Neighbors battle over Santa Margarita quarry

December 15, 2014

los pilitasBy KAREN VELIE

As the application for a conditional use permit for a Santa Margarita property zoned for mining winds through the county, neighbors are taking sides in the heated battle over potential transformations to the community if the permit for the proposed Los Pilitas aggregate quarry is approved.

Both sides have made claims. Proponents of the quarry claim naysayers have exaggerated the impacts the project would have on the community while opponents say the quality of life for many in the small rural community would be permanently marred.

If the permit is approved, long time Santa Margarita residents Mike Cole and Steve Souza can construct the infrastructure for and operate a 41 acre rock quarry on property located on Highway 58 about three miles outside Santa Margarita. The applicants are seeking to produce a maximum of 500,000 tons annually, a portion of which would be recycled asphalt.

In step with Santa Margarita residents, some who have had heated arguments in Santa Margarita’s small downtown, public officials and staff have come to different conclusions about the projects impacts and whether they support or oppose the quarry.

Earlier this month, the Santa Margarita Advisory Area Committee voted 11-6 in favor of the quarry while county planning staff recommended denial of the conditional use permit saying the economic benefits do not override the environmental impacts.

In the 80s, a state geological survey deemed the site a rock resource area and the county zoned the property with mining as an approved use. Then in 2012, a California Geologic Survey report said California needs more aggregate sources to meet future demands. Rock quarries produce aggregate that is used in making both asphalt and concrete.

There are currently two quarries in the Santa Margarita area. Even so, developers and road maintenance crews often have to truck aggregate in from other areas.

Proponents of the quarry argue that it is environmentally cleaner to produce aggregate locally then to truck it in sometimes from four-hours away. In addition, another quarry could lower the cost of roadwork in the county.

Critics of the project have multiple concerns including noise levels, Valley Fever exposure, truck traffic, water usage and air quality.

Truck traffic

According to the county staff report, if permitted, the quarry could generate up to 273 truck trips a day moved out on weekdays during daytime hours.

Las Palitas Project manager Ken Johnston does not agree instead saying the maximum amount of trucks would be 99 a day or approximately 200 trips.

Opponents argue that the trucks would create noise, endanger children at a nearby school, cause a constant stream of traffic and not provide three feet clearance to bicyclists which could result in traffic jams. Several homeowners on Highway 58 told CalCoastNews their windows rattle when trucks go by their abodes and the increase in truck traffic would negatively impact their quality of life.

Santa Margarita Area Advisory Committee Council Member George Sullivan said after five years of discussing the project with experts, the committee determined county agencies cannot restrict trucks from driving on a state highway. In addition, Sullivan said that county staff’s statement that the permit should be denied because it violates the committee developed Santa Margarita Design Plan because it does not require build outs on the highway, is not accurate.

“Caltrans has informed our committee that the design plan is specific to the buildings, but does not have anything to do with the state highway,” Sullivan said. “The county is not the permitting agency on any state highway projects.”

Highway 58 near the project.

Highway 58 near the project.

Several bicyclists have also spoken out against the project during public hearings and in letters to county staff and officials. The San Luis Obispo Bicycle Coalition said it strongly disagrees with the final environmental impact report’s findings that the impacts will be less than significant for bicyclists traveling along the narrow, windy highway.

“We also find the final EIR inadequate because it fails to address California’s new Three Feet for Safety Act (California Vehicle Code Section 21760) and lacks a defensible argument for why the Traffic Impact Analysis was based on passenger car equivalents rather than truck traffic,” Coalition Executive Director Dan Rivorie said in a letter to the county.

However, while the new rule says drivers must maintain a distance of three feet when passing bicyclists, the new law also states that if a driver is unable to give a cyclist three feet because of the width of the highway, the driver must instead slow to a reasonable speed and pass when doing so would not endanger the bicyclist.

In addition, if a bicyclist has five vehicles behind them, they are required by the vehicle code to pull over at the first safe turnout and let the vehicles pass.


Steve and Jan Owens live near the proposed Los Pilitas quarry site which abuts the operational Hanson Quarry. The couple is opposed to the quarry not only because of concerns of car versus truck accident as big rigs pull out onto Highway 58, but also because of an increase in mining noises that already impact their lives because of the Hanson Quarry.

“The grinding starts up at 6 a.m. and the noise from the trucks backing up can be awful,” the couple wrote in a letter to the county. “We are pretty patient and forgiving people out here, haven’t we gone through enough.”

Blasting noise and vibrations would be a “significant and unavoidable impact” to those living in several nearby homes, county staff said in a Dec. 1 response. Staff also noted that while the noise and vibration levels expected are within limits set by the Federal Bureau of Mines, noise and vibrations would be “clearly perceptible” to several nearby residents.

Valley Fever

At least 200 people attended a contentious San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission hearing Thursday on the proposed rock quarry. One speaker wept during public comment because he said the quarry would put county residents at risk of contracting Valley Fever, a concern noted by others.

Valley fever is spread by the inhalation of Valley Fever spores which live in arid top soils.

Project manager Johnston does not agree that the project significantly increases neighbors to Valley Fever exposure because there is little topsoil in the rocky terrain of the proposed mining site. In addition, soil binders and water from a well on the property would be used for dust mitigation.

The planning commission will reconvene on Jan. 8 to take more public comment and come to a decision for or against the quarry. Any ruling made by the planning commission will likely get appealed to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.



