An Oct. 18 date has been set to hear a motion for a ruling on whether the county acted legally in approving an Environmental Impact Report for a strip mining project
That project was subsequently rejected by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, a point which city officials believe makes the certification invalid.
City officials contend that once the Riverside County Board of Supervisors rejected the proposal to build a large quarry on the outskirts of town, the EIR for that project should not have been certified.
Granite Construction Company, which proposed the quarry, has since reduced the scope of its proposal in the hope of having some sort of mining project approved.
"This Motion for Judgment relates to the City’s first cause of action in the lawsuit which alleges that the County erred in an attempt to certify the EIR after they denied the Project," City Attorney Peter Thorson wrote in a news release.
"Specifically, the City argues that CEQA does not apply to disapproved projects and thus the County lacked the discretionary authority to certify the EIR."
However, county counsel and attorneys for Granite have filed a demurrer with the court that states the city's facts and current position are wrong.
According to documents filed with the court, the county first approved the EIR, then rejected the project.
The demurrer also contends that even if the city claims that rejection of the project nullified the EIR, that claim is also incorrect.
An agency can approve or reject at EIR independent of its decision whether to move forward with a project, attorneys state, citing precedents.
Under the law, attorneys contend, the courts would not have jurisdiction over a project that has not been approved -- when moving forward with the project entails basing it on the EIR in question, papers state.
California Environmental Quality Act guidelines would not be triggered simply by the preparation of an environmental study, court papers state, but rather, the attempt to use that study to begin a project.
A decision by the court at this point would be "purely advisory" the county contends.
Granite Construction's original 414-acre quarry plan was voted down 3-2 by the board on Feb. 16. Supervisors John Benoit and Marion Ashley supported the strip mine while Supervisors Bob Buster, Jeff Stone and John Tavaglione opposed it.
In an unexpected reversal, three months later, the board voted 3-2 in favor of certifying an 8,500-page environmental impact report -- commissioned by Granite -- that concluded many negative aspects of the proposed mining operation could be mitigated.
In the meantime, a fast-track process for strip mining projects was also approved by the county.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to add surface mines to the list of projects that can bypass the county's planning commission and head straight to the supervisors for consideration -- a process known as fast-tracking.
Buster and Stone were the dissenting votes.
At about the same time that fast-track approval was garnered, the Watsonville-based Granite returned with a scaled-down version of the project.
With an EIR already in place, it would be possible to bring before the county another version of the quarry and begin the approval process again.
Attached to this story is the memorandum of points and authorities supporting the county and Granite's position -- submitted to the court.
The hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 12 in Riverside.