AB 742 – Bad Bill Jeopardizes Property Rights, Usurps Local Land Use Process, Diminishes Business Climate

Barbara DeBoom
President/CEO, Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce

A broad and growing coalition of influential labor, business, education, and local government groups has come together to kill Assembly Bill 742, a so-called “gut and amend” measure that would usurp local government land use decision-making, put new jobs and vital revenue at risk, and further diminish the business climate in California.

The bill was cobbled together with new language just days before the end of the Legislative Session by Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) specifically to help the politically powerful and wealthy Pechanga Tribe of Luiseno Indians circumvent local land use authorities and kill a planned aggregate quarry project near Temecula.

The Liberty Quarry project already has been in the Riverside County permitting process for six years. It has a final Environmental Impact Report in place and it is under review by the county planning commission and the Board of Supervisors is expected to act before the end of the year.

After remaining largely incommunicado on the project for years the Pechanga leadership now claims that the project would impact a sacred site, even though the tribe in 2009 supported a project that would have built scores of homes on the same site. And in 2005, Pechanga tribal monitors were present at two different visits to the prospective quarry site visits during extensive review and identified no cultural artifacts on the project site. The potential for being a sacred site was not raised until years later. And now Pechanga’s own maps shows their sacred site of creation is closer to their casino than to the proposed quarry project.

Under this pretense, the hastily drafted and ill-conceived language in AB 742 sets a dangerous precedent by ceding to a sovereign tribal government the de facto power of condemnation without compensation over any private property outside their reservation and possibly any similar projects anywhere in California. The bill effectively bypasses the local government permitting and environmental process, taking land use authority away from local elected officials and handing the decision-making power to Sacramento.

AB 742 also sends a terrible message to California businesses, even as other states continue to lure away our business and industry. Liberty Quarry is expected to generate hundreds of desperately-needed jobs in an area that has one of the worst unemployment rates in the state. These include jobs at the quarry, in the transportation sector, and other areas of the construction industry, which has been devastated by the economic downturn. AB 742 perpetuates the growing perception that the business climate in California is in free fall and complicates the state’s ability to compete more vigorously for new jobs, new and expanded business, and investment growth.

The direct economic benefits of the Liberty Quarry project are extensive and would evaporate if AB 742 is approved. These include $300 million in new sales tax revenue; $41 million in new property taxes and fees; $2.2 million in Riverside County taxes annually; and $6.1 million in State of California taxes annually. At a time of budget shortfalls and the critical need for additional revenue for vital local and state services, AB 742 is misguided at best.

Another consequence is the prospective loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in California teachers’ retirement revenue if the project is killed. According to the State Lands Commission, royalties from the extraction of mineral resources at the Liberty Quarry could total “hundreds of millions of dollars” over the life of the project that would help to fund the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).

On a practical level, the Liberty Quarry helps to offset a severe shortage of aggregate materials in Southern California to build roads, freeways, hospitals and schools. Caltrans and the Department of Conservation support the development and benefits of new aggregate sites like Liberty Quarry. Local aggregate supplies reduce truck traffic, diesel fuel consumption, and air emissions. The State Mining and Geology Board classified the Liberty Quarry site as an important mineral source and the South Coast Air Quality Management District believes that “this project could become a leader in the industry for its commitment to reducing air quality and health impacts.”

Allowing a single special interest to manipulate the legislative process to kill a very important infrastructure project that produces jobs and local revenue sends the wrong message to Californians and is the polar opposite of what the California economy needs right now. Rather than destructive measures like AB 742, which is being heard in Senate Natural Resources this Tuesday, legislators need to act on policies that improve the certainty of those who invest in the California economy.

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