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 ~ OCTOBER 2012

Check out what was In the News in September

Check out what was In the News in August

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

Why isn't this illegal?
The Californian, Wed., Oct. 3

On Sept. 26, The Californian published a letter from one Fred Bartz. It was a "tongue in cheek" joke, comparing the environmental advantages of a house, or several houses, of prostitution over the environmental disadvantages of "Liberty" Quarry.

Actually, I believe we already have a house of prostitution in this county ---- its address is 4080 Lemon Street, Riverside, CA (aka the County Administration Center). And what Granite Construction is proposing is, in fact, a "House of Rape."

And I thought prostitution and rape were illegal in California. Sept. 25 is a day that will live in infamy. In my opinion, that is the day prostitution was legalized in Riverside County. Now we have to wait to see if rape is legalized also. Granite will rape the mountain, which should belong to the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, and our environment, and for what? Nothing short of corporate greed.

Alexander Watts, Temecula

Liberty Quarry versus USC Project
The Californian, Tues., Oct. 2

The University of Southern California plans to add housing and retail stores within a declining neighborhood on property they've owned for years. It will create 12,000 jobs, with 8,000 being permanent to the area. The project is privately funded. It will raise the standard of living through incomes, revenues and property values. It will make the area safer for students.

USC values community input, even hiring translators. This is a project a job-conscious politician could sink his teeth into.

Granite Construction will impose a gravel mine on newly purchased land, upwind from an established, thriving city, which will threaten the standard of living, the local economy, clean industry, health, watershed, environment, tribal cultural land and lower property values, bringing a claimed 99 jobs, sometime. ...

The project is privately funded, but any costs weren't included in the environmental impact report, only Granite's gross profits. It's been extensively vetted and was found to have more negative impacts than benefits. Most revenues will stay in San Diego. It will make the area less safe. Although Liberty Quarry is poised to be fast-tracked.

Supervisors John Tavaglione, John Benoit and Marion Ashley maneuver away from community input, as Granite does.

A project a supposedly job-conscious politician uses as an excuse.

Mike Jurkosky, Temecula

Opinions/Forums

Granite's certified EIR simply unjustified
The Californian, Sun., Oct. 7
Mike Jurkosky

The residents west of Granite's property start at 1,300 feet. After seven years of hearing "nothing lay to the west of the site" or the nearest community was two to three miles away, why does Granite's new application now admit there are residents west of the quarry site, though our valley wasn't considered in the certified environmental impact report?

Neither were the eight neighboring wells in our area that the valley relies on for water ---- and we're not the Rainbow Valley.

Granite told us our area's noise level already exceeds the county's noise standard (readings taken from a sound receptor three miles away) and that's why they need a "Noise Ordinance Exemption." Now the new application admits our area would be impacted by their noise. Hey, I thought the certified EIR had no faults.

We were told the quarry won't impact our water table (elevation 1,260 feet). Yet the new application decreased the pit down 700 feet, (elevation 1,310) drawing into question Granite's previous EIR statement. Leeching of contaminates will still enter our ground water and along our seasonal stream feeding local wells. Extensions can come later as did with Granite's Rosemary's Mountain recently to level the mountain, though it still sits idle.

The EIR's geological maps are incorrect, our valley is not of granite. It's porous and fractures easily.

Granite touted that the quarry would generate massive revenues for Riverside County. It was discovered the tax revenues would benefit San Diego. Something the Planning Commission hearings uncovered. So why didn't Granite offer Riverside County an added incentive of $0.20 a ton from the start? What false delusions are enticing the county?

Granite states the aggregate would be mainly for San Diego County, saving truck miles and improving air quality, yet they've shown an interest in the Highway 91 interchange project up north. Loaded trucks, headed north, chug, chug.

The vetting of Granite's first application took a long time, which is now an excuse used for fast tracking. If Granite didn't do such slipshod work, it would have saved time. It took the community to uncover the truth.

Yet, the Riverside County Planning Department found the 8,500-page EIR with not one thing wrong. The Planning Commission on the other hand thought it was biased and the benefits didn't outweigh the negative impacts.

With so many negative aspects of the project, why would Supervisors John Tavaglione, John Benoit and Marion Ashley be poised to fast track it to avoid doing the EIR correctly? Why would our public watchdogs be so quick to push the public away like a banana republic? The California Environmental Quality Act desires input from local residents to uncover any facts the bean counters missed.

It reminds me of that Allstate television commercial where the burglars throw "Mr. Mayhem," the watchdog, a huge bone to distract him, while the burglars ransack the house. The watchdog says, "Thanks guys, you're swell."

Granite's new application is proof that the certified EIR was flawed and unjustly certified. "Too many unknowns," as Tavaglione put it, before he flip-flopped.

Keeping up the Good Fight
The Californian, Wed., Oct. 3
Thomas K. Arnold

Temecula's fight against Granite Construction and its proposed Liberty Quarry reminds me a lot of Carlsbad's battle with NRG over the Encina Power Plant.

In both cases, you've got upscale towns that hope to boost tourism to their respective areas. In Temecula, you've got Old Town and Wine Country; in Carlsbad, you've got the Pacific Ocean, Legoland California and the Flower Fields.

And in both cases, industry wants in ---- and the cities are powerless to keep it out because the decision is not in their hands.

Carlsbad has all but given up on its battle to keep NRG from building additional power plants on the coast just north of Cannon, arguing in vain that today's plants no longer need to be cooled by ocean waters and that there are much better, safer and cleaner uses for its precious coast, such as hotels and restaurants.

But the state Energy Commission has sided with NRG, and about all Carlsbad can hope for now is that the power company bows out on its own due to the growing clamor for clean energy and the realization that it's sitting on a valuable parcel of waterfront property.

In Temecula's case, the fight is still on, with county supervisors on a path that may lead to reversal of a decision they made last February to not allow the proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15.

As Carlsbad did over the last couple of years, Temecula is rallying support and throwing every argument it can muster against the proposed mine. Most recently, the Temecula Valley Unified School District has drafted a letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors expressing its concern that the proposed mining operation could negatively impact TVUSD students ---- specifically, by fouling up their air and scattering dust on their playgrounds.

The school district joins the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, San Diego State University and, of course, the city in opposing the project. Temecula has filed suit, using what essentially amounts to a technicality in a last-ditch effort to stop the project.

The city maintains that once Riverside County supervisors rejected the proposal to build the mining operation back in February, the Environmental Impact Report for tNohe project should not have been certified.

It's looking more and more like a Quixotic fight, much like Carlsbad's losing battle with NRG. But you've got to give Temecula city officials credit for trying ---- and for not giving up.

They're merely attempting to do what's right for the residents of their city ---- a determination they're in a far better position to make than anyone else.

 

News Articles

No decision in Temecula quarry suit
Aaron Claverie, The Californian, Thurs., Oct. 18

Superior Court Judge Craig Riemer said Thursday he needs more time before he can rule on the city of Temecula’s lawsuit against Riverside County for its handling of Granite Construction’s Liberty Quarry project.

“I need more time to understand the arguments that have been made,” he said.

The announcement came after a morning hearing in Riverside’s civil courthouse during which Riemer met in his chambers with attorneys for both sides during separate closed-door sessions.

The attorneys also met without Riemer at one point outside the courtroom before returning to hear his announcement.

Riemer, addressing the half-dozen or so people from the Temecula area who attended the hearing, said he understood the lack of a decision was disappointing.

He set a new hearing date for Nov. 14.

The city filed suit this summer challenging a 3-2 vote by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to approve the environmental documentation for the project, an aggregate mine proposed for land on the city of Temecula’s southern border.

That vote followed a 3-2 vote by the board to uphold the project’s denial by the Riverside County Planning Commission.

In its suit, the city is arguing that the board did not have the jurisdiction to approve the environmental paperwork for a project that was denied — a move by the board that was called “shocking” by mine opponents.

If the court rules in favor of the city, the county would be prohibited from using the environmental documentation for any purpose, which would include consideration of Granite Construction’s application to have its revised proposal reviewed via the county’s fast-track program.

Granite applied for fast-track status, which allows for a project to quickly move through the county’s planning process, for a slimmed-down version of its mine project. According to the revised proposal, the mine would operate for fewer years — 50 instead of 75 — and produce less aggregate per year.

The original mine application called for 5 million tons of aggregate to be produced per year at peak production, versus the 3.5 million tons detailed in the new application.

After a vigorous debate, the county board recently voted 3-2 to allow mine projects to be included in the county’s fast-track program, which sets the stage for an accelerated review of the new application.

City Attorney Peter Thorson said after Thursday’s proceedings that Riemer’s call for more time is neither good news nor bad for the city.

“It’s a complicated case,” he said.

The city also has filed a lawsuit challenging the county’s decision to allow mines into its fast-track program, arguing that the county violated state law by not first sending the matter to its planning commission for review.

Granite’s proposed mine has been fiercely debated in Southwest County for years, with proponents saying it will deliver high-paying jobs and a local source of aggregate that would help lower construction costs for projects in San Diego and Riverside counties and improve air quality by removing pollution-emitting trucks from the roads.

Opponents say it will destroy a site sacred to the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, negatively affect research at a nearby ecological reserve, worsen the area’s air quality and turn the tourist-friendly Temecula area from “Wine Country” to “Mine Country.”

City Begs Court to Void County's Fast-Track Amendments
Mirna Alfonso, temecula.patch.com, Thurs., Oct. 11

The city of Temecula has filed a Writ of Mandate against the county, seeking to invalidate the amendments that add surface mines to the county’s Fast Track Policy -- possibly putting LIberty Quarry back on the menu.

Temecula is using the courts to overturn ordinance amendments that give the Riverside County Board of Supervisors power to allow surface mining projects, while skipping county Planning Commission perusal or approval.

City officials are worried that the defeated Liberty Quarry could rear its head again, this time under a fast-track process that would require very little review and no other oversight.

The city attorney filed the papers in Riverside County Superior Court Wednesday.

In addition to a petition for a Writ of Mandate invalidating the amendments, the city is also asking for a stay and a permanent injunction that would keep the county from fast-tracking any strip mining projects—ever.

The contentious Liberty Quarry falls within the purview of the fast-track ordinance, angering city officials and spurring the fight against a proposed project just outside city limits.

According to papers filed with the court, the city is basing its petition on four points:

  1. The county is violating California Environmental Quality Act laws because it never proved an assertion that there are no potential environmental impacts associated with any projects for which the amendments will make way;
  2. The county did not publicize or hold public hearings before the Riverside County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors before taking a vote;
  3. The county violated state law by not placing the matter for approval first before California's Mining and Geology Board;
  4. State law does not allow the county to designate itself a planning agency solely to "cherry pick" the projects it wants to fast-track and send all others to the county Planning Commission, papers state.

A status hearing on the case is set for Dec. 10 in Dept. 4 at the Historic Courthouse, 4050 Main St., in Riverside.

Supervisors in August 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.

That vote came on the heels of the board's certification of an Environmental Impact Report that left the door open for the Watsonville-based Granite Construction Co. to return with a modified version of a proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15.

City officials fear the board's amendments have paved the way for Granite to have its proposed operation fast-tracked to approval with no further study or oversight.

Temecula sues County of Riverside over fast-track policy regarding surface mining projects, including Liberty Quarry
Paul Young, Fallbrook/Bonsall Village News, Wed., Oct. 10

RIVERSIDE - The city of Temecula filed a lawsuit today against Riverside County -- the second one this year -- seeking to invalidate the Board of Supervisors' recent enactment of ordinances to allow fast-tracking of surface mining projects, including one heavily opposed by Temecula Valley residents.

In a 14-page civil complaint, the city alleges the county skipped over state-mandated hearings and reviews in approving ordinances 348 and 555, and that the Board of Supervisors is attempting to exceed its delegated powers by establishing a "selective" system of choosing which projects to fast-track.

"The city and its constituents and residents will be directly, adversely and irreparably harmed by the environmental impacts associated with (these ordinances)," the lawsuit states. "Beyond this, the city and its residents will be adversely affected by any future surface mining projects in the area that are fast-tracked and that have not been the subject of adequate, legally mandated review under the California Environmental Quality Act and the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act."

County Executive Office spokesman Ray Smith said county attorneys were reviewing the suit, noting that "this is one of the cases in which the applicant is required to bear the legal costs."

Temecula is seeking unspecified monetary damages from the county.

On Oct. 2, the Board of Supervisors, in a 3-2 vote, adopted the two ordinances that revised the county's fast-track policy to include strip mines on the list of large-scale ventures eligible for accelerated reviews by county officials. The goal is to have a project vetted and voted on by the board in 90 days in the interest of job stimulation and economic growth.

Either the board or the county's Economic Development Agency director can determine which projects should be fast-tracked.

The idea of expediting mining projects was introduced by Coachella Valley-area Supervisor John Benoit, a supporter of the controversial Liberty Quarry, a proposed 414-acre gravel mine at
Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15, just south of Temecula on the main corridor leading into "Temecula Wine Country."

The quarry was nixed by the county planning commission last year after multiple hearings attended by thousands of Temecula Valley residents overwhelmingly opposed to the enterprise.

Watsonville-based Granite Construction appealed the commission's decision to the board, which voted 3-2 against the mine. However, in May, the swing voter in opposition, Supervisor John Tavaglione, voted with Supervisors Marion Ashley and Benoit to certify a 1,000-page environmental impact report on the quarry that found many of its potentially negative impacts could be mitigated.

Granite returned with a modified plan for mining the site, proposing a scaled-down version of its original quarry and requesting that the Department of Planning fast-track its application for permits. However, county ordinances didn't allow for expedited vetting of proposed mines.

Benoit immediately introduced a proposal to change county regulations.

Temecula filed a lawsuit in July challenging the validity of the EIR. The suit filed today focuses on alleged violations of state law in approving the fast-track ordinances, and ongoing violations by their operation.

According to the suit, the board behaved "prejudicially" by not giving the planning commission an opportunity to review the fast-track proposal and hold public hearings on the matter.

The city also contends the county was required by state law to allow the State Mining and Geology Board to scrutinize the plan, even though the Office of County Counsel advised the board otherwise.

The lawsuit alleges the board is violating provisions of the California Government Code by empowering itself to "arbitrarily" decide what projects will be fast-tracked without first going through the planning commission, and that the board "abused its discretion" by failing to document how or why the fast-track ordinances are exempt from an environmental assessment.

A status conference on the lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 10 at the Riverside Historic Courthouse.

Temecula sues to stop fast-tracking
Jeff Horseman and Nelsy Rodriguez
The Press-Enterrprise, Wed., Oct. 10

Temecula officials sued Riverside County on Wednesday, Oct. 10, to block the addition of surface mines to the list of development projects eligible for a speedier review process.

The fast-track changes, approved by the county supervisors late last month, could lead to a quicker review path for Liberty Quarry, an open-pit mine proposed for a site bordering Temecula. City officials vigorously oppose the mine, saying it would destroy the area’s quality of life and cause massive air pollution.

Fast-tracked projects skip public hearings at the county Planning Commission level and head straight to the Board of Supervisors for first and final approval. Quarry developer Granite Construction hasn’t officially asked for fast-tracking, although it’s expected they’ll do so before the end of the year.

The 14-page lawsuit, filed in Riverside Superior Court, alleges four causes of action:

The county violated environmental laws by declaring surface mines don’t pose significant environmental impacts.

The county did not allow the public to speak at the Planning Commission level about the addition of surface mines to the fast-track process.

The fast-track policy itself is illegal.

The county failed to get a required approval from the State Mining and Geology Board to add surface mines to the fast-track program.

The city is seeking a temporary and permanent restraining order to block the change.

“By failing to comply with (public hearing requirements and environmental laws), the county prejudicially abused its discretion and failed to proceed in a manner required by law,” the suit states. “Consequently, the county’s adoption of (the ordinances amending the fast-track process) must be set aside.”

During Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman Mike Naggar addressed questions regarding Liberty Quarry, saying that the city is prepared to keep fighting the proposed mine.

“We anticipate them coming back and … we’ll probably have to beat them back again,” Naggar said. “That’s a billion-dollar company that’s almost 100 years old and it’s going to require diligence, and fighting (which) we will have to keep sustained and not give up.”

County spokesman Ray Smith said Wednesday that the county had not yet been served with the suit.

“In process, the county will review the lawsuit and determine the best way to proceed,” Smith said.

In a separate suit filed this summer, Temecula is asking for a court to block the county’s approval of an 8,500-page environmental study, paid for by Granite Construction, which outlines the anticipated effects that a quarry would have on the 414-acre site between Temecula and the San Diego County line. The report concludes that the area would benefit from a smaller quarry through reduced air pollution.

Temecula officials argue the report is based on faulty science and should not have been certified once the original quarry plan was rejected. The anti-quarry group Save Our Southwest Hills and a local conservation district filed a separate suit to strike down the report.

In legal papers, lawyers for the county and Granite — the company is paying to defend the report — contend the Save Our Southwest Hills suit is baseless. The county followed proper procedure and the report’s certification is justified, the lawyers maintain.

Stone accuses Benoit of breaking "unwritten rule"
Dave Downey, The Californian, Sun., Oct. 7

As far as Jeff Stone was concerned, Riverside County supervisors' decision to make quarries eligible for fast-track review wasn't merely bad public policy, but also a violation of an "unwritten rule."

He was talking about a general practice of letting the local supervisor take the lead on a major land-use issue arising within his district.

"I ask my fellow supervisors to please keep our unwritten rule to allow each supervisor to lead or oppose efforts in each of our respective districts," Stone said.

By that, Stone meant he, not Supervisor John Benoit of the Palm Springs area, should have been the one to introduce ---- or not introduce ---- the newly approved measure that could lead to a quick approval for Granite Construction Co.'s proposed Liberty Quarry near Temecula.

Stone asserted that Benoit's predecessor wouldn't have intervened in perhaps the most controversial issue ever to hit Southwest County's 3rd District.

"I had a great working relationship with former Supervisor Roy Wilson, may he rest in peace," Stone said in a Sept. 25 meeting. "I don't believe Supervisor Roy Wilson would have this agenda item forcing his will on my constituents without my blessing."

Unwritten though it may be, former officials said, the deference rule has been in place many years in Riverside County.

"I never saw the memo that explained the unwritten rule," said Larry Parrish of Rancho Mirage, who served as the county's chief executive 16 years. "It's not in the manual."

And it's certainly not a law, said former Supervisor Norton Younglove of Riverside, who was on the Board of Supervisors for 24 years.

Nevertheless, Parrish said the board long has had a practice of letting a supervisor make a motion on an agenda item concerning a project in his or her area.

Most of the time the courtesy extends to votes, too, said Younglove, who served from 1971 through 1994.

World's greatest idea

"The concept is really more that, 'If it's in my district, you follow the lead on my vote,'" Younglove said. "You'll go along with it and approve it even if you don't think it's the world's greatest idea."

So Benoit's fast-track initiative appeared to run counter to the long-standing practice.

"I don't think it's bad or wrong or anything," Younglove said. "But it is unusual."

Riverside is hardly the only county with a practice of deferring to local supervisors.

The rule is in wide use in Orange County. And it was on full display last week when supervisors there voted unanimously to approve a controversial 65-home development in the Santa Ana Mountain foothills.

The courtesy was cited before that vote by Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, not to be confused with retired Temecula City Manager Shawn Nelson.

"First and foremost, the way our system works here, I don't represent this district," Nelson said. "Yeah, I represent the county. That's true. But this isn't my back yard. Supervisor (Bill) Campbell represents these folks. And it's really his issue to deal with."

Jack Pitney, a government professor for Claremont-McKenna College near Los Angeles, said it is particularly common for the local supervisor to lead the way in Los Angeles County.

"County supervisors are just as territorial as German shepherds," Pitney said.

Preventing nuclear war

Steve Erie, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said the practice is widespread throughout Southern California.

"That sort of hometown privilege is jealously guarded in many places," Erie said. "It's all about preventing nuclear war among supervisors. ... The minute you violate that unspoken rule, that unwritten rule, you invite retaliation. And then things go from bad to worse."

Opponents of Liberty Quarry already have suggested Stone retaliate for Benoit's fast-track initiative by promoting an unpopular jail or solar power plant near Palm Springs.

For his part, Benoit said Thursday that he isn't worried about retaliation for his initiative, which was given final approval last Tuesday with a 3-2 vote.

"I'm going to trust that Supervisor Stone, who is obviously very emotionally involved in this ... is nevertheless going to be fair and objective in evaluating future projects, wherever they happen to be," Benoit said.

Benoit dismissed the suggestion he violated Stone's turf.

The former state lawmaker said he intends to follow Stone's lead on the Wine Country Community Plan, a blueprint for expanding the winery region, when it reaches the board. That, he said, is an issue that primarily affects Southwest County and Stone is the board member with the expertise on the topic.

But Benoit said Liberty Quarry is different.

A regional, not local project

"This is an economic issue, an air quality issue and a traffic issue that extends well beyond his district," Benoit said.

He reiterated earlier comments that the project would improve the air and thin freeway traffic through much of Riverside County, because most of the quarry's material would go to the San Diego market and would be trucked from just south of Temecula instead of Corona.

Benoit said air quality also would benefit from Granite's obligation to provide cleaner trucks than the ones that now haul gravel from other quarries.

