Legislators will consider this week last-minute legislation that could give an influential Native American tribe the power to block a Southern California quarry project it opposes.
Assembly Bill 742, by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would require tribes to sign off on reclamation projects proposed within certain distances of a sacred site, reservation boundaries and the waterways connected to the Santa Margarita River -- specifications designed to meet the proposed Liberty Quarry project in Riverside County.
Deadlines for introducing and holding policy hearings on proposed legislation have long passed, but the measure surfaced last week in the form of amendments to a bill that had already cleared the Assembly. A special hearing of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on the so-called "gut-and-amend" legislation has been scheduled for Tuesday.
The legislative intervention comes as the local fight over the approval process has been heating up between the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and Granite Construction, the firm pursuing the project. The tribe is seeking to derail the project on the grounds that the quarry, which is not on reservation land, would impact a sacred site for its people.
Lowenthal Chief of Staff Will Shuck said the Pechanga tribe brought the issue to the Long Beach Democrat's attention because it felt its cultural concerns were not being heard by local authorities involved in the project's approval.
"I think (the tribe) had been watching the local process in which they had been told pretty plainly that the decision makers down there were discounting the importance of this site of creation," Shuck said. "She agreed that that was worthy of assistance."
A fairly long list of legislators from both sides of the aisle have agreed, signing on as co-authors as the bill advances in the final weeks of the legislative session.
Granite Construction's Gary Johnson disagreed, saying the bill, which is opposed by a coalition of labor and business groups, "hijacks land use authority from local governments." He said the tribe has "been inconsistent in their position" that the quarry site encompasses sacred land, adding that the representatives did not raise such concerns in earlier meetings on the project and has supported other development plans for the area in the past.
Supporters of the quarry project, which was proposed in 2005 and has been undergoing mandatory environmental impact reviews, say it would create jobs and provide asphalt and concrete for Southern California projects. The Riverside County Planning Commission is set to vote on the project later this month.