10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

SACRAMENTO – A bill to stop the proposed Liberty Quarry near Temecula cleared its first Senate committee Tuesday but will likely go no further for the remainder of the legislative year.

Members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee had a unanimous message to quarry developer Granite Construction and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which sponsored the measure to protect what it considers to be its site of creation.

Make a deal.

“Don’t get to the checkmate stage. You really have to get to the point where you…try and work this out,” said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who had a similar, years-long dispute in her district. Otherwise, she said, “there is never an end to this.”

The measure emerged last week and loomed as a major end-of-session fight between the influential Pechanga tribe, allied with Temecula leaders and environmental groups, and Granite, which has strong support from business and labor interests and some Riverside County leaders.

The resources panel approved the bill Tuesday after a two-hour debate in an overflowing Capitol hearing room filled with Granite workers in hardhats and yellow construction vests.

The committee, however, referred the measure to the Senate Rules Committee, a parking spot for bills. The outcome suggested that Senate leaders have no appetite for a quarry donnybrook in the session’s final two-and-a-half weeks.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, chairwoman of the natural resources panel, said the approach is meant to pressure the two sides to negotiate while Riverside County continues to consider the project. Her panel could revive the bill at any time if talks bog down, she said.

“It may come back in a few weeks, a few months, or in January,” Pavley said.

Gary W. Johnson, Granite’s aggregate resource development manager, said the company is happy that lawmakers are “going to let the local process carry through and let the county make a decision.”

“We want to sit down and work it out with all stakeholders,” Johnson said of the tribe. “If something doesn’t happen, it will not be for lack of trying.”

Pechanga tribal Chairman Mark Macarro said the hearing educated lawmakers about the tribe’s concerns.

Macarro said he expects to talk with Granite officials. But he also left open the possibility of making another legislative push, perhaps in the Assembly, before lawmakers leave town next month.

To read entire story, click here.