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By Shawn Raymundo

What was expected to be a non-controversial vote to advance the construction of a Native American cultural site during the latest City Council meeting, instead turned into a heated discussion among councilmembers that ended with a decision to table all development on San Juan Capistrano’s Northwest Open Space.

With Councilmember Derek Reeve opposed, city council on Tuesday, April 16, voted to suspend potential plans to develop on the open space until inconsistencies in the city’s language on land use and zoning descriptions can be ironed out through a public workshop process.

The move places a hold on the city’s plans to build the Native American cultural site called Putuidem Village as well as pauses upcoming negotiations with Red Tail Acquisitions, which has proposed developing a camping and “glamping” facility on the land.

“Poor little Putuidem park,” Mayor Brian Maryott lamented, noting that the cultural site to honor the Acjachemen Native American tribe is being caught in the middle of the debate over the appropriate use of the Northwest Open Space.

At issue are discrepancies in land use descriptions found in the city’s general plan.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Reeve and Mayor Pro Tem Troy Bourne brought those concerns to the forefront in response to threats of a legal challenge lobbed by a former mayor.

In the weeks since the council voted in favor of negotiating with Red Tail, many San Juan residents – a handful of former councilmembers in particular – have spoken out against the camping and “glamping” proposal. Maryott voted against the negotiations and has also been vocal in his opposition to Red Tail’s plans.

Maryott on Tuesday opined that the council is “splitting hairs” on the issue and was surprised by his colleagues’ hesitance now to move forward with Putuidem Village.

“If we’re going to halt the work then let’s halt the work across the board,” he said. “Because everybody said two weeks ago that they were determined to get that poor little park done, very much in earnest, with a great deal of emotion. And here we are hanging it up on … nuances in the (Municipal) Code and the regulation.”

Bourne said it was “nuances in the code” that resulted in the city having to settle lawsuits and spend millions of dollars in recent years.

When Maryott asked who has a financial stake in the city constructing a passive park, he noted that they can “talk about litigants and potential litigants in the city all night.”

“The facts are we have a former mayor who’s threatening to sue the city over what he perceives as … ‘nuances in the code,’” Bourne responded.

Maryott pointed out that proponents of the Native American site have waited for the last five years to get the project moving.

“All of a sudden we’re throwing this at them,” he said.

Reeve stated that the language in the city’s laws aren’t consistent and need to be cleaned up.

“We still have to at some point come back to this council and clean this up and I’m not clear why that’s such a bad thing,” Reeve said.

“Well, it’s not necessarily done properly and for the right reasons,” Maryott retorted right before trying to introduce the motion to suspend all work on the open space.

Reeve told Maryott that he’s “really out of order.”

“No, I’m not,” Maryott said.

“When you say it’s not done for the right reasons,” Reeve shot back.

“Well, that’s your interpretation that I’m out of order,” Maryott said, defending his comments.

Maryott then introduced the motion to halt the potential development projects on the open space and conduct a public workshop on what the community wants the property to be used as.

The City Council on April 16, voted to halt all potential development on San Juan Capistrano's Northwest Open Space. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
The City Council on April 16, voted to halt all potential development on San Juan Capistrano’s Northwest Open Space. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

Bourne quickly seconded the motion, stating that he agrees with Maryott that if they’re not going to move forward with Putuidem because of ambiguity in the zoning laws then they should also refrain from negotiating with Red Tail.

And while he agreed with Maryott’s proposal, Bourne clarified Reeve’s statement that the mayor was out of order.

“What he’s saying is inappropriate is you’re telling the public how we feel and why we’re doing the things that we’re doing. You’re wrong and you’re not inside of our heads,” Bourne said. “So, you can have your reasons for wanting to move this forward, but to impugn the reasons for doing what we’re doing as being something other than sincere, that’s not OK.”

“If I led you to feel that way, I apologize,” Maryott said while noting that that was their interpretation of his remarks.

On Tuesday, city staff had presented a report on a scaled-down version of Putuidem Village, which had been modified to help keep costs under the city’s $2.118 million budget.

Bids to construct the project opened in August 2018, however, the lowest bid received was for nearly $2.4 million, resulting in the council this past October to reject all the bids. When the council voted last month to negotiate with Red Tail, it also voted to have city staff bring the revised version for review and approval during a subsequent meeting.

According to the city, the anticipated annual cost to maintain Putuidem would range from $60,000 to $80,000. Staff had projected getting the bid out by the summer and awarding the contract in the fall with completion of the project estimated for next spring.

