After a long haul riddled with anticipation and controversy, the proposed Las Pilitas quarry was stopped in its tracks by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors heard the matter on May 12, after the project applicant, Las Pilitas Resources LLC, appealed the SLO County Planning Commission’s January decision to deny the project. The quarry, which would mine granite-based aggregate rock, stirred widespread opposition from the Santa Margarita area’s community. County planning staff recommended denial, citing seven significant and unavoidable impacts, such as the traffic, noise, and visual impacts identified by the project’s environmental impact report.
The meeting lasted almost 12 hours, and approximately 120 people spoke during the quarry hearing’s public comment. Project opponents focused primarily on the frequent truck trips the project would send through town. Project supporters, many hailing from the construction industry and surrounding communities, spoke of the need for a stable rock source to add to the existing supply from local quarries. The two sides sharply disagreed on whether the property rights of the quarry’s owners or the area’s residents should prevail.
The applicants attempted to jackhammer staff’s recommendations—and the list of unmitigable impacts those relied on—by attempting to persuade the Supervisors to override those recommendations by citing the need for a new supply of aggregate. That attempt was unsuccessful, however, and a majority of the supervisors stayed focused on making a decision based on county land use standards and guidelines.
After an exhaustive, five-hour public comment period, 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton and 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, both project supporters, launched into board deliberations with attempts to pick apart justifications to deny the project. Compton asked Sophie Treder, the project’s attorney, a series of questions that had a smooth—almost rehearsed—briskness. Compton then devoted more than an hour to a barrage of questions directed at the planning staff, consultants, and a deputy county counsel. Then, before allowing input from her colleagues, Compton went from her interrogation into an attempted motion to uphold the appeal and approve of the project.
The rest of the board didn’t bite however. Compton and Arnold pressed for a vote, even though specific findings for overriding considerations—which are legally required to override unmitigable impacts specified in an environmental impact report—weren’t provided. That worried 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill.
“If you’re going to get us sued, let’s put ourselves in a better position than we’re in right now,” Hill said during the discussion.
The absence of those findings also frustrated 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson.
“I have been listening for over an hour now and I have not heard one idea that is consistent with how I make the findings,” Gibson said. “We’re trying to push a square peg through a round hole here, and it’s a big square peg, and it’s a little round hole.”
In the end, Compton’s motion to approve the project was shot down, and 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham joined Gibson and Hill in voting 3-2 to support the planning commission’s denial of the project.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay