who we are...

    We are a group of concerned citizens and homeowners in Rainbow, Fallbrook and Southwest Riverside County dedicated to the preservation of the beautiful, pristine hills and open space in the Temecula, Murrieta and Rainbow area.

    Our efforts are currently focused on preventing the approval of a huge open-pit mine on the Temecula border which would destroy the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve currently located on the proposed quarry site, as well as our clean air quality, home values and the booming tourist industry in our area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOS-Hills is a non-profit group dedicated to preventing the proposed Liberty Quarry

In the news ~ August 2012

This section of the website is a repository for all news articles, op-ed pieces, columns, etc. about Granite Construction's proposed Liberty Quarry and surrounding area. Please note that these articles will open up in a new browser window.  If you know of an article or letter that is not listed below, please email it to our SOS-Hills webmaster.

  Letters Opinions/Forums News Articles

 

Letters to the Editor

The Californian, Sun., Aug. 26
Supervisor Benoit flouts will of the people

Facts:

  • A years-long battle was waged by Southwest Riverside County residents and the city of Temecula against a giant quarry proposed by Granite Construction for the hills above Temecula.
  • An environmental impact report was submitted. The proposal was voted down by the Riverside Planning Commission 4 to 1, and by a 3 to 2 vote by the supervisors, who deemed the EIR to be unsubstantiated. One would have thought the issue had finally been determined.
  • However, notwithstanding the clear opposition by the local residents, in an unprecedented maneuver, Supervisor John Benoit and two other supervisors proceeded to certify the EIR, keeping it alive and allowing Granite to submit another proposal.
  • Supervisor Benoit immediately proposed to "fast-track" the new proposal, thereby preventing or at least limiting public input on the project.

Conclusion:

Supervisor Benoit has placed the interests of Granite Construction, a corporation with many projects in his district, ahead of the people whose neighborhood would be blighted.

Why would Coachella Valley residents care about what happens in Temecula? Because we should be concerned about having a supervisor representing us who flouts the will of the people.

Rachel and Charles Druten, Palm Desert


The Desert Sun, Thurs., Aug. 23
Benoit ignored the will of the residents

An eight-year battle was waged by southwest Riverside County residents and the city of Temecula against a quarry proposed by Granite Construction for the hills above Temecula.

An environmental impact report was submitted. The proposal was rejected by the Riverside Planning Commission 4 to 1, and a 3-to-2 vote by Riverside County supervisors deemed the report unsubstantiated. Supervisor John Benoit was one of the two dissenting votes. One would have thought the issue had finally been determined. However, despite opposition by local residents, Benoit and two other supervisors certified the EIR, allowing Granite to submit another proposal.

Benoit proposed to “fast track” the new proposal, preventing or at least limiting public input on the project. Why would Benoit take such an inordinate interest in a project outside of his district? What would be the impact in Benoit's own district if he used the same tactics, “fast tracking” projects that weren't supported by the community?

Why would the residents of the Coachella Valley care? Because we should be concerned about having a supervisor representing us who flouts the will of the people!

Rachel and Charles Druten, Palm Desert

The Californian, Thurs., Aug. 23
Riverside County's quarry addiction

Miss Riverside County has 35 sand and gravel. San Diego has 14. What was the spiel when her 35 quarries went in? That they'd uplift her to greatness? With so many, she should be royalty by now, yet she's still a concubine. So, what's up? More makes her less? One step forward, two steps back?

She's like an addict in a panic for a quick fix with negative-long term consequences ---- "one more fix won't hurt." It's the same old unoriginal excuse. An intervention is long overdue.

For decades, Riverside County has had the reputation of being the dumping grounds for neighboring counties. She's become known as being "easy," without scruples.

Miss Riverside County, who's been trying to rise above her reputation, is being shoved back into prostituting herself again to support the higher standards of neighboring counties. Her uncle, the Planning Commission, tried to protect her, but was pushed aside. Why? Possibly being fast-tracked out of the family?

To the Board of Supervisors: Set aside any district disputes of the past. Be applauded as the board that changed Riverside County's negative legacy. Allow her a new identity.