The staff had recommended that the council approve the revised conceptual plan of the community park project and put it out to bid for construction.

Public comments on the project were positive as the few who did speak on the plans urged the council to move forward.

“Let’s please move this forward and let it happen. It’s going to be a beautiful thing for the city,” said Patricia Martz, president of the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc.

Kerry Ferguson, a former councilmember who has lobbied for the cultural park, said it “is far, far past time to recognize this important part of our heritage – the Acjachemen people.”

The zoning issues, which now stand in the way of Putuidem Village, were raised in light of former Councilmember Mark Nielsen’s plans to sue the city if the public isn’t allowed to vote on a potential zone change regarding the open space.

Nielsen has argued that Red Tail’s proposal, which would require a zoning change request, should trigger a public vote under Measure X. A zoning change request from General Plan Open Space to any other designation requires voter approval.

Currently, the Northwest Open Space is classified as “community park” under the General Plan Open Space Land Use designation. There are several classifications under Open Space Land Use, including “open space recreation,” “community park,” “general open space” and “neighborhood park.”

If Red Tail successfully negotiates its plan, it would need to request a classification change from “community park” to “open space recreation,” according to the city. The city has stated that this situation wouldn’t trigger a Measure X vote, because the potential development calls only for changing the land use classification and not the General Plan designation.

As for Putuidem, Reeve asked city staff whether the council needs to approve a classification change for the portion of the site where the cultural project will sit.

“This is a community park, but based on past staff reports it seems there is some quandary putting a facility like this into this land use designation,” he said.

Putuidem would be considered as “passive recreation facilities” use, which is currently not permitted under the “community park” classification.

City Manager Ben Siegel noted that “there is ambiguity” in regards to the descriptions of the land use designations.

“It is something we’ve taken a fresh look at,” he said, adding, “There is certainly ambiguity.”

Ultimately, Siegel said, it will come down to how the council defines Putuidem Village.

Bourne, who has been critical of Nielsen’s recent threat, presented a slideshow highlighting the various descriptions about open space land use in the city’s general plan and zoning laws.

“I think there’s some genuine confusion in the community about what’s supposed to go into the open space,” he said.

Bourne added that everyone in the community he’s spoken to about the open space feels very strongly that their perception of what the open space allows for is correct.

“People feel pretty confident that their use, regardless of which of the uses it is, is the designated use and that they’ve read where it says that,” he said.

Rather than facing a legal challenge down the road, Bourne suggested pumping “the brakes for a second before we start approving uses out there that are questionable as to whether or not they’re legal, and giving these litigious members of our community ammunition to use against the city if they don’t get what they perceive is the best use.”

Bourne also said the city should hold a workshop to “hear from all aspects of the community” and later use those discussions to create a zone specifically designed for the Northwest Open Space.

When the dais turned to Reeve for further comments, he raised the concern that “passive” parks entail annual maintenance costs, further explaining that those are funds that could go toward constructing sports parks.

Reeve then circled back to the zoning issue, stating “I really believe that that we should not vote for this until after, or at least contingent on, some land use change in zoning.”

While noting that proponents of Putuidem Village have been waiting a while to get the project moving, Councilmember John Taylor voiced similar thoughts on the zoning issue and asked Siegel how long the process would take to hold the public forum and then ultimately make the zone change.

Siegel said the scheduling of the public forum could be done soon, but when it comes to initiating a zone change, it would need to go through bureaucratic steps such as going to the planning commission for a hearing and undergo an environmental review. The city could be looking at a time frame of three to six months, he estimated.

After Tuesday’s vote, Martz said the council’s decision not to move forward with Putuidem was “awful,” calling it another broken promise to Native Americans.

“Once again, the Native Americans get dumped on and this is happening again. Breaking promises, breaking treaties,” she said. “It’s gone on for hundreds of years and this is the same thing, they’re breaking a treaty to honor Native Americans. Honor all the things they did for this city.”

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comments (20)

  • Over 9,000 years ago the Acjachemen found their way here. They founded two important settlements fairly closed to each other called Panhe and Putuidem. Panhe was settled in what today is southern San Clemente. Putuidem, the larger of the two villages, was created in what today is the northern edge of San Juan Capistrano.

    The Acjachemen people, who once spanned Orange and San Diego counties, are recognized as the “Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation” by the state of California. The name “Juaneño” originates from the Spanish Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded to colonize the area in 1776. Sadly, the federal government does not recognize the Acjachemen; consequently, they are landless people today.

