Hundreds of people rallied against a proposed mining project south of Gilroy in front of Santa Clara County government buildings on Sept. 10, at an event co-sponsored by 70 area organizations that advocate for human rights and environmental protection.
During the rally, about 75 members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band gathered on stage for a small ceremony to bless a bundle containing more than 21,000 signatures of people who wish to preserve the land on Sargent Ranch where the open-pit sand mine is proposed, says a press release from the tribe. The land of the proposed Sargent Quarry project has been known to the tribe for thousands of years as Juristac, and contains the Amah Mutsun’s sacred ancestral home.
The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, along with Green Foothills and other organizations have been opposed to Sargent Quarry due to its potential impact on sacred sites and the wildlife of the undeveloped Sargent Ranch.
The Sept. 10 rally took place at McEntee Plaza in San Jose, in front of the Santa Clara County Government Building on West Hedding Street. More than two dozen speakers—representing a range of organizations and California tribes—addressed the crowd, says the press release.
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band spokesperson Valentin Lopez said the developer of the Sargent Quarry “wants to tear down our most sacred site and sell the sand and gravel.”
The Sargent Quarry project is proposed by Sargent Ranch Partners on a 403-acre property located about four miles south of Gilroy and one mile south of the Highways 101 and 25 interchange. The property sits within the 6,200-acre Sargent Ranch.
“The county’s regulations allow the destruction of the most sacred site of a Native American tribe. Can you believe that? Their regulations are fine with it. But we can’t allow that to happen,” Lopez said at the rally. “If this was a Catholic, Jewish or Muslim or any other religion’s sacred site, they would never even consider doing that.”
The Sargent Quarry proposal is currently undergoing an environmental review. A draft Environmental Impact Report on the project was completed earlier this summer, and members of the public have until Sept. 26 to submit comments on the document to county planning officials.
The project requires a conditional use permit from the county. County officials are expected to vote on the proposal in early 2023.
Uwismak Singers, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s traditional singing group, opened and closed the Sept. 10 rally with ceremonial songs. Toward the end of the rally is when about 75 tribe members gathered on stage to bless a petition containing more than 21,000 signatures.
The tribe intended to deliver the petition and signatures to the county during the rally, but no county staff members at the government building that day were willing to accept them, says the press release.
“We will honor and deliver these petition signatures on our terms, not theirs,” Amah Mutsun youth leader Hannah Moreno told the crowd. “We are still here, we are fighting for our land, we are fighting for Mother Earth. We belong here, we need to stand together.”
Among the speakers at the Sept. 10 rally was Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who represents the state’s 27th District.
“Let’s keep in mind there are folks in this building, there are folks on the board [of Supervisors], who are supportive,” Kalra said. “We want to let them know that you have a whole community with you. You have a whole community with you that’s going to lift you up and allow you to lead with justice and with righteousness. I want to thank you for being that community, I want to thank you for being that mountain of support that’s going to protect this land.“
Alice Kaufman, of the environmental advocacy nonprofit Green Foothills, said the Sargent Quarry project threatens not only the Amah Mutsun’s sacred ancestral land. It could also impact animals and other wildlife who rely on the Sargent Ranch site for habitat and safe crossing through the valley.
“And let me say, it’s completely ridiculous and offensive that a project like this in the year 2022 was even proposed,” Kaufman said at the Sept. 10 rally. “That in spite of everything they’ve been told for the last seven years about the spirituality of the site and the importance of it for wildlife, this company is still trying to get their project approved.”
Recently, Sargent Quarry’s developer offered to scale back their original proposal for the project to the option labeled “Alternative 3” in the draft EIR. Howard Justus, of Sargent Ranch Partners, said this option would reduce the projected impacts on tribal lands and the surrounding environment.
Also at the Sept. 10 rally, Kaufman presented a “Statement of Opposition to Sargent Ranch Quarry,” that is signed by more than 100 elected officials, organizations and other individuals, says the Amah Mutsun’s press release.
The statement reads, in part, “We oppose the proposed sand and gravel open-pit mine at Sargent Ranch (Juristac). This land is of immense biological and cultural importance to our entire region, and should be preserved for conservation.”
Justus said Sargent Ranch Partners welcomes the ongoing discussion and “multiple perspectives” on the quarry proposal. “We remain optimistic that together we can find a solution that addresses concerns and leaves all parties better off,” Justus said.