refused to stop grading house pads after the Native American remains were discovered. Last year, the commission approved a permit allowing construction of 70 homes at Heron Pointe, provided there was oversight by Native American monitors and archeologists, and that any remains found were properly handled.

Douglas said Tuesday that there is a clear conflict between how the developer and the commission read the permit language.

"We did not reach a resolution," Douglas said. "The developer disputes the meaning and effect of the permit conditions. We made it very clear that we think the permit clearly requires they stop work [when remains are found] and [requires] a plan for treatment of the site. Until we get a plan like that, the cease-and-desist will remain in effect."

Laing Homes project manager Joanie Madrid said the meeting was congenial and productive. She said writing a treatment plan will merely formalize Laing's existing policies. The company is drafting such a plan, and could resume work within a month, she added.

Madrid also disputed the commission's version of events, saying the company voluntarily halted grading two days before the stop-work order was issued.

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