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.

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Hypocrisy is the biggest sin.

All of those that spoke against this quarry drove to the County Center on roads built with local gravel, went home at night to a house built with local gravel. Prolly studied at Call Poly in buildings built with LOTS of local gravel. Like most hypocrites, they got theirs and they don’t want others to get any – or at extreme costs. If previous planners had used NIMBY emotions, these hypocrites either would not have these benefits, or would have paid more for them.

I suppose since you drive a car, you’d be fine with a fracking well in your back yard? Prolly(sic) like bacon; all right with a pig sty next door? Time and place for everything, arrogant sloweb

Your bacon analogy is a false argument. Pigs and bacon do not serve the public, and pig farms are not limited by a specific geographic location. The oil well is a closer argument in that it serves the public and is limited to location. However people in general are not objecting to the quarry, just the traffic to and fro. Think of the thousand of residents that live near the freeway – somehow they survive. In the 70’s I lived on 58 just outside on Margarita and later lived in Garden Farms, on El Camino directly across from the entrance to the Kaiser quarry. So yes catdude and hijinks, I practice what I preach and I do not practice hypocrisy. Nothing arrogant about that at all.

Maybe there should be a quarry proposal next to his house. Then we’ll see who’s the “nimby.”

Gurnee is out of step and needs to go back to school to update his understanding of planning and environmental issues. Apparently, CEQA and NEPA are not in his vocabulary. BTW: the term “nimbyism” is so old school and yesterday.

Of course, adustum, the liberal playbook again, ATTACK the messenger as out of step. I thought his approach conversant and accurate on the topic. There is nothing wrong with his article except it doesn’t meet YOUR likely “deny-everything” mindset.

NIMBY happens to be a useful up to date acronym for a CONSTANT and distinct social/planning issue.

CEQA and NEPA were (I suppose) addressed (maybe prostituted) by county staff, and his necessarily-brief op-ed need not grind through specific planning staff misbehavior. I spent 14 years on a PC in an LA county jurisdiction and never ceased to be amazed how planning staff FREQUENTLY brought their personal biases to bear on projects in “their city”. Our commission did not pay nor even reimburse but I served JUST to insert my concept of “balance”. I of course had to be endlessly courteous and diplomatic (when I felt like outbursting like an Adam Hill), but I’ve seen “hit piece” work by Planner 1’s, as well as favoritism where something was impossibly out of place. Though admittedly without reading this project’s materials, I can buy into Gurnee’s summation of planner bias based on my little bit of experience.

Not all planners are biased, I’ve seen incredibly good work and preparation (and often said so from the dais) even for projects which were dicey for their location. (I owe that caveat to some incredibly hard working staff who came before us in those years.)

You say: “Update his understanding”. Just a bald-faced insult from a hit-and-run poster.

I liked his op-ed and found it persuasive and concise, particularly at the aggregate supply level. Google old LA Times articles on the impending shortages of what we make roads and bridges out of. Society must mine it where you find it, and mitigate vigorously for impacts.

“To quarry or not to quarry, that is the question.” Um, no.

The question isn’t just about the quarry, it is about the quality of life for those living in Santa Margarita. While the history of Highway 58 may have it’s roots in being a route for the quarries of the day, much much much has changed in little ‘ole sleepy Santa Margarita since those days. Certainly one can criticize (as you attempted to do) those who live in the area of “nimbyism” since this new quarry is proposed to use the same roads that everyone else in the area does (with exception to the existing quarry, that is; they have their own, private road for most of the trip to the 101).

I am amused by those who tout “the free market” as the way to make all decisions, but in this case the “free” part is how the new quarry owners would use the public roads without having to pay anything extra to do so, unlike the current quarry owner does. Does that really sound fair? Why shouldn’t both quarry operators operate under the same rules? If the one established quarry avoids using the public roads to a large degree by utilizing their own road, why shouldn’t a competitor have to do the same?

The argument being made here is that this quarry owner wants an unfair business advantage by using public roads without having to pay to do so. Who pays for the eventual, necessary road repairs that would be caused by having so many trucks, loaded to capacity rumbling down them day after day, hundreds of trips each day? The county? The state? The residents of Santa Margarita?

