City of Morro Bay Violates California Environmental Quality Act
Causing an Estimated $9,000,000 in Damage to Largest Prehistoric
Village in Morro Bay (a site determined eligible for the National
Register of Historic Places)

The City of Morro Bay approved the construction of 4 duplexes and two
single-family homes to take place in the center of archaeological site
CA-SLO-165. This significant site contains a wealth of information about the
Chumash culture spanning the past 9,000 years.

Just recently, archaeological work at the site has been used to determine
when the silting of Morro Bay began and how long ago the Chumash culture
began their shell bead money economy. The site is also the location of
hundreds of Chumash burials.

Beginning in August 2005, backhoes and graders trenched,
terraced, and cut into cultural soils at the site. No archeology
was conducted before the destruction (now completed) and it
is estimated that more than $9 million in damage has been
done to this non-renewable resource. In 2000, Archaeologist
Nancy Farrell did a test excavation within the project area
and discovered intact cultural soils extending to a depth of
1.4 meters (4 1/2 feet).
CITY OF MORRO BAY MESS
History and Prehistory of Lake County
and Beyond
1878 Painting
Site maintained as a public service by Archaeological Research, PO Box 1353, Lucerne, CA 95458.
Contact: dr.john@wolfcreekarcheology.com  Copyright 2013, Archaeological Research
How could this have happened?

In reviewing the planning documents, it was discovered that in
2002, one property owner had plans for a single-family home.  The
archaeological evaluation of that project indicated the presence of
the prehistoric site.  The archaeologist and project architect worked
out a mitigation plan to protect as much of the site as possible.  
The plan called for building the house on caissons rather than
perimeter foundations. Caissons call for several small holes to be
drilled into the soil for concrete "stilts" that hold beams.  The
house is then built on the beams.  Caissons require much less
trenching and grading than standard foundations, preserving the
natural soil and the archaeological site.  Because this plan
protected most of the archaeological site soil, no archaeological
excavation and data recovery was required.  The plan only called for
archaeological monitoring during construction.

Four years later, the property had changed hands and the new
owner was able to split the lot and proposed two homes on
"normal" trenched foundations.  The city approved this NEW
project using the same mitigation plan that was written for the
single home on caissons.  As the original archaeological evaluation
only required monitoring of construction, no archaeological
excavation was required to mitigate the damage caused by this
newly proposed trenching.  The California Environmental Quality
Act (CEQA) is very specific in its requirements for proposed damage
to archaeological sites:

    Archaeological sites that cannot be preserved in place shall
    be mitigated through the excavation and analysis of the
    “scientifically consequential information from or about the
    resource” (CEQA Guidelines 15126.4 C).

By using the archaeological mitigation plan for the single home on
caissons to approve construction of the two houses on normal
foundations, the City of Morro Bay violated CEQA.
Trenching through cultural soils for foundations
Dark soil represents undisturbed cultural deposit (see closeup of area in photo below)
Tons of dietary shell embedded in cultural soils
downslope retaining walls, footings, and utilities.  All of these
projects were approved using the same archaeological mitigation plan that was
written for a single house on caissons.  No archaeological excavation or analysis was
projects.  Approximately 1,148 cubic meters of intact cultural soils were destroyed
overall.  We will never know what information these soils and their artifacts
contained.

CEQA does allow Cities and Counties to use a single environmental document or
mitigation plan for several projects.... as long as those projects will have the SAME
impact on the environment as the original project for which the mitigation report
was written.

None of the City approved projects (4 duplexes and two houses) had the same impact
on the environment as the original project that called for construction of a single
house on caissons.  In approving each one of these projects, the City violated CEQA
law.

Several San Luis Obispo County citizens filed formal complaints with the Grand Jury.
In addition, a formal complaint and request for action has been filed with the State
Attorney General's Office.

Click on this link to see one of the complaints sent to the State Attorney General's
Office:
07AGComplaint.pdf

Click on this link see the excuses given by the Morro Bay City Attorney for the City's
decision to approve these projects without any archaeological data recovery:
MBattorneymemorandum.pdf

Click HERE to see a copy of our review of the City Attorneys memorandum. We have
provided this review to the Grand Jury, Morro Bay City Council, Planning
Commission, and City Staff.