San Juan Capistrano’s first people – the Juaneño band of Mission Indians – may have to wait a bit longer for the city to build a $1.7 million cultural park dedicated to their heritage.

The city has the money to build the one-acre Putuidem Village simulation in an open space off Camino Capistrano along Oso Creek. But the city doesn’t have money to maintain the proposed improvements, estimated to cost about $75,000 a year.

So the cultural venue, planned over the last three years, sits atop a list of nine “unfunded” projects in the city’s work plan for 2018.

City Manager Ben Siegel recommended at a City Council meeting Dec. 13 the city not build any new facilities it can’t afford to maintain. So it will be up to the City Council this spring, when considering a new budget, to try to come up with maintenance money.

Councilwoman Kerry Ferguson, who has worked with descendants of San Juan’s first people on a Putuidem Village advisory committee to help plan the park, said the city needs to make it happen for the Juaneños.

“They have essentially had their land taken away from them, they’ve had their culture taken away from them,” Ferguson said. “Over the history of this town, they have not had a lot of encouragement. They have been told for a very long time that this project was going to happen.”

Ferguson said the village, which would include kicha huts, a cultural group area, information panels, native tools and an amphitheater, was expected to be ready by November 2018.

“If we go back to them now and say, ‘Gee, I’m really sorry but we don’t have maintenance money. we’re not going to build this place that would give back just a little of the land’ … I can’t even begin to describe the disappointment that is going to bring to that community.”

The Acjachemen Nation, whose history dates back thousands of years in Orange County, became known as the Juaneños after Spanish settlers arrived and built a mission in 1776.

The proposed cultural gathering place, to be built on the site of the original Putuidem Village, is to serve as a showcase for Acjachemen culture for visitors and school children and as a quiet place for Juaneño reflection, Ferguson said. It would also be used for tribal events.

“We need to come up with the money to get that completed,” Councilwoman Pam Patterson said.

Ferguson suggested a solar energy conversion program could save the city $80,000 a year and provide a source of revenue. Councilman Brian Maryott suggested the city could tap into unspent money in the city’s fund for an open space area in the northeast, but Mayor Sergio Farias said money from one open space fund can’t go into the other.

Jerry Nieblas, an Acjachemen descendant who traces his lineage back to the original Putuidem Village, said Juaneños want to work with the city and could help form a foundation to assist. But the city needs to step up as well, he suggested, as the site is city property and he believes that Putuidem Village can become a valued resource for the city.

It will become new cultural attraction at the northern entrance to town, highlighting that there was life in San Juan before Mission San Juan Capistrano, Nieblas said.

“And let people know that we are still here,” he said, “our language and our culture.”

Plans for Putuidem Village are about 90-percent complete, Siegel said, and will be brought to the City Council when ready.

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