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 ~ september 2012

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

Supervisors' fast-track hearing was a farce
Temecula Patch, Thurs., Sept. 27

We sat in the Riverside County Supervisor’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25, and waited for the supervisors to decide the fate of fast tracking surface mines and wind machines. The supervisors bantered back and forth on the issues after public comments were finished. This meeting turned into the most disgusting pretense at a public meeting of a governmental body that I have ever witnessed.

It is bazaar that an issue such as fast tracking a surface mine was being discussed as if they were talking about a city park! At least they called a "spade a spade,” by admitting that the revised Liberty Quarry project WAS the reason they wanted to pass this ordinance. No surprise there.

Liberty Quarry is not a surface mine, but is a deep, open pit hole in the ground. There are reasons that the current laws, rules and regulations are in place. Projects such as mines and landfills carry too many negative issues. The effects on surrounding areas and communities need to be carefully evaluated.

This is the reason the original Liberty Quarry project was denied first by the Riverside County Planning Commissioners, 4-1, and next by the supervisors, 3-2.

Why, NOW, is John Benoit trying to push through "fast tracking?" The answer came from the supervisors themselves: Benoit wants this issue voted on while THIS board of supervisors is still in place. This is in the record.

The "defining moment" came when Supervisor Jeff Stone turned to (his words) his "friend and colleague,” Benoit, and said (I paraphrase): "Please allow the supervisors to make decisions that affect their own district."

Stone spoke eloquently, passionately and from his heart. He stayed calm as he stated that his friend had stabbed him in the back. Stone appeared extremely emotional at that point and told Benoit, "I would never try to tell another supervisor what to do in his district and would support his decisions." Jeff Stone made a motion to request the "supervisor make the decisions for his own district."

Then, Supervisor Benoit, with a smirk on his face, spoke. It was as though Stone had never said a word. Benoit responded to Stone's emotional "plea" by stating cold, calculated praises for the revised Liberty Quarry project. As Benoit talked, the room slowly emptied as people left to wait outside until he was through before returning to their seats.

Then, it became a circus; a sad excuse for a public forum. Supervisor Marion Ashley decided he wanted solar added to the fast track list. They bickered and argued but Ashley's request was accommodated.

At least Supervisor John Tavaglione did not refer to the opponents in the audience as "uneducated thugs," as he did at the last meeting.

Stone's request regarding supervisors' having control in their own districts was voted down, and the fast track issue passed Tuesday, 3-2, with Stone and Supervisor Bob Buster dissenting.

Yes, Supervisor Tavaglione, this was indeed "The Day the Music Died."

Jerri Arganda, Rainbow

Let's fast-track a house of prostitution
The Californian, Wed., Sept. 26

The proposed Liberty Quarry project was turned down by county supervisors last February. Now, Granite Construction has come back and said it would make Liberty Quarry 20 percent smaller, and now offers the county an "incentive" of $0.20 per ton of aggregate.

So if the project was so great before, why didn't Granite Construction offer this same incentive to the county before the project's first denial?

Also, now some supervisors have proposed to not only fast-track surface mines, but other projects that bring an immediate jobs impact. If county supervisors approve changes to current county ordinances, I'm sure some creative person will propose to fast-track a house of prostitution project. The person could offer the county, say, $20 per "services rendered" as an "incentive" to help reduce the county's budget deficit.

A house of prostitution could be franchised and bring more jobs than the proposed Liberty Quarry, which even if approved by county supervisors, would still need a number of other permits. Second, even 100 houses of prostitution would clearly have significantly fewer environmental impacts than Liberty Quarry.

All kidding aside, our supervisors need to decide what kind of county we want to have.

Fred Bartz, Temecula

Tavaglione's new trick
The Californian, Wed., Sept. 19

Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, a congressional wannabe, has a brand-new trick ("Initiative would expand fast-track eligibility," Sept. 11). If he cannot get Liberty Quarry fast-tracked in time to scoop up campaign cash from Granite Construction, he has proposed a new fast-track procedure.

He wants projects that hire veterans and the unemployed to be approved for fast-tracking through the bureaucratic maze ---- perfect for including Liberty Quarry in that mix. His chief of staff says, "(This) has nothing to do with Liberty Quarry. It really is not related to that."

Baloney. As a wise Texas political sage once told me, "You can tell when a politician is lying to you ---- it's when his lips begin to move."

In November, let's bring John Tavaglione's political career to an end.

Nicholas Waln, Temecula

Benoit doesn't share our values
The Californian, Sun., Sept. 16

I am still in shock at the actions by Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who is trying to fast-track the rejected Liberty Quarry in our Temecula area. But I am even more shocked that he managed to delete from the types of projects that qualify for fast-tracking "renewable energy projects." Why would we fast-track a mega quarry in the middle of the residences of 200,000 people, but not allow renewable energy projects?

