It took three lengthy public hearings for the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission to reach a decision on a rock quarry proposed for outside of Santa Margarita. Since December, the commission has sorted through public comments and a slew of impacts to the area, finally coming to a 3-2 vote of denial on Feb. 5.
Las Pilitas Resources LLC has applied for a permit to operate a rock quarry on its property 3 miles east of Santa Margarita, near where Highway 58 crosses the Salinas River. The quarry would process a maximum of 500,000 tons of aggregate per year, which at its peak could result in an average maximum of 273 truck trips a day, the majority of which would travel through a windy stretch of Highway 58, passing a school crossing and train tracks on its way through Santa Margarita. That truck traffic—and the safety impacts it may pose to the area—has been the cornerstone of debate between the project’s applicants and opponents. While the county’s staff report identified several other unmitigable impacts associated with the project—which led staff to recommend denial—the commission’s decision hinged on traffic.
“You’ve got backing up over railroad tracks, you’ve got that school crossing, you’ve got traffic coming down through I and H [streets], you’ve got that right-angle turn on [Highway] 58 as it comes into town,” said Commissioner Jim Irving, who represents the 1st District. “I just see nothing but issues there.”
Irving added: “I’d like to see a different project. Most importantly, I’d like to see the applicant use a different route into town.”
Other commissioners also scrutinized the traffic logistics, including the distance between the railroad crossing and stop sign at the intersection of Estrada Avenue and El Camino Real. Second District Commissioner Eric Meyer, who said he measured that distance, estimated the space to be similar to the length of a truck and trailer used to haul aggregate.
Commissioner Don Campbell, who represents the 5th District, which includes the quarry, said that the number and frequency of truck trips has been exaggerated, and he didn’t consider those concerns to be enough to stand in the way of the project’s approval.
“I can’t disagree with Commissioner Irving on some of the traffic and safety situations, however we have property rights, and people [who] own property—have for a hundred years—have a right to utilize that property with some identified granacious [sic] strips in there that are important,” he said.
The commission voted 3-2 to deny the project. Ken Johnston, the project’s manager, wrote in a statement to New Times that the applicants plan to appeal the project to the Board of Supervisors, and in doing so plan to “do a better job of setting the record straight” about realistic numbers of daily truck trips, which Johnston said “county staff has grossly overstated.”
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay