The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt a fast-track permitting system, a measure originally intended to speed up reconsideration of a massive rock quarry near Temecula that was rejected this year.
The company proposing the controversial open-pit rock mine last week submitted a revised application for the quarry, reducing the size and volunteering to pay a new fee that would raise millions in revenue for the county.
The supervisors voted 3-2 to begin drafting a new fast-track permitting procedure for surface mines and other major developments. The proposal, which initially applied only to mines, is expected to come back before the board in late August.
The Liberty Quarry, proposed by Granite Construction of Watsonville, met with strong opposition from Temecula and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.
The firm wanted to develop a 414-acre rock quarry operation on a mountain that looms over Interstate 15. It would have mined 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. The company’s latest proposal reduced the life of the mine to 50 years and lowered the amount of granite to be mined.
Temecula Councilwoman Maryann Edwards criticized Supervisor John Benoit, who wrote the fast-track measure, saying he was doing the bidding of Granite Construction, one of his major campaign contributors. Benoit dismissed the criticism, saying the contributions totalled less than $7,000.
Edwards also criticized the board for considering the measure, saying that Riverside was no longer Southern California's dumping ground with only "meth labs and chicken slaughter houses.” Like the rest of the Temecula City Council, Edwards said dust and increased pollution from the quarry would threaten the health of residents and devastate wineries and other economic foundations of southwest Riverside County.
“I’m embarrassed for this body and the county I call home," she told the supervisors before the vote.
Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, told the supervisors that the mountain that Granite wants to mine is part of a range where Luiseño people believe life was created. He urged the board to reject the fast-track proposal.
Supervisor John Tavaglione was the swing vote on the five-member board. In February, he joined supervisors Jeff Stone of Temecula and Bob Buster of Riverside in voting against the quarry. On Tuesday, he joined Benoit of Indio and Supervisor Marion Ashley of Perris in favoring the fast-track process.
Tavaglione bristled at the suggestion that campaign contributions, or politics, influenced his vote. He did say, however, that he was “threatened” politically when the quarry came up for a vote earlier in the year, but did not disclose who tried to pressure him. He said his only priority is creating jobs in a county leveled by the recession.
Tavaglione, a Republican from Riverside, is running for the House of Representatives against Democrat Mark Takano.
During the hearing, Stone suggested that quarry supporters wanted the supervisors to reconsider the proposed mine before Tavaglione would leave for Washington, if elected. Stone said mine supporters feared that Gov. Jerry Brown, who would choose Tavaglione's successor, would appoint a supervisor less likely to support the quarry.
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-- Phil Willon in Riverside
Photo: Karie Ruther and Gary Nolan of Granite Construction Co. at the proposed site of the Liberty Quarry, beside Interstate 15 near Temecula. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times