Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ojai City Aid Sought For Truck Fight

Staff recommends regular briefings on Diamond
Rock Mine and its potential impacts on Ojai

By Nao Braverman

With the Diamond Rock Gravel Mine recently recommended for approval, the city of Ojai has finally decided to formally step in and get involved with the issue of gravel trucks traveling through the Ojai Valley.
At Tuesday night’s Ojai City Council meeting, city staff recommended that staff continue to monitor the Diamond Rock Mine project proposal and report back to the council on further action to be taken by the city, including possible legal procedures.
The proposed Diamond Rock Gravel mine in Cuyama Valley could significantly increase the already burdensome truck traffic along Highway 33 through the Ojai Valley, degrading Ojai’s environment, safety, and subsequently its tourist economy and quality of life, according to critics of the project.
Though City Council members agreed to get involved in the battle against increasing truck traffic in mid-June, they expressed uncertainty how the city should focus their efforts.
City staff offered two other paths of action to be considered: One approach would be to write a check from the city to the local citizen-formed Committee to Stop the Trucks. Another would be to call for an ad hoc committee of council members and local representatives to consider the issue. The latter would be complicated because everyone’s interests are different and it’s hard to get a unified voice, said city manager Jere Kersnar. People in Cuyama are against the mine proposal itself while Ojai residents are primarily concerned about the routes that trucks take, he said.
After discussing the issue with city attorney Monte Widders, Kersnar decided to recommend that staff continue to work on the issue as a separate entity, cooperating and communicating with the citizen’s Committee to Stop the Trucks.
The proposed plan of action was modeled after the successful dispute against the Weldon Canyon dump site proposal in the early 1990s.
In that case both the city of Ojai and a citizen’s group sued the trash company and won,
though both entities worked very closely with one another, said Widders, who represented the city in the Weldon Canyon lawsuit.
With the battle against the Diamond Rock Gravel Mine proposal, the city and committee must exhaust all administrative remedies before filing any lawsuits, said Widders.
That means waiting for the proposal to be reviewed by the state government before returning to the Santa Barbara Planning Commission for approval, said Jan Chatten of Chatten-Brown & Carsten’s, currently representing the Committee to Stop the Trucks.
If Santa Barbara Planning Commission approves the project, with no adequate mitigation measures to protect Ojai from a huge influx of truck traffic, then the city of Ojai can appeal the decision to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors under the California Environmental Quality Act. If their appeal is rejected, then the city and the citizen’s committee can sue.
“We are at a similar stage in the Diamond Rock mine proposal to the stage when the city got involved in the Weldon Canyon dump site proposal,” said Widders.
“It was a successful model in that case,” he said.

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