Well, the answer is simple. Benoit wants "careful review" of solar projects in his neck of the woods ---- the desert.

We had careful review of Liberty Quarry and it was rejected ---- until Benoit gave it back to us by certifying the flawed environmental impact report. What I don't get is how he gets the other supervisors to go along with his absolutely backward thinking.

Some of us are starting a movement to change the county lines to move Temecula and Murrieta to San Diego County. The U-T San Diego has purchased this newspaper, so we are really more part of that community. Those supervisors share our values.

Robbie Adkins, Temecula

Beware what you wish for
The Californian, Fri., Sept. 14

Here in the Temecula Valley, we have one of the finest agricultural areas in the world. While the wine is well-documented, the produce that comes from this valley is some of the best available. A school in Wine Country will only benefit those families who can attend it, while Wine Country, in general, is a benefit to everyone in Riverside County.

Agriculture is only pretty from a distance. Up close, it's dirty, dusty, noisy and smells like chemicals or compost. Successful agriculture takes space and understanding neighbors. Schools have too much impact on what can happen on the adjoining properties with regard to spray applications, fertilizers and the ability to sell wine.

Agritourism was one of the main arguments against the Liberty Quarry. Without Wine Country and the jobs, tourism and tax base it creates, the supervisors' decision about the quarry may be different next time.

Be careful what you wish for. While what you want is a scenic campus in Wine Country, what you may end up with is a campus surrounded by houses downwind from a quarry.

David Barnes, owner, Crows Pass Farm, Temecula

Shame On Supervisors Benoit, Tavaglione and Ashley
Temecula Patch, Wed., Sept. 5


What’s next? Fast-track a dump next to the quarry? A nuclear plant in Anza? Wind turbines along Highway 79? Guys, are you planning to follow CEQA laws?

Was there ever a doubt that we won? NO!

The final 3-2 vote to deny the Liberty Quarry project just south of Temecula stands. It cannot be undone. Granite Construction is still the loser.

Now, comes the slimy stuff: First, Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione’s flip-flop to the dark side to vote with his colleagues, Supervisors John Benoit and Marion Ashley, to certify the Environmental Impact Report for the project. Then, slick as can be, Granite Construction steps in with a revised, slightly smaller, application for a mine and wants to “fast track” it through the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. As “luck” would have it, they have a certified EIR. Not only has the music died, it is buried deep in a morass of lies and deceit.

Next move on this "BOS" chessboard, Benoit makes a motion to amend the existing fast-track ordinance to allow surface mines to be included. Liberty, by the way, is NOT a surface mine. It is a deep open pit mine. Then, what do you know, Tavaglione suggests, ”Why not fast-track other projects as well?”

No surprise, the next move was for the “Three Stooges” to vote in favor of the fast-track motion; Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster were the two dissenters. The final vote is still to come.

This arrogance is disturbing. If these three men are allowed to brazenly change the rules to satisfy Granite, what does that say about their integrity? It is disgusting and simply outrageous.

What’s next? Fast-track a dump next to the quarry? A nuclear plant in Anza? Wind turbines along Highway 79? Guys, are you planning to follow CEQA laws?

There are reasons for the current laws and rules, and ordinances are in place. There are reasons for sensitive projects like mines and landfills to be carefully evaluated as to their effects on the surrounding areas and communities. But you all know that. You just don’t care … and as such, you should not be representing the people. You just want to make the way easier for the “Granites” of this world.

I quote Gandhi, “There is sufficiency in this world for man’s need, but not for man’s greed."

Supervisors, what you do speaks louder than what you say.

Shame, shame on all of you.

Jerri Arganda, Rainbow resident



The Californian, Fri., Sept. 28
Time to Investigate
Greg Scharf

When I saw that the Riverside County supervisors had approved fast tracking for quarries, I couldn't help but think that Larry, Moe and Curly were in the room.

I suppose comparing Supervisors Marion Ashley, John Benoit and John Tavaglione to The Three Stooges is way out of line. After all, the Stooges made us laugh, and no one was laughing at the county supervisors' meeting this week ---- with the exception of Temecula City Council members Mike Naggar and Chuck Washington, who were snickering like schoolboys while resident Paul Jacobs addressed the supervisors.

Jacobs alleges that we would not be fighting this position of the county's fast tracking and recent approval of the environmental impact report had Temecula not mishandled some very important decisions.

His contention is that the Temecula City Council helped create this quarry monster by surrendering the city's sphere of influence to the Local Agency Formation Commission, and by not following up on Councilman Ron Roberts' suggestion in 2010 that they request a county grand jury investigation.

