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County Supervisors Unanimously Vote in Favor of Quarry Land Rights

Land use rights win over public pressure to require tougher oversight of Lehigh Southwest Cement.

In a major win for the Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday evening in favor of "vested rights" for the majority of the company's mining operations at the Permanente quarry, despite calls from dozens of residents to limit or deny those rights.

The vote means that Lehigh will not have to apply for new land use permits for future mining operations on 13 of 19 parcels it owns in the foothills near Cupertino and Los Altos. However, the company does have to file what are called reclamation plans for any future activities.

Supervisors heard from more than 100 speakers on both sides of the issue. Lehigh employees packed the chambers, leaving most residents who were speaking against the the company standing in the back of the room or sitting in a nearby meeting room with a direct video feed.

While opponents to vested rights argued that stricter environmental oversight of Lehigh's operations in the foothills  was needed, the supervisors noted that any proposed mining activities—including a new 200-acre pit mine under consideration later this year—will still have to undergo environmental review, even with vested rights.

Patch will have a complete report on Wednesday.

Ignatius Y. Ding February 15, 2011 at 01:57 AM
The following was published in SJMN related to the subject matter: http://www.mercurynews.com/letters/ci_17365011 Lehigh's 'rights' a false pretense Lehigh Southwest never had the vested rights to mine limestone in Santa Clara County ("Mining firm's grandfather rights preserved," Page 2B, Feb. 10). Its corporate attorneys came up with this unproven assertion after it was found repeatedly failing to apply for land-use permits in accordance to the state mining laws. Even if Lehigh did have the vested rights to its original property situated between Los Altos and Cupertino, the rights would not apply or be "grandfathered" to the lots that it purchased after 1948 when the county formally started to process and document land-use applications. The county staff made the point very clear in their report to the board of supervisors. The politicians brushed off the critics and voted unanimously to extend the mining rights to Lehigh against the letters and intent of the law. The health threat is not merely against the nearby neighbors but the entire county and beyond. Ignatius Y. Ding Cupertino
Anne Ernst February 15, 2011 at 02:16 AM
Ignatius, I'm interested in learning why you say Lehigh never had 'vested rights.' On what basis?
Charlie February 16, 2011 at 02:50 PM
If you mined land PRIOR to the government established permit laws, then you may claim "vested rights" and continue to use these lands without being subject to the new regulations. This is called "grandfathering" - you can legally continue your use of the land subject to the original regulations even if the current use is "non-conforming" with current laws. This was the most objectionable part of the county sup decision. The cement plant land comprises numerous parcels, some of which have been in use since the 1900's and others of which have NEVER been in production. The county's own administrative staff identified the subset of land that had actively been in use prior to 1948 when permits begin being required for use, but the supervisors IGNORED their own staff input and granted vested rights for the entire Lehigh property lacking any reasonable justification. This is the improper grant of vested rights that Ignatius speaks of. Charlie
Jamie Sanders February 17, 2011 at 02:18 AM
County supervisors allowed Lehigh Hanson to expand mining without a conditional use permit, which imposes modern land-use regulations. Most perplexing was the East Materials Storage Area cited for unpermitted mining activity in 2006. In 2010, Lehigh declared its vested right to mine there although their own 2007 vested boundary map indicated otherwise. From 1941 to 1995 Kaiser Aluminum owned the land, manufacturing magnesium for bombs, ferrosilicon, fertilizer, and aluminum products; no mining occured on site so it was not vested for mining. On Tuesday, although the quarry has been slapped with 185 mining safety violations in 2010, loyal employees pleaded for their jobs while Silicon Valley residents begged for regulation. Echoing Los Altos and Los Altos Hills council members bias concerns, as the county derives tax revenues, speakers demanded Supervisor Kniss recuse herself. More on political enmeshment: In 1985, the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission reversed county counsel opinion and ruled unanimously that Supervisor 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 BAAQMD board member) Koppel was fined for accepting too much money from Hanson and failed to accurately report $500 from Assemblyman Cunneen - now a Lehigh Hanson consultant. Former Cupertino Mayor James is now employed as the company's PR manager.

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