Reject Granite's Liberty Quarry.

Mike Jurkosky, Temecula

The Californian, Wed., Aug. 22
Residents must get involved

What a slap in the face area residents received from Supervisors John Benoit, John Tavaglione and Marion Ashley with their votes to have an ordinance drafted that would allow mines, specifically Liberty Quarry, and other projects to be fast-tracked.

Locals have made it crystal-clear they do not want this quarry. But these men have not heard this, using their own arrogant beliefs that they "know what's best" for us. Mr. Tavaglione's statement wishing he could use fast-track for "every project in the county" says it all, showing total disregard for the crucial process of thorough evaluation in order to make sound project decisions ("Temecula slams county's move to fast-track mining projects," July 31, http://temecula.patch.com).

These three just want to get these projects through as fast as possible, whether they are right or wrong, good or bad. This abbreviated process comes with a high cost, one that won't likely be realized until they are out of office.

A high standard must be in place for this area's future success. Residents need to wake up and get involved, as this is the beginning of projects getting approval regardless of what the people want. Don't assume this project's environmental impact report is the county's only one that's flawed.

Terilee Hammet, Temecula

The Californian, Fri., Aug. 10
Granite and Rainbow

There has been so much talk about Granite Construction, but nothing has been said about the road they want to build in Rainbow. 

At a meeting, Granite said that it would be about one mile long and may take two years to build. It will sit up the hill from Interstate 15. What protection will there be for the Rainbow Valley from blast and silica dust?

They also said that many hundreds of trucks will enter and leave from Rainbow. We have a grade school, K-8. As far as we know, there have be no checks by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Is there no one in San Diego who can help us? 

Patricia Baker, Rainbow

The Press-Enterprise, Fri., Aug. 10
Quarry mars county image

Riverside County supervisors just don’t get it. The only way to improve the image of Riverside County from a backwater doormat of Orange and Los Angeles counties is to raise standards, not lower them.

Riverside County will never attract high-end companies with well-paying jobs if it allows quarries next to large population centers (“Liberty Quarry closer to fast-track approval,” July 31).

Of course, maybe that’s their motivation. The southwest Riverside County area should be combined with the north of San Diego County to create a manageable area to govern with similar interests. Temecula has been sold out for a very cheap price.

With every project allowed to be fast-tracked, it’s an open invitation for every low-life project to come to Riverside County and be approved. All they have to do is donate to John Benoit and John Tavaglione, and they’re in like Flynn.

Susan Clay, Temecula

Opinions/Forums

Why hasn't Murrieta weighed in?
John Hill, The Press-Enterprise, Thurs., Aug. 16

It was all the rage for a while. Cities across the Inland area were taking votes on Liberty Quarry, the huge open-pit mine proposed for the hills outside Temecula. Cities liked it, cities didn’t like it. Wildomar, Riverside, Beaumont, Indio — everyone weighed in. This happened so many times, my colleague Jeff Horseman mapped it.

So why was Murrieta — which shares a border with Temecula, whose officials and residents spent so much money and energy fighting the project — so quiet?

That’s what one woman wanted to know during the last city council meeting. So, I asked Mayor Doug McAllister.

Well, he said, the city council did vote to support Temecula’s bid to annex the land, a gambit aimed giving the city the power to block mining in the area. The move failed. In the end, Riverside County supervisors rejected the project, but kept it alive by accepting a disputed environmental report and allowing a revised proposal to be fast tracked for potential approval.

“We believe Temecula should have been the ones to make the decision,” McAllister said, “not the county.”

But Murrieta stopped short of commenting on the project itself. Why?

“Our typical position as a council is it’s not possible for an individual council member to speak out on their own without representing on some level the position of the city,” McAllister said.

So some council members who felt one way or the other didn’t want to speak up and be seen as speaking for the entire council. But how does the mayor feel?

“I can’t (say), it’s just not fair to the rest of the council…” he told me. “But trust me, I have very strong opinions on this.”

Ok, so guess we won’t get an answer. But, he went on:

“One question that I have that no one’s ever answered for me is: Why is it that it has to be there?” McAllister said.

