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Tribes, Conservation Groups Urge San Juan Capistrano to Preserve Open Space

Local organizations submit joint letter asking City Council not to allow development on Northwest Open Space, site of indigenous Putuidem Village Park


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. – Several Native American Tribal groups and local conservation non-profits today submitted a joint letter to the San Juan Capistrano City Council in advance of the council’s March 1 meeting to consider potential development proposals for the city’s Northwest Open Space property. The joint letter urges councilmembers to codify permanent protection for this 65.6-acre parcel, which includes Putuidem Village Park, a new indigenous cultural site of the Acjachemen peoples.

City residents have twice voted to tax themselves to purchase open space, including the parcel in question.

The organizations signing the letter are committed to seeing this effort through to protect Northwest Open Space in perpetuity. The letter with the signee organizations’ logos can be seen online at The content of the letter follows.

Patricia Martz, Board of Directors President of the California Cultural Resource Preservation Alliance, Inc., and other leaders of this effort are available for interviews.


February 28, 2022

Re: Provide Permanent Protection for Northwest Open Space

Hon. Derek Reeve, Mayor

Members of the San Juan Capistrano City Council

32400 Paseo Adelanto

San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Dear Mayor Reeve and Councilmembers:

We are writing to urge you to provide permanent protection for the city’s 65.5-acre Northwest Open Space (NWOS), including Putuidem Village Park, the new indigenous cultural site of the Acjachemen peoples. The City issued a Notice of Availability for Lease of Surplus Property for this land parcel on December 9 of last year, triggered by the expiration of the Swanner House lease. We are concerned that NWOS will end up being turned over to housing or other development not compatible with Putuidem Village Park. Though we recognize the urgent need for more housing, especially affordable housing, we believe that open space and indigenous cultural sites in this area both hold a unique value that cannot be displaced or encroached upon without significantly degrading the quality of life of San Juan Capistrano’s residents and the character of our city.

As the City’s Notice of Availability acknowledges, the residents of San Juan Capistrano place a high priority on the preservation of open space lands. Voters have twice chosen to tax themselves to purchase open space, including NWOS, and undoubtedly assumed their money was being spent on land that would be protected in perpetuity. Yet, we are concerned that the recent revisions to the Surplus Land Act, combined with the 2020 rezoning of NWOS to Specific Plan/Precise Plan status, could potentially endanger the open space status of what is now the NWOS.

Open space, a rare and ever-shrinking commodity in Orange County, holds intrinsic value and provides important recreational and mental health benefits to the community. In addition, NWOS specifically is known to harbor prehistoric human remains and other archaeological artifacts, as discovered by the Greenwood and Associates survey and the McKenna et al. 2010 surveys. The NWOS property is imbued with meaning for the indigenous Acjachemen peoples, now known collectively as the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians.

The core area of the original indigenous village of Putiidhem is located on a nearby 29-acre property, where it has been almost completely destroyed and buried beneath the athletic fields of a high school. This loss makes the archeological artifacts on NWOS even more valuable and worthy of permanent protection.

Even though the 1.5-acre Putuidem Village Park is currently protected, the educational, historical, and cultural value of that site would be significantly degraded if it were to become surrounded by housing or other development, rather than by the natural habitat of the current open space lands. This small park, newly completed in December of last year, offers outsized opportunities for educational and cultural events. In addition, it is important for tourists visiting the mission sites to see an alternative version of history, as embodied by this pre-European-conquest cultural site.

In the short term, we respectfully request that the City pursue a passive use of NWOS. In the long term, we urge the City to codify permanent protection of this land, to prevent future development threats and avoid the protracted bureaucracy and expense of issuing periodic notices as required by the Surplus Land Act. Open space is not surplus land. It is a valuable, essential resource for the residents of San Juan Capistrano.


Rebecca Robles, Culture Bearer

United Coalition to Protect Panhe

Patricia Martz, PhD, President, Board of Directors

California Cultural Resource Preservation Alliance, Inc.

Claire Schlotterbeck, Executive Director

Hills For Everyone

Matthew Belardes, Chair, and Joyce Stanfield Perry, Cultural Resource Director

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation - Belardes

Sean Acuna, Tribal Chair, and Jeanine James, Tribal Secretary

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation 84B

Terry M. Welsh, MD, President

Banning Ranch Conservancy

Dan Silver, MD, Executive Director

Endangered Habitats League

Michael Wellborn, President

Friends of Harbors, Beaches, and Parks

Gayle Waite, President

Laguna Canyon Conservancy

Krista Nicholds, Executive Director

Preserve Orange County

Rich Gomez and Gloria Sefton, Co-Founders

Saddleback Canyons Conservancy

Michelle Castillo, Board of Directors

Friends of Puvungna

Susan Sheakley, Conservation Committee Chair

Sea and Sage Audubon Society

Leonard Becker, President

Sacred Sites International


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