According to Jacobs, Temecula is the appropriate local government agency to annex the territory from city boundaries to the San Diego County line and should not have given up that power to the county, particularly involving the quarry site.

Yet, the city tabled Roberts' suggestion and voted 5-0 to surrender the sphere of influence over the area to LAFCO on July 13, 2010.

And when it became obvious that LAFCO wrongly protected a land-use project rather than the existing open space next to the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve that has existed since the 1960s, Temecula should have nipped it in the bud and sued LAFCO.

In terms of investigations, it does look curious that the fast-tracking reversed a series of hearings where the Planning Commission ruled 4-1 to deny Liberty Quarry, then not long ago, Tavaglione flip-flopped resulting in a 3-2 vote to approve the environmental impact report. Now Benoit wants it fast-tracked?

Eliminating due diligence for a project with such a huge impact?

Does that make sense?

While I'm not accusing anyone of wrongdoing, there would be nothing wrong with checking it out. It does seem that Granite Construction, particularly active in Benoit's jurisdiction, is getting a bit of favoritism by the county.

At the City Council meeting, the council threw back Jacobs' suggestion that the city file complaints with the grand jury, district attorney, state attorney general and the Department of Justice. The council stated if Jacobs had evidence, he should file one. However, reasonable suspicion, not evidence, should be the standard here. If someone saw a person trying to break into a car with a slim jim or coat hanger, it may well be the owner had locked himself out, but it could also be that someone was trying to steal it. Officers should be called, just in case.

The city's legal bills to stop the quarry is going to dwarf the $2.7 million budget surplus the council is crowing about.

Guys, I don't find that funny.

The Californian, Tues., Sept. 25
Job loss quarry should not be fast-tracked
Scott Perry

A small majority of out-of-area Riverside County Board of Supervisors, led by John Benoit, are betraying the public trust. They are poised to vote at Tuesday's meeting to allow surface mines and wind turbines to be fast-tracked.

This would expedite approval of the slightly revised Liberty Quarry mine project on Temecula's border.

The Riverside County Planning Commission, which rejected Liberty Quarry with a 4-1 vote, would not be able to hold valuable hearings that bring truth to light on these kinds of projects. The supervisors also rejected Liberty Quarry in February and May 2012, but certified the environmental impact report with a 3-2 vote.

This made no sense, except that it allowed for this sneak attack against the residents of the county both now and in the future.

The cozy relationship of Granite Construction and the county is an example of why we are slowly becoming the United States of Corporations.

Jobs are needed in the county. Fast-tracking can be a good idea, but only if a project can actually create jobs, can be in operation reasonably fast and is not environmentally controversial. The temporarily revised Liberty Quarry project would not meet any of the above three criteria.
First, the quarry project was proven to be a job killer during the county public hearings. There is no proven shortage of aggregate, both now and far into the future. Experts proved that new quarry jobs will just mean a loss of jobs at other quarries.

Daily blasting, dirty plants and 1,350 truck trips a day ---- all polluting the air ---- will force many of the existing and future high tech and clean air industries, to leave, or avoid investing in the area. More job losses.

Tourism, agricultural and real estate will be adversely effected. More job losses. The Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce came out against the project last year. Does the 1,000-plus member chamber not want jobs? Are they not more expert on local job creation than the Board of Supervisors?

The second criteria, that jobs should be created reasonably fast, cannot be met. Maybe fast-tracking can take off a few months from public hearings, but that won't change the fact that permits will be needed. The Air Quality Management District, the Army Corps of Engineers, water quality agencies, California School Lands Department, EPA and other agencies can not be fast-tracked by the county. Experts say these investigations and permits will take years.

The third criteria is that the project should not be environmentally controversial. One part of the ordinances that would first have to be amended Tuesday by the supervisors makes it clear that there should be "no possibility these actions may have a significant effect on the environment."
The one thing that was absolutely proven during the hearings was that the environment and health would be negatively effected (the experts included the American Lung Association and over 160 physicians).

Be at 4080 Lemon St., Riverside, Tuesday morning. Wear orange.

The Californian, Mon., Sept. 3
Whatever happened to justice?
Barbara Wilder

Whatever happened to justice? It did not make an appearance in Riverside County at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 31.

A large corporation, Granite Construction, may or may not have made deals with three Riverside County supervisors to win their vote on "fast-tracking" Granite's revised proposal to build Liberty Quarry south of Temecula. But who knows what kind of undue influence and pressure brought three of the five supervisors into Granite's camp.

After certifying Liberty Quarry's seriously flawed environmental impact report and, therefore, leaving the door open for Granite to come back with a quarry project in the same location ---- which it did immediately ---- Supervisor John Benoit then added insult to injury by proposing "fast-tracking" of this highly contentious project through the board. This quarry, with all its negative impacts, if "fast-tracked," will force vehemently opposed residents of Southwest County, who do not want this quarry overlooking Temecula, to accept the unacceptable.

The will of the people was completely overlooked. Justice was not served, only big business and greed. This decision reeks of "possible backroom deals" and undue political influence.

Anyone attending this meeting could not miss the outrageous pandering to Granite. Supervisor Benoit couldn't have been more obvious and transparent about being "Granite's Boy." Doesn't Supervisor Benoit realize that even the appearance of conflict of interest is all, and this very bad and contentious decision could haunt him the rest of his political life?

Why is Supervisor Benoit continuing to say he voted for the quarry because of "jobs," when it was proven over and over through multiple hearings that the greater truth is that it will simply be an exchange of jobs within the industry?

The potential for lost jobs is very high, however, because Temecula's Wine Country tourist destination could suffer due to pollution and fewer visitors. Pollution alone could stop people from moving to the Temecula area and cause housing and property values to plummet. Who wants to face gravel truck gridlock on Interstate 15 every day?

Why is Benoit meddling in Supervisor Jeff Stone's district with this "fast-tracking proposal" anyway? The supervisors are supposed to work together for the good of the entire county. With "fast-tracking," other harmful projects could be blithely passed through the board, without important public input and proper oversight ---- to heck with the consequences!

The lack of regard, and the prejudice toward Southwest County by these Northern Riverside County supervisors is totally obvious. It is my most fervent wish that if they force the quarry down our throats, that perhaps a nuclear facility, a prison, or landfill will be "fast-tracked" into Benoit's district, and his constituents will finally see the need to replace him.

Lady Justice, with her scales, is weeping under her blindfold because she knows there is no justice for the people in Southwest County, with Supervisor Benoit trying to control Riverside County.

BARBARA WILDER is a Temecula resident.


News Articles

City asks court to determine quarry EIR illegal
Mirna Alfonso, Temecula Patch, Fri., Sept. 28

The city of Temecula earlier this week filed a motion with the court to rule that the county acted illegally in certifying an Environmental Impact Report for the controversial Liberty Quarry project.

City officials contend that once the Riverside County Board of Supervisors rejected the proposal to build a large quarry on the outskirts of town, the EIR for that project should not have been certified.

Granite Construction Company, which proposed the quarry, has since reduced the scope of its proposal in the hope of having some sort of mining project approved.

"This Motion for Judgment relates to the City’s first cause of action in the lawsuit which alleges that the County erred in an attempt to certify the EIR after they denied the Project," City Attorney Peter Thorson wrote in a news release.

"Specifically, the City argues that CEQA does not apply to disapproved projects and thus the County lacked the discretionary authority to certify the EIR.

"This motion provides an opportunity for the Court to find that, under the law, certification of the EIR was improper."

The city hopes the court will make a speedy judgment on the illegality of the certification, thus making it void.

Granite Construction, which is trying to bring the strip mining operation to Temecula, has since reduced the scope of its proposal in the hope that the county will allow the project to move forward.

Thorson added that should the court find for the county, the lawsuit filed by Temecula will move forward.

Riverside County OKs quarries for fast track
Dave Downey, The Californian, Tues., Sept. 25

The stage is almost set for Granite Construction's scaled-down but still controversial quarry project near Temecula to be placed on a speedy path toward approval.

At the conclusion of a spirited three-hour meeting Tuesday, a bitterly divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to make surface mines eligible for fast-track review.

One more vote is required next week, followed by a 30-day waiting period for the measure to take effect.

Then the board could come back with a formal proposal to designate Liberty Quarry as a fast-track project. With that in place, a vote potentially approving the quarry could come in 90 days, with the project skipping a review by the Planning Commission and going straight to supervisors.

An angry Supervisor Jeff Stone asserted that Supervisor John Benoit, who initiated the policy change, was showing favoritism to a company with a big presence in his Palm Springs-area district.

"This is nothing more than a get-out-of-jail-free card for your friends at Granite Construction," Stone said.

He termed Liberty Quarry the "most divisive issue this board has ever seen."

The quarry is opposed by the city of Temecula, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, local business groups and many Southwest County residents. They fear the mine would damage the local economy and quality of life, while harming the environment.

Granite, labor unions and other supporters say the mine would bring much-needed jobs during a brutal recession and improve the air by replacing dirty trucks with cleaner ones.

Early this year, supervisors voted 3-2 to reject Granite's original plan to mine up to 5 million tons of rock annually for 75 years in the hills west of Interstate 15.

The project appeared dead.

But then the board took the unusual move in May to certify an environmental impact report for the rejected project. That 3-2 vote saw Supervisor John Tavaglione joining quarry supporters Marion Ashley and Benoit.

With the prospect of being able to use the existing report for a scaled-back operation, the company in July submitted an application for a new project. However, Temecula and a pair of environmental groups have sued to overturn the report's certification.

The new project calls for extracting a maximum of 4 million tons of rock a year for 50 years, while paying the county a fee per ton mined.

Supervisor Bob Buster, who joined Stone in opposition, asserted that the fast-track purpose is "to get to a vote of this board before the makeup of this board changes."

Tavaglione, who sided with the majority Tuesday and is believed to favor a scaled-down project, is running for Congress and could leave the board at year's end. It is believed that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, if given the opportunity, would fill a board vacancy with a liberal-leaning politician likely to oppose a quarry.

Some of 28 public speakers opposing the fast-track policy change criticized Benoit and Tavaglione.

In testimony that lasted two hours, there were also 19 people who gave the notion of fast-tracking quarries the thumbs up.

Benoit dismissed the criticism as unfair and misguided.

The supervisor said he was merely trying to speed up the process for a project he believes is good for all of Riverside County, including Temecula. He said Liberty Quarry would deliver cleaner air, because fewer gravel trucks bound for San Diego would come from Corona quarries and Granite trucks would be held to stricter pollution standards.

And he said having a nearby quarry would lower costs for local road projects that depend on its asphalt and concrete.

"There's no getting over it," Benoit said. "If you have to drive twice as far, it's going to drive the cost of aggregate up."

Benoit said the quarry also would provide about 100 local jobs, a figure opponents dispute.

Benoit maintained that Liberty Quarry is ideal for fast-track consideration, given the more than 80 hours of hearings held on the matter before the board and Planning Commission.

"To say that it has not been publicly vetted is a little disingenuous," he said.

Much of the criticism leveled at Benoit was a result of his initiating special consideration for an unpopular project in Stone's district, dozens of miles from his own.

Stone challenged Benoit to revise his proposal so specific fast-track projects may be generated only by the supervisor representing the affected district.

The majority declined.

The approved fast-track policy change does extend beyond surface mines, however, adding commercial wind turbines and large solar power plants to the list of eligible projects.

As for the testimony, much of it centered on the need for jobs, and whether Liberty Quarry would merely shift existing jobs from elsewhere in Riverside County.

Several opponents, including Buster, suggested it was premature to make surface mines eligible for fast-track review while a state panel is conducting a review of Riverside County's quarry operations, and the county's regulation of them.

"The prudent course of action would be for the board to wait until the (state) report is completed," said Courtney Ann Coyle, outside counsel for the Pechanga band.

Fast-Track Process Approved: Temecula Could Become A Pit, Official Warns
City News Service, Temecula Patch, Tues., Sept. 25

Following four hours of impassioned testimony and debate, a divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors today tentatively approved a plan to allow mining projects -- including one vigorously opposed by residents of the Temecula Valley -- to receive expedited scrutiny using a "fast-track" approval process.

"Don't put our beautiful landscape on the fast-track to becoming a pit," said Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington, one of more than three dozen people who addressed the board about the Liberty Quarry. "Why would you want to destroy the county's (southern) entrance?"

Washington and other quarry opponents easily outnumbered speakers in support of the strip mine, which, though not on the agenda, became the predominant subject as it pertains to fast-tracking.

Board Chairman John Tavaglione, along with Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit, voted in July to draft an ordinance that would qualify surface mining and reclamation projects for fast-track reviews. The same trio voted today to introduce the proposed ordinance, which is set to be formally adopted in the next few weeks.

Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster cast dissenting votes.

By Benoit's own admission, fast-tracking has a "direct relationship" to the Liberty Quarry.

"I have never wavered in my feeling since the end of the public hearings on that project that (it has) countywide benefits," Benoit said today.

The board 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, Tavaglione, sided with Ashley and 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, and the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original quarry.

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

At 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.

Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit 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.

Stone, whose district includes Temecula, urged the board to consider adding an amendment to the fast-track policy specifying that any project proposed for expedited review originate with the supervisor in whose district the project will be located.

Only Buster supported the motion.

Stone said he found it difficult to believe three of his four board colleagues were willing to ignore his constituents and place mining interests above those of residents.

"I feel I've been a good partner to each member of this board," the supervisor said. "I had a great working relationship with the late Supervisor Roy Wilson (Benoit's predecessor). I don't believe Roy Wilson would be trying to force his will on my constituents. Supervisor Benoit, whom I respect, has left me extremely disappointed and created the most divisive issue this board has seen."

Stone compared digging a quarry on the Temecula gateway to putting a strip mine in the hills fronting La Quinta.

"The people would be outraged with something like that scarring their landscape," he said.

