10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, August 21, 2011

BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

SACRAMENTO – Legislation to block the proposed Liberty Quarry near Temecula is quickly emerging as a Capitol showdown in the closing days of the year’s legislative session.

The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians contends that the project would desecrate the tribe’s site of creation. Quarry developer Granite Construction said the tribe is wrong and that the bill would prevent the creation of hundreds of jobs.

The measure has its first legislative hearing Tuesday.

Granite, which last had a Sacramento lobbyist in 2003, has opened its checkbook in recent days and signed on multiple lobbyists and public-relations specialists.

The unionized company also has enlisted the support of labor groups to help its cause in the union-friendly Capitol.

The Pechanga band, one of the state’s wealthiest gaming tribes, has secured the backing of some other tribal governments.

Thirty-eight lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have signed on to the bill as co-authors.

‘A REAL MESS’

Other legislators are reaching for the antacid. The fight forces many, especially those from Inland Southern California, to pick sides among issues they support and prominent campaign backers.

“It’s turned into a real mess. It’s very, very difficult,” said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, who said he is neutral on the bill. “I’m kind of caught in the middle.”

Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, whose district includes the quarry and the tribe’s reservation, said many of his colleagues are trying to figure out whom to support.

“Frankly it comes down to preserving sacred sites versus the potential to create new jobs,” said Jeffries, who also is neutral. “I don’t know if (the bill) is the right thing to do, but I also recognize that we need to protect sacred sites.”

Since 2000, the Pechanga tribe’s campaign spending in California has topped $69 million, about three-quarters of that for ballot measures. The tribe ranked fifth overall in a 2010 campaign spending survey by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Granite had $3.3 million in political spending from 2000 through 2010. Other critics of the quarry bill, such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Building Industry Association, are active players in state politics, as are construction-related labor unions.

Granite wants to extract 270 million tons of aggregate — tiny rocks used in construction — over 75 years.

In fliers distributed to lawmakers’ offices, quarry supporters say the project will create 277 jobs and generate $300 million in sales-tax revenue, while providing a much-needed source of aggregate for Southern California’s construction industry. It will reduce truck traffic from quarries elsewhere, they say.

Besides the tribe’s concerns, opponents contend that the quarry will pollute the air, lower property values and spoil a neighboring ecological reserve.

The Riverside County Planning Commission held a 10-hour hearing on the project last week, the latest of several long meetings that have drawn hundreds of people.

BILL REWORKED

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