Santa Clara County mine project threatens wildlife
Environmentalists say a proposed mine in South Santa Clara County will harm the land and wildlife. Photo courtesy of Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.

A proposed sand and gravel mine in South County could spell danger for the land and local wildlife, but the landowner isn’t calling it quits just yet.

On Friday, Santa Clara County released a draft environmental impact report for the mine proposed at Sargent Ranch, just south of Gilroy. The land is called Juristac in the language of the local Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and is considered sacred.

The proposed mine, officially known as the Sargent Ranch Quarry Project and owned by Sargent Ranch Partners LLC, would encompass approximately 403 acres of the 6,200-acre Sargent Ranch.

The report says the project will cause irreparable damage to the land and its resources, including wildlife mobility, air quality and paleontological resources important to the county. There are also concerns about negative consequences the mine would pose to the Amah Mutsun and its tribal resources.

“If this site was any other religion… they wouldn’t even think about it,” Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, told San José Spotlight. “But because it’s Native American… our spirituality and our culture do not matter.”

Lopez is part of a coalition opposing the project, saying it will destroy land vital for wildlife and essential to the tribe. The coalition wants the land protected, and is gathering public support from religious organizations, universities, cities, tribes and conservationists. It’s working to have the proposed development at Juristac recognized as a human rights issue.

In November 2021, the Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to support the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band in its opposition to the mine. Chairperson Bryan Franzen said it was “uniquely destructive to the land.” The commission, a volunteer body developed when the county declared itself a human rights county in 2018, pledged to send letters to the Santa Clara County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors urging them not to approve a permit for the mine. 

Debt Acquisition Company of America, a financial firm which develops distressed properties and the managing member of the entity that owns the land, needs a permit to develop the mine.

Howard Justus, managing member, said the county doesn’t have a local supply of sand but instead imports it from Canada. He said as sand makes up 40% of concrete, if the shipping supply is interrupted it would bring construction to a halt.

A virtual public input meeting will be held on Aug. 25, and residents have until Sept. 26 to comment on the environmental impact report. Afterward, the mine project will be considered by the county planning commission at a public hearing. 

“We want to do everything we can to help the Amah Mutsun,” Justus told San José Spotlight. “We think the quarry and tribe can coexist.” 

Members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and supporters walking to Sargent Ranch/Juristac to protest a proposed mine in September 2019. Photo courtesy of Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and taken by Josh Sonnenfeld.

Wildlife and land impact

Alice Kaufman, policy and advocacy director with Green Foothills, said Juristac provides a critical wildlife corridor with crossings beneath Highway 101, bridging both the Diablo and Gavilan mountain ranges. If animals like mountain lions can’t migrate, there’s a danger of inbreeding, she said—and with climate change, they need to roam to find food and water.

If the mine is developed, Kaufman said it will destroy grassland and oak woodland habitats and contaminate creeks with runoff from the 80,000 gallons of water needed each day. She hopes the landowner will sell it for conservation.

“We’re talking about an open pit quarry. It will literally excavate the hillsides hundreds of feet deep with four different pits,” Kaufman told San José Spotlight. “Once that’s done, the landscape can never go back to the way it was… It’s a terrible destruction that will leave permanent scars.” 

Justus said to avoid interfering with the migration of mountain lions, the company will move the processing plant a mile to the north. Regarding the mine affecting air quality, he said the latest and least polluting motors will be used to decrease emissions from equipment and trucks. He said any water returning to the creeks will be filtered and clean.

“We cannot put any water back into the creeks that is in any way dirty,” he said. “If we kill fish we’re subject to huge fines. So, that will not happen.”

The coalition hopes public outcry will prevent permit approval for the mine. Its petition has garnered more than 20,000 signatures and city councils from Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and Morgan Hill have called on the county to protect the land. 

Juristac has been sacred ground for thousands of years, Lopez said. He wants the tribe to steward the land and use it for prayer and healing. He said it remains their spiritual center, and that the United Nations recognizes the destruction of indigenous people’s spirituality and culture as genocide.

“If this mining permit is approved, the county will knowingly, willingly and intentionally be committing genocide of the Amah Mutsun people,” he said. “In the Bay Area, the sacred sites of tribes have practically all been destroyed. This is a very unique opportunity for the county of Santa Clara to say they’ve destroyed enough sacred sites.”

Comments on the environmental impact report can be sent to: [email protected].

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

Comment Policy (updated 11/1/2021): We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by administrators.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your community newsroom needs you. Will you take a personal stake in its success?

Your gift to San José Spotlight today will be TRIPLED!

Your support allows us to staff amazing reporters like Tran Nguyen, who works tirelessly to bring you in-depth stories that directly affect your life.