Liberty Quarry Final Environmental Impact Report is Released

The Riverside County Planning Department has released the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for Granite Construction’s proposed Liberty Quarry Project south of Temecula. At 8,500 pages, the document is easily half again as long as the draft EIR released last year. I haven’t slogged through the report yet but preliminary indication is that it backs up the draft EIR findings that Riverside County would benefit economically and environmentally from the proposed quarry location.

That will have no impact whatsoever on quarry opponents who argue that the blasting will disrupt the area, reduce property values, contribute to earthquakes, and produce clouds of deadly silica dust that will entomb our region. To say it’s been an impassioned argument over the past few years would be an understatement. Sadly, it has pitted neighbor against neighbor, city against county and logic against emotion more than once. The Letters to the Editor section of the local paper would dry up if not for the continual missives pro & con on this single subject.

I posted information on this two years ago after our Directors had visited another quarry site and the SDSU Preserve area adjacent to where the new quarry would be located. The Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors® has not taken a position on the quarry project but has attempted to bring accurate information to our members so they have some background should they choose to make their own informed decision. You can get that background here:

Liberty Quarry & Private Property Rights

SDSU Showcases the Santa Margarita Watershed

Public hearings have been scheduled for the project on April 26 and May 3 at Rancho Community Church (31300 Rancho Community Way) in Temecula starting at 4 pm.

The report is available for your perusal at: Liberty Quarry Final EIR

Few will actually read it, everybody will be quoting the ‘facts’ as they interpret them. And no matter which side prevails in the County’s final decision, we may be assured this will tie up the courts for several more years. Some people have more solid granite between their ears than would be mined from the Liberty Quarry in the next 75 years.

Attack!

RCWD Building Moratorium gets Squashed Thanks to Grassroots Effort.

Last evening the people of our community spoke and, for a change, somebody listened. That somebody, Rancho California Water District, had proposed a BUILDING MORATORIUM by eliminating eliminating the issuance of water availability letters and the installation of new water meters. That would have deleteriously impacted residential and commercial development in the City of Temecula, some in the City of Murrieta, the Wine Country and other unincorporated areas including the vineyards and avocado and citrus groves.

The effort brought out am avalanche of community response, hundreds of letters and emails generated by the business and Real Estate community, and a parade of speakers in opposition to the proposal – a true Grassroots effort. City and County leaders, developers, wineries, Realtors, attorneys business owners and ‘just plain folks’ spoke out against this poorly conceived and ill-timed matter.

The outpouring was so large that RCWD had to bring in workers to direct traffic in their lot and post security. As one Director noted, there were more people assembled last night than they’ve seen in total in the past ten years.

The dog-and-pony show that preceded public comments included presentations from RCWD General Manager Matt Stone as well as representatives from the Metropolitan Water District and the Eastern and Western Municipal Water Districts. I suspect RCWD brought these folks in thinking they would bolster RCWD‘s position in playing up the water crisis. Unfortunately these representatives did just the opposite. They spoke of being ‘under allocation’, the positive effects that conservation measures have provided and the variety of projects underway and planned to address the shortage at the local and state level. Kinda takes the wind out of your sails when the people you get the water from poo-poo your whole rationale. As Eastern’s GM told us – the problem is not No water but rather no CHEAP water.

There is no denying that California is experiencing a drought – a combination of natural drought caused by less rainfall and snowpack the past 3 years, and a regulatory drought caused by a federal judge responding to environmentalists concerned about the possible extinction of the Delta Smelt. This last aspect has actually contributed more to the problem than the lack of rainfall, leading to greatly restricted water flowing to 20 million Southern Californians and to the Central Valley.

The Central Valley of our state, often referred to as the foodbasket of the nation, has allowed over 200,000 acres to go fallow from lack of irrigation water, entire groves of fruit and nut trees are dying and unemployment is over 40%. New tiered water rate structures have boosted everybodies bills by 20% – 40% with more coming in spite of the fact that demand from our largest wholesaler – Metropolitan, has declined in each of the last four years.

