Debate begins over legislation that could block controversial Temecula rock quarry

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Steven Cuevas/KPCC

Granite Construction operations manager Gary Johnson at Rosemary Quarry near Temecula

A California state Senate resources committee is considering a measure from Long Beach Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal that could block a contested Temecula granite mine. The proposed Liberty Quarry would carve into the foothills a few miles south of the city.

The proposed law would prevent hard rock mining within one mile of an Indian reservation, and nearly three miles from any Native American sacred site. The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians opposes the 135-acre Liberty Quarry, saying that it would desecrate land that’s part of the tribe’s story of creation. The quarry would also be adjacent to the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, whose staff and supporters oppose it.

"Obviously it’s a sensitive issue," says University of San Diego biologist Matt Rahn, "and I don’t think there’s appropriate mitigation to be able to offset those types of impacts.” Rahn is the reserve’s director.

“Typically the best strategy for protection is not telling people about it," Rahn says. "And it wasn’t until this proposed mine came in that the Pechanga people felt like they had to tell the story and let people know how sensitive and how important the property is to them.”

Liberty Quarry officials insist the project poses no threat to the reserve or to any culturally sensitive sites. They also trumpet the hundreds of high-paying jobs the project would create over several decades of mining.

State lawmakers could vote on the Lowenthal bill before Riverside County officials even have a chance to make a final decision on the project. County planners are expected to make their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors next week, followed by another round of public hearings.

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