Vested Rights Granted to Lehigh Cement in Santa Clara County

I’m still getting Google alerts on “vested rights” after following the Blue Lead Mine application for that right some months ago.

Aerial View of Lehigh Quarry -- Cupertino

Today’s alert points to an article describing a decision by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (against the advice of its own staff) to grant vested rights to Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, which will now not have to apply for new land-use permits to quarry on 13 of 19 parcels it owns in unincorporated lands adjacent to the towns of Cupertino and Los Altos in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead, it will be able to operate under the rules in place at the time mining first began on their property.

The Santa Clara County BOS was apparently very influenced by our own Nevada County Hansen case. In fact, the attorney in the Hansen case (Mark Harrison) also argued this case before the Santa Clara County Board (he was allowed 15 minutes to speak, but the main opposition group, No Toxic Air, was not accorded equal time).

County staff members had placed a boundary around the areas where they said they could show there had been mining, or intent to mine, which included portions of parcels.

The recommendation was to grant vested rights within those boundaries. Instead, supervisors granted rights to entire parcels.

It was a disappointing decision for Quarry No founder Bill Almon of Los Altos Hills.

“The impact of this is huge,” he said. “I don’t think (the supervisors) realize what they were giving up.”

Despite the assurances by staff that future activities will include reclamation plans and environmental reviews, Almon called those measures weak compared with land-use permits, which he claimed gives government more regulatory control.

Also disappointed was Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang, who led a protest outside of the county headquarters before the hearing and passionately addressed the board—to some low “boos” from Lehigh supporters in the audience.

Chang said he and his group, No Toxic Air, had asked that their attorneys be given the same amount of time to address the board as Lehigh’s attorney, 15 minutes. The request was denied, leaving members one minute apiece to speak.

Their goal, Chang said, was to point to other court cases that they believe allow government bodies to rule against vested rights when there is potential harm to the public involved. It was why members pointed over and over again to possible harm from mercury and other toxins emitted by the plant.

This part of the Peninsula is our old stomping ground. Los Altos, particularly the town of Los Altos Hills, is a very upscale area, nestled near the mostly beautiful foothills of the southern Peninsula.

Here’s a fascinating short YouTube video posted on one of the opposition websites, No Toxic Air, highlighting the toxic mercury risks of Lehigh’s quarry operations:

And here’s the Granicus video of the portion of the February 8th Santa Clara Board of Supervisors meeting in which the Lehigh issue was discussed (after video starts, click on Item #27)


More Resources

Quarry No

No Toxic Air

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3 Responses to “Vested Rights Granted to Lehigh Cement in Santa Clara County”
  1. Jamie Sanders says:

    Oddly, the “vested area,” which will no longer require 21st century conditional use permit for mining expansion, included the “East Materials Storage Area,” cited for unpermitted dumping of mining waste originally documented in a 2006 Notice of Violation. The quarry admitted it dumped outside its approved area. This menacing mountain of mining overburden is highly visible. To this day, there is neither an approved reclamation plan in place for this violation nor for a landslide, which compromised adjacent parkland in 2002. In late 2010, Lehigh declared its vested right to mine at the “East Materials Storage Area” in spite of its absence from the facility’s own 2007 vested boundary map.

    From 1941 until 1995 the land was owned by publicly traded Kaiser Aluminum, which manufactured magnesium for incendiary bombs, ferrosilicon, phosphate fertilizer, and extruded aluminum products. This company also had its run-ins with regulators. In 1989 it was fined $79,392 for improper storage and handling of hazardous materials leading to impacted ground water. While the company did import mined materials such as dolomite, serpentine, bauxite, and phosphate rock, the company did not mine on site, so it did not have vested rights to mine.

    Echoing Los Altos and Los Altos Hills council member misgivings over bias, as the county derives tax revenue from the facility, angry speakers demanded that Supervisor Liz Kniss recuse herself. Political enmeshment with this quarry and cement plant is longstanding. In 1985, the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission reversed county counsel opinion and ruled unanimously that Supervisor Tom Legan, employed by the facility, could not vote on his own proposal that would financially benefit his employer. In 1996, supervisorial candidate and 8-year Cupertino council member (and Bay Area Air Quality Management District board member) Barbara Koppel was fined for accepting too much money from Hanson and failed to accurately report $500 from Assemblyman Jim Cunneen – who is now a consultant to Lehigh Hanson. Last but not least, former Cupertino Mayor Sandra James is now employed as the company’s community affairs and public relations manager.

  2. Bob says:

    Good decision. On the one hand America is suffering from a lack of jobs. On the other hand, NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activitists try and shut down the few remaining jobs that have not been shipped out of the country yet.

    New EPA guidelines take care of the mercury issue – see

  3. depelton says:

    Thanks for your comment, Bob. I disagree with it completely.

    You lose credibility when you say that “activists try and shut down the few remaining jobs,” as if that were their goal. Activists — and I include myself — want jobs that don’t violate the right of the rest of the community to to clean air and streams.

    Mercury is only a small part of the problem:

    “The plant burns 20 tons of fossil fuel per hour in order to heat the mercury laden limestone to 2700º, releasing huge amounts of small particulates, criteria pollutants, over 1 million metric tons of CO2 plus other Green House Gases (GHG) per year, mercury, benzene, dioxin and other dangerous pollutants.

    The limestone mining and processing operation has blasted and scraped a 220 acre open pit mine in the formerly forested hills, consumed hundreds of additional acres for mining activities, creates continual mining dust and noise which reach the communities and has caused water pollution. Now another 200 acre open pit mine is proposed along with over a hundred acres of additional mining disturbances, potentially adding more pollution to Permanente Creek along with mining dust and noise. The mercury laden limestone and aggregate rock mining would destroy large swaths of oak and bay forest habitats.

    Toxic emissions from hundreds of diesel trucks per day carrying cement and aggregate stone.”

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