In spite of an avalanche of public opinion to the contrary, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Feb. 9 to uphold the planning commission decision to allow the proposed asphalt plant at Hogan Quarry to operate without a conditional use permit. The board received a petition with 958 signatures in support of reversing the commission. However, formal appeals of the commission decision filed by MyValleySprings.com, a local non-profit organization, and six individuals were denied by Supervisors Cliff Edson, Steve Kearney and Michael Oliveira. Supervisors Chris Wright and Debbie Ponte voted to grant the appeals.

County Environmental Health Officer Jason Boetzer had determined that “the type, method of use or quantity of hazardous substances at the proposed asphalt plant may have a significant effect on the environment,” and, therefore, a conditional use permit is required, which would trigger environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The board of supervisors rejected Boetzer’s determination in favor of the applicants, Ford Construction and C.B. Asphalt, which maintained that a conditional use permit represents a redundant layer of environmental review due to the myriad state and federal agencies that must approve the operation of asphalt plants. Even if such redundancy exists, it should not have impacted the interpretation of the code governing local affairs.

The majority decision amounted to a paternalistic, “Because I said so.” Edson relied, in part, on the planning commission decision but also said his vote was intended to promote business. In spite of his “great compassion for the health risks and environmental risks” associated with the asphalt plant, he opined that we need to give preferential treatment to certain projects and put them “on the top of the list sometimes.” He did not explain how that preference should be bestowed.

Kearney said we need economic development ostensibly more than we need to protect the property rights of residents near the proposed plant. He does not believe that the proposed asphalt plant will impact property values in the residential areas surrounding the site in spite of 150 trucks of uncovered asphalt per day traveling through the neighborhood during times of peak asphalt production.

Kearney asserted that there is “nothing that won’t be covered” by the environmental review associated with an authority to construct, in spite of the fact that Planning Director Peter Maurer said that environmental review associated with a conditional use permit is broader and covers more issues than an authority to construct, The Calaveras County Air Pollution Control District is the entity that issues an authority to construct. Our local air pollution control officer is Boetzer, the environmental health officer who determined a conditional use permit is needed.

Oliveira attempted to undermine Boetzer’s qualifications to make the proper determination regarding the use of hazardous materials at the asphalt plant, asking Boetzer about his time on the job and his experience with similar issues. Oliveira ruled that the environmental health officer’s decision was made “incorrectly and inaccurately.” Oliveira said he had applicable personal experience. He dismissed the concerns of local physician Dr. Benedicto Estoesta, one of the appellants, because Estoesta is a family practitioner with “no specialized knowledge.” Oliveira preferred to rely on the testimony of the applicants’ consultants.

The scope of review for the authority to construct is unclear. I emailed both Maurer and Boetzer requesting clarification, but I did not receive responses. Attorney Tom Infusino of the Calaveras Planning Coalition believes full environmental review is required regardless of the supervisors’ decision.

Joyce Techel of MyValleySprings.com said, “We are actively pursuing all of our legal options.” If I were suing, my primary exhibit would be the county staff report. Techel also said that the three supervisors who denied the appeals “want any business and any jobs at any cost and under any circumstances” with “no local regulations or control.” It is important to note that upholding the appeals would not have been a denial of the asphalt plant. The applicants would have been free to proceed after obtaining a conditional use permit.

Keep in mind that Edson, Kearney and Oliveira previously voted to relieve developer Ryan Voorhees of his obligation to improve Olive Orchard Road, which by Voorhees’ estimation, as reported in the Stockton Record in 2004, would have cost “about $1 million.” These same three supervisors also mocked tradition by denying Wright the chairmanship of the board, opting instead to elect Edson to a second consecutive year. They removed Ponte against her will from the Calaveras Council of Governments and replaced her with Edson, who had previously resigned the position. It is painfully obvious that a voting bloc of three can rule the county.

Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer and Valley Springs resident. She is a member of the Calaveras Planning Coalition and former member of the board of directors for MyValleySprings.com. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.

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