Riverside County votes 3-2 to block contested strip mine near Temecula

Santa Margarita River flows through heart of the 4,600-acre Ecological Reserve near Temecula
Santa Margarita River flows through heart of the 4,600-acre Ecological Reserve near Temecula
Steven Cuevas/KPCC

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Riverside County supervisors have said no to a controversial rock quarry near the city of Temecula. A mining company wanted a 75-year permit to blast and crush rock there for building materials. Supervisors voted 3-to-2 to reject the project.

Northern California company Granite Construction wanted to carve the 1,000 foot-deep Liberty Quarry into the hills above Temecula. Most of the extracted rock would be exported for use in San Diego County.

That’s one reason about 40,000 people signed petitions against the project. Critics, including Temecula city leaders, physicians and homeowners associations, also believe the mile-wide quarry would have caused irreversible damage to the environment, and harmed tourism as well.

“Riverside County has long been concerned about being the utility basement for the rest of Southern California,” said supervisor Bob Buster before Thursday’s vote.

Buster voted to deny the quarry’s permit. He fretted about the impact to the region’s wine country and its rural image.

“Why shouldn’t there be mitigation to deal with that damage to that perception of beauty, its quietude?” said Buster.

“Our planning commission specifically said it would provide more benefit to San Diego County than Riverside. This represents an environmental injustice to Riverside County and yet there (would be) huge dollars flowing to Granite.”

Before the final vote, project manager Gary Johnson argued that the quarry would also help fill Riverside County’s need for building material – and that dust and diesel truck emissions would be strictly monitored.

“South Coast air district requires annual emission tests. There are a number of agencies overseeing this on a continual basis,” said Johnson. “And even of we have a permit that’s 75 years the agencies, if we’re not adhering to permit conditions, they can shut us down absolutely.”

Supporters included local chambers of commerce, numerous city councils, labor unions and many people who were out of work. Granite promised the quarry would create hundreds of jobs and millions in annual tax revenue. Shawn Winn, who lives in the Temecula Valley, was among those counting on the quarry’s approval.

“I was out for 2 years. I just went to work for like a month, and that went to hell,” Winn said at last week’s quarry hearing.

“We just wanna work. Stand on our own two feet, break a sweat, go home and have that barbecue with the family on the weekend. Can’t do it if none of us (are) workin’. Without that there’s gonna be a lot more people losing.”

Supervisor Jeff Stone said there was no guarantee that Riverside county workers would get those jobs.

Other objections came from Pechanga tribal chairman Mark Macarro. He says even if the quarry did live up to those promises, it would still leave a permanent scar on land his people consider sacred ground.

“We are anti-annihilation of the mountain,” said Macarro. “Once the material is eviscerated from the mountain, it’s gone. That is not how we treat something we religiously revere.”

Granite Construction had been pushing this project for seven years. It’s not clear what they’ll do next.

The company fought a lengthy court battle to win approval for a much smaller quarry in San Diego County after its permits were initially denied.