The Riverside County Board of Supervisors today formally adopted an ordinance to allow mining projects -- including a controversial one near Temecula -- to receive expedited scrutiny using a "fast- track" approval process.
The vote was 3-2.
"This issue has divided our board significantly, and I regret that it's happened," said Supervisor Jeff Stone, who with Supervisor Bob Buster cast the dissenting votes on the ordinance. "Now we're going to have to wait. Fast-track will be decided by the courts at a very significant expense."
Under the board's revised fast-track policy, strip mines and reclamation projects are now included on the list of large-scale ventures eligible to receive accelerated reviews by county officials. The goal is to have a project vetted and voted on by the board in 90 days in the interest of job stimulation and economic growth.
who has openly supported the controversial Liberty Quarry, a proposed 414-acre gravel mine at Rainbow Canyon Road and Interstate 15, just south of Temecula on the main corridor leading into the "Temecula Wine Country."
The quarry was nixed by the county planning commission last year after multiple hearings attended by thousands of Temecula Valley residents overwhelmingly opposed to the enterprise.
which held three standing-room-only public hearings in January and February.
The board voted 3-2 against the mine.
By accepting the EIR, the county left open the door for Watsonville-based Granite Construction to return with a modified plan for mining the site, and the company did just that, proposing a scaled-down version of its original quarry.
Granite asked the Department of Planning to consider fast-tracking its application for permits. However, county ordinances didn't allow for expedited vetting of proposed mines. At the same time as Granite's announcement, Benoit, who has referred to Granite as a "friend" to the Coachella Valley, introduced a proposal to revise county regulations so that mines, too, can receive fast- track approval.
Opponents of Liberty Quarry believe the pit would produce health-damaging levels of silica dust, mar area aesthetics, ruin rural peace, add to road congestion and permanently alter landscapes that the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians consider sacred.
The city of Temecula filed a lawsuit against the county in July challenging the validity of the EIR. On Monday, the Temecula City Council decided to file a second suit against the county, alleging that the board violated state law when it agendized fast-tracking of mines without first giving the planning commission a chance to look at the proposal.
"Lord Benoit, you don't give a whiff about the planning process or representative government," said Temecula resident and city council candidate Paul Jacobs. "Supervisors Benoit, Ashley and Tavaglione do not represent the will of the people; they represent the will of Granite Construction. You would destroy the gateway to (southern) Riverside County, making it 'mine' country, not 'wine' country."
Benoit stood by his position that the mine has countywide benefits, such as increasing the supply of construction-grade aggregate -- asphalt, gravel and sand -- closest to the areas that need it most in Riverside and San Diego counties.
A mine supporter, Irene Long, noted that in the event of a massive earthquake, the county would benefit significantly from having another quarry from which to extract materials to make repairs.
"Local access to key resources, specifically aggregate, will be needed to recover and restore normal life," Long told the board.
Stone, whose district includes Temecula, last week urged the board to consider adding an amendment to the fast-track policy specifying that any project proposed for expedited review originate with the supervisor in whose district the project will be located.
Only Buster supported the motion.