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Annexation of land flanking mine site may be a quiet contrast to past hearings

Unlike a pair of contentious previous clashes, a hearing to add a seven-square-mile swath to Temecula’s southern boundary may proceed quietly this week.

No organized opposition, and perhaps scant public comment, is expected at a June 24 hearing by a Riverside County boundary-setting agency. If that occurs, the session will stand in marked contrast to a hearing about a year earlier that lasted nearly 10 hours and drew comments from more than 100 speakers.

An ecological group that has played a prominent role in Temecula’s annexation bid expects to remain low key.

“We’re pretty much going to leave it alone,” Jerri Arganda, a leader of the Save Our Southwest Hills grassroots group, said in a recent telephone interview. “I’d like to see it be done.”

Another key player, a mining and construction company that once was at the center of the annexation controversy, also faded from view.

Even the level of advance written communication has dwindled sharply.

“I think the majority of them are in favor,” George Spiliotis, chief executive of the county Local Agency Formation Commission, said in a Tuesday telephone interview.

The stage was set for the upcoming meeting on Feb. 23. At that time, the Temecula City Council pressed forward with its revised plan to annex a 4,510-acre granite-strewn hillside that is largely composed of an ecological reserve.

There was no opposition, and several members of the audience and the City Council spoke in favor of the renewed effort.

“Let’s go on to LAFCO and get that (land) into the city,” Mayor Jeff Comerchero said during the discussion. “It’s incredibly important that we succeed.”

If next week’s hearing goes as expected, and no subsequent organized opposition surfaces among landowners within the proposed annexation area, the property could be added to Temecula’s city limits by the end of this year, Spiliotis said.

That would boost Temecula’s size to about 35 square miles. The 20-year-old city’s population jumped and it grew to 28 square miles years ago when the Redhawk, Vail Ranch and Roripaugh Ranch annexations were completed.

The proposed Santa Margarita annexation has been debated for years. Temecula will have spent about $400,000 throughout the process on annexation-related studies, reports, application fees and other costs, city records show.

Granite Construction Co. spent more than $300,000 fighting the proposed annexation. The company initially battled the annexation because its proposed Liberty Quarry project would have come under city control if the area was annexed. It softened its opposition when its development site was removed from the annexation area after a contentious LAFCO hearing about a year ago.

The 155-acre mine site anchors a rock-strewn bluff behind a California Highway Patrol truck inspection and weigh station near the San Diego County community of Rainbow.

Granite hopes to extract 270 million tons of sand, gravel and other materials over a 75-year period from the site, which would be surrounded by open space land the company would purchase.

The mine site flanks a sensitive San Diego State University nature reserve and research station that is split by the Santa Margarita River. The river, which is formed by the merger of several creeks, flows about 27 miles to the coast.

The withdrawal of the quarry plan from the annexation area means that county officials will continue to review the mine development plan.

The current timetable calls for the first hearings on the quarry plan – which has drawn widespread opposition from council members and area residents – to begin later this year.

The initial land use review hearings will be held by the county Planning Commission. That panel would make approval or denial recommendations to the county Board of Supervisors.

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