Seeking to avoid a court battle or a divisive political fight over the recommended closure of Azusa Rock Inc., city officials will meet with the quarry’s representatives and its foes to discuss a truce.
But if the verbal melee at Monday night’s council meeting was any indication, no easy peace is in sight.
Accusations flew after the City Council instructed its planning staff to discuss with officials from Azusa Rock and neighboring Duarte steps the company could take to mitigate the environmental effects of the quarry’s operations while allowing it to continue mining Fish Canyon.
Quarry opponents, primarily an Azusa citizen’s group called Committee to Save the Foothills and Duarte, castigated the council over its action, claiming the city had surrendered to the threat of litigation posed by Azusa Rock.
Azusa officials stressed that the action does not mean that the City Council has made its decision on the issue, which was referred to the council in September after the Planning Commission unanimously recommended revoking the use permit for the 190-acre quarry.
“It’s still a pending matter,” City Administrator Julio J. Fuentes said. “I can’t say they’re leaning in any direction. What they’ve asked us to do is talk to the parties involved and bring back some recommendations.”
But Marlene A. Fox, the attorney representing Duarte, said council members’ willingness to discuss mitigation showed that their minds were already made up.
“They’ve effectively made a decision on the revocation of the use permit, only they don’t have the courage to announce it,” she said.
A hearing on whether to revoke the company’s 32-year-old permit or allow the quarrying to continue under new permit conditions was set for Nov. 21. The council’s decision put off the independent traffic, geology, noise and air-quality studies for which the city has set aside $100,000.
Councilman Tony D. Naranjo declared that the studies would be a waste, saying that the city already has ample evidence from a Planning Commission hearing held over 5 months. He successfully proposed, over the objections of Mayor Eugene F. Moses, that city staff members explore mitigation measures with Azusa Rock and Duarte.
“Whether we mitigate, whether we revoke, this city stands in a no-win position,” Naranjo said. “I feel we have the evidence now. I think we can sit down and mitigate (the quarry operation), and make it so that all parties can prevail in here, rather than having a war.”
The issue has created friction between Azusa and Duarte, with Azusa officials repeatedly accusing Duarte of meddling in Azusa politics.
At Monday’s meeting, Fox accused council members of trying to settle the issue without public scrutiny or comment by adding the item to the council agenda late Friday afternoon in the form of a little-seen addendum. Moreover, she said, they delayed their discussion until after midnight on Monday, when most of the audience had gone home.
“I think that this smacks of an end run around your citizens and around the city of Duarte,” she told the council.
Azusa officials denied they were trying to hide anything. Fuentes said he told Duarte City Manager Jesse H. Duff last week that the issue could come up. Duff said he knew the discussion was forthcoming, but said he was not informed that it would appear Monday.
“I’m appalled at the way they did it,” Fox said. “If their people don’t get mad enough to storm the City Hall doors, I don’t understand it. The way they did it just smells.”
Assurance From Latta
But Councilman Bruce Latta, who made closing the quarry a campaign issue in his unsuccessful April bid for mayor, said the council will be deliberate and consider all the options. Any mitigating measures will come up for public review in November, he said.
“Because this is such a delicate situation, we have to cover all our bases,” he said. “Obviously, this is going to wind up in court and we want to have the evidence to support our situation.
“Why Marlene Fox is so accusatory, I don’t know,” he said. “We don’t understand why she was so upset. If we don’t handle it exactly right, the court’s going to overturn our decision, no matter what it is.”
Despite the division between the cities, Duff said his city is willing to participate in the discussions about mitigation although its position remains unchanged.
“We want the conditional-use permit revoked,” he said. “But we have to be at the (bargaining) table.”
The basis for the discussion is likely to revolve around a 12-point compromise offered by Azusa’s planning staff during the commission’s hearings. Some of the major conditions would limit the quarry’s operating hours, improve dust control, reduce truck traffic, ban the use of dynamite and relocate the mining to an interior face of the canyon not visible from below.
Originally, Azusa Rock officials balked at half of the proposals but now say the points can be negotiated.
Azusa Rock President Tom Sheedy said the pending discussions could lead to measures that would allow the quarry to coexist with the cities.
“I think it’s a situation where everybody can be satisfied,” he said. “I think we will be able to adequately demonstrate that the mountain can be restored and be replanted . . . to mitigate the effects of mining.”
Linda Stahl-Smith, co-chairwoman of the Committee to Save the Foothills, said her group will seek to represent the community at the meetings.
“We don’t want anything to be snuck in and passed by the people without them knowing it,” she said. Moses, who in July unsuccessfully proposed that the city sue Azusa Rock and let the court decide the issue, said he voted against Naranjo’s proposal because he continues to support a legal solution.
Latta, however, said that Moses supported the motion in executive session, and began posturing once the council returned to public session to debate Naranjo’s proposal. Moses denied that he waffled, however, and said that he only supported the idea of saving the $100,000 in the earlier talks.