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Riverside quarry proposal kicks up dust at hearing

January 30, 2012 |  2:57 pm

Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, is trying to prevent a quarry proposed for a site, 500 yards from the Pechanga reservation, that his people consider sacred.

The controversy stirred up by a proposed rock quarry on a mountain overlooking the Temecula Valley had busloads of union members clashing with caravans of neon-shirt-wearing neighborhood groups at a public hearing Monday.

Supporters, including the union members, touted the 99 high-paying jobs that the massive rock mine would bring to the recession-flattened Inland Empire. Temecula Mayor Chuck Washington, one of many voices in opposition, said the project would poison the valley’s air and devastate the valley’s tourist-dependent economy.

“It’s tantamount to being a friend of cancer,’’ Washington told the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, which convened the hearing. He punctuated his remarks by saying a new, yet-to-be-released health study sponsored by the city shows that the quarry would lead to 146 premature deaths in the Temecula Valley, many respiratory-related.

Gary Johnson of Granite Construction, the Watsonville-based firm proposing the quarry, called Washington’s allegations ludicrous. He said the Southern California Air Quality Management District found the rock mine would reduce truck traffic on highways and, ultimately, improve regional air quality.

The highly charged debate has attracted so much interest that the supervisors held the hearing in a cavernous hall at the Riverside Convention Center, which was filled to near capacity. After a full day of testimony Monday, the supervisors will reconvene the hearing in a week.

In September, the Riverside County Planning Commission rejected the application for the Liberty Quarry, amid strong opposition from Temecula and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

Granite appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors. The company wants to develop a 414-acre quarry on a mountain peak looming over I-15 that the band says is within one of the most sacred sites for all Luiseño people.

The proposed Liberty Quarry would mine about 270 million tons of granite from the mountain over the next 75 years, supplying concrete and asphalt to fast-growing northern San Diego County and southwest Riverside County.

Pechanga tribal Chairman Mark Macarro on Monday told the supervisors that the peak, Pu`eska Mountain, is part of a range where Luiseño people believe life was created. He said it is akin to the Garden of Eden for Christians.

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-- Phil Willon

Photo: Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, is trying to prevent a quarry proposed for a site, 500 yards from the Pechanga reservation, that his people consider sacred. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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