    The apparent plan to build a Native American cultural site called Putuidem Village has been put on hold because of alleged discrepancies in land use descriptions in the city’s general plan. Alas, everything appeared to be on track for construction of the Putuidem Village cultural site, until Red Tail Acquisitions proposed implementing a “traditional camping and Glamping destination” on the site.

    This land once belonged to the peaceful Acjachemen people. The Spaniards established slavery systems for Native Americans through Franciscan missions, theoretically entitling them to ten years of Native labor, but in practice maintaining their slaves in perpetual servitude until the Mexican government secularized the missions in 1833.

    It was envisioned that with the divestment of Mission lands, the land would return to the Acjachemen, but instead, the land was divided up via land grants, creating the Rancho system of large ranches owned by a few powerful men and families.

    Following the 1847–1848 invasion of Alta California by U.S. troops, we continued enslavement as we carried out both cultural and physical genocide of indigenous natives. In 1851, the first Governor of California called for the extermination of the Native population. Over the next two years more than 300,000 were killed.— Brendon Lindsey, “Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide, 1846-1873,” University of Nebraska Press (June 1, 2012); Clifford E. Trafzer et al, “Exterminate Them: Written Accounts of the Murder, Rape, and Enslavement of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush,” Michigan State University Press (1999).

    It is said that San Juan Capistrano is both unique and a rarity, a community whose foundation was laid by the Acjachemen people, and a “community still evolving after more than 220 years.”

    The Acjachemen are landless because of decisions made by Euro-Americans who took this land from them. From a moral standpoint, the land should be returned to their descendants. It is bad enough that we have already violated their sacred land—land that was once home to their ancestors’ burial grounds is now a football field.

    If the descendants want a Native American cultural center built on their land, then the City Council should make it happen. And if Red Tail Acquisitions wants to build on a portion of the land there, they should first negotiate with the descendants, and if they say no, then the City should honor their decision.

    • Michelle Schumacher Reply

      Yes to the Cultural Park – the voters voted for open space and the park – what the heck is going on that the council is back stepping. Please do right by tax payers that approved the measure for the park and open space.

      • There not Indians,there not recognized,don’t waste money on this stupid Indian Fake People.
        I have all the records that show who is the real Native American in this town,these are mexican blooded people .No Native blood at all>>>

      • DUSTY OTERO = Have you DNA records? Your can trace their lineage back to Africa. If your more immediate ancestors are European, chances are that you have between one and four percent Neanderthal.

        The Spaniards raped many of the indigenous natives when they arrived in the Americas, so many of the indigenous natives will carry European-Mediterranean DNA, along with Denisovan DNA that was acquired as they passed through Asia prior to crossing over the Bering Straits land bridge.

        Today we are all pretty much a mix. The descents of the Acjachemen are most-likely a mix, just like the rest of us. Their ancestors left Africa between 65,000 and 103,000 years ago. Those who turned left into Europe picked up some Neanderthal. Those that turned right and crossed through Asia to reach the Americas picked up some Denisovan.

        When Pizarro and Cortez arrived, they mixed their DNA with the locals who have been here some 9,000 to 25,000 or more years before the Europeans arrived. My caretaker is 22-percent Peruvian, 3.5-percent Denisovan, 2.2 Neanderthal, 38-percent European, 0.5-percent African, and 33.8-percent indigenous Native American. I suspect if you were to analyze the DNA of the local Acjachemen population, you would find similar diversity. I feel that they have far more right to be here than we do since our ancestors took their land from them while we committing both cultural and physical genocide in the process. The first Governor of California in 1851 called for the extermination of all indigenous natives. Over the next two years, they slaughtered more than 300,000.

  • To All SJC Council Members and Staff,

    Please keep our N/W Open Space OPEN SPACE. Is there some kind of development virus that infects people the minute you become part of city government?
    We voted for open space not every inch of our city covered in concrete. Please leave well enough alone.
    You all did enough damage buying the worthless land up the Ortega for the City of Mission Viejo but paid for by us.
    Stop! Think! Get an anti-development vaccination.

  • SJC City Council and Staff,
    Re: Putuidem “Village”
    The $2.4 million price for this “village” is beyond ridiculous. Constructing the “village” is also beyond ridiculous.
    There was, and maybe still is, an Indian “home” in front of the Montanez Adobe. The “home” consisted of bent twigs forming a round, small structure in the dirt.
    How do you all figure a bent twig “home” or several of them, costs over $2M?
    Also, hunters and gatherers never had a permanent home for many reasons, i.e., food source, sanitation, water availability, etc. The Putuidem “village” would never be historically correct.
    Why is the Council so fast and loose with our money for PC purposes?

