Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Temecula's annexation 'redo' request denied by regional agency

Temecula’s bid to annex more than 4,500 acres of granite-strewn hills south of its boundary has been soundly rejected a second time, but the reviewing agency said it would fast-track a future review if the city opts to try again.

“That kind of left the door open for us if we want to come back,” Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards said after the September 24 decision by the Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

Edwards and Bob Johnson, an assistant Temecula city manager, expressed disappointment over the decision.

According to Edwards, city leaders have not yet decided whether to abandon their annexation effort or continue to press for an approval.

“We kind of want to let everything settle out,” she said in a telephone interview. “Our goals haven’t changed. We still want to obtain that open space.”

Clif Hewlett, a foe of a proposed granite mine that was intertwined with the annexation proposal, called the decision “a procedural travesty.”

A spokeswoman for Granite Construction Co., which hopes to extract 270 million tons of sand, gravel and other materials from an area south of the city over a 75-year period, praised the 6-1 decision by the oversight panel.

“We support the decision and hope we can work with Temecula to find some common ground,” said Karie Reuther, director of community relations for Granite, which operates mines in the Indio and Pala areas.

It was a costly fight for both sides as they battled to a stalemate on the annexation effort. Together they spent more than $650,000 on planning measures, attorney fees, environment studies and other costs, according to records and interviews.

“We all spent a lot,” said Gary Johnson, Granite’s aggregate resource manager.

As it now stands, the next milestone in the hotly debated Liberty Quarry plan is November 23. That’s the extended deadline for residents or groups to submit comments regarding the project’s draft environmental impact report.

Officials will then respond to those comments before they schedule one or more hearings before the county Planning Commission.

Approval of the annexation request could have placed oversight of the quarry development plan in the city’s hands rather than the county.

Granite feared such a step because the city planned to put a zoning change in place that would have prevented mining from occurring in the area for several years.

Last week’s LAFCO hearing required much less time and garnered far less public input than the agency’s initial review of the request on June 4.

The independent agency considers annexation and incorporation requests and decides the boundaries of cities and special districts.

The first session lasted nearly 10 hours and drew comments from more than 100 speakers. The recent session lasted about two and a half hours and featured comments from about 25 speakers. Both meetings were held in Riverside.

The annexation area is south of Temecula city limits west of Interstate 15. The mine site would anchor a 414-acre tract at the southeast corner of the annexation area.

The site is located behind a California Highway Patrol truck inspection and weigh station near the San Diego County boundary and the tiny community of Rainbow.

The September 24 LAFCO hearing was scheduled after city officials asked the agency to reconsider its June 4 decision. But the city faced a daunting task because it had to present new or different facts to win LAFCO reconsideration.

In their six-page reconsideration request, city officials said the June 4 meeting ran so long that they could not provide adequate rebuttals.

Also, according to the city’s request, the possibility of removing the quarry site from the annexation plan was not evaluated.

That option should also be considered, the city said in its request.

City officials failed to meet the new or different facts threshold during the meeting, George Spiliotis, LAFCO chief executive, said afterward.

“It’s a high standard to meet,” he said.

But several members of the LAFCO board were receptive to the city submitting a revamped request. Some members noted that LAFCO could shorten the one-year waiting period that is usually observed between related annexation requests.

Temecula spent more than $365,000 over a period of several years on annexation-related studies, reports, application fees and other costs, city records show.

Faced with the prospect of having its site rezoned, Granite officials said they felt compelled to spend more than $300,000 to counter the city’s annexation plan.

“They would have taken away our mining rights,” Johnson said in a telephone interview last week.

 

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