Stone called the repeated references to the 100 or so jobs that might be created at the Liberty Quarry a "smoke-and-mirrors" pretext to make the project more appealing.

Members of several nationally affiliated trade unions voiced strong support for the quarry, and fast-tracking in general, for the sake of getting unemployed construction workers back on the job.

"This is the worst time in the history of the labor movement going back to the Great Depression," said union organizer John Smith. "Men are losing their homes, their health care. Some of our members have been out of work for five years. This country is weakened when people are not working."

Benoit called the day's proceedings "difficult" but reiterated his belief that the Temecula Valley mine would offer more advantages than disadvantages. He particularly liked the idea of trucks hauling construction- grade aggregate -- asphalt and gravel -- nearer to their project sites in southwest Riverside County and San Diego County.

"Aggregate would be transported a shorter distance," Benoit said. "If you have to transport it twice as far, the costs go up, there are more gravel trucks on the road and air quality is reduced."

Stone accused Benoit of acting to provide his "friends at Granite Construction with a 'get out of jail free' card" by keeping the Liberty Quarry project alive. Benoit, a former state legislator, has acknowledged receiving "modest" campaign contributions from the company.

At one point, Stone pleaded with Supervisor Marion Ashley to oppose the fast-tracking proposal, reminding him of the many times he had backed his colleague's initiatives in the fifth district.

"I've always been collegiate with the board," Stone said. "But all that goes down the drain unless we can show that we are fair."

Ashley replied that no supervisor should treat his district as if it were a "kingdom" and the supervisor is a "king."

Tavaglione, who is running for a congressional seat, said he would support implementing fast-track authorizations for "every damn project" possible, completely bypassing the planning commission, to bring down the county's 13 percent unemployment rate.

Temecula fires salvo in war against quarry
Mirna Alfonso, Temecula Patch, Fri., Sept. 21

In a news release issued Friday, Temecula city officials slammed a proposal to place a modified Liberty Quarry on a fast track to approval.

Placing a proposed quarry -- albeit modified -- on a fast track to approval would be devastating to Temecula and surrounding areas, the city manager said Friday.

Granite Construction, which had been defeated by the city and also the Riverside County Planning Commission in its bid to build a quarry on the outskirts of Temecula, has come back with a modified plan.

The original proposed project was reduced when Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to place surface mines on the list of projects that can bypass county planning commission scrutiny.

The process -- those projects can head straight to county supervisors -- is called "fast-tracking."

"The proposed Liberty Quarry project can’t be viewed in the same manner as building a building on a piece of property," City Manager Bob Johnson wrote in a news release.

"This project will forever destroy a mountain, alter the natural environment -- including air quality, to the detriment of our region ... and obliterate the Luiseño Indian Creation Area among many other impacts."

The heavily opposed Liberty Quarry mining project near Temecula would be among those projects using a "fast-track" process.

"Local governments sometimes use the fast-track process as an economic development tool that can reduce steps in the planning process for a project," the city manager wrote.

Johnson added that the fast-track process limits public review and that such a consequence is intended.

"How can this proposal even be taken seriously in a time when government transparency and confidence in the decision making of elected officials is so important?"

The city manager said the supervisors want to eliminate the county Planning Commission from the process.

"The County Planning Commissioners have familiarity and expertise with development issues and the importance of their role should not be overlooked," Johnson wrote.

"How could a project of such magnitude not be given the standard review by their appointed Planning Commission?"

Granite construction's claim that new jobs will be created by its proposed project is specious, Johnson said.

"Not so," Johnson said of the new-jobs claim.

"Granite Construction’s economist acknowledged that new quarries do not create new demand for construction material -- Liberty Quarry would instead shift material sales (and their respective jobs) away from existing quarries in the County.

"Even worse, the Liberty Quarry owner/operator, Granite Construction, is a contractor and will not pay sales tax on their material so Liberty Quarry takes tax revenues away from the County."

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.

Watsonville-based Granite Construction, which is proposing the quarry, has said it would charge 20 cents per ton at the gate, expecting to raise up to $800,000 per year.

Even if it was guaranteed to come back to Temecula Valley, said Johnson, "it doesn’t put even a dent in the $3.6 billion loss to our region if this massive mine is approved."

Quarry fast-track returns to county board
Dave Downey, The Californian, Thurs., Sept. 20

A proposal to add surface mines to the list of development projects eligible for fast-track reviews ---- with implications for the proposed quarry near Temecula ---- is back on the agenda.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is set to take up the matter next week.

The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday in the first-floor auditorium of the County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside.

If approved, the measure would set the stage for accelerated review of Granite Construction's new, scaled-down plan for a quarry south of Temecula, although additional approvals would be required.

