The Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission last week voted to help the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band protect its sacred ancestral lands—known as Juristac—from being developed into a sand and gravel quarry.
The 15-seat commission at the Nov. 4 meeting unanimously voted to send the county planning commission and board of supervisors a letter “concerning the human rights implications of the Sargent Mine,” Chair Bryan Franzen said.
Sargent Mine is a proposed 317-acre sand and gravel quarry operation located about four miles south of Gilroy and west of Highway 101. The proposal is located within Sargent Ranch, which occupies about 6,200 acres in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.
But the Amah Mutsun Tribe—as well as environmental advocates—has long objected to the mining project because it is located within Juristac, the Native American tribe’s ancestral home. The land was home to Mutsun ancestors who performed ceremonies there for thousands of years.
“Santa Clara County has declared itself a Human Rights County since 2018,” said Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun. “Human rights in Santa Clara County must include indigenous peoples rights. Tonight, the Human Rights Commission has taken a stand with our tribe to uphold our cultural and human rights after centuries of discrimination, domination and abuse.”
The commission—whose purpose is to advise the elected board of supervisors on issues that affect the human and civil rights of local residents and advocate for positive action to eliminate prejudice and discrimination—listened to testimony at the Nov. 4 meeting from Amah Mutsun tribal members, county residents and scholars of human rights and environmental justice.
Legal scholar Dana Zartner noted the importance of several international and domestic treaties and laws which the U.S. or state of California have signed and are committed to. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
“Courts and laws around the world have recognized that for indigenous peoples, land and natural entities are essential spiritual and cultural elements,” Zartner said. “Destroying Juristac would violate the rights of the Amah Mutsun to self-determination, to protect and engage in their cultural heritage, to exercise their freedom of religion and to receive equality of protection for their cultural and spiritual practices.”
Franzen said the commission is currently composing its letter to the planning commission and supervisors. They hope to send it before the end of November.
The Sargent Ranch Management Company is the applicant for the Sargent Mine project. The company is seeking a 30-year permit for a quarry at the South County site.
San Diego-based Debt Acquisition Company of America purchased the majority of the Sargent Ranch land in 2013 after previous owner Pierce’s Sargent Ranch LLC filed for bankruptcy.
Freeman Associates LLC of Palo Alto, which represents Sargent Ranch Management Company, submitted the mining application in 2015 on behalf of the more than 100 owners of the 6,400-acre ranch.
The multi-phased project is meant to provide sand and gravel aggregate for contractors and public agencies in Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey counties. The site is estimated to contain 40 million tons of sand and gravel aggregate.
The Sargent Mine project is currently in the environmental review stage, with a draft Environmental Impact Report expected later this year, according to the county planning website. That review includes “tribal consultation with the Amah Mutsun Tribe in accordance with Assembly Bill 52.”