Temecula races to annex quarry land


Last updated 2/21/2008 at Noon

Though only moving at a turtle’s pace, the race is too close to call. On February 12, the City of Temecula announced their plan to annex 4,900 acres of unincorporated land is in its final stage.

The announcement came as Granite Construction Inc., a mining and construction company, was finishing the last report it needs to obtain surface mining permits for the same piece of land. The two entities have been competing for rights to the same area since the city began planning to annex it last March.

Now the two entities are racing through their own sets of red tape to be the first to win rights to the land.

Critics of the city’s decision said the annexation is an attempt to stop a mining company from opening a granite quarry within the site.

Proponents of the city’s annexation have said the decision is part of an ongoing attempt to preserve the “pristine” hills that surround the city.

Opponents of the mining project – called Liberty Quarry – who came to City Hall to hear the announcement applauded the city’s actions.

“We’re very excited. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Kathleen Hamilton, president of Save Our Southwest Hills (SOS-Hills), a quarry opposition group, in an interview after the announcement.

A long way to go

Granite is currently finishing its “draft environmental impact report,” the same report the city finished this week.

“There are just a few pieces we’re putting together,” Karie Reuther, the spokesperson for Granite, said of the report.

The next step for the reports from both Granite and the city is the same. The entities will display their plans for 45 days so the public can comment on them.

The city put their reports out for public comment this week. Granite expects to do the same by May.

Both Granite and the city are required to address the concerns of residents who comment on the plan. This makes predicting the completion date of the process impossible, Steve Brown, the city’s principle planner, said at the announcement.

“If we find there is a preponderance of comments on <a certain aspect of the plan> staff will spend 30 days working on a new plan,” Brown said.

Though the city has a three-month lead, it has a big test ahead of it, said Reuther. The city needs to win the approval of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), a county agency in charge of monitoring city building.

“It depends on the pace their project goes through and if LAFCO approves it,” said Reuther of the city’s lead. “It could take a while or it could go very quickly.”

Granite is not required to go through this process.

To the victor go the spoils

If Granite stakes their claim on the land first, they will bore a 311-acre open-pit mine into a secluded hillside.

When Temecula later annexes the area, little will change for Granite except to whom they pay their taxes, Reuther said.

The quarry will create 100 high-wage jobs, pay $41 million in fees upon construction and pay more than $300 million more in taxes over the life of the quarry, she said.

If Temecula annexes the land first, however, the city will probably refuse to grant Granite surface mining permits, said Reuther.

Mayor Mike Naggar and Mayor pro-tem Maryanne Edwards showed opposition to the quarry by speaking at an anti-quarry rally last March, though they told the audience they were not there as representatives of the city.

Though the City of Temecula would receive only a modicum of the tax revenue the quarry would generate, it would suffer all the negative impacts of the quarry, Naggar told the crowd of more than 1,000 people last March.

Councilmembers have suggested creating a nature preserve on the land. The preserve would protect the area’s endangered mountain lion population and the purity of the Santa Margarita River, the last free-flowing river in Southern California, Edwards said in an e-mail.

The piece of land borders Temecula to its north and, to its west, the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, which critics say will be negatively impacted by the quarry.

Temecula will give residents access to the preserve, which will connect with the city’s trails system, Edwards said.

In addition, the city will open a visitor’s center, which will showcase the work scientists at the University of San Diego have been doing at the reserve.

“The land involved…would provide invaluable open space at the city’s southern border and would provide the final and only link that would connect two habitat corridors,” Edwards said.

“It’s exciting to know that it’s in the works. Waiting is the hardest part,” Jerri Arganda, a SOS-Hills board member, said after the announcement.

Nobody can predict who will finish wading through the bureaucracy first, Reuther said. “The process is anything but clear-cut.”

Reuther expects the county to render a decision as soon as November. The city expects LAFCO to render a decision as soon as October.


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