The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band “adamantly opposes” the proposed development at the Betabel property along Highway 101, the tribe wrote in a letter to the San Benito County Supervisors.
Property owner Thomas John McDowell and Victoria McDowell Charitable Remainder Unitrust submitted an application to the county to convert 29 acres of land adjacent to the Betabel RV Park to a commercial zoning designation, known as “C-1.” Such a zoning designation is similar to the “C-3” zoning for the property and others along Highway 101 that was defeated by voters in the March 3 election.
The supervisors were scheduled to approve the rezoning on March 24, but agreed to table the decision to April 7, citing concerns with the county’s ability to broadcast the meeting online. Due to COVID-19, the public cannot attend government meetings in person, but they can watch and comment online.
In the March 23 letter, Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, said any development at the Betabel site would “irreparably damage the Tribe’s relationship to this sacred site.”
“Our Amah Mutsun Tribe believes and asserts that once the Betabel site, or any of the other proposed commercial node sites is disturbed by any development, the cultural and spiritual aspects of the landscape cannot be rehabilitated,” he wrote. “As a result, the proposed Betabel project threatens the survival of the Amah Mutsun’s tribal identity and perpetuates the historic traumas of forced removal and forced assimilation and cultural genocide.”
According to Lopez, the Amah Mutsun’s traditional tribal territory includes all of San Benito County and portions of Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. However, the cultural center of the land is Juristac, which is today known as Sargent Ranch, Betabel and the lands directly east and south of these properties.
For thousands of years, Mutsun ancestors lived and held ceremonies at this location in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, above the confluence of the Pajaro and San Benito rivers.
The tribe is also active in its opposition to a sand and gravel mine proposed just a few miles north of Betabel at Sargent Ranch. That project, currently in environmental review by Santa Clara County, is proposed for a 320-acre site four miles southeast of Gilroy.
“The issues we face at Sargent Ranch are identical to the issues we face with the proposal to develop the commercial node at Betabel,” Lopez wrote. “The Betabel proposal, in its entirety, is within the traditional boundary of Juristac.”
Among other things, Lopez requested the supervisors develop an agreement with the Amah Mutsun that includes the tribe’s consultation for “any ground disturbance activities.”
In an earlier interview with the Free Lance, Betabel property owner Rider McDowell said he wants to build a vintage roadside rest stop, complete with a farm stand, gas station, visitor center and more.
He added that he will pledge the venture’s profits to pediatric cancer research.
A majority of the supervisors on March 24 expressed their support for the Betabel zoning change.