McAllister said it was clear the quarry would provide a lot of rock to San Diego County. But San Diego officials wouldn’t allow it in their backyards, he said.

“That just happened over and over and over again and at some point I just get tired of being a dumping ground,” McAllister said. “Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point, southwest Riverside County needs to stand up for itself and not be the dumping ground for southern California.”

No need for fast track on quarry

By The Californian opinion staff - August 7, 2012

That Granite Construction has reintroduced its proposed Liberty Quarry in a slightly modified form is no great surprise. The company, after all, invested a small fortune in developing site and business plans for the proposed quarry, and stands to simply lose those investments if it never opens.

But the fact that the Riverside County Board of Supervisors has voted to consider fast-tracking the new quarry application is not only a surprise, but is a disappointment.

It's not even been six months since the county denied Granite's previous application, in the face of vociferous opposition from area residents and the Pechanga community. Considering the testimony before last week's fast-track vote and a recent lawsuit filed by Temecula, it's clear that the opposition remains as strong as ever.

To be honest, Granite's revised application does not strike us as significantly different from what the Board of Supervisors denied earlier this year. It has revised downward the amount of materials to be mined from the quarry, and shortened its projected lifespan ---- but either of these parameters could be easily altered in future years, bringing the quarry back to the same conditions so recently rejected.

Given the continuing opposition and the lack of appreciable reworking on the application, there was no apparent reason for the Board of Supervisors to consider fast-tracking this second application ---- leading to the appearance that it is being done simply to reduce opportunities for residents to be heard. If the application is fast-tracked, Granite's proposal will completely skip the county Planning Commission on an expedited approval schedule.

The logic behind the fast-track process here is difficult to discern. If the new proposal is significantly modified from what was rejected, as Granite claims, then certainly this new proposal is in need of a full application process ---- including hearings before the Planning Commission. And such a radically new proposal, one that justifies overruling the earlier rejection, will surely need a new environmental impact report.

On the other hand, if the proposal is so similar to the one already considered by the county that new hearings are unnecessary ---- the inherent argument for fast-tracking ---- then it seems to us that a new vote should also be unnecessary.

 

News Articles

Chamber of Commerce rescinds support for Liberty Quarry
Aaron Claverie, The Californian, Sat., Aug. 25

The Wildomar Chamber of Commerce this week rescinded its support for Granite Construction's Liberty Quarry project, a hotly debated mine proposed for land on the city of Temecula's southern border.

The decision to become officially neutral, which was not supported by chamber Chairman Craig McKenzie, was made during a board meeting Monday.

McKenzie was not in attendance, but he was briefed on the board's action.

"I knew it was coming," McKenzie said Thursday. "Even if I was there, I would have been outvoted."

The chamber, which includes Granite as a member, voted last year to support the project, which has been touted as a job creator that would provide a low-cost, local source of building materials.

Granite acknowledged this support by listing the chamber on the endorsements page of its project website.

McKenzie said board sentiment has since changed due to the infusion of new members who have expressed concern about dust that might be generated by the project ---- a concern shared by some Temecula area residents ---- and the political ramifications of supporting the project.

"I'm all about business," he said, underlining his backing of the project.

Having visited the site and reviewed Granite's plans, McKenzie said the mine would be a benefit to the area that wouldn't even be seen from Temecula.

"I see nothing wrong with it," he said.

Granite has been working for years to win Riverside County's approval of the project.

That effort was dealt a blow by the county Planning Commission, which voted 4-1 last year to deny the project after a lengthy review that covered much of the summer of 2011.

The county Board of Supervisors eventually upheld that denial, but it approved the environmental documentation for the project at the same meeting ---- an action that sparked the filing of a lawsuit by the city of Temecula.

The city is arguing that the county's action was improper because it upheld the denial of the project and it is seeking to quash any consideration of a scaled-down version of the mine.

Granite is seeking to win fast-track approval for a scaled-down version, but the board has not yet decided to include mines on the list of projects eligible for fast-track status.