  1. thatsodd says:

    As reported in the letter to the Planning Commission from SMAAC the vote was 11 support, 5 oppose, 1 abstain, 2 recusal.

    The SMAAC agenda for this item read “Oster/Las Pilitas Resources Quarry – Subcommittee to present comments and concerns from the FEIR review.” Neither the presentation given by the applicant nor the vote taken by the board to support or oppose were agendized and neither should have taken place. Contrary to step #1 in SMAAC’s own ‘Meeting Procedure for Project Review” there was no county staff report given.

    The board member who abstained from the vote did so because they wanted to see the county staff report before voting. This board member has since publicly written to the Planning Commission stating, “If I had the vote to do over again I would vote NO on the project.”

    The recusals were the board members from Santa Margarita Ranch. Neither the applicant nor the applicant’s lawyer (both SMAAC board members) voted, but they did not recuse themselves. Rather they allowed their alternates to vote, both of whom voted in support of the quarry. SMAAC board members select their own applicants.

    (2) 8 Total Votes - 5 up - 3 down
  2. sloweb says:

    I have lived and cycled in this area for 4 decades. I can tell you that the bicycle traffic is few and far between and is almost all recreational. Mostly on the weekends (quarry closed?). These are great country roads for recreational cycling. Ii can also tell you that our county is FULL of great country roads for recreational cycling. This part of the objections is a red herring.

    (1) 27 Total Votes - 14 up - 13 down
    • NorCoMod says:

      Good to hear a response based on common sense. As someone else on this forum said, bicycle riding on this stretch of Hwy 58 for recreational purposes presents an unnecessary risk and increases the possibility of a preventable tragedy.
      To say that the proposed quarry somehow increases the risk to a recreational bicyclist is indeed a red herring. There are countless other miles of safer roads to ride on….some of them actually have room for a bicycle unlike this stretch of Hwy 58.

      (3) 15 Total Votes - 9 up - 6 down
    • R.Hodin says:

      Anyone commenting on the viability or current usage of 58 by cyclists may want to read the volumnous letters in the Planning Commission packet authored by cyclists who use this stretch. Recreational cycling happens during the week as well, and 58 is currently unsafe for cycling. Any upgrades will be determined on CalTrans’ schedule based on available funding, and while the proposed quarry operation will contribute a small percentage towards upgrades, quarry truck operation may and likely will occur for an indefinite period of time before any upgrades are constructed. In addition, the upgrades planned are at a level far below what deemed safe by the state.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  3. Bluebird says:

    This sounds like Huasana and the solar farms all over – not in my
    neighborhood along with a big dose of hysteria.
    With Huasana the EIR found no significant impacts but staff reco-
    mended denial of the project. Staff appears to be repeating the
    pattern probably with a nudge from some supervisors.
    The property has been zoned as a quarry since the 80″s. How
    many of the Nimbys bought their property after the zoning
    I also wonder how many of the bike riders drove to Santa Margarita in cars and then got on their bikes for a pleasure drive?
    Question? Is that 273 truck trips per day every week day or is the actual number going to be considerably less?
    I am considered to be an environmentalist by friend and foe. This means I accept some things I would rather not or I do things that I would rather not have to do.

    (6) 28 Total Votes - 17 up - 11 down
  4. racket says:

    The bicycle issue could be easily mitigated if the biker-lobby would take a portion of the road fees and taxes that bicycles pay, and build a bike lane that suits their needs.

    (3) 17 Total Votes - 10 up - 7 down
    • R.Hodin says:

      Let me know when they change all the various tax laws to allow us to designate where our tax monies are spent, and I’ll take your suggestion seriously.

      (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  5. Pelican1 says:

    Not having read the EIR, it seems to me that a “significant and unavoidable impact” is not acceptable when addressing the noise issue.
    Were any noise studies conducted to determine the impact to humans and animals and their habitat? All negative impacts surely must be mitigated.

    (5) 15 Total Votes - 10 up - 5 down
    • Jorge Estrada says:

      Years ago Caltrans chip sealed Highway 58 through town and that certainly increased all vehicular road noise. I complained about this rough overlay but again it is their Highway and their budget is very small for Santa Margarita. I have lost income due to road noise but I recognize that Highways can be noisey especially when the State’s low buget road maintanence does not consider the noise factor.

      (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  6. Jorge Estrada says:

    There are currently no quarries adjacent to Santa Margarita. Adjacent to the City of Atascadero is the Rocky Canyon Quarry, adjacent to the Unincorporated Community of Garden Farms (which its mail delivery serviced by the Atascadero Post Office) is the Hanson Quarry. The proposed Las Pilitas Quarry would be the first quarry adjacent to Santa Margarita as well as the first North County quarry with exclusive State Highway access. Just keeping the facts public……

    (13) 27 Total Votes - 20 up - 7 down
    • Pelican1 says:

      Doesn’t Madonna have a quarry on the Salinas north of San Miguel?

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
    • sloweb says:

      Why would you want to confuse the issue with facts? This is the Internet.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
      • Jorge Estrada says:

        I am confused by the public wanting their roads improved and affordable resources. Then there is an application to meet their needs and grown men are blubbering not in my backyard or their allogations about the developers only counting their profits while complaining about the project affecting their land values? Very confusing facts and for that reason it should be on the internet. I do not have a puppy.

        (-2) 6 Total Votes - 2 up - 4 down

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