Pala Band buys sacred land

REGION — The Pala Band purchased 700 acres of scared land on Nov. 17, and can now prevent it from ever becoming a landfill.

Shasta Gaughen, Pala environmental director and tribal historic preservation officer, shared her joy on closing the land purchase.

“The tribe is so happy this is finally over, we will forever be able to protect this scared land, I can’t quite believe it’s over,” Gaughen said.

The acreage was purchased for $13 million. It will be preserved in its natural state for perpetuity by the Pala Band, which now owns all of Gregory Mountain and most of Gregory Canyon.

The land, which is immediately adjacent to the Pala Indian Reservation, contains Chokla, Gregory Mountain itself, Medicine Rock, a historic resource, and other spiritual and cultural sites.

A landfill was first proposed on the adjacent land in the 1980s. Despite the tribe’s protest to a dumpsite, a regional vote approved development of a landfill in 1994. Later an appeal in 2004 failed.

“It was tough to know something so important might be developed, it was really hard,” Gaughen said.

The tribe continued to ask the investment group to consider alternative uses for the neighboring 1,700-acre site.

Others joined the tribe in opposing a landfill, including the City of Oceanside, which uses groundwater that a landfill could potentially contaminate.

Environmental watchdog groups also stood against a landfill.

“The protection of sacred and cultural sites and critical water sources were the primary reasons that Pala, other tribes, environmental groups, and concerned citizens strongly opposed the proposed landfill,” Gaughen said.

A turnaround came when the investment group foreclosed and GCL, LLC, took ownership. Initially the new owners continued to pursue a permit to open a landfill. Then they had a change of heart.

“A couple of months ago they reached out to us, and offered to let us purchase the mountain and canyon,” Gaughen said.

Gaughen said the cost seemed a fair market rate, and scared land is something you cannot put a price tag on.

“This victory has been a very long time coming,” Gaughen said. “It has been a difficult battle with many ups and downs, but through it all I never lost hope.”

GCL plans to develop housing and retail on the unsold acres, and work with the tribe to determine good neighbor development options.

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