Karie Reuther, Granite spokeswoman, said she has not heard of other quarry backers abandoning their positions.

"I think everyone else is still very supportive," she said Thursday afternoon.

In December, the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce voted to officially oppose the project, an action that was called "significant" at the time because the chamber had remained neutral for years.

Mining projects in Riverside County are not being “fast-tracked” – yet.
Temecula Patch, Sun., Aug. 19

The county reminded Granite Construction of this point last week after the company erroneously posted the following news item on its Liberty Quarry website: "We are pleased that the (Riverside County Board of Supervisors) has updated its policy to make mining applications eligible for the same fast-track consideration as other commercial and industrial projects.”

County supervisors have yet to vote on amended ordinances that would allow fast-track review procedures on mines, reclamation projects and other large-scale enterprises.

The Californian reported that Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith reminded Granite that final amendments were still pending the supervisors' approval. The snafu has since been corrected on the Liberty Quarry website.

In the meantime, county attorneys are drafting proposed amendments for board consideration. The work follows a contentious 4 1/2-hour meeting in July in which a divided Board of Supervisors approved the proposal to amend county ordinances to enable expediting reviews of projects -- including the heavily opposed Liberty Quarry mining project near Temecula -- using a fast-track process.

Supervisors voted 3-2 to add surface mines to the list of projects that can bypass the county's planning commission and head straight to the supervisors for consideration -- a process known as fast-tracking.

Supervisors Bob Buster and Jeff Stone were the dissenting votes.

Dozens of people crowded into the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside in July for the board's final meeting before summer recess, with many attendees addressing the supervisors about the controversial Liberty Quarry.

The board voted down the proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15 in February. However, in an unexpected turn three months later, the swing voter against the project, Chairman John Tavaglione, sided with Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit in certifying an environmental impact report that concluded many of the mine's negatives could be mitigated.

By accepting the EIR, the county left open the door for Watsonville-based Granite Construction to return with a modified plan for mining the site. Last week, the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original proposed quarry.

The company asked the Department of Planning to consider fast-tracking its application for permits. However, county ordinances do not allow for expedited vetting of proposed mines.

At virtually the same time as Granite's announcement, Benoit introduced a proposal to revise county regulations so that mines, too, can receive fast-track approval, meaning a project could be out of the review stage and voted on by the board in 90 days.

"This would be designed to allow for certain types of projects that have job-creating potential to have a quicker turnaround time," Benoit said.

Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit mine would produce health-damaging levels of silica dust, mar area aesthetics, ruin rural peace, add to road congestion and permanently alter landscapes that the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians consider sacred.

"Mr. Benoit, like a Sacramento veteran working on behalf of one of your largest campaign contributors, you've led the county to this shameful day," said Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards. "[By fast-tracking] you want to sidestep due process and avoid scrutiny. When you make decisions like this, you must think long-term."

Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington reminded the board that the city is suing the county to have the Liberty Quarry EIR invalidated.

"Why would you change your laws to allow impactful mining projects all over Riverside County?" Washington said. "This isn't a minor change; this is a major change. Mr. Benoit, can you imagine considering a proposal to make the entire Tahquitz Canyon a quarry after just a 90-day review? Fast track bypasses a valuable review process carried out by the planning commissioners."

Temecula resident and civic activist Paul Jacobs accused Benoit of setting the stage for a district-versus-district "civil war" by plowing ahead with fast-tracking plans.

Speakers, and even Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose district encompasses Temecula, asked Benoit to respect district boundaries by tabling any plans to further Granite's interests.

Benoit replied that the company had been a "friend" to the Coachella Valley, providing steady jobs and respecting environmental concerns for decades. He denied receiving anything more than "modest" campaign contributions from the company over the last three years.

"There's a lot of emotion here today," the supervisor said. "I'm surprised by some of the hurtful, unsubstantiated attacks impugning my reputation. But people are using emotion instead of facts."

The supervisor reiterated his support for the Liberty Quarry, noting that having a site producing construction-grade aggregate -- asphalt and gravel -- in southwest Riverside County would dramatically reduce the amount of truck traffic countywide and lower the cost of residential and commercial building in the western county region.

Stone retorted that 70 percent of the aggregate would be going to neighboring San Diego County.

"We need to do the right thing and not fast-track this project," the supervisor said. "Let's review it prudently and responsibly so there's not even the appearance of impropriety. I don't want this county to take over the headlines like that other county [San Bernardino] has.

"I promise you that this project will not reduce unemployment by one- thousandth of one percent," Stone added. "This is all smoke and mirrors ... We cannot sacrifice the health and welfare of the citizens of this county."

Tavaglione, again, was the swing vote, saying he supported implementing fast-track authorizations for "every project in the county," if such were possible.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to let this become an election issue," Tavalgione, who is running for a congressional seat, told the crowd of quarry opponents. "There are some of you trying to make it that ... We need to do everything we can to turn this economy around."

According to Granite, the revised quarry project would entail a 45-year operating window, instead of 75 years, as was originally proposed.

More than 60 permanent jobs would be created at the site, with several hundred indirect jobs resulting from the project, according to the company. There would be 160 fewer truck trips to and from the site per day; the total amount of aggregate removed from the mine would be reduced from 235 million to 174 million tons; the mine depth would be 300-feet less; and mining activity would be restricted to daylight hours.

Currently, some commercial projects can be fast-tracked if they create 40 or more full-time jobs, result in at least $5 million in capital investment or generate at least $12.5 million taxable sales.

Granite showers supervisors with campaign cash
Dave Downey, The Californian, Sat., Aug. 4

Granite Construction, whose revised quarry application may be put on a fast-track review process, has given thousands in campaign donations to Riverside County supervisors since announcing plans for its project.

Supervisor Marion Ashley, with about $16,000 in contributions since 2006, has received the most money, according to county, state and federal campaign finance reports.

The Board of Supervisors voted narrowly last Tuesday to direct its staff to write an ordinance that makes surface mines, such as Granite's proposed Liberty Quarry, eligible for accelerated review.

A total of 43 people, a group that included Temecula officials, spoke out against the change. Some speakers suggested the author of the fast-track initiative ---- Supervisor John Benoit ---- was motivated by the cash he has received from Granite.

Benoit, Ashley and the other supervisor who voted to lay the groundwork for a possible fast-track review have denied that campaign contributions played a role in the decision.

Temecula Councilwoman Maryann Edwards addressed the author directly.

"Supervisor Benoit, like a Sacramento veteran, your calculated and questionable actions on behalf of one of your largest campaign contributors have led the county and this body to this shameful day," Edwards said.

Later in the week, Edwards said she wasn't accusing anyone of wrongdoing. Rather, she said she was making the point that, when making controversial decisions, public officials are going to be subjected to greater scrutiny.

"Campaign contributions shouldn't influence decisions," she said. "I only brought it up so people could decide for themselves."

Benoit has received about $10,000 since 2006. Of that, $6,100 was donated since he joined the board in late 2009.

In addition, records show Gary Johnson, aggregate resource manager for Granite, contributed $250 in March 2011.

As for Ashley, who represents Menifee, he has been given $3,250 so far this year. The money came in two installments, each coming about one month after key votes on the project.

Ashley also collected $2,360 in 2011 and $3,540 in 2010 from the company, records show.

Ashley has been a consistent supporter of the quarry project.

Board of Supervisors Chairman John Tavaglione, who joined Ashley and Benoit, has received less overall. But records show he received a total of $6,000 in 2010 and 2011.

Tavaglione voted in February to deny the project. Then, in May, he voted to certify Granite's environmental study, a crucial move that allows the company to pursue its revised project without launching another lengthy and expensive study.

With his support last week, the fast-track initiative moved forward on a 3-2 vote.

Tavaglione is running for Congress.

Not logical

When Ashley was asked whether Granite's contributions influenced him, he said, "Of course not. It's insulting to even ask that question."

Ashley said he has received more cash from individuals and groups who have gone on record against the rock mine than from Granite Construction.

"If you go by that, then I should have voted against the quarry," he said in a telephone interview Thursday. "The logic is just not there."

