On April 26, San Luis Obispo County supervisors were verbally slammed for upending what should have been a blasé process.
Originally scheduled as a consent item on the supervisors’ agenda, county planners made a last-minute move to withdraw a contract for environmental review of the proposed Las Pilitas Quarry in Santa Margarita. Proposed by Las Pilitas Resources, LLC, the project would put 30 years of mining and an asphalt recycling plant on about 60 acres of rural residential land on Highway 58 about two miles outside of town.
County planners and the applicant originally selected Benchmark Resources—one of three firms that submitted a proposal—to compile an Environmental Impact Report on the project. On April 7, New Times reported the firm has close ties to the mining industry and one official in the firm had been selected to speak about “Obtaining Permits and Approvals with Entrenched Project Opposition.” Project opponents quickly approached county officials to criticize the firm’s perceived bias.
Fifth District Supervisor Jim Patterson, in an April 22 letter, said that rather than scheduling a consent item to approve the contract with Benchmark, the county decided to re-issue the Request for Proposals (RFP) “in order to get a broader range of proposals from interested consultants.”
Dozens of people turned out to oppose the change, claiming the county wasn’t following proper processes for such contracts. However, county officials didn’t schedule any hearing on the item, leaving all speakers a total of 20 minutes to comment (Chair Adam Hill decided to limit comment time due to the number of people prepared to speak).
“Everything we have done till today would not count because of some silly and baseless newspaper article,” project applicant Ken Johnston said, referring to New Times. “There is no reason for this contract to be re-bid, and doing so would not add anything to the process.”
John Nall of the county Planning Department’s environmental division said the decision was made due to the controversy surrounding the project. He said a “perception problem” had arisen “when we need it least.”
Proposals for new bids are expected to go out to 25 firms soon after this printing, and county officials expect to receive proposals three weeks later.