FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 17, 2012
The City of Temecula has filed two lawsuits against the County of Riverside to force the County Board of Supervisors to live up to its obligations under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The lawsuits seek Court orders requiring the Board to consider the Environmental Impact Report for Liberty Quarry (“EIR”) as part of the second Liberty Quarry application and to provide the public with an adequate opportunity to address both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors on these critical issues.
The first lawsuit seeks to invalidate the Board of Supervisor’s premature certification of the fatally flawed EIR. This lawsuit alleges that the Board did not have the legal jurisdiction to certify the EIR after it disapproved the Liberty Quarry Project in February 2012 and that the EIR itself violates so many provisions of the CEQA that it must be invalidated by the Court. The second lawsuit seeks to invalidate the ordinances adopted by the Board of Supervisors that would allow the Liberty Quarry Project to be put on the County’s Fast Track Policy. Adding Liberty Quarry to the Fast Track Policy would enable the Board to skip the critically important public hearings before the Riverside County Planning Commission and move recklessly to approve the Liberty Quarry Project with only minimal public comment and analysis.
This second lawsuit makes four important allegations that require the ordinances to be invalidated by the Court. First, the Board could not approve these ordinances until the State Board of Mines and Geology approved the use of the Fast Track Policy for surface mines as is required by the California Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. Second, State law requires that the Planning Commission and the Board both hold public hearings on the proposed ordinances because they are amendments to the County Zoning Ordinance and Surface Mining Ordinance. Third, State law prohibits the Board from adopting a Fast Track policy that allows it to pick and choose specific projects that would be subject to the Fast Track Policy. Fourth, the Board violated CEQA by concluding that the proposed ordinances could have no impact on the environment without providing any analysis or facts to support that conclusion.
On October 18, 2012, the Court will consider the first of several procedural motions with respect to the City’s lawsuit to invalidate the certification of the EIR. The County and Granite Construction filed a “demurrer” which seeks to have the first lawsuit dismissed because they claim that the City’s allegations do not support the invalidation of the EIR. In opposition, the City argues that CEQA specifically states that a public entity has no jurisdiction to take actions under CEQA, such as certifying an EIR, if the public entity has denied the project. In this case, the Board of Supervisors denied the Liberty Quarry Project in February 2012 and then came back in May 2012 and certified the EIR. The City’s brief cites several appellate cases supporting the City’s position and documents from the Legislature establishing its intent that once a project is denied, the public entity cannot certify an EIR.
If the Court rules in favor of the City and denies the County’s and Granite’s demurrer, as expected, the Court will set hearing dates for certain other motions by the City to invalidate the certification of the EIR. If the Court accepts the County and Granite’s argument that Board may certify an EIR after its denial of the Project, the Court is required to give the City an opportunity to amend its lawsuit to address these issues.
Following this first hearing, the City will seek a preliminary injunction in the second lawsuit to invalidate the Fast Track ordinances in order to protect the rights of the public to comment on the second Liberty Quarry application.
The City has served both lawsuits on the California Attorney General as required by CEQA. The Attorney General will decide whether to join in these lawsuits in order to protect the rights of the people.
One way or the other, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will consider the second application of Granite Construction Company for approval of Liberty Quarry. Thus, regardless of the outcome of these two lawsuits and the hearing on October 18, the City will have a second opportunity to challenge the Liberty Quarry EIR should the Board eventually approve the Liberty Quarry Project.