Benoit, who chairs the Riverside County Transportation Commission, also said Liberty Quarry's presence would cut costs for local road projects, because construction materials would be available close by.

"The primary driver of the cost of aggregate is how far it has to be transported," he said.

The lone supervisor to side with Stone on the fast-track matter was Bob Buster, who represents Canyon Lake, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar and a large chunk of the city of Riverside.

Dave Stahovich, Buster's chief of staff, termed the vote on the matter unfortunate.

But, Stahovich said, "This is not unprecedented. Bob has been on the short end of 4-1 votes on land use matters within his district."

So has San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Take August, for example, when that board approved a wind farm in her rural east county district despite her opposition.

"Having served the 2nd District for almost 20 years, I think my colleagues recognize that I know my district best and they weigh my views before making a decision that affects my constituents," Jacob said. "But in the end, whether it's a land use item or another issue, each supervisor has to weigh the facts and vote their conscience."

That means votes don't always go the local supervisor's way, said San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn. And he suggested that's the way it should be.

"This is not a fiefdom," Horn said.

Final ok given for fast-tracking of review of mines
Dave Downey, The Californian, Tues., Oct. 2

As expected, a narrow majority of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday for a measure that makes surface mines eligible for fast-track review.

For the second week in a row, a bitterly divided board voted 3-2 to extend that privilege to quarries, as well as solar and wind power plants.

Once again, supervisors Bob Buster and Jeff Stone dissented.

In 30 days, the controversial policy change will become law in Riverside County. And the board will be able to entertain a proposal to authorize accelerated review of Granite Construction Co.'s revised plan for a quarry just beyond Temecula's southern boundary.

Granite's original project was rejected by the board in February. But in July, the company submitted an application for a "new," scaled-down Liberty Quarry.

Also in July, Supervisor John Benoit of the Palm Springs area sought to speed up review of the original project. Three votes later, the stage is set for a fast-track approval that bypasses the county Planning Commission.

Stone, a former Temecula councilman, sought in vain Tuesday to slow things down.

"I kind of feel like the train's left the station and I'm running behind trying to catch the caboose," Stone said, acknowledging he didn't have the votes to halt the change.

But, in citing Monday night's Temecula City Council decision to file a second lawsuit over the matter, Stone warned the project's fate will be decided by judges, not politicians.

Stone faced Gary Johnson, aggregate resource manager for Granite Construction.

"Mr. Johnson, get your attorneys ready to go because you're going to be spending some money," Stone said.

Temecula filed suit in July to nullify the county's May approval of the Liberty Quarry environmental impact report. Environmental groups also have challenged that approval.

In an unusual move, the board voted 3-2 to certify the report after rejecting the project itself three months earlier.

Supervisor John Tavaglione, after voting with Stone and Buster to deny the project, sided with quarry supporters Benoit and Marion Ashley in approving the environmental analysis. The move extended a significant benefit to Granite, which otherwise would have had to start from scratch on a new report at potentially great expense and delay.

As for the newest lawsuit, Temecula officials voted Monday to sue over the fast-track policy change. The city maintains the county was legally obligated to take the proposal to allow fast-track review of quarries to the Planning Commission first.

A county lawyer maintained last week that the commission did not have to address that policy.

Stone went on Tuesday to chide the board majority for considering a revised quarry that is a "mirror image" of the original.

The original plan called for mining up to 5 million tons of rock a year for up to 75 years. The new project would authorize 4 million tons annually for 50 years, and the generate cash for the county through a new per-ton fee.

Benoit dismissed Stone's concerns.

"This is an ordinance related to a project that will have countywide, region-wide impacts," Benoit said. "And we need to move forward."

Benoit has maintained Liberty Quarry would boost local jobs, increase availability of construction material for highways and clean the air. Because most Liberty gravel would go to San Diego and Granite trucks would pollute less than those coming from older quarries, proponents contend the project would reduce pollution and traffic.

Opponents ---- including the city, a large number of Temecula residents, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and local business promoters ---- dispute the asserted air and traffic benefits. And they say the quarry's presence would harm a local economy heavily influenced by the Wine Country image.

In stark contrast to earlier meetings, this one drew just 15 speakers; about half of them in favor and half against the fast-track change. More than three times as many spoke last week.

Missing also was much of the passion and electricity that marked previous standing-room-only hearings.

