A response to Janet Roberson’s editorial in the Times Herald

On Thursday, April 21st, the Vallejo Times Herald printed an op-ed by Janet Roberson that supported GVRD’s plans to develop the Glen Cove burial site. The editorial contested claims made by the Native American community that the installation of public restrooms and a parking lot would desecrate sacred ground and disturb ancient burials.

What Roberson fails to mention entirely is that she was on the board of GVRD for a few years, while living in the Harbor Homes development directly adjacent to Glen Cove Sacred Site. It appears that underlying her current inaccurate attack on the rights of Native peoples is a personal agenda dating back to that period. The conflict of interest that defined her time as both a residential stakeholder and board member seems to undermine her position as well.

Roberson begins by suggesting that activists who oppose to the plan “are spreading misinformation.” We ask the readers to consider: what possible benefit might there be to spreading such misinformation? Unlike the park administrators and contractors who will feed at the federal grant trough if the park fixtures are installed, the Native community has no financial interest in keeping the land untouched. It is solely because of the sanctity of the area, which Roberson goes to ridiculous lengths to contest, that indigenous activists and supporters are making tremendous sacrifices to prevent development.

Roberson then juxtaposes previous plans, more egregious in their degree of development, to imply that the current proposal represents maintaining the site in its “natural condition.” For those whose ancestors are buried in the disputed land, the current plan does not signify preservation, but instead the disrespect of digging into graves and erecting restrooms atop ancestral remains. To suggest that there could be worse development alternatives does nothing to alleviate the essential issue of desecration.

That “the land cannot be left as it is” is actually a point on which we agree. No one wants the dilapidated Stremmel Mansion to be a drinking hideout for teenagers or a hazard for children. We have always said that the mansion should be carefully dismantled and removed. We simply ask that Indigenous representatives be consulted during the process to insure that the land is protected to the greatest extent possible. Everyone wants the Glen Cove burial site to be a safer, cleaner place. It is for this reason that those attending the spiritual encampment this week have picked up and removed over 300 pounds of garbage and painted over graffiti.

Roberson also brings up several issues around the funding for building and maintaining restrooms on the site. While the Federal grant money may in fact be allocated to this particular development such that it cannot be redirected, it is untrue that this plan is the only one that could receive the funding. In fact, a solution that accommodates the needs of Native peoples could easily be reached by redirecting people to the GVRD maintained public bathrooms a few hundred yards away at Glen Cove Park, leaving the landscape as it is and agreeing on careful methods to remove the deteriorating mansion and keeping the grounds clean.

Roberson also asserts that GVRD is financially solvent. On the contrary, they were actually $128,278 over budget for the 2009-2010 calendar year and are, by their own calculations, estimated to overspend by a whopping $854,413 for 2010-2011. Visit their own website to view their entire budget summary:

Additionally a March 29, 2011 article in the Vallejo Times Herald reported that “Mayor Osby Davis is trying to talk recreation district officials [GVRD] into delaying a tax measure they say they may need to maintain Vallejo’s parks.” The piece goes on to quote GVRD board Chairman Gary Salvadori’s statement that “an annual $40- to $50-per-parcel tax would likely be needed to maintain city parks at an acceptable level.” To this we wonder- how can developing new facilities at this juncture make any financial sense?

Perhaps most significantly, Roberson denies that the land will be desecrated and bodies dug up, ostensibly because, according to GVRD, there is an isolated “culturally sensitive area” within defined boundaries that can simply be avoided or worked around. It is ridiculous to think that numerous cultures, over thousands of years, were careful to leave artifacts and burials within a small, tidy, easily definable area.

Roberson mentions that the letter written by Kent Lightfoot, professor of Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley, endorses GVRD’s plan. On the contrary, while a small passage at the beginning of the correspondence commends aspects of the proposal, Lightfoot generally seeks to outline the plan’s fundamental failure of reductively viewing only a small portion of the site as the burial ground. Lightfoot’s perspective echoes our own, maintaining that the property as a whole likely contains evidence of ancestral burials and is therefore sacred.

That GVRD failed to respond to this proposal makes Roberson statement that “[a]ll of [Lightfoot’s] suggestions were followed and placed into the preservation plan” patently false. Such an inclusive assessment was never conducted, nor has GVRD demonstrated any willingness to consider doing so at this point. Roberson encourages readers to read the letter for themselves on the GVRD website; we could not agree more on that particular point, but we would ask that people read the entire letter, pages 37-38 of the Environmental Impact Report (erroneously cited as page 31 by Roberson), rather than selectively stopping after the second paragraph.

We encourage anyone to come visit the site and engage us with any questions or concerns directly.
-The Committee to Protect Sogorea Te (Glen Cove)

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