Hunters Point and the Muwekma Ohlone

by Francisco da Costa


CAPTION: Espanola Jackson and Francisco da Costa represent the Muwekma Ohlone people.


In 1939, the U.S. Navy initially purchased 47 acres of the 500-acre plus Hunters Point Naval Shipyard — a site well known to all of us who live in Bayview Hunters Point. In 1942, the Navy seized the rest, and hundreds of families who were residents at the site had to leave — many of them within 24 hours. In 1974, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard closed. At one time, it had employed more then 8,500 civilian employees.


Thousands of years before, the land belonged to the First People of the Bay Area, the Muwekma Ohlone. “Ohlone” means “people from the West” — in this case, the California West Coast.


Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is well known to the Muwekma Ohlone. When the Department of Defense made known its list of base closures in 1988, the Muwekma studied the list very carefully. Around 1991, the Ohlone made their intentions clear — that the tribe would exercise its right of first refusal. The right of first refusal is a right given to Native Americans, or indigenous people, to claim any excess property which belongs to the U.S. Government — in this case, the Department of Defense.


In 1991, together with the Presidio of San Francisco, Oakland Army Base, and other bases in the Bay Area, the Muwekma laid claim to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. In the case of the Presidio, it laid claim to 40 percent; but in the case of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard it laid claim to all of it. Yes, all of it. The City and County of San Francisco is fully aware of this fact. The Mayor, Willie Brown, is more than aware of this fact.


One of the main entities given the task of cleaning up Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is IT Corp. IT Corp. has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy — so with this action, most of what had to happen with the cleanup could come to a grinding halt. Millions of dollars — as much as $300 million or more set aside for the cleanup, much of it used and the rest waiting to be used — will not be accounted for.


In the meantime, Lennar Corp. has been talking about building beautiful homes and developing the area — prime real estate, much of it comparable to the Presidio. Those familiar with Sacramento can now look forward to Renaissance Homes and Winncrest Homes built here by Lennar. But, wait a minute. What about the cleanup?


The Mayor and some others have declared parts of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard clean! When did that happen? It never happened!


The Burton political machine and others have been working feverishly to develop Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. It does not matter that IT Corp. has not done its work. It does not matter that methane gas has been fueling underground fires there for years. It does not matter that toxic hot spots wait to kill innocent residents. The plan has to move forward. Homes and commercial facilities have to be built. Greed has to be fostered. Some pockets have to be lined with millions. All at the expense of the residents of Bayview Hunters Point — and the original inhabitants, the Muwekma Ohlone.


The Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), formed to monitor the Navy and the clean up process, is being taken for a ride. The RAB wants to do something, but their hands have been tied. Politicians and developers have more clout. It’s greed and more greed that has a say. When will the wishes of the Ohlone and the community be respected? Who cares about respect?


This is what Lennar says: “The saying goes Rome was not built in a day. Creating a great place takes time, vision, and resources. Lennar Communities Bay Area is committed to this mission.” The Mayor agrees with Lennar, but does the community?


Two residents of Bayview Hunters Point act on behalf of the Muwekma Tribe. Espanola Jackson is the tribe’s spokesperson and works very closely with me, Francisco da Costa. I bring a lot of concrete experience to the table, having worked for a long time at the Presidio on matters pertaining to the General Management Plan (GMP) and the Environmental Impact Study (EIS).


Right now, all of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is polluted — some areas more than others. The position of the Muwekma Tribe is that all of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard should be fully cleaned of toxic contamination and inspected by federal agencies and others before it can be inhabited or homes and facilities built. Visit the Muwekma website and learn more about them at


Email Francisco da Costa at