Morgan Hill throws support behind tribal band in effort to preserve sacred land in South Bay

MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- In the South Bay, city leaders in Morgan Hill voted unanimously to throw their support behind the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.

The Amah Mutsun are hoping 6,500-acres of sacred land they call Juristac remains untouched.

Morgan Hill council members voted to support a resolution at Wednesday night's packed city council meeting.

Next steps involve council reaching out to Santa Clara County leaders in an effort to push the preservation of the space, known today as Sargent Ranch.

Hours before the vote came down, about 100 supporters met outside Morgan Hill City Hall.

The Smoky Bay Drummers, the ACLU and others joined in a show of support for the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.

The group shared the message, "Protect Juristac."

"Our people have suffered enough desecration and destruction," tribal band chairman, Valentin Lopez told ABC7 News. "And domination of our culture of our spiritual sites and we're taking a stand."

They're taking a stand against potential development at the site. Specifically, a proposed 320-acre gravel and sand quarry.

"They look at it as a percent of the whole property, but this is where the ceremonies were held," Lopez said. "We had ceremonies there for renewal, for healing, for the sick."

Council member Rene Spring sponsored the resolution to ask Santa Clara County, which has jurisdiction over the proposed mining site, to deny permits for the project.

In the end, council supported the push to simply preserve the space.

"The right decision, in my opinion, would be not to approve the project and preserve the open space there and the sacred sites," Spring said.

Beyond the sacred site, Committee for Green Foothills said people need to consider the impact to wildlife.

"A quarry in that location would cut right across a really important wildlife corridor," the committee's legislative advocacy director Alice Kaufam said. "And make it really difficult for mountain lions and other important species to be able to migrate out of the Santa Cruz Mountains."

However, the Sargent Quarry project manager, Verne Freeman, said the land provides a local source of sand- what he calls a diminishing resource worldwide.

He also said requests to speak with the tribal band have been rejected.

"We have tried in our best way to make a good faith effort to respond," Freeman explained. "And we've been rejected, and in many cases, completely out of hand."

He said plenty has been discussed and debated, without much needed information from an official Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

"An EIR hasn't be released to the public yet," he emphasized.

"What I'd really ask the public to do is wait until the EIR comes out and make your own judgement," Freeman said. "Look at the facts, look at the process, look at what we've offered and look at what they've rejected."

Freeman anticipates the EIR will be released sometime this summer, detailing that effort.

"I feel like we're rushing to judgement here, and it probably feels good in some ways to support the Native American community- and I'm not opposed to that myself of course," he said. "But I also feel like we haven't had our time to talk, to demonstrate the benefits of our project and to also the measures we've taken to address these issues."

He explained he must still maintain confidentiality until the report is available to the public.

ABC7 News has reached out to Santa Clara County for comment, but have not heard back.
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