Over the Hill

Area bank should pay debt it owes

I think Coast National Bank should just pay what it owes to the memory of the San Miguel Mission Indians. Bob Cuddy reported this story in last Friday’s Tribune. I can’t add much except some tidbits about human weaknesses and tragedies.

In August 2003, some county officials came to San Miguel to inspect a field. It’s across Mission Street from the Old Mission. A developer had applied to build a housing tract there.

The county people were surprised to see somebody already grading. Dirt was scraped, dug and moved on about 13 acres. The developer didn’t have a grading permit. The project wasn’t approved yet. So, a county enforcement officer issued a “stop work” order.

The land being graded had once belonged to Mission San Miguel. The mission’s Indian converts lived there. In fact two parcels of the property still belong to the Catholic Diocese of Monterey. Parts of them were also illegally graded.

Between 1797 and 1842, the padres at San Miguel baptized 2,861 Indians. The most Indian converts to ever live there were 1,076 in 1814. A total of 2,249 people were buried in the mission cemetery. The last padre was forced out in 1842, leaving about 30 bewildered Indians.

How did Mission Indians live and work? We might learn a lot about them from the belongings, trash and ruins they left behind. Only 10 of California’s 21 missions had Indian quarters. San Miguel’s were relatively undisturbed until the illegal grading.

Authorities filed a criminal complaint against the developer. A judge ordered him to correct and legalize the grading. That would be done by living up to all the conditions the county imposed on the housing tract.

One condition was to pay $1.8 million into a fund for archaeological studies of Mission San Miguel and its related Indian culture. The Planning Commission approved that amount in 2005. The Board of Supervisors reduced it in 2006 to $900,000.

In 2005, Coast National Bank made the developer a loan on the property and the project. The bank later acquired them through foreclosure. The bank now refuses to pay any more than $13,000 toward the archaeological study. It says it isn’t liable for the penalty; the original developer is.

Last week, county supervisors pointed out that the bank made the loan even after the illegal grading had been publically reported. County Supervisor Frank Mecham suggested a $450,000 compromise. The bank wouldn’t budge, so the supervisors properly refused to lower the penalty at all.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.