Redevelopment History

Industrial Development & the Economy of Emeryville
Much of the economy of the City of Emeryville during the late 19th and the 20th centuries focused on industrial development and activity. Thriving industries on or near the bay front during this time included a tannery, a recycling facility where used chemical drums were dumped out and washed and, on the site of the Emeryville Shellmound, pesticide and pigment factories, built in 1924. However, by the 1980s the industrial facilities had begun to decay and increasingly were idle, in part because they could not meet modern environmental standards. In the 1990s the City of Emeryville began an ambitious undertaking to clean up and redevelop former industrial areas of the city.

Bay Street Project in Focus
One focus of redevelopment was the Bay Street Project, which included a pigment plant on Shellmound Street. Industrial activity at the site had deposited toxic contaminants in the soils and groundwater at the site, including hydrogen sulfide, arsenic and heavy metals, which posed ecological and public health threats as they leached into the bay. The City of Emeryville Redevelopment Agency proposed to clean up these toxic residues and collaborate with a developer in the redevelopment of the site as a shopping, entertainment and residential complex, which could provide a cultural and economic focus for the revitalized City of Emeryville.

California Environmental Quality Act  & the Environmental Impact Report
In compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the city prepared an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for its proposed Bay Street Project. The EIR, certified in 1999, noted that the project site was known to be the location of the historically renowned Emeryville Shellmound. The site had been subject to significant archaeological investigations in the first decades of the 20th century, which revealed thousands of artifacts and hundreds of burials, as well as vast quantities of dietary remains and other living debris. Grading for the initial industrial development in 1924 was known to have leveled the mound. Nonetheless, the EIR imposed a condition that if archaeological remains were discovered during the course of site remediation or construction, work would stop and archaeologists and Native Americans would be consulted.

Demolishing Vacated Industrial Properties
Before the remediation of the toxics in the soil could begin, the vacated industrial properties had to be demolished. The Redevelopment Agency began demolition of industrial buildings, grading, and removal of foundations in late 1997. During rainstorms early in the spring of 1998, regulators became concerned that pigment in the runoff from the site might be contaminating the adjacent creek and San Francisco Bay. The demolition contractor excavated a storm water containment basin on the Bay Street property, near Shellmound Street, at the north side of the channelized Temescal Creek. A city Inspector noticed that material excavated for the basin contained substantial amounts of bone and marine shell and some human bone. In accordance with state law, the Alameda county Coroner was summoned. He determined that the human bone likely was of Native American origin. An archaeologist summoned to assess this material determined that an archaeological deposit indeed was present, and that it almost certainly was a remnant of the Emeryville Shellmound. Upon being notified of the find by the county Coroner, the California Native American Heritage Commission appointed Ohlone Native American representative, Katherine Perez, to provide recommendations for the treatment and reinterment of human remains at the site.

URS Corporation Involvement
In the following weeks, the URS Corporation archaeological group was retained by the agency to assess the archaeological deposit and provide treatment recommendations. Through detailed examination of soil layers (stratigraphy) exposed in the stormwater retention basin, and a systematic program of auger coring to assess the extent of subsurface archaeological deposits, archaeologists determined that the subsurface base of the Emeryville Shellmound and associated archaeological deposits still remained beneath the industrial foundations on the Bay Street site. Archaeologists found that basal portions of this deposit remained essentially intact, and that human bone and human burials were present. The remnants of this archaeological site could provide significant information about the prehistory of the San Francisco Bay Region.

Archeological Investigation
In part because of the toxic material present in the soil, it would not be possible to preserve most of the remaining deposit intact. Remediation and removal of deteriorating foundations and tanks inevitably would destroy additional portions of the archaeological deposit. Further, the proposed development was anticipated to result in extensive and deep soil disturbance, which would destroy most of the remains of the site. Upon the recommendation of the archaeological team, the Redevelopment Agency decided to sponsor an extensive archaeological investigation to preserve some of the significant materials and information the site contained.

Because human remains were known to be present in the site, and because ancestral human remains represent spiritual values to the Ohlone people, apart from their archaeological value, additional measures were proposed as a way of partially addressing the damage that would be done. In recognition of the long history and the people represented by the massive archaeological deposit, the city decided to incorporate memorialization and interpretive elements in the Bay Street Project (which at that time was known as the South Bayfront Project). Ohlone representatives would monitor the archaeological work, and also would participate in memorialization efforts. The information on this web page is provided in commemoration of the people who occupied the Emeryville Shellmound, and also as a means of returning the results of the archaeological work to the public.

The Community Room at the Bay Street Project will provide additional information about the Shellmound, as well as a map of the various commemorative and educational elements at the Bay Street Center.