But Temecula City Council candidate Paul Jacobs again delivered colorful and biting commentary.

"Good morning Lord Benoit of the Inland Empire," Jacobs said as he took the podium.

Jacobs asserted Liberty Quarry, if built, would ruin Temecula's reputation.

"It will be etched upon the hills: This is Mine Country, not Wine Country," he said.

Jacobs even borrowed a page from Stone's political playbook to create an acronym for the fast-track initiative: DROP.

He said the letters stood for Developers Rule Our Process.

Tuesday's hearing also introduced a new argument for building the quarry.

Irene Long of Eastvale, a new city north of Corona, said that if a major earthquake slams Riverside County, gravel will be needed to rebuild large sections of Interstates 10 and 15, as well as homes, schools and businesses.

City filing suit over county's fast-track vote
Aaron Claverie, The Californian, Mon., Oct. 1

During a special closed-session meeting, the Temecula City Council on Monday night authorized filing a second Liberty Quarry-related lawsuit against Riverside County.

The vote was 4-0 with Councilman Ron Roberts absent.

"They think we're going to go away, that we'll roll over," said Mayor Chuck Washington. "We're not."

This fresh suit, which is expected to be filed this week, will target the Riverside County Board of Supervisors' recent 3-2 vote to allow the fast-tracking of mining projects, a decision that could hasten a vote on a scaled-down version of Granite Construction's Liberty Quarry.

City Attorney Peter Thorson said the county did not follow the correct process when it voted to allow fast-tracking, saying it should have first been considered by the county Planning Commission.

"They didn't do CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) right for this," he said.

In addition, he said, the county gave itself too much flexibility when it allowed for decisions to be made on which projects might qualify for fast-tracking.

"They can't pick and choose," he said.

After the announcement, Councilman Mike Naggar said the council will not stop fighting to block the project, which is opposed by all five of the council members.

"Go ahead. Test our resolve," he said. "We're in this for the long run."

The open-pit mine project, which has been a flashpoint for controversy since it was introduced in the mid-2000s, is proposed for acreage on the city of Temecula's southern border, land just across the San Diego County line from the community of Rainbow.

The city in late July filed a lawsuit against the county board regarding its approval of environmental documentation for a larger version of the proposed mine.

That action, which should be decided in a hearing on Oct. 18, followed the board's decision to uphold the project's denial by the Riverside County Planning Commission and it seeks to block any use of the environmental report for consideration of the scaled-down mine project.

After the supervisors upheld the denial of the project, Granite amended its proposal and included a sweetener in the form of a per-ton fee that would generate millions of dollars for the county.

The scaled-down version would cover roughly the same 135 acres but the mine would operate for 50 years instead of 75 years and produce 4 million tons of aggregate material a year at peak production, instead of 5 million tons a year.

Critics of the project claim the smaller version is a "Trojan Horse" because Granite could seek extensions and amendments to its operating schedule to boost production at a later date.

Supporters of the project argue the critics ---- a group that includes the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, the city of Temecula and a nonprofit called Save Our Southwest Hills ---- are standing in the way of job creation and they have praised the county for working to move the project forward.

TVUSD raises red flag on Liberty Quarry project
Toni McAllister, Temecula Patch, Mon., Oct. 1

The Temecula Valley Unified School District has drafted a letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors expressing its concern over the proposed Liberty Quarry project that's slated for local hillsides.

The letter dated Oct. 2 (see attached) will be considered during Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled TVUSD governing board meeting. School district staff is recommending that board members approved the letter signed by Robert Brown, president of the TVUSD board. The public is invited to weigh in on the discussion.

The letter, addressed to all five supervisors, states the district is concerned the proposed mining operation has the potential to negatively impact TVUSD students. Namely, the letter points to concerns over air quality outlined in the Environmental Impact Report for the quarry that’s being proposed by Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction.

The letter also states the district is concerned that ground level dust studies were not conducted on the fields or playgrounds of TVUSD campuses located downwind from the proposed quarry.

The school district joins the City of Temecula, the Pechanga Band of Indians, and San Diego State in denouncing the project.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted down that proposed 414-acre mining operation at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15 in February. However, three months later, the swing voter against the project, Supervisor 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 Granite Construction to return with a modified plan for mining the site, and the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original quarry.

Today, Temecula City Council is meeting in closed session to discuss litigation it has filed against the county over the proposed project.

 

 

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