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Ohlone Tribe Protests Proposed West Berkeley Housing Development

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- Native American activists were protesting in West Berkeley Tuesday morning, fighting a developer's proposal to build on a sacred village and burial site.

The protesters gathered for prayers and song in a Berkeley parking lot at 1900 Fourth Street near Hearst Avenue.

Those gathered told KPIX 5 it was a ceremony intended to protect the site that the Ohlone tribe considers sacred, but could soon be developed into apartments.

"This is the first village and cemetery that was ever inhabited along the San Francisco Bay," said Ohlone tribe member Corrina Gould.

The Ohlone tribe says it's a burial site of their ancestors, part of what's known as the West Berkeley Shellmound

"This is the last open space in the entire area that has not been developed upon, and we need to protect and preserve this place," said Gould

Blake Griggs Properties is behind the development. It's an example of a new California law at work. SB 35 streamlines the approval process for affordable housing. The development would include 130 affordable units.

A spokesperson for the developer argued the site is not historic.

"We've conducted five years of research – the most extensive research ever conducted – and spent millions of dollars doing so. And none of that research has ever showed that this was ever the site of the West Berkeley Shellmound," said Lauren Sever with Blake Griggs Properties.

The Ohlone tribe and the developer have been in negotiations for months.

"We spent seven months working with tribal leaders and made various offers, including an offer to actually give them the whole property subject to a ground lease on which we would build our project and after which they would own the entire parking lot, said Sever.

We could not compromise any more of this," responded Gould.

The Berkeley City Planning Department has 180 days to consider the project. If approved, the developer plans to build as early as next year.

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