The following is a press release issued by Attorney General Rob Bonta:
California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced that the Lake County Superior Court has granted the Department of Justice’s application to file an amicus brief in support of the Koi Nation of Northern California’s lawsuit against the City of Clearlake. The Koi Nation contends that the site of a proposed 75-room hotel — known as the Airport Hotel and 18th Avenue Extension — contains tribal cultural resources and that the city did not adequately conduct consultation with the Koi Nation or consider the project’s impacts on tribal cultural resources, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act’s (CEQA) tribal consultation requirements added by Assembly Bill 52 (AB 52). The Department of Justice’s amicus brief supports the Koi Nation’s position, providing information on the legislative history and intent of AB 52’s requirements.
“The Clearlake area is home to Native American tribes who have lived there since time immemorial,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The preservation of tribal cultural resources is of great importance. We stand with the Koi Nation in seeking justice and accountability. The California Legislature passed AB 52 to ensure that government agencies’ consultation with tribes regarding their tribal cultural resources would be meaningful — that simply didn’t happen here.”
“As a Southeastern Pomo Tribe with an area of traditional and cultural affiliation that stems from the Pomo homeland of Southeastern Clear Lake to the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, the Koi Nation of Northern California is grateful for the action and leadership of Attorney General Rob Bonta and his hardworking team,” said Vice Chairman of the Koi Nation Dino Beltran. “We hope this will be helpful for all California Native American Tribes in their protection of Tribal Cultural Resources moving forward. It is important to recognize traditional cultural knowledge as evidence. Our case is strengthened by the expertise and knowledge of Tribal Cultural Resources shared by Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and cultural practitioner Robert Geary.”
In the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta argues that:
- Meaningful consultation under CEQA requires more than the city’s cursory approach. As amended by AB 52, CEQA requires consultation to be a “meaningful and timely process.” In this case, the city held a single meeting with the Koi Nation and did not respond to the Koi Nation’s subsequent communications flagging concerns about tribal cultural resources and suggesting mitigation measures. The city then unilaterally ended consultation without informing the Koi Nation of its conclusion or explaining in the record why mutual agreement was not possible.
- Agencies must consider tribal expertise in determining tribal cultural resources, significant impacts to those resources, and mitigation measures under CEQA. When the Legislature amended CEQA under AB 52, it distinguished tribal cultural resources from archaeological resources or historical resources under CEQA and required lead agencies to evaluate impacts to tribal cultural resources as a separate resource category. The Legislature also required lead agencies to incorporate tribal expertise and input when determining the existence of those resources, the potential for impacts on them, and the sufficiency of mitigation measures for avoiding those impacts. In this case, the city relied solely on a study by the city’s archaeologist — and ignored tribal input and expertise — in identifying tribal cultural resources on the project site.
A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.