  • To All SJC Council Members and Staff,

    Please keep our N/W Open Space OPEN SPACE. Is there some kind of development virus that infects people the minute you become part of city government?
    We voted for open space not every inch of our city covered in concrete. Please leave well enough alone.
    You all did enough damage buying the worthless land up the Ortega for the City of Mission Viejo but paid for by us.
    Stop! Think! Get an anti-development vaccination.

  • PJ Douglas: you have an absolute right to your opinion that for you, the desired solution for the use of the NW Open Space is to keep it open. However, you do not have a right to your own facts, and your characterizations of Acjacheman villages and life ways are breathtaking in their ignorance and inaccuracies. It is precisely because of views like yours that an Acjacheman Cultural Center is so important to the city and to the descendent communities. We as a society are all made better when we have an appreciation and understanding of other cultures and their historical contributions. We cannot know these things until we are taught, and a cultural center is an excellent way to do so. If you want the space to be kept open, then argue so on its merits, and refrain from demeaning and intellectually lazy comments about this Native American community.

  • A few have posted PC utter nonsense in favor of taxpayers paying for a “Acjacheman Cultural Center”. Those folks should purchase property and install a “cultural center” themselves. As for historical correctness vs PC nonsense, it was necessary for hunters and gatherers to move – for several reasons, just basic sanitation alone was a major one. Think! If you relieved yourself on your property and your neighbors did the same, how long before the area would be uninhabitable? The stench, the flies,…where would you walk? Where would the children play? So, PC brainwashed people, please try to use commonsense before becoming insipidly irate.

    • Ms. Adams’ comments are really important and very helpful in understanding the Village and “glamping” proposals as two separate projects, and noting the significant work done by Native American leadership to move the project through appropriate city channels to get it approved. I agree that, for all the reasons she outlines, the Village should be built. I am sorry to see that PJ Douglas has decided not to present considered comments on why this space should remain open, even though that was initially stated as the preferred use of the land. It appears that the real issue for PJ Douglas is not a yearning for more open space in the city, but deep-seated grievance, as revealed by the immediate jump to “political correctness” as somehow being a factor in favoring an Acjacheman Cultural Village. From there, the comment careens to a comparison of “historical correctness” and “political correctness”, a point which is actually never made. Instead there follows another bizarre description of what is believed to be Acjacheman life ways. If you believe that open space is the best use of this land, then once again, may I ask you to present your argument, and refrain from further inaccurate characterizations of Native peoples.

  • Mechelle Lawrence Adams Reply

    As former CHC chair and commission member I voted in support of this village project which is in alignment with the City’s early 1990s plan for the open space acquisition at that time. The Native American leadership for this effort have been through every hoop and consideration for their project. This seems unfair to link the already reviewed and processed village to the more recent proposal for privatization of our community’s open space by way of a “glamping project”!

    The glamping project is an unfair subsidy giving public space to a private user with potentially significant environmental impacts associated with ultimately vast improvements needed to introduce glamor camping to the area.

    The Village was nothing of the sort and afforded a public benefit and access to our community’s history for all regardless of economic standing.

    The town should not let the indigenous people’s long awaited project be delayed because an outside developer entered the scene and wanted to use our community’s open space for their profit.

    The acquisition of open space was intended to prevent intensification of the area but to allow for trails, hiking, cultural center and enjoyment by all residents.

    The glamping serves a very segment of our community- most likely outsiders will use the open space— and not directly the residents who live and who taxed themselves. These residents include those with ancestral ties to the Mission and have local Native American heritage.

    These are really 2 separate projects in 2 different phases and should not be lumped together. They have waited far too long. I urge moving forward on the Village if it has fulfilled the public review process.

    The new glamping project proposal on the other hand, needs community review and up close environmental review (as such a project would be providing plumbing for private tent restrooms, pavements for cars and flat pads for gathering spaces deliveries of supplies snd most likely event staging. The glamping’s canvas tents usually also require raised platforms, kitchen prep areas and delivery bays— and that all collectively to me is intensification of our open space benefitting the operator and the tourists who should be staying at our local hotels.

    The Village is a gentle use that celebrates our town’s rich and diverse history and finally acknowledges at the civic level the importance of our first people in this area. Build the Village!