Neither, said Benoit, did Granite money influence him.

"None of that is in any way related to my position on the quarry," Benoit said.

Benoit, who is from the Palm Springs area, infuriated quarry opponents because he introduced the fast-track proposal even though he doesn't represent Southwest County. The board has a long-standing practice of letting the supervisor from a particular district introduce plans for projects in that area.

Benoit said, however, that Liberty Quarry would benefit the entire county by providing jobs and reducing construction costs for highways.

Tavaglione did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

But at Tuesday's meeting, Tavaglione rebuked opponents for drawing a connection between campaign contributions and quarry decisions.

"If you think that any one of us up here are going to make decisions based on what we've received, life is too short. We're not like our county to the north," he said, referring to a public corruption scandal in San Bernardino County. "And I find it appalling and embarrassing that some of you would think that."

Granite Construction filed an application in late July for a new project, in offering to scale down its original proposal to mine up to 5 million tons a year for 75 years. The revised project would extract up to 4 million tons a year and call it quits after 50 years.

Temecula has sued to block Granite from using the environmental report for the scaled-back project.

Cash flow

To be sure, Granite has contributed to others besides the three who voted recently to keep its project alive.

Supervisor Jeff Stone of Temecula, who argued passionately against making the project eligible for fast-track consideration, has received about the same amount Benoit has, going back to when Granite announced its plans in 2005.

Stone's total exceeds $10,000 and includes a $150 check from Johnson, the Granite manager, in April 2011, records show.

"I just imagine they wanted to be able to have accessibility. That's why you give contributions," Stone said. "I appreciate the fact that they thought I would be fair and impartial when it came to assessing their project."

Early on, Granite contributed to Supervisor Bob Buster, who long has had a reputation of being an advocate for the environment.

In 2006, the company gave him $1,250, records show. And in 2009, the company wrote Buster a check for $300. No contributions are listed after that date.

According to records, since 2005 Granite has contributed $15,950 to Ashley, $10,555 to Stone, $10,150 to Benoit, $7,250 to Tavaglione and $1,550 to Buster.

Gary Dietrich, a political analyst and president of Citizen Voice in Sacramento, said it is difficult to determine at what point contributions become large enough to factor into later decisions.

And Dietrick said public officials routinely deny that campaign donations, however large, had any influence.

"The important thing to the public is that it doesn't look good," he said in a telephone interview. "The appearance is always what is damaging to the integrity of the public process."

Buying a decision

Johnson, the Granite manager, said the company was not trying to buy a favorable decision.

"Granite, like most companies, makes modest political contributions in areas where we work to candidates who support good public policy," Johnson said. "That's the way we've always done it and that's the way we will always do it."

Johnson said he personally contributed to Benoit because "he does a great job representing Riverside County."

Benoit noted Granite has had a major presence in the eastern Riverside County desert for some time.

"They contributed to me long before we ever knew about a Granite application for a quarry in Temecula and that I would be a supervisor that would have any say on it," Benoit said.

Before joining the board, Benoit served in the Legislature.

Benoit said he, like the other supervisors, gets campaign money from a wide variety of sources.

"The world I live in is a political one," he said. "If you want to serve in any political job, you have to raise money for campaigns."

Call staff writer Dave Downey at 951-676-4315, ext. 2623.

Groups sue to nullify quarry environmental study
Dave Downey, The Californian, Fri., Aug. 3

A lawsuit that aims to throw out the environmental impact report for the proposed quarry south of Temecula was filed Friday in Riverside Superior Court.

The suit was filed on behalf of Save Our Southwest Hills, an environmental group composed of Temecula-area residents, and the Elsinore-Murrieta-Anza Resource Conservation District.

The suit targets Riverside County and names Granite Construction Co. as a "real party in interest."

Reached late Friday, Gary Johnson, aggregate resource manager for Granite, said he had not seen the suit.

Neither had Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith.

"Once we're served, attorneys will review it and attorneys will determine how to proceed," Smith said.

Smith said, however, that the filing did not come as a surprise.