Our water companies have borrowed a page from the oil company playbook – whenever there’s a shortage, whether real or perceived, don’t miss that opportunity to jack your rates. But as I told them last night, not even the oil companies are shortsighted enough to propose a moratorium on building automobiles. Our local economy is built around positive growth – shut that down, you shut down the whole revenue stream,the job market and critical city services.

The problem with the Director who proposed the moratorium, Jack Hoagland, is that he is being myopic to a fault. He is looking at the issue as if water is the only player in the game. He has consistently refused to acknowledge that he is surrounded by an entire forest as he focuses on a single tree, that water is but one tile in the mosaic that makes up our economic community.

The efforts of our cities, our EDC, our Chambers has been to support the businesses that are trying to hang on during these challenging times and attract new ones bringing much needed job growth to the area. Currently over 60% of our residents still commute to San Diego, Orange or LA counties to work. A moratorium is a job-killer for our community while chasing those jobs and tax revenue to nearby cities not subject to RCWD. It shuts off the spigot not just for water but for much needed jobs.

Last night five out of seven RCWD Directors got it. Thankfully.

But as they and other pointed out, we need an El Nino this winter, Colorado needs a lot of snow, and we as a state need to pass the recently enacted $11 Billion water bond measure next year to bring some long term relief to our over burdened water infrastructure. Otherwise this moratorium proposal may be revisited and next time we may not prevail.

If the meeting accomplished nothing else, it elevated the discussion to a whole new level and provided a good education to a lot of people who may not otherwise be engaged. RCWD is evaluating other alternatives now and a new dialogue has been opened between them and the community they serve. Let’s hope we can all make the most of this reprieve.


Stop the RCWD Building Moratorium

In  a recent Community Forum for The Californian, Jack Hoagland, a Director with the Rancho California Water District, posted a piece entitled “What part of ‘water crisis’ escapes understanding?’ In his post, Hoagland details his proposal for Rancho Water to ‘temporarily stop issuing water supply letters (necessary in the approval process for new development) and to stop installing water meters.’

Translation: BUILDING MORATORIUM.

I’m not sure if Hoagland actually believes the specious arguments he puts forward or if the whole scheme is his attempt to shock the community into a response. As he summarizes, “We need action from our development community to pressure the Legislature to resolve the state water issues.”

Perhaps he believes his plan to hold the community hostage is what it will take. Perhaps he hasn’t been aware of, or participated in, the numerous efforts by local businesses (including developers), municipalities and Rancho Water District customers to effect comprehensive change with the legislature through numerous letter writing campaigns and personal visits.

Or perhaps he truly is that out of touch with the community he purports to serve. The ‘if we don’t build it, they won’t come’ philosophy went out of favor during Jerry Brown’s last term.

What we do not need is an attempt by Rancho Water or any other group to stifle legitimate development in this economic climate. While Hoagland alludes to ‘vacant malls and commercial centers’ and the high residential foreclosure rate, he doesn’t seem to grasp that these have already had a severe dampening effect on development. Considering that demand for new resources is at a virtual standstill due to the housing and commercial meltdown, this call for a moratorium accomplishes no positive purpose. It’s only apparent purpose is to heap insult onto an already severely injured party – namely the citizens, businesses, municipalities and ratepayers of RCWD.

Yet with our residential housing market carrying an active inventory of just over 1 month, the need for additional housing stock will become apparent before long. Similarly with the lack of funding mechanisms currently available for commercial development, only well conceived and funded projects are going forward, the rest are waiting until the current glut of available space is reduced. At a time when everybody from our President to our Governor to our city leaders understand the need to create job opportunities to return our economy to a more robust footing, Rancho Water is proposing to literally turn off the spigot on the cities efforts to attract new jobs to our region.  This is counter-productive at best, idiotically negligent at worst.

