EXCLUSIVE: Developer uncovers Ohlone Indian remains, I-Team investigates

FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- Andy Galvan, Ohlone Indian, told the I-Team, "These are our dead, this is not a poltergeist joke, this is not ghoulish, this is not creature features and it's not Halloween."

It is a sensitive issue for Native Americans whose ancestors lived here hundreds of years ago. A developer has come across Indian remains while building new homes in the East Bay. I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes has an exclusive investigation into the controversy and what's being done about it.

It's been tough getting answers from the builder, from an Indian descendant they hired as a consultant, and from the city of Fremont. But, several sources confirm crews have dug up 32 skeletons in just two acres where the homes are being built.

The website for a Southern California builder, Van Daele homes, touts the project in Fremont: "elegant floor plans", "close proximity to silicon valley", priced around $1.2 million.

No mention of the 32 Ohlone Indian skeletons they've found there, one carbon-dated to 650 years ago.

Tim Fisher is Van Daele's senior project manager.

Dan: "So, the developer is not going to talk to me on camera about this?"
Fisher: "I'm sorry, we'd just like to provide our Native American representative the opportunity to address your questions."
Dan: "She's your Native American-- you're paying her?"
Fisher: "She is retained to provide services here on the site."
By California law, when a builder finds what may be Indian remains, they must contact the "Native American Heritage Commission" in Sacramento which locates the nearest "most likely descendant". The builder pays them up to 100-dollars an hour to monitor the construction site, to make sure remains are handled properly.

Ohlone Indian Ramona Garibay and her mother, Ruth Orta, are working this project. They met me there but did not want to talk.

Dan: "Mona, I'd really like to know what's going on."
(door slam)
Ruth: "Well, we'd like to know how you found out."
Mona: "Come on, mother."

Mona suggested we speak with the project's archaeologist, WSA of Orinda. But they refused, emailing me, "Ms. Garibay has requested that no information or discussion about the Native American burials be made public out of respect for her ancestors."

Mona's cousin believes it may be something else.

Dan: "Why would the developer be so concerned about keeping this quiet?"
Andy Galvan: "Okay, well, sales."

Galvan is also an Ohlone who works as consultant for builders after Indian remains are found. He told us, "Whenever I'm on a job site, we are hitting human remains, it's usually by the second or third day, somebody says the word 'Poltergeist'. Will this jinx the sale?"

Galvan is referring to the 1980's horror film about a home built on a cemetery that comes to life.

The Van Daele project is already sold out, but there's another important question.

Dan: "Are you informing the buyers that there are skeletons on this property?"
Tim Fisher: "There were disclosures to the buyers of what has been found here on site, yes."

Just a few families have moved in. The woman in this car told me she did sign a disclosure form about the skeletons when closing on her home, but Liaza Tin-Paw had no idea about the Indian remains found where she now lives.

Dan: "That's news to you, huh?"
Liaza: "Yes, I never heard."
Dan: "You didn't know?"
Liaza: "No."

Crews removed the 32 skeletons, but they're coming back. Behind a construction fence as seen from drone view seven, they left a hole in the road. They'll put the remains in that big, white box -- the vault -- and cover it with just a foot of asphalt.

"Once those are reburied, according to state law, more than six burials, that vault is a designated cemetery," Galvan told the I-Team.

He tells us a better option would have been to leave the skeletons in place or bury them in a public space with a marker. But he admits that plan has its drawbacks.

"Who's going to want to buy a house next door to a cemetery if you put, you know, the tomb of the unknown Ohlones right there?"

Shawn Harris spotted remains beneath this lamp post, while working as an Indian remains monitor at the project.

Shawn: "It looked like a very old skeleton."
Dan: "Oh, it did?"
Shawn: "Yeah."
Dan: "Was it intact?"
Shawn: "Yes."

He says there may be many more skeletons than the 32 that have been recovered.

"And the only bodies that they run across are the ones that they've run into by digging down a certain depth," says Harris. "So the whole area is probably covered with them."

The Fremont Planning Department also declined to be interviewed but emailed that the builder handled the remains appropriately. This started with a tip -- if you have something we should investigate, call 1-888-40-I-TEAM or click here for more information.
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