FREMONT, Calif. - Marc Greenberg, Golden Gate University Law Professor, tells the I-Team, "The fact that they've been aware of this for several years and it's only now coming to light in part through investigative journalism is a problem for them, I think."
Some buyers of new homes in Fremont didn't know the builder had unearthed Ohlone Indian skeletons there, until the ABC7 I-Team told them. And now, the developer of that $20 million project is offering to take some drastic actions.
Dan Noyes and the I-Team are putting the pieces together about what the builder knew, when they knew it, and what they told the buyers.
Van Daele Homes of Southern California is finishing off seventeen homes on just two acres in Fremont, with "elegant floor plans", "close proximity to silicon valley", priced at 1.2 million.
The I-Team has now confirmed with the California Native American Heritage Commission that construction crews first found Ohlone Indian remains at that site more than two years ago, and eventually unearthed 32 skeletons, some carbon-dated to 650 years ago.
Shawn Harris, Native American Monitor, told us, "All throughout this whole site, we found a good number of bodies. It looked like a very old skeleton."
Van Daele followed state rules and hired a team of monitors to ensure the remains are handled properly. Shawn Harris did the job for two months. Ohlone Indian Ramona Garibay and her mother, Ruth Orta, were in charge.
Dan Noyes questioned them at the construction site, "Mona, I'd really like to know what's going on."
Ruth Orta: "Well, we'd like to know how you found out."
Ramona Garibay: "Come on, mother."
Ramona didn't want to talk, even though the builder referred me to the I-Team.
Tim Fisher, Van Daele Senior Project Manager: "I'm happy to address your questions and thanks very much."
Dan Noyes: "Have they found-- was it 32 skeletons?"
Fisher: "I'm happy to allow Ramona to address any questions."
Noyes: "Okay, but you just said that you're happy to address my questions, then you don't answer the question."
Fisher: "That's how I would like to allow her to address your questions."
Noyes:"Why would the developer be so concerned about keeping this quiet?"
Andy Galvan, Ohlone Indian: "Okay, well, sales."
Andy Galvan is director of the Mission Dolores Museum in San Francisco. He also works as a monitor for Indian remains at different construction sites.
Galvan: "You don't want vandalism during construction and you don't want protestors there."
Galvan: "Protestors saying what a horrible thing, this developer is destroying our ancestors by digging them up."
Van Daele kept it quiet from the public, but also from people buying the homes.
"It was very hush-hush on finding the body at all,? Shawn Harris told Dan Noyes. ?I'd ask, 'Are the owners of these houses being told about it?' And they said, 'Well, it'll probably be a small line on the bottom of the contract.'"
Several buyers tell the I-Team the disclosure form simply listed "artifacts" found at the site. Most buyers thought that meant pottery or arrowheads, not skeletons.
Liaza Tin-Paw, Homebuyer
Dan Noyes met homebuyer, Liaza Tin-Paw
Noyes: "That's news to you, huh?"
Liaza Tin-Paw: "Yes, I never heard."
Noyes: "You didn't know?"
Just days after the I-Team report last month breaking news of the Indian skeletons, Van Daele sent this letter to home-buyers finally acknowledging "artifacts and human and animal bones were found in the soils beneath the community".
The company also confirmed what the I-Team reported, that the remains will be stored in a vault, the big white box, under a foot of asphalt at the end of a street -- just outside the living rooms of two homes.
And, the builder offered, "Should you wish to terminate the purchase of your home ... Van Daele will return all of your deposits."
VIDEO: Dan Noyes discusses consequences for homeowners, developer on Facebook Live
"They had an obligation as soon as they found this out to start making this kind of a disclosure," says Golden Gate University Law Professor Marc Greenberg.
Greenberg tells the I-Team the disclosure now is "better late than never" -- that buyers had a right to know about the Indian remains from the start, not just because of the possible impact on property value.
He says, "For example, let's say you want to-- we bought the property, want to put a swimming pool in the back and doing so might disrupt a grave, you need to know that in advance."
The company refused to be interviewed for this report, as did many of the buyers. They tell Dan Noyes they are consulting with attorneys and weighing their options.
Click here to read the letter sent to homeowners from the developer.
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