Archaeologist Challenges Malibu City Manager’s Perceptions on Access to Site
By E. Gary Stickel.
Principal Archaeologist for the Farpoint Site
Principal Archaeologist for the Farpoint Site
I am in receipt of City Manager Jim Thorsen’s letter to Congressman Henry Waxman, dated June 9, 2008. I will assume his letter represents the official position that the City of Malibu is taking with regard to the Farpoint Archaeological Site (State of California Registered Site: CA-LAN-451).
He has misrepresented my position on the site issue and has other inaccuracies in his letter. So I will take this opportunity to set the record straight and again urge the city to preserve and protect this most important site. He states in his first sentence to Mr. Waxman, “…regarding Dr. E. Gary Stickel and his desire to gain access to a privately owned property in the City of Malibu in order to continue his investigation of the site.” And in his second paragraph he states: “Unfortunately, the City does not have the authority to grant Dr. Stickel access to this private property.”
My letter to Congressman Waxman (which precipitated his letter to the City to which he responded), did not mention at all any desire of mine to “gain access to…(the) property…” which he mentioned, but I did ask him “…if (he)…would be so kind to write a letter to the City of Malibu urging them to stop ignoring their civic duty and to take steps (any steps) to save this most important site…”
I have made it always clear to the City (in my previous correspondences with it) and in my recent lectures to the Citizens of Malibu and elsewhere such as at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, that my primary goals are to stop the piecemeal destruction of the Farpoint Site which the owner has been engaged in over the last year and a half and to preserve the site. I have photographs documenting those irresponsible site destructions. The issue is not about me versus the property owner. The issue is solely about the fact that the Farpoint Site needs protection and preservation, neither of which the City of Malibu is doing anything about. The city seems to have a callous disregard of the many site destructions that have been going on for the last year and a half and the city has done nothing to stop such irresponsible destructive behavior.
All parts of the Farpoint Site are significant and deserve protection. For example, if we were to find one human tooth, which could be associated with the Clovis Culture occupation at Farpoint, we could do DNA analysis of it to help establish which of two presently competing theories for the origin of America’s first inhabitants is valid. Who knows if that crucial piece of evidence has already been lost by the destructions that have occurred? But if the destructions continue unabated, it is certain that irretrievable evidence critical to the scientific understand of America’s first nation and to the world community by attempting to create this diversionary “smokescreen” of his created alleged issue that he says I want to “gain access” to the site—a smokescreen to keep the City of Malibu from addressing the real and main issue which is its responsibility to try to protect the site for all Americans. I am not obsessed with “gaining access” to the site on that owner’s property as he tries to imply. As a matter of fact, I have been contacted by two owners (neighbors to the property he mentioned in his letter) who probably have the Farpoint Site extending onto their parcels. They are appalled at the attitude of the owner of the above-mentioned property and the irresponsible stance of the City of Malibu, which has been permitting the destructions of the site without challenge. These other property owners have offered to allow me to excavate on their property because they are excited and proud to contribute to our Nation’s cultural heritage. So his manufactured issue of my allegedly wanting to “gain access” will not stand up to scrutiny and will not serve to divert concerned Citizens from the real issue: that the Farpoint Site needs to properly preserved and conserved.
He also states in his letter “We (the City) believe this is an issue that is best resolved between Dr. Stickel and the property owner.” And he also states “…it is incumbent upon Dr. Stickel to compel the property owner to allow entry to the property.” Again he misrepresents my position and his intent is clear to me that the city is trying to relegate the issue to just “a petty dispute” between the two parties, rather than the real issue that the City of Malibu must do the responsible, right thing and be proactive and assume its responsibility to protect the cultural resources within the city’s jurisdiction—and in particular the Farpoint Site, the most significant and important of its cultural resources discovered to date.