During a heated July 31 meeting, Supervisor John Benoit proposed making surface mines eligible. And the board narrowly voted ---- with Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster opposed ---- to direct the county staff to come back with a formal proposal to accomplish that.

After looking into the request, the Planning Department and county counsel's office is returning with a proposal to make both surface mines and wind power projects eligible.

Under the fast-track policy, projects skip otherwise-required Planning Commission hearings and go straight to the board.

But the board's approval next week wouldn't by itself put Granite's Liberty Quarry on an accelerated course. According to a staff report, supervisors would need to green light the change one more time. Then the revision would take 30 days to become effective.

And then the county would have to come back with a separate measure to specifically authorize fast-track consideration of Liberty Quarry.

The original project called for mining up to 5 million tons of rock a year for 75 years in the hills west of Interstate 15. It was rejected in a 3-2 board vote last February.

But in May, the board certified the project's environmental study.

And in July, Granite submitted plans for a revised project that would mine 4 million tons a year and call it quits after half a century, and pay the county a fee based on the amount extracted.

Project opponents loudly protested the notion of allowing fast-track reviews for quarries in July, and intend to do so again Tuesday.

Fred Bartz, a member of the Save Our Southwest Hills group that opposes the quarry, said he plans to attend.

"A surface mining project is not the type of project which should be fast-tracked," Bartz said by email. "The county needs to take the time to fully understand the impacts."

Temecula Councilman Mike Naggar said he also intends to speak, as he believes accelerated review is inappropriate.

"The project was denied. Certifying the EIR was at best very strange, and at worse illegal," Naggar said by telephone. "Now bringing back the concept of fast-tracking surface mining, which by its very nature is complex and certainly wherever it goes has a significant impact on the environment, would seem that this is just one supervisor's way of poking Temecula in the eye."

Temecula has filed suit in a bid to nullify the environmental report, and force the preparation of a new one.

Benoit, who brought the fast-track item forward earlier, said he doesn't "have it out for the city of Temecula."

Rather, he said he believes the project is a good one.

"We're going to take a lot of trucks off the road and the ones that are still there are going to be a lot cleaner," Benoit said. "I remain convinced that this a good project for Riverside County."

And he said the board and Planning Commission have heard countless hours of testimony about the quarry.

"It's hard to say that this project has not been thoroughly vetted in a very public process," Benoit said.

Granite welcomed the proposal to speed the review process for projects like Liberty Quarry.

Company spokeswoman Karie Reuther said making surface mines eligible for fast track not only is appropriate, it could be a boost for the economy.

"We think it's good for the region," Reuther said. "The construction industry has really been hit hard by the recession we are in."

Revisions to County Fast Track Policy Leave Out Surface Mines
Temecula Patch, Thurs., Sept. 13

Not to be confused with an item some have said would aid Granite Construction's plans for Liberty Quarry south of Temecula, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors this week approved an amendment to its "fast track" policy.

Developers hoping to expedite the permitting process for their projects using the county's "fast track" policy could get ahead by hiring unemployed military veterans and other workers, under amendments to the policy approved today by the Board of Supervisors.

In a 4-0 vote on Tuesday, with Supervisor Jeff Stone absent, the board enacted revisions to policy A-32, which establishes guidelines for projects to qualify for fast-track approval.

The amendments did not involve surface mine permits, which is the sort of permit that Granite Construction was seeking for the Liberty Quarry project, according to Ray Smith, county information officer.

"Adding a surface mines category to the projects eligible for fast track consideration would require ordinance amendments that still must go before the board," Smith said, noting he did not immediately know of a date the proposed item might return to the board.

The original policy made no mention of hiring practices, but board Chairman John Tavaglione proposed a change in light of findings that many military veterans are having trouble finding work.

"A number of veterans are returning from overseas and finding themselves unemployed for an extended period of time," Tavaglione said. "Some of them are going into default on their homes. It's very, very unfortunate. We need to do what we can for our veterans."

According to the revised policy, in order for a developer to be fast- track-eligible, the company must commit to giving preferential consideration to "individuals who have served in the United States armed forces, or those who have been unemployed for six months or more due to economic conditions."

The county's unemployment rate is around 13 percent.

In addition to the veteran and dislocated worker requirement, the amended policy also mandates that a developer -- "whenever possible" -- hire construction contractors or consultants who are based in Riverside County.

Under the updated policy, companies planning renewable energy projects, or manufacturing facilities that turn out "clean green" products, will qualify for fast-track consideration.

The policy previously gave priority consideration to child care centers, large-scale residential and commercial developments and public housing projects.

The policy states that, when the county's unemployment rate is above 6 percent, an applicant can seek fast-track approval if his proposed project will create 40 new, permanent full-time jobs or will generate $12.5 million in annual taxable sales.

