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Remains Found at Housing Project

June 13, 2003|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

The discovery of what are probably Native American remains has halted work in a small portion of a housing development site on the Westchester bluffs.

A bone and some bone fragments were discovered Wednesday afternoon at the 44-acre site by construction workers and archeological consultants monitoring weed-clearing and other work on the property, which overlooks Marina del Rey.

A Los Angeles County coroner's investigator sent to the scene determined that the bones were most likely Native American.

"It's not a surprise to find human remains because the area is a known archeological site," said Jeffrey Altschul, president of Tucson-based Statistical Research Inc., archeological and historical consultants working for the developer, Catellus Development Corp. "West Bluffs is a highly desirable place to live. People have wanted to live there for thousands of years."

Indeed, excavations at the site have shown that it was a longtime home of the Gabrielino Indians, the original inhabitants of what is now Los Angeles.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 17, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 107 words Type of Material: Correction
West Bluffs -- An article in Friday's California section overstated the view of an activist opposed to a Catellus Development Corp. housing project on the West Bluffs in Westchester. Leslie Purcell's opinion is that the discovery of Native American remains on the property should have prompted the developer to stop using earth-moving equipment in the area where the bones were found. She did not say the discovery should stop all work on the project. The company continued to use such equipment nearby, outside an area immediately around the remains. Also, the name of a street bordering the site was incorrect. It is Berger Avenue, not Berger Street.

Altschul said he doubted that the remains were part of a larger burial ground. "People lived and died there, and those who died were probably buried there," he said.

The 114-home project has drawn the wrath of neighborhood activists and environmentalists for a year. They view the "uplands" area as a vital component of the Ballona Creek ecosystem and say it should remain undeveloped.

"They had big grading equipment going right around this site" where the bones were found, said Leslie Purcell, an activist and Sierra Club member. Purcell said the discovery should prompt Catellus to halt work on the entire property.

Bill Dennis, senior vice president for Catellus, said Thursday that the company has no intention of stopping all work on the land. He said it has followed the proper procedures in such cases. First, the company sealed off a 15-by-15-foot area around where the discovery was made. The remains were reburied and covered with plywood, plastic and a shallow layer of dirt, he said.

The company then contacted the California Native American Heritage Commission, which selected a representative who plans to visit the site today. That representative suggested by phone that Catellus expand the cordoned-off area to 50 feet by 50 feet, and the company complied, Dennis said.

Catellus began clearing the property last month in preparation for building the deluxe single-family homes. The property runs along 80th Street between Berger Street and Lincoln Boulevard.

"The issue of historic preservation and honoring the past is a deeply held value," Altschul said. "Our past is important to us, and we recognize that in an urban area like Los Angeles there are always compromises.... We should treat the site appropriately. Do I think it should stop development? No."

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