  • A few, especially A.R. Whitehair (?) please reread my post of 20Apr19. Reading comprehension is a very valuable tool..

    • PJ Douglas: I read your post of 20 April. It is not a considered argument in support of Open Space. It is a opinionated screed. I continue to be open to hearing WHY keeping this as open space is an option worth considering. I am not interested in your judgment regarding previous actions of City Government or your slant that a “development virus” is infecting City leaders. As I and others have posted, the comments of you and Mr. Otero are proof positive that a Native American Cultural Center is desperately needed.

  • Mr. Douglas your vast ignorance of pre-contact history and the Acjachemen is a sad commentary and I hope is not representative of the people of San Juan Capistrano. Your remarks about bent twig houses in the dirt are an excellent argument for the need of the Putuidem Village Interpretive Park. One wonders about the underlying reason that motivates you to spend so much time and energy on rants against this worthwhile project.

    Patricia Martz, Ph.D.
    Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Los Angeles.

    • Ms. Martz, you obviously have a monetary need to present a PC/fictional approach to “history”. The bent twigs “home” in the dirt was at the Montanez Adobe put there not by me. If you and some others are so into a supposed Indian building on the former Crean Ranch, now owned by the city, please, please, raise your own funds and purchase some commercial zoned lot. Put your money (taxpayer provided) where your mouth is. Too many people think it is just fine to squander other people’s money for their pet projects. My objection is just that. And, from your post, it seems you are not even a resident of SJC. Some nerve.

    • Mrs. Martz, your self-important posts show an arrogant disdain for taxpayers. You are in a field best described as a glorified hobby for which the public is forced to pay. There is no practical purpose for cultural and/or physical anthropologists to wander around pestering people here and abroad. One good thing is that most of the people you all so condescendingly “study” are on to you – see Margaret Mead.. The SJC land you are so bent on using for your pet project was voted Open Space. Do you understand Open Space? Pet projects should and must be paid for by those invested in them. Keep your hands out of other people’s pockets. Go back to your self-important little world.

  • As Professor Emerita of Anthropology, California State University, Los Angeles, I have taught numerous classes about the Indigenous people of California. I am writing to commend and support former CHC chair and commission member, Mechelle Lawrence Adams’ well informed comments regarding the public benefits of the Putuidem Park Interpretive center and the needless delay because an outside developer wants to use the community’s open space for their profit.
    It is obvious by the few negative comments regarding a project that honors the first people and celebrates San Juan Capistrano’s rich and diverse history that Putuidem Park is needed.

  • What Native Americans?I want to see some Proof of there genealogy,?? there all factions of wanna be Indians.
    All they wanted was a casino,and now why don’t these Fake Indians put up a fund raiser,try to step up to the plate.Lol Indians Read the final determination on who is native and who is Not.Google Juaneno denied federal recognition””



  • Mechelle Lawrence Adams Reply

    Thank you Dr. Martz for your comments.

    It is critical that the efforts of the early 90’s not go reduced because there are new ideas afloat about how to monetize our open space. I am very concerned about the precedent this sets for ridgelines and other North West open space that was bought in the 1990s as part of that effort and plan.

    Also, we need to vigorously work to make sure private operators do not get to make the public spaces appear less than accessible to the tax paying public.

    For instance, I sometimes struggle with the Swanner House being interpreted (through its site signage) as being closed to the public or interpreted as a private property and wish the signage indicated that it was purchsed with tax payer dollars so the public could see and realize it is part of our community’s public historical and cultural assets. While I think the use helps to keep the Swanner House in use, I struggle with how it is interpreted and communicated.

    In the instance of the north west open space plan and review, it is my view that it is a dangerous precedent to let an outiside business locate on it, make substantial itense site investments and improvements in order to make a personal profit from a specific audience and increase and intensify its use. I just returned from Yosemite and those campgrounds are quite intense in the Curry Village. This is something much more than that project! Because it will serve the very highest end of campers, there will no doubt be a food service provider, alcohol, probably weddings and other elements that are better served in the historic downtown by the long time business operators there. Why take business away from the town core?

    The Cultural/Historical programming for the NWOS area was always aimed at serving the public and education and for that reason it should proceed as it was processed through many commissions and public review and the issue of its use was not problematic to those that weighed in at the time and voted for it.

    Thank you Dr. Martz for your kind and supportive comments, and as a former city staffer and long time resident I am available to help you and the leadership if needed in my own time. I wish you the best in your efforts to have a civic endorsement of our indigenous people of Capistrano. Build the Village!

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