Local News Matters weekly newsletter

Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.

A coalition of local tribe members, conservationists and policymakers say sacred tribal lands are being threatened by a proposed sand and gravel mine, which will be reviewed by the Santa Clara County Planning Commission in a public comment meeting Thursday.

Landowners of the 6,200-acre Sargent Ranch, four miles south of Gilroy, are seeking a 30-year permit to operate a 403-acre quarry, to be called Sargent Quarry. Underneath four of the property’s hills lies 40 million tons of sand and gravel that could be used for local concrete and asphalt production, said owners Sargent Ranch Partners LLC.

But those hills are also said to be home to sacred ceremonial sites for the local Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, and an essential wildlife linkage for animals migrating around the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Gabilan Range.

The hills and valleys known as Sargent Ranch was named Juristac by the Mutsun’s ancestors centuries ago. Juristac was used for healing and renewal ceremonies for their community and surrounding tribal groups for thousands of years, according to a collective group called Protect Juristac.

“The whole area around Juristac is a power place. Long ago, the people all jointly agreed that this was an area that had power. This is where our ancestors held healing ceremonies, this is where our spiritual doctors went, at La Brea, to prepare themselves for the dances,” said Ed Ketchum of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band in a statement.

The group’s petition asks for the land to be protected, and it is backed by over 20,000 signatures and a slew of political, academic, religious and tribal groups.

City governments of Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Morgan Hill have previously passed resolutions to urge the county to deny the landowners a permit.

The Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission also cited human rights issues, as the construction of the quarry would permanently scar the spiritual place for a community that has already faced years of discrimination.

“The destruction and domination of Amah Mutsun culture, spirituality, environment and people never ended,” Chairman of Protect Juristac, Valentin Lopez, said in a statement. “It just evolved to the destructive and dominating projects that we see today.”

Essential resource or sacred site?

On its webpage, Sargent Quarry says there is nothing in the historical record that mentions “anything that occurred at Juristac or how it was more or less sacred than any other site,” nor that “mining or disturbing the landscape was objectionable” to tribe leaders of the past or to their spirits.

“Mining provided the products, bowls, arrowheads, paints and sealing agents that they used to improve their lives, just as mining provides essential resources today,” reads their website.

Palo Alto-based environmental nonprofit Green Foothills says the Sargent Hills are an essential linkage between mountain ranges under Highway 101. A change in these corridors could have profound impacts on the animals who depend on them to migrate, said the group.

“The destruction and domination of Amah Mutsun culture, spirituality, environment and people never ended. It just evolved to the destructive and dominating projects that we see today.”

Valentin Lopez, Protect Juristac

“The noise and disturbance from heavy vehicle operations, rock crushing and sorting and other industrial activity would have a serious impact on animals’ ability to use this undercrossing,” reads a newsletter from the organization’s policy and advocacy director, Alice Kaufman.

The Juristac’s freshwater ponds and streams, oak trees and riparian corridors are also home to badgers, birds of prey and two federally-recognized threatened species, the California red-legged frog and the California tiger salamander.

A drafted environmental impact report released from county planners in July reads that the open-pit mining operation would pose “significant and unavoidable impacts” for the environment’s aesthetics, air quality, biological resources and geology, among other categories.

In response, Santa Clara County opened a 60-day window for the public to share their thoughts with the planning commission. Once the public comment period comes to a close on Sept. 26, the mining project will be voted on.

The upcoming virtual meeting, scheduled for Thursday at 1:30 p.m., will be designated as a space for the public to voice their opinions on both the mine and the environmental impact report. More information on the meeting can be found on Santa Clara County’s website.