Stephen Ellison

Battle Brewing Over Native American Land in Gilroy

Investors are looking to build a sand and gravel mine on 320 acres, and tribal leaders are fighting to save it

A battle between progress and preserving Native American history is brewing in the South Bay.

Investors hope to build a 320-acre sand and gravel mine on Sargent Ranch in Gilroy, west of Highway 101. But one Native American leader says doing so will destroy his tribe's sacred land.

The Sargent Ranch area consists of more than 6,000 acres of land. The plan is to harvest sand and gravel there and turn it into cement used in construction.

But the land is the spot where the Amah Mutsun tribe once lived and held spiritual ceremonies, and tribal leaders are fighting to save it.

As Valenteen Lopez surveyed the land Wednesday, he recalled the rich history for the Amah Mutsun tribal band. The region, called juristac, was once home to a Native American village and where the most important spiritual ceremonies were held.

"Juristac is a sacred place," Lopez said.

Lopez fears if a proposed sand and gravel quarry is built there, his tribe's history will be lost forever.

"It would allow the destruction of not only juristac as a home, but also destroy where our ceremonies were held and that would be a total desecration to our spiritual practices," he said.

There are also environmental concerns. The Committee for Green Foothills says building a quarry at Sargent Ranch would impact the mountain lions and other animals that migrate from other mountain ranges.

"If those populations become isolated, they are subject to inbreeding and eventually become under threat," committee spokesperson Alice Kaufman said.

The manager of Sargent Ranch said building a quarry would actually help the environment because sand could be developed locally and not need to be trucked in.

"So, we look at this as a local source of sand and a greenhouse reducing project as well as producing local jobs," Verne Freeman said.

Freeman said the plan is to use only 5% of the ranch for development and preserve the rest.

Lopez said developing even 320 acres would be devastating to his tribe.

"How much more?" he said. "Haven't they already destroyed enough? So many of our sacred sites have been developed and covered up."

Several environmental groups are now working to purchase the entire ranch. In the meantime, a draft environmental impact report is expected to be completed in the next six weeks, and the public will have a chance to weigh in on the potential impacts.

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