To quarry or not to quarry?

February 9, 2015


To quarry or not to quarry? That is the question. With the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission’s recent 3-2 denial of permits for the proposed Las Pilitas Quarry, what are we supposed to do? Deny all quarries and cave into this latest example of “nimbyism”? As we wait to hear whether the applicants will appeal this decision to the Board of Supervisors, let’s reflect on what quarries mean to us.

Admittedly, quarries rarely win beauty contests, and the world is not full of citizen interest groups advocating for their creation. Yet quarries are an absolutely necessary part of our everyday lives. To reject this one now is to repudiate our past and what has allowed us to live here. Think about it…

Without the rock, base, sand, gravel, and clay that comes out of quarries, we would not be able to build the foundations under our homes and our schools. We would not have the roads that lead to our communities and our houses. We wouldn’t have the tracks that carry our trains. Consider a world without the sidewalks and bike paths that safely convey our children to school, without the backfill needed for our water and sewer lines, without our driveways where our kids can shoot hoops, or without our brick and stone patios or our tile floors.

Quarries can’t be created just anywhere. They need to be located where the resource is and the Las Pilitas project is indeed where the resource is. Would Santa Margarita want the quarry to be located further east from where it has been proposed? That would only result in longer truck trips, the consumption of more fossil fuels, the creation of more greenhouse gases, and increasing the costs for transporting and using the materials. Or would Santa Margarita rather locate it in some other unsuspecting community just so it isn’t near them?

The current generation of county staffers and Santa Margarita residents seem to have forgotten the original reason why the State of California invested in, engineered, and built Highway 58 in 1952. The purpose of this State Highway was to provide access to the gravel quarries between the Central Coast and the Central Valley to provide the resources necessary to build the state highway system. It has served that purpose well for over 63 years. The proposed Las Pilitas Quarry is located just off Highway 58 on a site that cannot be seen from town and that is next door to another quarry– the former Kaiser gravel operation that has been in continuous existence for over 100 years.

We need quarries to provide us with the cost-effective raw materials in support of the infrastructure improvements we and our children need to sustain us well into the future. Denying quarries for the sake of denying them is not the answer. Unfortunately, our county planning department has produced yet another EIR that is anything but a search for the truth. The fact that the county’s EIR made no effort to evaluate alternative sites for a much-needed quarry and its use of voodoo traffic modeling is more than revealing of county staff motives. Rather the EIR Is little more than a deliberate hit piece designed to fan the flames of nimbyism in turning down the Las Pilitas quarry.

This county needs that quarry. Locally elected leaders like to do what is popular, but our true leaders are the ones who demonstrate the will to do what is right over what might be popular. Hopefully, the SLO County Board of Supervisors has the vision and foresight to see the need and the political courage to overcome this latest example of nimbyism.

Keith Gurnee is a Cal Poly graduate, a former member of the San Luis Obispo City Council and a principal at RRM Design Group. Gurnee retired from RRM in 2013 and was elected as president of the California Planning Roundtable, a state-wide think tank organization.

Get links to breaking news stories, like CalCoastNews on Facebook.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Steve Souza, owner/founder/president of Souza Construction, will gain an unfair advantage on bidding public works projects including CalTrans projects. He can have the quarry’s LLC sell aggregates at what ever price he sees fit to his construction company.


How does this make any sense? If he sells it to himself at a price lower than the quarry’s costs he loses money. If he sells at a break even price he makes no money. If he sells at above quarry costs he makes some money. Same as any business.

Make any sense? Clue in!

Sell rock at cost. No profit on the aggregates and no loss either.

Let’s just say he marks up aggregate prices 10%. So if he buys at the marked up price from himself on $100k, he makes $10k profit on rock.

With the cost advantage, he wins a $5M contract. His advantage is in the aggregate…buys at cost from himself. His markup on a project of that size is around 10%…so his profit is $500k.

What would you rather make, $10k or $500k?

That is the advantage.

Living next to a Freeway, State Highway, County Road, City Blvd or any Public Street has it’s scale of economy. Unfortuately for Mr. Quiet, who chose to buy land adjacent to a dormant State Highway’s road edge and within a mineral extraction buffer zone, his home is now a bad place to have a recording studio too.

Correct, if they are successful with their application, Souza and Cole will benefit by being able to provide their own construction/trucking enterprise with aggregate at the cost of production rather than paying retail as would another general engineering company competing for public works contracts. Or private projects for that matter.

Is that unfair? Ask the folks at CalPortland who have been doing the same thing for years by providing their general engineering division with aggregate from their Rocky Canyon quarry. Madonna Construction did the same thing for many years. SP Milling did the same thing for years when they owned the Hansen Aggregate Quarry. Papich Construction currently does the same thing by providing raw materials from their own asphalt and aggregate facility.

Where you came up with the idea that somehow Souza and Cole are doing this as a favor to us all is beyond me. Maybe you’re drinking some of the local brewed Kool-Aid of your own.

And there is no “huge financial advantage” in any of this. These guys will have to provide materials (and contracting services) at competitive rates or they won’t make it. It’s just that simple.

This quarry should not be approved. In addition to the EIR, CEQA/NEPA issues, the largest issue is the owners. Steve Souza, owner/founder/president of Souza Construction, will gain an unfair advantage on bidding public works projects including CalTrans projects. He can have the quarry’s LLC sell aggregates at what ever price he sees fit to his construction company. The quarry’s LLC will then quote prices to other competing construction companies much higher, increasing the costs of the bid of his competitors.

If you only think that Souza and Cole are doing the quarry as a favor to all in the area, I want some of the Kool-Aid you are drinking. They would not be doing this unless it could create a huge financial advantage in obtaining public works contracts.