Thursday, December 25, 2008

Long Road Ahead In Gravel Truck Fight

Violations continue to be reported, despite restrictions

By Linda Harmon
Even after a Ventura County court upheld C.U.P. restrictions for the Ozena gravel mines for both north- and south-bound traffic, and re-affirmed the county’s power to apply them, the gravel trucks keep on rolling. And Stop the Trucks Coalition says it must keep on fighting.
“We intend to keep protecting the valley from these interests that would violate their conditional use permits and send more trucks rumbling through our valley,” said Howard Smith, vice chairman of Stop the Trucks.
Stop the Trucks has been actively documenting violations in hopes of either getting county officials to strictly enforce existing governmental controls, or revoke the offending mine’s C.U.P. entirely. At its Oct. 14 meeting, the city of Ojai joined the effort and committed to backing the nonprofit organization with needed funds.
According to Smith, there have been numerous recent violations by gravel trucks traveling along the Highway 33 corridor during forbidden hours. The mine’s C.U.P. allows gravel trucks to travel only between 6 to 7 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.
The group has been in contact with Kim Rodriguez, Ventura County Planning director, and her superiors, requesting all weight tickets from Ozena between Dec. 1, 2007 and Aug. 12, 2008, to gain more evidence of non-compliance and force the withdrawal of Ozena’s C.U.P., which would halt its operations.
“It appears that the enforcement work of the prior weeks with Ozena has been to little avail,” wrote Smith in an e-mail to Rodriguez. “This morning, Dec. 18, 2008, a dark blue, double hopper truck from Pride Trucking passed by Nordhoff High School just as students were arriving, heading north at 7:37 a.m., in apparent violation of the allowed hours of travel through the Ojai Valley.”
That is only one of eight complaints noted in the e-mail sent to Rodriguez by Smith regarding Ozena’s operations in the last two months.
According to Smith, he was pleased by the footnote in County Court Judge Glen Reiser’s Dec. 10 decision rejecting Ozena’s owner Elizabeth Virgilio’s writ petition, saying that the owners should be happy they can continue to operate at all. In a recent e-mail to members, Smith wrote, “It is a huge victory for the Stop the Trucks Coalition, particularly considering a footnote by Judge Reiser, which states: ‘The initial permit allows for a five-year extension if the Planning Director, assuming, ‘all conditions have been continuously complied with’ by petitioners, authorizes such continued use. Since the County has already found permit violations, it might well be an abuse of discretion for the Planning Director to authorize such an extension. This issue however is not before the court.’”
Smith’s e-mail also points out another oversight by county officials who failed to heed warnings about the potential collapse of State Route 33. The road, in fact, collapsed in February of 2008.
According to Smith, in a letter dated Aug. 21, 2006, the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council warned county officials that “SR-33 has suffered many landslides and slipped roadways in past years. The vibration created by the mine’s trucks on SR-33 may be adding significantly to the problem of road slippage, slumps, and slides. No review of vibration as a potential impact on SR-33 has been included in the Draft MND and vibration from trucks may present a significant adverse impact on the environment.”
According to Smith, a Caltrans District 7 traffic study dated July 2007, concluded that State Route 33 is maintained to provide safe travel for all motorists and is designed to accommodate large trucks. After the collapse, Maria Raptis, spokesperson for Caltrans District 7, said that the study had focused exclusively on the geometric design of the road for safe and orderly movement of vehicles, but not on the effect of the vibrations caused by the heavy trucks.
Stop the Trucks Coalition has repeatedly questioned whether SR-33 should be open to any heavy gravel trucks. Smith questions “why extensive studies of the impact of gravel trucks are being excluded from the EIR review process.”
Truck travel and its regulation are further complicated for area governments as gravel trucks often travel across county boundaries, necessitating that area governments work together.
Stop the Trucks and officials from both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties reached a temporary solution at an earlier hearing for expansion of the Diamond Rock Mine. They decided further escalation of trips into their boundaries was best achieved by cooperation and promised to only grant new, or modifying existing C.U.P.s, for mining operations whose traffic stayed within their own boundaries. The compromise is tenuous, depending on each county to uphold their end of the bargain. No other method has been put forward since for a problem that seems unlikely to go away soon.
The future of this issue is further complicated by what Caltrans sees as an increasing need for materials to maintain state infrastructure. Stop The Trucks and the Ojai Valley may face an uphill battle if the demand for gravel rises with potential funding from the incoming Obama administration, an issue Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett addressed in a recent e-mail.
“The county doesn’t actually expect a windfall of infrastructure funding,” said Bennett, “nor any substantial increase in public works projects in the Ojai Valley. However … if additional state and or federal transportation funding becomes available it would move up the repaving of county roads; i.e. roads would be repaved sooner rather than later.”

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