Wherever there is a bulldozer nearby, one can usually be certain that either something is being built or torn down. Not so for the property located near Surfer’s Point in Ventura, at least, not right now, while several long trenches are being dug up.

For the last year and a half, Alan Hurd, regional vice president of Dallas-based developer T.M. Mian and Associates, has been waiting for this crucial moment: an archaeological dig on the beachfront property located at the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Figueroa Street. The dig, which was mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), represents one of two things: if artifacts are found, history in the making; if no artifacts, then Hurd and T.M. Mian and Associates are just that much closer to building the 189-room Embassy Suites, a $40 million project.

“Hopefully, we will move all the way forward, depending on the results,” Hurd said.

The site and its neighbors have been a point of contention for many decades, from storing large oil tanks that leaked into the soil nearly a century ago to archaeological digs in the 1960s that yielded extremely sensitive cultural artifacts from the Chumash Tribe. Historians also concluded that the portion closest to the ocean is where the Spanish explorer Cabrillo landed. But the site has been used as nothing more than unpaved parking lot for more than a decade, catering to the needs of events held at the fairgrounds.

Now, the time has finally come for the project to move forward. The dig, which began Jan. 5, is expected to be completed Jan. 9. John Foster, lead archaeologist, said he was surprised that he and his colleagues hadn’t come across any artifacts from the 5-foot-deep trench already dug on the southwest end of the property. The end of the property facing the beach, where a city park is currently being utilized as a place to let dogs go leash-less, is expected to turn up the most artifacts, considering it is adjacent to where the last artifacts were found around 50 years ago.

“Undoubtedly, we will find material there,” Foster said. “But it’s been hundreds of years” since anyone lived there, “a lot of the original site has been washed away by the ocean.”

Foster is hoping the “presence/absence” dig, which means the presence or absence of artifacts, will be done by the end of the week. With the help of fellow archaeologists and Julie Tumamait, a cultural resource monitor, no stone will go unturned or artifact overlooked before Hurd gets the go-ahead.

The construction of the hotel has been a long time coming, and has seen its fair share of problems, from removing contaminated soil caused by leakage of the oil tanks (costing more than $250,000 to clean up) to a land exchange with the city so the Surfer’s Point park will be contiguous along the beachfront — switching the parcel where the dog park is to the area partially enclosed by a cement brick wall.

At this point, Hurd doesn’t see any more major hurdles. Depending on what the dig yields, either the project will move forward with the planners at the city or a larger-scale dig will be required. Once the city is able to move forward, Hurd said, the Coastal Commission would most likely have little to no interference since the three- to four-star Embassy Suites caters to all class levels. One mission of the Coastal Commission is to make sure everyone is able to access the beach — a five-star resort might be harder to push past the commission.

Hurd said the hotel could be completed within the next three years, but no official deadlines have been set.   

michael@vcreporter.com