Rattlesnake Island

1855 U.S. Plat Map showing the village on “Indian Island”.
Looking east at Rattlesnake Island
Elem Village in 1870
1981 Elem ceremonies on the Island

The island’s title has been clouded since the State of California illegally patented the land to a settler. By law, only an act of the U.S. Congress can extinguish aboriginal rights to property, the State of California did not have the legal right to take Rattlesnake Island from the Elem Tribe (Lipan Apache Tribe v United States, 180 Ct. Cl. 487 [1967]).

But neither the clouded title, nor the National Register status of the Island’s resources prevented the 2010 Lake County Community Development Department (CDD) Director and Board of Supervisors from issuing a permit to the purported “owner” for the construction of septic tanks, a barn, a cabin, and house. All done in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The community sued the County for the illegal issuance of the permit. The CDD director gave the “owner” an exemption from the winter grading restriction. By the time the case got to court, the damage had already been done to the cultural site. The judge decided the point of the suit was mute as the damage had already been done.

To learn more about the CEQA court case, select “CEQA Court Case” from the Rattlesnake Island drop-down menu above.

National Register Status:

The Land use Planning History of Rattlesnake Island


January, the “owner” applied for permits for 2 septic systems.

April, The Lake County Community Development Department (CDD) asked the “owner” to submit an archaeological study due to the presence of historic sites on the property.  The “owner” never submitted any reports.

September, The CDD required that any ground disturbance be monitored by an archaeologist and that work stop if anything is encountered (to facilitate a more detailed environmental review).

October, CDD mistakenly issued the zoning clearance permits for the septic systems without the necessary archaeological review.

November, CDD obtained site record information indicating the sensitivity of the Island and asked the “owner” to obtain an archaeological report relating to his project.  The CDD told the Environmental Health (EH) Division that the zoning clearance for the septic systems was revoked.  EH sent a letter to the “owner”
indicating that his septic permit was revoked.

The “owner” retained and fired 4 archaeological consultants who all indicated that the resources on the Island were significant.  

December, the CDD sent a letter to the “owner” indicating that only the Planning Commission had the authority to revoke the septic permits and that a hearing had been set before the Commission.  The letter requested the “owner” “not commence any work pending the outcome of the hearing.”   The “owner” indicated his disagreement and requested an administrative appeal (this was put on the January 27th agenda).


January, On the 5th, the “owner” began trenching on the Island for the septic systems.  The same day the CDD staff received a copy of an archaeological site record indicating that the septic project was within the boundaries of the largest site on the Island.  

County Supervisor Ed Robey contacted CDD and requested that action be taken immediately to stop the trenching.  A site visit revealed that trenching was taking place within the cultural deposit.  

County Council assisted in drafting an agenda item to be heard by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) on the 11th to take action.  At the hearing, the BOS asked the “owner” if he would voluntarily cease activities and he indicated that he wouldn’t.  In closed session, the BOS asked the County Council to request a temporary restraining order to stop the work.  

On the 27th, the “owner” appealed the CDD staff requirement for an archaeological report.  The Planning Commission denied his appeal, revoked the permits and requested the CDD oversee contracts for the special archaeological studies necessary before the permit application could be processed according to the California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The CDD notified the “owner” of the amount needed to proceed with the studies.

October, based on the Island’s significance, the State Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) recommends that Lake County require an EIR for the project.

The “owner” dropped the project and no further contact occurred until October 2007.


No action due to owner’s delay.


October, The CDD received a revised site plan from the “owner”, showing that many of the originally proposed improvements had already been constructed (presumably without permits).  The new plans called for the construction of two homes, two septic systems, and 209 feet of utility trenches on the Island.  A comparison of these new plans with those submitted in 2005, indicate that 3,652 linear feet of ground had already been scraped, graded, or trenched during the intervening years.  The “owner” submitted fees necessary to proceed with the permit process and an Archaeological Resource Management Report.   


Owner interference with the archaeological consultant selection process delayed the selection of a consultant till late 2008.

Following an election, there was a change in the makeup of the Board of Supervisors.   There was also a change at the CDD with the appointment of a new Director.


January, a contract was executed for an archaeological firm to prepare an Archaeological Resource Management Report for the project.

August, the archaeological testing report was completed.  A continuous lithic scatter (chipped stone tool material) was observed throughout the project area.  However, the “owner” would not allow any materials to be taken to a lab to be cleaned, sorted, or analyzed.  This prevented a determination of whether the site soils within the project area were intact or disturbed (the primary purpose for the testing report).  61 shovel test pits were excavated into one of the island’s sites, recovering hundreds of artifacts, but no identification or analysis was conducted.  The items were just dumped back into the holes.  This not only prevented a CEQA evaluation of the project area, but ultimately destroyed that portion of the site that was excavated..  


April, the County contracted archaeologist indicated that the “owner” had forced him to change the locations of his test holes.  Though wording in his original report called for an EIR the CDD director allowed the “owner” to edit the report and that recommendation was removed.  The archaeologist indicated that the “owner” forced him and the county to only recommend monitoring rather than data recovery, site avoidance, or any other mitigation alternative suitable in CEQA.  

The County Heritage Commission review of the archaeology testing report determined that the proposed “monitoring plan” did not fulfill the CEQA requirements for mitigation.  

May, the new CDD Director proposed that the Planning Commission adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the project.  Following public hearings, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to require a focused EIR on the project.  The focused EIR was to address impacts to cultural/archaeological resources and visual impacts.

August, “owner’s” attorney threatened to sue the county if the BOS didn’t allow him to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to require an EIR.  BOS decided to allow the appeal.


August, the “owner” appeals the Planning Commission decision to the Board of Supervisors.  The new BOS voted 3 to 2 to grant the appeal, approve a Mitigated Negative Declaration, and issue the permits.  To make matters worse, the CDD Director waved the winter grading restrictions allowing the “owner” to begin
construction immediately and continue throughout the winter.

The County was careful to issue the permit with a “hold harmless” clause. So if the county was sued, over the permit action, the owner would have to defend them in court.