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.
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)