We are joined in our efforts by the Cities of Temecula and Murrieta, by our County Supervisor, the Southwest California Legislative Council, The Murrieta Temecula Group, the Building Industry Association and other business and advocacy groups throughout Southwest California.

If you agree that the last slap our community needs right now is a building moratorium, please join me at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on November 9th at the Rancho Water District board room at 42135 Winchester Ave in Temecula (Winchester West of Diaz). Hoagland claims he would like to ‘hear our ideas and views’. Let’s make sure he does – politely and concise.

In addition to our SRCAR email campaign, our partners at the Southwest California Legislative Council have also instituted a letter writing campaign which you can participate in by clicking below.

rcwd

Imagine No Temecula Valley Wine Country

It seemed appropriate this morning that I was driving through the Temecula Valley Wine Country to hear a presentation on the vineyards. It was a glorious morning, the vines have sprouted about a foot of verdant green foliage, there was a gentle ground mist wending its way through the hills and above the mist, two hot air balloons hovered silently. One of those morning calling out for a good camera – which I didn’t have.vines

Now imagine the vineyards, the mist, the balloons didn’t exist in Temecula. It almost happened.

mistWas it really only ten years ago that Wine Spectator Magazine headlined an article ‘The End for California Wines’? In the late 90’s, a new pest, the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter (GWSS), caused severe damage to grapevines in California, including wiping out as much as 40% of some Temecula Valley grape stock. The GW Sharpshooter spread a fatal bacterium called Pierce’s Disease which had the potential to be as devastating to California’s grape crop as the phylloxera had back in the 1980’s.

Phylloxera, an aphid like creature fond of snacking on grape vine roots, has been under control for the past several years but remains a background threat if unmanaged. After a decade, they believe the GW Sharpshooter is also largely contained but requires vigilant monitoring and ongoing eradication attempts.

They meaning the team that has been working on this issue for the past ten years and have given our winegrowers a new lease on life. A unique partnership of federal, state and local agriculture departments, industry and research institutions is not only controlling the root louse, but is building a foundation of new information on viticulture diseases in general.

Long time residents remember driving out Rancho California and seeing over 300 acres of vineyard destroyed and plowed under to try to stay ahead of the bug. Local grove manager Ben Drake says “Research helped Temecula recover from our devastating losses. The lessons learned and the partnerships formed here with other industries are helping keep GWSS and PD from spreading to other parts of the state until there is a permanent solution.”

gwssWhat made our outbreak so virulent was that in the past the disease had always transmitted itself via local insects. These local bugs would acquire the bacterium from infected plants growing adjacent to the vineyards. The infection was always transmitted early in the season and could be controlled.

The GWSS brought a new dimension to the game by being able to acquire the infection from either an infected plant or an infected vine and then passing it on to every vine it subsequently lunched on. Prior to GWSS, vine-to-vine transmission was virtually unheard of. And with the infection period spread across the whole growing season, the collapse of water-bearing capillaries was deadly.

Mounting a massive attack funded by federal and state government with significant contributions by wineries statewide, the insect spread has been contained and there are areas of Napa & Sonoma where the insect has been eradicated. In monitored vineyards, and neighboring citrus groves, where the GWSS winter, there has not been a single infestation or major damage report for several years.

These folks are an optimistic and focused group. They regaled us with tales of Green Zone Barriers, biological control, and the fascinating life of a GWSS, complete with photos and a specimen display. But it is a great example of things going right, for a change. And of a lot of people cooperating, including legislators, business owners, universities and more. For more information on this chapter of California history, visit Pierce’s Disease Control Program or PD/GWSS Forum. It is an ongoing battle as is the need for funding to continue.

I would feel a lot more comfortable if these people were looking into the swine flu bug for us.

Prop 8 Tax Relief Expanded back to 2001!

I spoke with Riverside County Assessor/Clerk/Recorder Chief Larry Ward yesterday about Prop 8 property tax reductions this year. He wanted everyone to know 2 things and communicate it to their clients.

