San Luis Obispo County supervisors overwhelmingly shared the opinion that no one can undo the desecration.
“Egregious almost becomes a cliché when you understand the depth of desecration and destruction that occurred,” Supervisor Adam Hill said.
In July 2003, applicant Mission Garden Estates applied to build about 50 acres of housing near the mission in San Miguel. However, before the project was approved, the applicant illegally graded the property, destroying Native American archeological artifacts, as well as some property owned by the Diocese of Monterey.
The project was approved in late 2005 on an appeal to the SLO County Board of Supervisors, but with several conditions—including a hefty fine for the damage. Though the original damage was estimated in the millions, the fine ultimately landed at $900,000.
However, the applicant never paid up and the project went belly up. It eventually landed in the hands of Coast National Bank after going into foreclosure.
In an attempt to liquidate the project, for which the bank doled out a $2.5 million loan plus interest, Coast National asked the county to drop the fine as well as other fees—to parks, for example.
Bank President Gwen Pelfrey said the loan was made before the bank was aware of the illegal grading. Actually, she said, the people who made the loan are no longer with the bank and the institution has made changes to avoid a similar problem in the future.
Furthermore, bank representatives argued that the fines were too steep and violated the California Environmental Quality Act.
Although county officials said they were sorry the bank inherited a bad investment, they were adamant that fines were necessary.
“I have all the sympathy in the world for the bank … but in my opinion, it should not ignore the fact that there has been something done there that was wrong,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said.
Supervisors and bank representatives attempted to negotiate a lesser fine, but those talks failed. They ultimately voted to deny the request, meaning the bank will have to pay the full $900,000, as well as other county fees if a project goes forward.