Let’s put this into perspective; if a new quarry is really needed and CalTrans is going to be the single largest customer, why not have CalTrans design and help build a new road for the quarry trucks to use. A compromise deal could be worked out so that the quarry owners would pay back the state over a period of years to reimburse the state for the cost of that road. Either do this, or don’t consider the new quarry at all, period. Far too many residents’ lives will be impacted in a negative manner if the new quarry is allowed to use public roads, period.

Well reasoned, BFSL. Not a hit piece at all. But again who pays for the land for the new road, and it’s construction? Can’t compare apples and oranges (cost differences for the two quarries to make/use private ingress/egress). Also, doesn’t nearly any business confer a public benefit by providing it’s products? The default argument is: Free market works, managed economies and markets produce shortages and imbalances from a hamstrung marketplace. You do make a detailed cogent argument for your managed economy viewpoints, and some project specifics, but the Marx thing doesn’t work in the real world.

Build, mitigate. Build, mitigate. Build, mitigate. The balanced free market approach. Seems like that is behind Gurnee’s premise.

“Seems like that is behind Gurnee’s premise.” I disagree; Keith is, IMO, telling the residents of Santa Margarita to “suck it up” because someone wants to open a business, so all concerns should be swept aside, all fears unaddressed. That is not “free market”, that is an unfair business advantage.

I have a modest proposal for a compromise. Build a new road from the quarry roughly due west, across El Camino Real, along the south edge of Garden Farms to 101 and put in a new interchange. That removes almost all problems from Santa Margarita. The distance involved would be about 4-5 miles and there would need to be another bridge across the Salinas River. It could be connected to Santa Margarita Rd. to give the rural subdivisions south of Atascadero better freeway access too.

It should cost about the same as the 2 miles of the Hwy 46 rebuild on either side of the Estrella River — less if the quarry donated the fill as part of an agreement. Certainly everyone with an interest in opening the quarry would be willing to chip in for that. Maybe the state could pitch in the interchange and some “eco” funding since the quarry will result in shorter trips for future construction projects in the county.

Mr. Gurnee has made some interesting points in his “Opinion” piece that I’d like to address.

He characterizes the recent denial of permits as “… this latest example of ‘nimbyism’. “ He is right- this is not in his back yard- it is in somebody elses’. He is simply advocating that the community of Santa Margarita take one for the team.

And why should they do that? Because according to Mr. Gurnee “To reject this one now is to repudiate our past and what has allowed us to live here.” And he further states that Highway 58 was built in 1952 for quarry access.

What is relevant is the impact that this quarry would have in Santa Margarita’s back yard now. That is why we have EIR’s as one part of what is to be considered in decisions such as this. It would be much more useful for Mr. Gurnee to address the issues in the EIR with specific facts rather than simply making broad general statements about our past.

Mr. Gurnee rips the county planning department because “… the county’s EIR made no effort to evaluate alternative sites for a much- needed quarry..”. The implication seems to be if the county can’t come up with an alternative site then this one must be recommended. Does Mr. Gurnee really think it’s the county job to come up with alternatives for private businesses if their proposal isn’t approved?

He states that “This county needs that quarry.” Now that is an issue that does need further discussion. Who in the county benefits from this and how much? We do know that part of the cost is having and average of 273 trucks per day rumbling up and down the main street in Santa Margarita and past the local elementary school. Anyone who has been to the quiet little community of Santa Margarita can visualize that, even if it isn’t in their back yard.

When I win the lottery I am going to hire a double dump truck to drive by your house every 2 minutes for the next 30 years.

I wouldn’t wish the extreme loss of property value, the noise, the pollution, the water needed in a drought, the road hazards and the blasting of explosives in anybody’s backyard!

Box, I can suggest a solution which you can afford NOW. Hire local BIKERS to circle at a lower cost. Their modified or removed exhausts are often louder than a dump truck bouncing over railroad ties and pot holes.

OTOH, maybe I should withdraw yesterday’s comment, Box.

Comparing oil dripping road crap misfiring child-frightening low class loud Harleys to hard working honest dump trucks, is an insult to dump trucks everywhere.

Agreed Keith! Your article is both very well written and true.

Great article Keith.

Best to stay away from the Range for a couple of weeks though.