"Because of the history of the proposed project, I think everyone expected that there would be litigation regardless of the decisions that were made," he said.

The filing follows a flurry of activity associated with Granite's Liberty Quarry project.

Last week, Granite Construction filed an application for a revised, scaled-down version of the project that county supervisors rejected in February.

That rejected project proposed mining up to 5 million tons a year for 75 years. Granite's new project proposes extracting up to 4 million tons a year for 50 years, and establishing a fee that would generate revenue for county coffers.

Then on Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to begin writing an ordinance that makes surface mines such as Granite's eligible for the county's fast-track process. The move set the stage for a possible final decision on the new application between October and January.

Rather than start over from scratch with the new application, Granite Construction is looking to use the environmental report it prepared for the original project. The board voted in May to certify that report, when one of the supervisors who voted earlier to deny the project joined with supervisors who supported the quarry.

Also last week, the city of Temecula sued to invalidate the environmental analysis and force Granite to prepare a new one ---- something that would add months and potentially years to the process.

The Save Our Southwest Hills lawsuit also asks to set aside approval of the environmental report.

Filed by Temecula attorney Ray Johnson, the lawsuit states the county lacked authority under state law to certify the analysis precisely because supervisors had denied the project.

The suit says the California Environmental Quality Act provides the legal basis for certifying a report. And it maintains that authority is triggered only when a project is approved.

The suit also attacks the report's completeness.

"By way of example, the EIR fails to disclose enough information regarding the project's biological impacts to permit accurate analysis and informed decision-making," the suit alleges. "As another example, the EIR fails to disclose and evaluate ... impacts to native American cultural resources."

In addition, the suit alleges the county made a procedural error.

The suit mentions the Feb. 16 hearing in which supervisors denied the project. At that meeting, it says, county attorneys told supervisors they needed to determine whether opponents had presented enough evidence to show that the report should be done over.

"The county never found the recirculation of the EIR was not required," it states.

One of the most contentious projects to reach the board in recent history, Liberty Quarry would mine rock from 155 acres on a 414-acre site near the Riverside-San Diego county line.

Proponents say the project would generate jobs for a local economy reeling from unemployment, and reduce truck traffic on Interstate 15 because most of the gravel would be trucked south to San Diego.

Opponents worry that the mine's presence would jeopardize the Temecula area's growing tourism industry and pollute the air.

The day the music died – in the supervisor’s chambers
Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, Thurs., Aug. 2

Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Whatever it is, Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione doesn’t want to hear it during public comments.

The Board of Supervisors Chairman and guitarist for the band The Legendary Mustangs killed the music Tuesday, July 31, when a critic of the proposed Liberty Quarry tried to play the 1960s Buffalo Springfield hit “For What It’s Worth” as part of his testimony regarding a plan to streamline the quarry’s approval process.

The song’s lyrics include the lines: “There’s somethin’ happenin’ here/What it is ain’t exactly clear” and “I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?/Everybody look what’s going down.”

At the start of his remarks, Tom Courbat of Murrieta played the song from a speaker connected to his iPad. “I’d like to start out with something that we heard this morning, some music from the 60s, and I thought that was really good and I wanted to play a little bit to set the tone here for us today,” he told supervisors.

But Tavaglione ordered Courbat to stop the song before the first words rang out. “We’re not here to be entertained by music,” he said. “If you have something to say, you’re welcome to say it. We’re not going to take people’s time by listening to music.”
Tavaglione became sterner as Courbat protested. “We’re not going to be playing games in here ladies and gentlemen,” he said.
Tavaglione

Tavaglione was not in the mood for ’60s folk rock during Tuesday’s meeting
“So if you want to speak in an orderly fashion like we did at the other hearings, you’re welcome to do that. The minute you stop, we’re going to adjourn the meeting. Point blank, that’s the way it’s going to happen.”

And to think Tavaglione, a Congressional candidate, was named one of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns.”

Courbat continued with his non-musical comments. Sixty-three people signed up to speak at the meeting.

Quarry project gets green light for fast-track review
The Californian, Wed. Aug 1

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, 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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