Part 1 of a multi-
Report and photo
by Logan Hall
The County of Ventura is on the verge of making a decision that could shut down a local business.
The Ojai Rock Quarry has been under fire as numerous violations have been filed by the county against Larry Mosler, the mine’s owner. Mosler and his supporters claim that the County – in particular district one supervisor Steve Bennett – is unjustly targeting his business due to unrelenting pressure from the local activist organization, Stop the Trucks! Coalition. Officials in both the county’s planning division and supervisor’s office say Mosler continues to fail to comply with required government guidelines for his mine and operating procedures, and that the County will be deciding on whether or not to uphold a revocation of his mining permit.
While Mosler points the finger at the county supervisor’s office, Bennett says that he can’t, and hasn’t acted on the issue until it goes before the board of supervisors. “There’s a clear line here,” said Bennett. “I cannot sit at the hearing of the Mosler revocation permit and represent the citizens if I have instructed the planning department what to do.”
Bennett did say that county staff has “tried to work with Mosler on this and feel they have taken the right steps.”
What, at face value, could seem like a proverbial “he said she said” argument goes much deeper.
Coalition advocates say that increasing truck trips from mines like Mosler’s are detrimental to the quality of life in the Ojai Valley and cause safety concerns to those frequenting Maricopa Highway. Mosler, however, claims to have greatly improved the mining operation since he purchased the quarry in 2005 and says he has done everything he can to comply with the County. He also has five employees that live in the Valley that depend on the mine to support themselves and for some, support their families.
Daryl Williamson has lived in the Valley his entire life and has worked for Mosler for almost 16 years cutting stone and operating a variety of heavy equipment. He relies on his salary from Mosler to take care of his family. He says that he’s just an average American that loves the town he grew up in, and is thankful to be able to raise his family here. “I have three kids and two of them live with me full time,” said Williamson, a single father and Nordhoff High School Graduate. “My family has been in the Ojai Valley since 1926. My kids go to Nordhoff. I’m just trying to get by.”
Williamson says that times are tough for him like so many other blue collar Americans in the nation’s workforce. In the harsh economic world today, he says he is grateful to have employment. “There aint no jobs out there right now,” he said. “If the county shuts us down, I guess Obama can pay for me.”
Oak View resident Jerry Jones has also lived in the valley his entire life. He’s worked for Mosler as the mine’s truck scale operator for three years and also relies on his income from his work at the quarry. “I have to pay rent like everyone else,” said Jones in between weighing trucks exiting the property to ensure they fall in line with government standards. “If this all goes down, I’ll have to start job hunting. It’s pretty slow everywhere though. There’s not much out there.”
Mosler’s employees aren’t the only locals that could be affected if the mine shuts down.
Some business owners and members of the community also believe that Mosler has been treated unjustly by the County. Long time valley resident and Ojai Rotary West member Les Gardener says Mosler is an honest businessman that has given back extensively to the community. “When we built Rotary Club Park next to the ‘Y’ intersection,” said Gardner who owns the Attitude Adjustment Shop in the “Y” shopping center, “we needed stone for the park’s wall. The planning commission said there wasn’t any money to fund the park, so we went to Mosler to see if he could give us a discount.”
Gardner says that Mosler was more than willing to help. “He donated all of the stone to the club,” he said. “It wasn’t just a little either. It was about $70,000 worth of stone and he allowed members to come up and pick it from his quarry. He’s a hard working guy trying to run his business.”
Others seem to echo Gardner’s thoughts. Cody Evans, an Ojai native who owns and operates Evans Excavating, which provides grating and underground utility service, says he also belives the county is unjustly going after Mosler. “I’m dumbfounded by how much pressure that poor man is given.” said Evans. “He’s just trying to run a business here.”
Evans also states that his own business and subsequently he and his wife and eight-year-old son, depend on the material that Mosler provides. “I buy a lot of material out of there,” he said. “It’s good quality stuff and I use it for everything like French drains, landscaping and roads. That gravel is a huge asset for the valley. The beauty is that it’s right here in town. If they shut down the quarry, it would stop my business.”
Evans says that the problem lies in the availability of the material that is vital for his operation. “Because his mine is closer,” he continued, “his stuff is more affordable for the people. If he shuts down, we’ll have to go somewhere else. The nearest rock quarry is Grimes Canyon near Fillmore. That means our trucks have to travel much farther to get the necessary material. That would effect everyone big time.”
Ojai native Blake Nielsen who owns and operates Nielsen Sand and Gravel based in Ojai, says he and his customers also rely on Mosler’s operation. “We get a lot of dirt and sand out there and it all goes to Ojai,” said Nielsen who has lived in Ojai his whole life. “If they shut him down, we’ll have to go much farther away. Everything will get more expensive and it will create more pollution.”
Greg Webster former honorary mayor of Oak View and owner of Greg Rents agrees that Mosler’s operation is a valuable asset to the community and, like Gardener, says that Mosler has given back to the Valley. “His gravel is the best,” said Webster. “All of my customers love the stuff. We need Larry’s business in the Valley. He donated the ‘Welcome To Ojai’ rock at the ‘Y.’ I don’t usually get involved in politics, but this is different.”
County officials admit that the closing of the mine could have potential negative impacts on the Valley. “There’s no doubt that there will be negative impacts on the local economy,” said Bennett’s assistant Steve Offerman. “It’s unfortunate that Mosler couldn’t meet the requirements to continue operating.”
Kim Prillhart, the county’s planning director also says that there could be serious negative impacts to the community if the mine is closed, but reiterates Offerman’s assessment that Mosler is to blame. “Mr. Mosler has a responsibility to follow the laws,” said Prillhart. “He understood that this was the way the mine needed to be operated. An employer needs to do the right thing by his employees. Mister Mosler needed to take appropriate action to protect the jobs of his people. This is not a one-sided story. The County is not trying to shut a local business down.”
David Pressey, who has lived in Ojai for 56 years and is a Korean War veteran, says he doesn’t own a business and doesn’t know Mosler, but believes the issue of the rock quarry impacts everyone. “People that do honest work keep finding that the rules are getting tighter and tighter,” said Pressey. “When I see an industry shut down and that five local families will be out of work, I need to speak up. When we fought wars, we were fighting for people like them. There’s so much hypocrisy in all of this. This goes way beyond just Ojai.”
The decision on the fate of Mosler’s operation is scheduled to be made in a public hearing On Dec. 15 at 8:30 a.m. at the County Government Center, Board of Supervisors hearing room in Ventura. Mosler supporters and county officials urge citizens to attend the hearing.