Developer, tribes at odds in Morro Bay

The view of Cerrito Peak from Main and Olive streets in Morro Bay.
The view of Cerrito Peak from Main and Olive streets in Morro Bay. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Morro Bay City Council is to decide Tuesday whether a home could be built on a rocky promontory that is considered sacred by local American Indian tribes.

Developer Dan Reddell is proposing to build a two-story home with garage and “granny unit” on Cerrito Peak, a eucalyptus-covered hilltop off Main Street in southern Morro Bay. The city Planning Commission approved the home in October, but four separate appeals have been filed, said Rob Livick, city public services director.

Much of the opposition centers on the claim that the peak, also known as Eagle Rock, is considered sacred to American Indians and should be preserved as open space. In a letter to the city, Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council said the project would contribute to the “cultural genocide” of the tribe.

“We need to figure out how to save this site,” the letter concludes. “We need to get people together to save this most important sacred site.”

Archaeological surveys of the 1-acre site have found five bedrock-grinding mortars as well as possible middens, which are deposits containing shells, animal bones and other refuse that indicates the site could have been a settlement.

In an effort to deal with these concerns, the home would be built away from the bedrock mortars and an archaeological monitor would be on hand during work to ensure that any unexpected finds are protected, Livick said. The Chumash would also be guaranteed access to the site for ceremonial purposes.

Others have expressed concern about the removal of 34 eucalyptus trees. They can be used by various birds for nesting and by monarch butterflies for roosting.

Still others say the peak should be protected because it is a unique geologic feature of the city.

“I consider Cerrito Peak to be an intrinsic part of the natural beauty of Morro Bay, a sibling peak to Black Hill, Morro Rock and the chain of peaks stretching west from San Luis Obispo,” Julian Smalley wrote in an appeal letter.

The house would be built on the easterly flank of the peak rather than on the top, Livick said. The roofline of the house would be below the peak.

In addition to Smalley, Nancy Mellen, Nicole Dorfman and John Thompson filed appeals. City staff is recommending that the appeals be denied.

“Considerable effort has been made by the applicant to design a project that is consistent with the general plan and applicable property development standards and to minimize site alteration to the greatest extent practicable,” summarizes a staff report.

The property is not within the California Coastal Commission appeal zone, so the City Council’s decision will be final, Livick said.