North / South America
Quarry project gets green light for fast-track review
Aug, 01 2012
(Californaia) -- After four hours of emotional testimony and heated debate, Riverside County supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to put Granite Construction's new application for a quarry south of Temecula on a fast track toward possible approval.
The same Board of Supervisors that rejected the proposed Liberty Quarry narrowly in February turned around and certified the project's environmental analysis in May.
And now the board has set the stage for a vote on a scaled-down rock mine as early as this fall.
"Unbelievable," said quarry opponent Kerry Bartels of Temecula, immediately after the vote.
The vote directs planners to write an ordinance amendment to make all development projects ---- including gravel pits ---- eligible for the county's fast-track process. That process accelerates review and eliminates the requirement to take projects to the Planning Commission first, before the Board of Supervisors.
Deputy County Counsel Karin Watts-Bazan said the amendment could be brought to the board by Aug. 28, and supervisors could adopt it by Sept. 11. It would take effect a month later.
Under fast-track rules, the board then would have to make a decision on the revised project within 90 days of the effective date, Watts-Bazan said.
And she said a vote could come as early as mid-October.
The proposal asks for permission to mine 4 million tons a year for 50 years. The project supervisors rejected sought to dig out 5 million tons annually for 75 years.
Supervisor Jeff Stone of Temecula, who voted no, said the new project is not that much different.
"It's like lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig," Stone said.
Opponents say the quarry would foul air quality, destroy a mountain sacred to the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and jeopardize the area's tourism industry. Proponents say it would bring jobs and actually clean the air, thinning truck traffic by reducing the need for San Diego to import sand and gravel from points to the north.
The decision to make Liberty Quarry eligible for fast track came despite 51 people addressing the board, 43 of whom opposed the move.
It was a move initiated not by the local representative, Stone, but rather by Supervisor John Benoit, who represents desert dwellers dozens of miles away.
Stone termed Tuesday "a very unfortunate day in the county of Riverside" when another board member chose to get involved in affairs in his own 3rd District. He said the board has a long-standing policy of letting supervisors from a particular area propose initiatives from that district.
Benoit found himself on the receiving end of much anger.
"Supervisor Benoit, you have proposed creating a civil war between Riverside County districts," said Temecula resident Paul Jacobs.
It wasn't only residents who were angry. Officials from the city of Temecula, who sued to halt the application in its tracks last week, were angry, too.
Councilman Mike Naggar said, "This is tantamount to fast-tracking a prison in Palm Springs, Supervisor Benoit."
Benoit earlier persuaded the board to shelve a proposed county jail in the desert west of Palm Springs because of its high cost.
Temecula Councilwoman Maryann Edwards suggested Benoit was motivated by campaign contributions he received from Granite Construction, a remark that triggered a sharp rebuke by board Chairman John Tavaglione later.
Edwards' comment was echoed by others, including prominent local attorney Ray Johnson.
"Supervisor Benoit is acting like he's still in Sacramento, cutting a back-room deal to support his campaign contributors," Johnson said.
Benoit was a state lawmaker before being appointed to the board in December 2009 to fill a vacancy.
Benoit retorted that Granite isn't his biggest donor. Benoit said he has received what he considers a relatively modest $6,100 from the company since 2009.
Benoit, one of two board members to vote for the quarry in February, said he introduced the measure because "I believe this is a project worthy of a second look."
Tavaglione also found himself the butt of anger.
The Riverside-area supervisor, who is running for Congress, was the swing vote in the project's defeat last winter. He then swung the other way in May, voting with Benoit and Supervisor Marion Ashley to certify the environmental report.
Those same three voted Tuesday to make the quarry eligible for fast track.
Tavaglione disputed suggestions he was motivated by his congressional run.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to let this become an election issue," Tavaglione said.
And he maintained no one on the board was motivated by money.
"If you think any one of us up here is going to make decisions based on what we've received, life is too short," Tavaglione said.
Joining Stone in dissent was Supervisor Bob Buster, who represents Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake and Wildomar.
Buster said the quarry, because it is large, complex and one of the most contentious proposals to come to the board, is precisely the type of project that should not be accelerated.
But Julie Gilbart of Murrieta told supervisors, one of eight to speak in favor of fast-track status for the project, said the quarry already has been subjected to numerous hearings.
"It's been seven years," Gilbart said. "I don't think that can be called rushing."
Vince Davis of Temecula said the project would deliver badly needed jobs to a county reeling from high unemployment.
Stone maintained most of the jobs would merely shift location from other gravel pits.
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