  • EVERYBODY who had an adjustment last year will automatically be re-evaluated this year. Last year, you may recall, they re-assessed every property in the county that had been purchased since 2004. Those Buyers will get another swing at reducing their taxes – and with property values off by as much as 30% in some cases, chances are good they will save a few more greenbacks this year.
  • This year – EVERYBODY who purchased a home since 2001 will automatically be re-assessed. They figure County-wide, our prices are roughly back to 2001 levels so rather than being bombarded by individual requests, they’ll just do it by area and year and save everybody the trouble.

I know a number of people I’ve spoken with who got a re-assess last year didn’t feel it represented the current value of their home too acurately – but if you do have a problem with it you can always file an appeal at the time. They’ll notify you of your new value in July and you have until September to file.

Remember – if you do decide to file that Reduction in Value Form, don’t pay anyone up-front to provide the numbers. A reputable Realtor can help you out.

For a complete rundown please visit: The Riverside County Assessor – County Clerk – Recorders office.

Menifee – The 1st State of the City

menifee

An assortment of business and civic leaders gathered today for the inaugural State of the City address for California’s newest city, Menifee (incorporated October 1, 2008). It was a low-key event compared to many I’ve attended but the atmosphere was positive and upbeat and, dare I say, small-town America friendly. It was held at the Sun City (now part of the City of Menifee) Masonic Lodge. The room was hot, the sound system archaic, the food was bland but nobody cared because there was a sense of enthusiasm and purpose in the message and it was great fun to be a part of this 1st celebration.

After a prolonged introduction of VIP’s including council members from neighboring cities as well as representatives of county, state and federal legislators, 3rd District Jeff Stone gave the Welcome Announcement. There have been times past when I have been less than complimentary of Jeff but he has grown remarkably in the Supervisors role. His talk was candid yet optimistic about the challenges facing  our nation, our state and our region. The very thought that citizens would want to incorporate a city during these trying economic times is a testimony to the American spirit. Jeff provided insights on the recent budget battles in Sacramento and the impact those decisions will have on our municipalities.

Frequent readers are aware that though California as a whole is tragically liberal Democratic, the Inland Empire and especially our region of Southwest California is delightfully conservative Republican – one reason our region does better than many other areas of the state. So while there were some jabs thrown at the recent stimulus bill, our leaders are not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. If there’s pork to be ladled out, we’re lining up with our BBQ sauce to make the most of it. Since most of us work hard and pay our share of taxes, no use letting all that government generosity with our money go only to the undeserving and the ungrateful. So we will continue to build roads and infrastructure while keeping as many people as possible employed. And while the county is facing fiscal challenges, Jeff has introduced a SCRAPE Program designed to cut waste, reduce consumption of resources and increase our environmental sensitivity while maintaining service in this fast growing region.

Mayor Wallace Edgerton‘s address was equally upbeat. In spite of being brand new, in spite of star-up costs and in spite of property tax revenue significantly lower than forecast, the City is anticipating a budget surplus of over $5 million this year. Frequently citing Etionne’s search for the ‘heart and soul of a city’, Mayor Edgerton confessed it was probably a little early to determine the heart and soul of Menifee. But he cited several examples of the search for the heart.

He noted the attendance of officials from neighboring cities as a conduit to the heart of our region. As our region progresses, so too will the prosperity of ALL our cities – not just one or another but all together. He applauded the staff that has been assembled to guide the young city, noting a level of experience well in advance of many established cities, let alone a city so new. These people are the heart of city government. He pointed to the new mall as the business heart of the city,  Mt. San Jacinto college as the cultural and educational heart of the city, and the way the citizens themselves have come together behind the city as the caring heart of the city

After the week we’ve had – between our state legislature’s double dealings and tax increases, and the Obama dog & pony circus, this is the event that should have been televised as a heartland success story and a very upbeat way to end the week.

Unfortunately we’ve still got a couple days left. No doubt somebody’ll figure out some way to screw it up.

But not in Menifee.

(Your Association was a proud sponsor of this event)