Gelson's Project Dead; Cemetery Set for Site

By Dave Fratello | April 1st, 2017


HAPPY APRIL! The balance of the story below appears as it did on April Fool's Day 2017. To see last year's "Bullet Train" story, click here.


Discovery of buried Native American remains at the site of the proposed new Gelson’s market on Sepulveda Boulevard has abruptly driven the final nail through the coffin of the development plan.

As Gelson’s supporters conceded defeat in their efforts, Manhattan Beach city officials announced that a cemetery will be placed at the site instead.

Existing buildings will be razed and the vast expanse of asphalt at the site, which runs along the west side of Sepulveda Blvd. from 6th Street to 8th Street, will be planted with grass and trees, and surrounded by stone walls and wrought iron gates. (As pictured in this artist’s rendering.)

A proposed name, “People of the Earth Cemetery,” is drawn from the meaning of the name of the Tongva (tong-VAY) people, Native Americans who are believed to be the first human settlers of our region. The human remains unearthed this week, along with what archaeologists called "funerary objects" and "sacred objects," were believed to belong to Tongva people buried nearly 5,000 years ago.

Neighbors of the site, who generally have opposed the Gelson’s development, were guarded, but generally welcoming when told of the new cemetery plan.

“This new plan meets a lot of the goals of those of us living nearby,” said Daniel Witt. “A cemetery will give us more open space. It will certainly be a quiet, almost noiseless, seldom-visited place."

"Still," Witt added, "we are concerned about parking.”

City officials concede that parking associated with the cemetery will be limited. There will be no roads or driving onto the property. A small lot on the north side of 8th/Sepulveda will host an administrative building and several parking spots, but not enough to provide for any large, well-attended burial services.

The city’s memo explaining the change in zoning says: “Certain burial events are expected to result in temporary parking impacts in the neighborhood, with a radius of approximately two to five blocks, depending on the size of the service. Such impacts are expected to be limited to no more than 90 minutes per event.”

View or download the full text of the city’s rezoning announcement by clicking here: City of Manhattan Beach Announcement Regarding Cemetery Rezoning at Former Gelson’s Site

The city now begins a search for a developer to carry out the plan and to operate the cemetery in the years ahead. Bids are expected throughout the next year, with a vendor to be selected by April 1, 2018, and operations slated to begin by April 1, 2019.

By federal law, the Tongva people will remain interred at the site if that is the wish of the tribe representing the descendants.

It’s not known yet how much money the plots at the People of the Earth Cemetery might sell for, but one city official opined, “It’s the beach. Our dirt is worth a lot. This is a fairly small tract of land with limited spaces that will ever be sold. I expect you’ll see sky-high prices for these plots, with multiple offers for each one, once they are put up on the market.”

According to city officials, the Gelson’s developers will now seek compensation from the federal government, because it was a federal law pertaining to Native American burial grounds that forced them to abandon the site.

One source said the developers also may investigate building a smaller Gelson’s on the fallow southeast corner site at Manhattan Beach Blvd. and Sepulveda Blvd., which the city source called “a jewel... a prestige location with the benefit of two entry and exit points for vehicles.”

Manhattan Beach resident Jamie Root, who supported the Gelson’s plan originally, said, “I was getting excited to have a nice high-end market nearby, so I am sad to see the plan end.”

“On the other hand,” Root said, “it’s probably good that they discovered those remains and put a halt to it all. Anyone who has seen the movie ‘Poltergeist’ can just imagine what a nightmare we could have had right here in the Hill Section. It's creepy when you really think about it.”

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