In front of more than 100 people who were sharing hugs and smiles—and with Pu`eska Mountain as a backdrop—tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Marc Macarro officially announced during an impromptu news conference Thursday that the tribe closed escrow on 365 acres of land that was the site of the much-contested Liberty Quarry owned by Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction.
Macarro said Pechanga has no intention of developing the land, which was purchased at a sale price of $3 million. As part of the negotiation, the tribe agreed to pay Granite an additional $17.3 million through a comprehensive settlement.
Due to legal issues, the tribe was not able to disclose the deal until escrow closed Thursday, Macarro said during the news conference held on the rooftop of a Pechanga Resort & Casino parking structure.
“The story of this mountain is not over,” Macarro told the crowd as he looked over to Pu`eska, the site of the proposed quarry. He said the nearly seven-year fight over the quarry should serve as a reminder of what it means to be good stewards of land.
The Liberty Quarry project, which Macarro said would have encompassed 90 square miles, was bitterly challenged by many Temeculans, who argued the mining operation would have blighted nearby hillsides, caused increased pollution and traffic, and was not a great job creator or a necessary service.
The quarry’s main product would have been aggregate, and Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster said the bulk of it would have gone to San Diego, which he claims can now meet its demands for the rock.
Tribal leaders, along with City of Temecula council members Maryann Edwards, Mike Naggar and Jeff Comerchero, as well as Buster and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, were on hand for Thursday’s news conference. Dozens of anti-quarry activists donning their orange caps and shirts also showed up.
Temecula resident Kathleen Hamilton has been hailed as the lead organizer on the anti-quarry movement, and she told Patch that Thursday was indeed a very good day.
“It’s done,” she said with a long, smiling sigh.
Rainbow resident Jerri Arganda, who has also fought the seven-year battle against the quarry alongside Hamilton, said, “This means peace. We don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next.”
As part of the settlement announced Thursday, Granite has agreed that through 2035, it will not own or operate a quarry within a six-mile radius to the north of the property along the Riverside-San Diego County border and three miles to the south.
Supervisors Stone and Buster have both opposed the quarry despite votes from their colleagues in support of the mining operation. Buster said the fight against the quarry was the greatest grassroots effort he has witnessed during his tenure and said Thursday’s news serves as a reminder that the county has to do a better job of balancing economic interests with environmental concerns in the short- and long-term.
“[The tribe’s] reverence for their lands should inform all of us in the future,” he said.
The tribe has maintained Pu`eska Mountain is sacred Indian burial ground.
“The debacle of democracy has been corrected," Stone said. "When the citizens speak they need to be heard and in the case of Temecula, they need to be reckoned with.”
The City of Temecula, which has also opposed the quarry, has filed lawsuits over the issue, including a suit that claims the county erred in certifying an Environmental Impact Report for the project after it was first rejected by the board of supervisors.
Temecula's Mayor Pro Tem Mike Naggar said council members will now need to meet with staff to discuss the pending litigation.
“There were a lot of city resources going to legal fees,” Naggar said. “We can now stand down.”
As for the suit against the county, Naggar said the city will need to look at its options.