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Fast-Track Process Approved For Mining, Other Projects

Tuesday the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to tentatively approve fast-tracking of projects, including mining.

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.

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 desert 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.

Ray A September 26, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Shame on the Supervisors who voted against the will of the doctors, the children, our native American brothers and sisters, our environment, and the quality of life in the Temecula valley. Shame... This is opening the gate to strip mining our hills, and destroying the aesthetics of environmentally sensitive grounds. They buy the land and destroy it forever. They are not stewards of the land, they will rape and denigrate these hills forever. The traffic problems will be significant for everybody. This is a sad day for our community. I hope everybody remembers the names of the Supervisors who have betrayed us. They deserve to be voted out.
Roberto September 26, 2012 at 04:45 AM
They made a mockery of democracy. Never again should anyone hold office that has a direct interest and votes. This is nothing more than legalized corruption. Instead of handing them a get out of jail free card I say they be tried for influence peddling and voting with a conflict of interest. this is nothing more than white collar crime.
Constant Comment September 26, 2012 at 05:01 AM
This is the very meaning of 'DIRTY' politics! }~(
Martha L. Bridges September 26, 2012 at 01:05 PM
The Supervisors who voted for this not only furthered the interests of supporters of the Liberty Quarry project, but by putting this "fast track" policy in place will leave the door wide open for other damaging and dangerous projects. The false promise of a few jobs is nothing compared to the long term effects of such mining projects on our environment and the public's health. Quarry opponents, the Pechanga Tribe and major environmental groups will now be left with only the option of using the courts to correct this terrible injustice. While weakened by recent decisions, CEQA may well be the only protection left to us. And the voters should begin plans now to remove the offending Supervisors from office at the first opportunity. They have shown clearly that they represent their own self interests, not ours.
David Pereira September 26, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Why was your all mighty Buster sitting on his hands like a little kid while the real men were running circles around him? I'm sorrry but your orange farmer has no balls
Ray A September 26, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Bob Buster has been unequivocal in his opposition to Liberty Quarry from the very beginning. Travaglione is the one who caved and changed his vote. Ashley and Benoit have been fighting for Granite Construction from the get go. Hundreds of hours of testimony for and against this project took place last summer and the opponents prevailed with the unwavering support of Supervisor Buster. I think Supervisor Buster did everything he could to oppose this God forsaken project. Where is the criticism of the three Supes that are voting with Granite Const? Where is Kevin Jeffries on this issue?
Reverend Smith September 26, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Let's face it. Liberty was always going to have their way. Monied corporate interests always do. The "defeat" of Liberty at the Riverside Convention Center was just a photo-op for the sups. But they weren't going to let the opportunity to score points with the ones who will be there with the sack of silver in their future campaigns. Those corporate donors are all watching and the will only back the puppet they can manipulate through their purse strings. They're all hoping the hoopla's over now and they can quickly "fast track" the project before the citizens can mobilize against it again. They're probably right.
David Pereira September 26, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Ray, Buster is the sup for the area I live in, that's why you see me criticizing him and not the others. I know he's been against the mine, as have the rest of us. What I was stating is that his opposition was worthless. He has zero power on that board and it shows. I'm not saying that the overweight jefferies is any better either, I'm just saying I wish the guy had either some balls to throw some weight around or the skill-set to work with his colleagues to persuade them to see his way, not the other way around.
Ray A September 26, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Thanks for the clarification David. Buster is my area sup and I am just as disgusted with the bunch as you are. I think if any of these officials have taken money from Granite Const.that they should have to recuse themselves from voting on Liberty Quarry. If they have taken money and voted in favor, they should be arrested and charged with accepting bribes. But the system stinks and our officials are not constrained by ethics or the law. The system is little more than organized crime. I don't know how these individuals live with themselves.
Constant Comment September 26, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Are you trying to tell me that this isn't paradise after all? }~0
Roberto September 27, 2012 at 02:59 AM
We need a wholesale change of the Board of Supes, I don't who you are or what we think you did, this was orchestrated to destroy out communities by greed and corruption. We don't know and never will if the was set up to ensure re-election of certain supes whilst others wait to see if time wounds these heels when it's their turn for re-election..
Steve Roudebush September 27, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Is this why the GOP wants to send rights back to the States and Municipalities? This is a mockery of justice! Vote the supes who are in the special interests back pockets OUT OF OFFICE!
andy September 27, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Pro Business GOP Hard at Work! Hope you folks are happy with your local Republican Party Reps! Had this been a "green party" or democratic party run county this would NEVER have happened. I've sure you folks have a dumb answer but this is what it comes down to - an unwanted business that pollutes and disfigures the local environment is shoved down the community's throat. Go GOP!
Roberto September 27, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Look at the City of Bell. You think these crooks were republicans?
andy September 27, 2012 at 03:12 AM
I don't know, I don't have property there, but -Was there an open mine in BELL?
Katheryn September 27, 2012 at 04:19 PM
A good friend sent this and said the following: "Do you think this is what happens when a mining operator/Developer seems to be in control of your elected politicians and the appointed officials these same politicians put in positions of authority. Do you think government employees have to follow the instructions of these same politicians in order to keep their government jobs? Do you wonder if someone would be fired if they didn't do what the politicians wanted them to do?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m_HypxyudI&feature=relmfu Have you seen the MaryAnn Edwards video featuring the Aberhill Ranch Boys and Girls Club with Castle & Cookes aggregate mining operation in the background it's across the street. Paul Jacobs may be onto something? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhckrqXX-L4 Another video of the Alberhill Ranch Boys and Girls Club which puts things in prospective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e12kTmWvn7U&feature=related
Michelle Randall September 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I'm a little interested in exactly what action you expected Supervisor Buster to have taken. He stood firmly against the mine, but he's only one of five.The system works on a majority vote and he was flat out-voted. As far as his ability to handle tough issues goes, I can sure speak about the Synagro (that stinking sludge composting facility that used to be in the Temescal Valley) issue. Supervisor Buster did not knuckle under to the federal pressure from Ken Calvert in spite of the FBI actually raiding the Board of Supervisors. He did not knuckle under to state pressure from the state Waste Management Dept. and he did not knuckle under to Orange County officials who wanted to send their sludge to us. I remember at one hearing when Orange County addressed the Board in favor of Synagro's illegal operation. Supervisor Buster listened, then just roared, "Aren't you the people who have poisoned your own beaches?" I sympathise with you guys, but our Supervisor has plenty of what it takes.

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