SB 18 Amendments Reignite the "Sacred Sites" Debate

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, July 14, 2003 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Following the Governorís veto of last yearís controversial ďsacred sitesĒ measure (SB 1828 by Burton) the Resources Agency and the Governorís Office of Planning and Research have been working with stakeholders on alternative approaches to deal with concerns about the effects of development on sites considered sacred by Native American tribes. Senator John Burton (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 18 in the current session as the vehicle for a compromise proposal that would avoid giving tribes disproportionate influence over land use decisions. Until just before the fourth of July holiday, SB 18 was moving as a spot bill (bereft of details).

Despite the fact that the new language, reflected in the July 9th amendments, is already being characterized in the press as ďthe Governorís billĒ, it seems to fall short of achieving the balanced decision-making process outlined in the Governorís SB 1828 veto message. Perhaps the most significant shortcoming in this regard is the broad, unchecked authority granted to the Native American Heritage Commission, a body dominated by Native American representatives and charged with protecting Native American interests.

The Commission has exclusive authority to designate Traditional Tribal Cultural Sites, to assess the significance of impacts from surrounding projects (within a five mile radius of a TTCS), and to develop mitigation measures to address any identified impacts. While SB 18 does provide for judicial review of the Commissionís final decisions, the proposed amendments defer to the Commission to establish the standards by which the courts would review the Commissionís decisions. The only authority that remains with the lead agency is to evaluate the feasibility of the mitigation measures recommended by the Commission. Even this authority is illusory, given that the lead agency has no authority to question the Commissionís finding of substantial impact.

Local governments are also reacting negatively to the new language. The American Planning Association and the California State Association of Counties have already come out in opposition to the July 9th amendments, citing among other concerns that the bill significantly narrows the authority of lead agencies to balance NAHCís mitigation demands with competing public and private interests.

The bottom line with the current version of SB 18 is the same as it was in the final version of SB 1828 Ė the state should not pursue a land use policy that affords greater influence for one stakeholder group over all others.

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