Following a demonstration outside the Morgan Hill City Hall led by Amah Mutsun tribal members and their supporters, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution urging county officials to deny a permit for a mine proposed on one of the tribe’s most significant cultural and spiritual sites.
The resolution opposes a conditional use permit for a proposed sand and gravel mining project, with processing facilities, at a 320-acre site on a portion of what is known as Sargent Ranch. The property is located in unincorporated Santa Clara County, about four miles southeast of Gilroy.
To members of the indigenous Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Sargent Ranch is known as Juristac. The 6,500-acre property is viewed as the spiritual center of Amah Mutsun tribal territory and the former site of frequent ceremonial gatherings. The resolution approved by the council this week acknowldges that Juristac has “immense historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.”
The property also is a key environmental resource that allows local wildlife to travel freely across the southern Santa Clara Valley, according to city officials and other opponents of the mining proposal.
Local tribe members were joined by civil rights and environmental activists outside the Morgan Hill civic center before the council meeting. Demonstrators expressed fear about how a mining operation on the mostly undisturbed land would destroy the its cultural resources and spiritual integrity.
“Here in California, there are laws that allow the legal destruction of our cultural sites and our spiritual sites and our environmental sites,” Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Chairman Val Lopez told the crowd of about 80 allies who attended the rally. “As long as there’s money involved, it’s legal. That’s what’s happening here. And we ask, when is that going to end? It’s time for that to end now.”
Lopez—born and raised in Morgan Hill, which was part of the vast historical Amah Mutsun territory before Europeans settled the Central Coast—thanked city officials for drafting the resolution supporting the ancestral site.
Although the city lacks the legal authority to approve or deny the Sargent Ranch project, the council’s symbolic gesture adds to a growing movement to preserve the land.
Before the vote, Morgan Hill Councilman Rene Spring—who sponsored the resolution that came up for debate this week—told the crowd outside City Hall that preserving Juristac aligns with his campaign promises to “protect our open space, our agricultural land (and) our history.”
“We have to speak up and let our county leaders know, and please have a good look at this project and say no to it,” Spring said. “Let’s protect the open space and sacred sites, and let’s just say no, no, no to this bad project.”
Another rally attendee, Tedde Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that the proposed Sargent Ranch mine follows a pattern of destruction of historical and cultural sites in California and the U.S. in favor of commercial interests.
“It’s a really ugly history of trying to erase an entire people,” Simon said. “They can’t practice their freedom of religion (and other freedoms) if the place is decimated.”
The council’s resolution also notes that Sargent Ranch is part of an ecologically vital open space region that allows local plants and animals to thrive. Numerous local and regional environmental organizations have expressed their support for saving the entirety of Sargent Ranch from development.
Alice Kaufman of the Committee for Green Foothills said Juristac is an important linkage for migratory mammals and birds to travel between the region’s mountain ranges. In fact, she cited the land as one of the two most important wildlife corridors—along with the Coyote Valley preserve—in the Santa Clara Valley.
“The mine would cut right across one of the most important routes” for migrating animals, Kaufman said.
The council received letters and emails of support of the Jan. 15 resolution from dozens of area residents, officials, organizations and activists. The Greenbelt Alliance, Sierra Club, Audubon Society and California Native Plant Society expressed their support. 27th District Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) also sent the council a letter supporting the Amah Mutsun tribe.
A representative of the Sargent Ranch quarry project developer did not return a phone call requesting comment. The developer has previously argued that the 320-acre footprint of the mine proposal is only a small portion of Juristac, and would leave most of the surrounding land undisturbed.
For the Amah Mutsun people, Juristac is the home of a spiritual being known as Kuksui, according to a press release from the tribe and Committee for Green Foothills. For thousands of years, the Amah Mutsun say they lived and held sacred ceremonies on the land. These ceremonies for healing and renewal honored Kuksui with native dances, and were often attended by neighboring tribal groups.
The quarry proposal includes a 14-acre processing plant and truck hauling roads to connect the mining pits to Highway 101, according to county staff.
“We are asking the county to do the right thing and deny the permit,” said Rebecca Armendariz of South County for Protecting Juristac, a grassroots group that supports the push to protect the site as open space. “Putting a massive sand mine on sacred tribal land is desecration. We should be protecting this land, not destroying it.”
Plans for the mine were submitted by the Debt Acquisition Company of America, doing business as Sargent Ranch Management Company. The 320-acre quarry proposal is undergoing an environmental review before county officials consider granting a conditional use permit for the project later this year. The draft environmental impact report is expected to be released in the coming months, according to county staff.