The director of the county's Economic Development Agency ultimately decides what projects are entitled to expedited handling.

Once fast-track status is granted, developers' applications, site plans and other documents needed for project approval undergo an accelerated review by an ad hoc Land Development Committee. The goal is to have any land-use hearings before the Board of Supervisors within 90 days.

Issues that could disrupt the timetable include the need for an environmental impact report, as well as potential conflicts with the county's Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.


Fast track changes on supervisors' agenda
Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, Mon., Sept. 10

Riverside County could require commercial and industrial projects on a fast track for approval to hire veterans or the long-term unemployed and use local contractors.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 11, will consider adding those requirements to the county’s fast-track process. A separate item would lay the groundwork for supervisors to approve special agreements with developers whose projects are deemed to have a substantial public benefit.

Fast tracking allows projects to receive a quicker review from county planning staff. They also can bypass the Planning Commission and go directly to supervisors for approval.

The changes proposed by Supervisor John Tavaglione aren’t the same as revisions allowing surface mines like the proposed Liberty Quarry to be fast-tracked, said county spokesman Ray Smith. “Even if this is approved, the amendments to ordinances still must come to the board before mining operations are eligible for fast-tracking,” he said.

Opponents of the Temecula-area quarry don’t want a fast track for the open-pit mine. Supporters say it’s the exactly the type of project that should be fast-tracked.

Tavaglione, a Republican running for Congress, outraged quarry critics in May by voting to reject the first quarry proposal, and then voting later to certify its environmental impact report. That allowed a revised quarry plan to come back with a clearer path to approval, opponents said.
Tavaglione has said he voted to certify the report because he didn't have any problems with it, and he knows how long it takes and how expensive it is to prepare those studies. Campaign donations had nothing to do with his votes, he said.

In an e-mail, Tavaglione wrote he was requesting the fast-track changes to promote local jobs. But Mark Takano, Tavaglione’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election, sees another agenda.

“After taking public heat for his brazen flip-flopping, he’s now laying the groundwork to sneak the fast-tracking of Liberty Quarry behind voters’ backs,” Takano said in an e-mail. “Riverside County voters deserve leaders who listen to the needs of their constituents, not the desires of their donors.”

Bill Blankenship, deputy director of the county chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, supports the proposed changes. “It’s always so much better to incentivize your local business community to do things rather than mandating them,” he said.

County policy allows fast-tracking for commercial and industrial projects if the county unemployment rate is more than 6 percent. It’s currently 11.8 percent. Projects also must meet at least one criteria from a list. For example, they must create 40 full-time, permanent jobs or generate at least $12.5 million in annual taxable sales.

Tavaglione’s changes would require developers to hire county-based contractors and development consultants whenever possible. Developers also would commit to hiring preferences for veterans or those who have been unemployed for at least six months.

Renewable energy projects and manufacturing facilities for new clean/green products also would be added to the list of projects that could be fast-tracked under Tavaglione’s plan.

Another item on Tuesday’s agenda sets up the legal framework for development agreements between the county and developers of commercial and industrial projects. The agreements give developers certainty over what they can build on their land, Blankenship said.

Retail centers, business parks and offices, industrial parks and warehouses are among the projects that would be eligible for agreements, which would apply to already-approved projects or those going through the planning pipeline.

The projects must provide significant public benefits, such as a lot of jobs or public infrastructure above and beyond what’s required to mitigate a project’s impact, read a county staff report. Supervisors can consider the agreements on a case-by-case basis, the report added.

The board’s 9 a.m. meeting is at the County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St. in Riverside.

Pechanga Tribe keeping its options open
Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, Sat., Sept. 1

As much as they don’t want the proposed Liberty Quarry to be built, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians isn’t saying exactly – at least for now – how they plan to fight the Temecula-area gravel mine.

The tribe believes the quarry, sought for a 414-acre site between Temecula and the San Diego County line, will obliterate a sacred site comparable to the Biblical Garden of Eden. Tribal officials last year got a Long Beach assemblywoman to sponsor legislation in Sacramento to kill the quarry.

The bill languished as the county Board of Supervisors earlier this year voted to reject the quarry. But to quarry critics’ shock and anger, the board certified the quarry’s environmental study and started the process to put a new quarry application on the fast track for approval.

Speculation mounted that the politically influential tribe – one of the state’s biggest campaign contributors – would revive the state anti-quarry bill. That didn’t happen by the time the 2011-12 legislative session ended Friday.

But tribal Chairman Mark Macarro didn’t rule out anything out. “Some people would like to ignore that we have been here since the beginning,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

“We will use every means at our disposal for as long as it takes to stop the desecration of our creation area, including litigation, legislation, and other actions. For us, this is not a temporary project or issue.”



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