He also states, incorrectly in my opinion, that “The owners of the property have met all of the City of Malibu’s legal requirements for archeology review.” The owner of the subject property terminated my team’s services before the Monitoring Report (with its final mitigation recommendations) could be completed. The city therefore, as far as I’ve been informed, has not had the property owner complete the final part of the Mitigation Report (with the Monitoring Report addendum). The city is in legal breach of conduct by not requiring this formalized process to be completed—as it has required for many other homebuilders in Malibu. The City of Malibu, in my opinion, has not complied with its own legal requirements for such projects, to wit: “City Municipal Code Chapter 17.54:The intent of these provisions is to avoid the damage to or destruction of important cultural resources within the city.”
Also under 17.54.020: “For the purposes of this chapter… ‘Important cultural resource’ may include, but not be limited to, the following criteria: Has a special quality such as older, best example…etc.”
For as he should know, Farpoint has yielded the oldest archaeological dates for the City of Malibu and is the only Clovis Culture site identified within the City Limits. Furthermore, the City of Malibu General Plan states: The city shall identify, designate, protect and preserve areas, sites (of) historic (and) cultural…or archaeological significance.” And: “The City shall avoid the destruction or alteration of cultural resources.”
In addition, the Honorable Milford Wayne Donaldson, State Historic Preservation Officer, regarding the Farpoint Site, has just informed me:
“There are no restrictions placed upon a private property owner with regard to normal use…However, a project that may cause substantial adverse changes in the significance of a registered property may require compliance with local ordinances of the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Given all the recent site area destructions to the Farpoint Site, I fail to see how the city is in legal compliance as he says it is. Why has the City failed in its legal obligations to the Farpoint Site? Perhaps he is personally unaware (but the City of Malibu is aware) that Dr. Dennis Stanford, Chief Archaeologist at our National Museum, in his astute letter about the Farpoint Site stated:
“…the (Farpoint) site is extremely important… Hence the site is of national significance and requires an interdisciplinary research program and protection.”
Why has the City of Malibu ignored this significant recommendation from our National Museum? Also, state Historic Preservation Officer Milford Wayne Donaldson stated in his letter to the City of Malibu of October 6, 2006:
“I would encourage the City of Malibu to please give careful consideration to the preservation of this unique archaeological resource.”
Why has our state’s preservation officer been ignored by the City of Malibu?
Furthermore, the State of California’s Native American Heritage Commission stated in its letter to the City of Malibu of November 21, 2006:
“The discovery of the Clovis point at this site has statewide as well as national significance: it is the farthest west in the United States that there has been such a find…The Commission recommends to the City of Malibu that consideration be given (for) ‘avoidance’ as defined in 15370 of the CEQA guideline when significant cultural resources are discovered…”
Why has the state’s Native American Heritage Commission been ignored by the City of Malibu?
Moreover, Dr. Jerry Howard, the Curator of Archaeology for the new Arizona Museum of Natural History wrote to the City of Malibu in July 2007:
“I still urge the Malibu City Council to do everything in their power to protect and preserve this important site.”
Dr. Howard as well as colleagues and institutions around the nation all see what the right thing to do is. Why has the City of Malibu ignored all these top-level recommendations?
Two federal agencies have stepped in to help in the effort to document and preserve the Farpoint Site: the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation’s radiocarbon laboratory at the University of Arizona. Why has the City of Malibu ignored all recommendations to get it to do the right thing and try to protect what’s left of the site (even if it doesn’t at present have, as it claims, the legal authority to do so)? The City of Malibu could at least send a letter to the owner of the property urging that all site area destructions cease and that the owner be a responsible custodian of the most important cultural resource in the City of Malibu.
The City of Malibu needs to comply with all the national and state institutions that have urged the right course of action regarding the Farpoint Site.
I urge Mr. Thorsen to do the right thing and urge the city to allow him to send a letter to the owner urging responsible custodianship of the Farpoint Site and a revised letter should be sent to Congressman Waxman, a letter that present and future citizens of Malibu will value as “doing the right thing” about this most ancient site in the city. If we don’t do right by the past, how can we do right by the future?