The following letter was sent from Mary Adams Urashima, chair of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force in Huntington Beach, to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Re: Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch Project Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR)

I urge you to consider alternatives to the installation of a large solar array in the Owens Valley, near Manzanar, a heritage site on the National Register of Historic Places. Please do not certify the draft EIR and declare it inadequate in its analysis of the cumulative impacts and project alternatives.

Cumulative Impacts

The draft EIR does not adequately consider state and national impacts with the loss of historic and cultural resources relating to Manzanar and the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley.

The Big Pine Paiute Tribe spoke at the public hearing regarding their cultural and spiritual practices necessitating the open valley land. The tribe already has been impacted by the 1913 construction of the aqueduct.

Mary Adams Urashima
Mary Adams Urashima

From a documentary in production about the Paiute, “Paya”: “For the ancient Paiute —from Pai, meaning water — water was central to both their cultural practices and sociopolitical hierarchies. Colonization during the 19th century and the takeover of their waterworks without regard to first-user water rights led to the displacement of the Paiute, erasure of their irrigation practices, and suppression of their customs and history.”

The taking — physical or visual — of historic lands used by the Paiute will compound a century-old impact and negate the lessons that should have been learned over the past century.

“And how did they impact our culture? Oh, it devastated our culture: from having our children taken to schools outside of the valley to folks not being able to share our language with each other because that’s not the language you’re supposed to speak anymore. Our native plants — they were non-existent; we had to look for new sources of being able to feed ourselves or we had to go to the extremes to find new places where we could gather and then [when] we did do so, we had to be careful about going about it because usually it was somebody else’s property at this point.” (“A Paiute Perspective,” in ARID, A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology).

How remarkable it is for California to have the Paiute among us, considering the history? When there are viable alternatives with less impact on California’s first people and environment, then those alternatives should be given more weight.

The draft EIR does not consider the broader impact of the loss of cultural and historic resources to the region and to the West Coast. Currently, there are multiple Asian American heritage sites at risk in California: Manzanar due to the solar project proposal, China House in Rancho Cucamonga (proposed for demolition), Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach (proposed for demolition), Tule Lake Segregation Center (proposed enclosure fence, 8 feet high, 16,000 feet long), Tuna Canyon Detention Station (historic and cultural monument blocked by developer).

At the same time, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced in February 2013 a nationwide effort to identify and find ways to preserve Asian American/Pacific Islander heritage sites. We are at risk of completely losing or significantly impacting these heritage sites in California, in conflict with a federal initiative.

Additionally, at Manzanar, we must recognize the importance of its surroundings as part of the historic significance. For those unjustly incarcerated there during World War II, the Owens Valley and nearby mountain ranges were the only glimpse of America they were allowed. Thousands looked out on that viewscape. Ansel Adams captured it as part of the photographic documentation of Manzanar. This viewscape is important not just to the region but to American history. It is an essential part of this heritage site that is not considered in the draft EIR.

For both the Paiute and those incarcerated at Manzanar — and their families — there is a spiritual aspect that cannot be ignored. For the Paiute, it is generations inhabiting the land and their related spiritual and cultural practices. For those at Manzanar, the only place detainees were allowed any spiritual practices were inside the armed compound behind the barbed-wire fence, looking out at the landscape. These places have meaning.

Image from "Paya: The Untold Story of the L.A.-Owens Valley Water War."
Image from “Paya: The Untold Story of the L.A.-Owens Valley Water War.”

It follows then that the LADWP may not have considered the potential under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government can demonstrate that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly or institution is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

There are other alternatives that do not impose the impact or burden on the Paiute and to the families of Manzanar.


Viable solar installation alternatives exist in the City of Los Angeles, as reported in “Empowering L.A.’s Solar Workforce,” a study produced by the City of Los Angeles, UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, and others. It is a practical approach to placing solar infrastructure where it is needed and where there is a workforce to construct, operate and maintain it without adding additional impacts relating to the natural environment, and state historical and cultural resources. This provides the benefits of solar where it is needed, while adding jobs where they are needed and without adding traffic to and from the Owens Valley.

Los Angeles County could create nearly 29,000 jobs and reduce climate change-causing emissions by more than a million tons per year if just 5 percent of available rooftop space had solar panels, per the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the Environmental Defense Fund. I would suggest this study represents significant new information and a viable alternative to the proposed project.

In summary, LADWP is still working on an old model of building new infrastructure on open, rural land, in the midst of an urban environment that requires a new mindset. Please consider the impacts and follow through on the Solar Workforce study to create alternatives constructing solar within the Los Angeles urban environment.

Urashima is the creator and author of the Historic Wintersburg blog about Japanese pioneer history in Huntington Beach and Orange County. Her book, “Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach,” will be released by History Press this month. A former journalist, she is a government affairs consultant and writer residing in Huntington Beach. This letter originally appeared on the Manzanar Committee blog. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee or The Rafu Shimpo.

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