By Logan Hall
Ojai Rock Quarry supporters butted heads with Ventura County staff and Stop the Trucks! Coalition supporters in a seven-hour-long hearing that ended with county planning commissioners continuing the meeting to Feb. 23, to give the two sides time to work out an agreement.
Dozens of citizens and officials, including the quarry’s owners Larry Mosler and his wife Grace, were present during the planning commission hearing that entertained testimony and opinions from both sides of the issue. County planning division staff had recommended that the commission revoke Mosler’s mining permit, which would require him to cease all mining operations. After county staff issued statements saying that Mosler was operating illegally, experts opposing the county’s assessment shared their insights before members of the public and delivered their thoughts to the commission.
Mosler had been cited by the county for 14 violations of his Conditional Use Permit starting in 2008, including operating outside the mine’s permitted boundaries and operating outside of permitted hours. Thursday’s deliberations by the commission were centered on the county’s accusation that Mosler was operating without an approved reclamation plan — the plan that would be used for restoring the site should mining operations cease. County officials were also concerned that the miner was operating without financial assurance that the reclamation could be paid for.
County staff said that Mosler’s current approved plan showed the need for 285,000 cubic yards of fill material, and that he had not posted adequate financial assurance that would cover the cost of the material. County staff also stated that Mosler’s current posted financial assurance of $22,000 was insufficient, and therefore an approved plan with an adequate amount of financial assurance was needed, as required by the State Mining and Geology Board through the State Mining and Reclamation Act. The county’s argument was that state law requires the plan, along with the assurance, be current and approved by the county.
Mosler’s attorney Derek Cole and geologist Dr. Sandy Figuers outlined reasons why the county’s interpretation of the reclamation plan was flawed and said that there was no need for 285,000 tons of fill material that Mosler and Cole claim would cost $3 million to be trucked in. Although planning commissioners questioned Mosler’s numbers, they did agree the cost would be high, and expressed concern about the substantial increase from the current $22,000 posted. Mosler argued that the county has refused to look over his new plan, which he says would require the posting of a $70,000 financial assurance.
Supporters of both Mosler and the county voiced their opinions to the commission. Local construction companies, and other business owners, spoke on Mosler’s behalf and urged commissioners to consider the big picture.
“Times are tough,” said local contractor Chris Hilgers as he stood at the lectern. “I think you have some obligation to work with Mr. Mosler. There is an obligation to find an answer to preserve jobs and keep this asset.”
Long-time valley resident Ernie Ford says he lives just down from the quarry and supports the mine and its owner. “The quarry is run efficiently,” said Ford. “We can see the quarry from our bathroom window. We have seen no evidence of traffic violations or truck overloading. I hope that the county will work with the Moslers and keep the quarry open.”
Representatives from the Stop the Trucks! Coalition had less than positive things to say about the operation and its owners.
One statement given by coalition representatives told of physical abuse by the Moslers during a break in the hearing. “These people are trying to intimidate us,” said coalition chairman Michael Shapiro, who told commissioners of an encounter with Mosler’s wife outside of the hearing room. “She grabbed my hand … Mrs. Mosler almost pulled me to the ground. That was a threat and I don’t take it lightly. I would like some security when we leave.”
When asked about the incident after the hearing, Mosler laughed and said, “My wife is 68-years-old, 5-foot-3 and about 110 pounds.”
County staff supporters did make some points about the issue that gained the commission’s attention, however. “We had no problem with the quarry, provided they stay within their limits,” said coalition supporter Howard Smith. “But we began to realize there were numerous violations. If you don’t follow the rules, you don’t deserve a permit to stay in business.”
Ojai city manager Rob Clark spoke on the Ojai City Council’s behalf, stating that the council unanimously supported county staff’s recommendations to revoke Mosler’s permit. Because Maricopa Highway runs through Ojai city limits and is a trucking route for the quarry, the city took an official stance in support of the county. The city also funds the Stop the Trucks! Coalition’s legal costs through payments that Shapiro claims equal up to around $18,000 annually. City officials could not be reached before print time Thursday to confirm payment amounts to the coalition.
Planning commissioners heard both sides of the story and came to the conclusion that more time was needed for all involved to come to a conclusion. After discussing possible options with Mosler and county staff, the commission unanimously settled on a continuation of the hearing to Feb. 23, providing that Mosler update his financial assurance to cover the $70,000 specified by the new reclamation plan. Mosler is required to pay $25,000 on or before Dec. 24, with the remaining $23,000 to be paid within 30 days after that. Commissioners also required that Mosler continue to make payments on the almost $100,000 in fines and back fees owed to the county.
“I think the commission bent over backwards to get a solution to the problem,” Mosler said after the hearing. “I didn’t win what I wanted, but I didn’t lose either. The commission understands the catch-22 situation that I’ve been involved in and wants to bring that to an end. They want to resolve this.”
The final installment of this four-part series will appear next week in the Ojai Valley News. The conclusion of the series will deal with additional issues raised by Ojai Stop the Trucks! in opposing the quarry, alleged violations brought against Mosler by the County and the mine owner’s response.