11:03 PM PDT on Saturday, June 18, 2011
By JEFF HORSEMAN
Since 2001, the company proposing a quarry near Temecula has donated more than $59,000 to political candidates in Riverside County — including at least $38,000 to county supervisors who will decide if the project gets built.
Campaign finance records show that Granite Construction gave to all five supervisors and local lawmakers, including state assemblymen and city council members outside Temecula. One donation went to a Moreno Valley councilwoman who serves as Supervisor Marion Ashley’s chief of staff.
As plans for Liberty Quarry get closer to consideration by the supervisors — a vote on the 6-year-old proposal could come by year’s end — Granite has directed a greater share of its contributions to county politicians. Granite didn’t give to anyone in the county in 2000, but by 2010, one of every four Granite campaign dollars was donated locally.
Supervisors said Granite’s donations would not influence their vote on the quarry being sought for a 414-acre site between Temecula and San Diego County. Some said they also take donations from quarry opponents. For example, Ashley said those opposed to the quarry gave him nearly quadruple what he’s received from Granite.
“Regardless of how I vote on this project, some of my supporters will not be happy, but that goes with the job,” Ashley wrote in an email.
In an emailed statement, Granite spokeswoman Karie Reuther wrote that, “One of Granite’s core values is citizenship, and that includes being engaged members of the communities where we live and work.”
She noted that besides the quarry, Granite is working on 15 construction projects in the county. Granite also runs a quarry in Indio.
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based, nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies, said Granite’s actions are typical for a large corporation.
“It’s building goodwill,” Stern said. “Certainly the supervisors will return their phone calls, and the supervisors will be very polite to them.”
A multibillion-dollar corporation based in Central California, Granite needs the county’s permission to build the open-pit quarry. Plans call for using explosives to blast away 270 million tons of aggregate, a common building material, over a 75-year period. The quarry also would contain facilities to make concrete and asphalt.
Granite and its supporters, including business groups and trade unions, say the quarry would provide an economic boost, support hundreds of jobs and generate millions of tax dollars. They contend it would reduce truck trips in the county and improve air quality because diesel trucks wouldn’t have to drive as far to get aggregate.
Opponents, including the city of Temecula and a grassroots citizens’ network, argue that the quarry would boost truck traffic in their communities while harming the public health by sending microscopic silicate dust particles into the air.
They say the quarry would hurt local tourism, spoil a neighboring ecological reserve and desecrate a sacred site for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.
MERIT, NOT MONEY
Since 2001, Granite has donated at least $38,316 to supervisors Ashley, John Benoit, Bob Buster, John Tavaglione and Jeff Stone, according to the California secretary of state’s online campaign finance records. The money includes contributions to Benoit’s state assembly campaign fund and Stone’s unsuccessful state Senate run.
Supervisors stressed that Granite’s dollars won’t influence their votes. Buster, whose district includes the quarry site, said he objected to a plan in the 1990s that would have restricted non-toll lanes on Highway 91. Granite stood to benefit from that plan, he said.
While he declined to say how he’d vote on the quarry, Buster in 2009 called the quarry the “introduction of a huge new use in one of the most fragile areas we’ve got.”
At the time, Buster served on a boundary-setting panel that denied Temecula’s attempt to annex the quarry site. Buster and Tavaglione voted in favor of the city’s proposal.
Benoit, who came to the board in 2009 after his time in Sacramento, received $11,406 in Granite money from 2001 to 2010, according to records. Benoit’s supervisorial district includes Granite’s Indio quarry.
“Part of the reason they gave to me is they knew me as a responsible member of the community,” Benoit said. “It has nothing to do with the quarry.”
Granite also contributed $200 to the campaign of Benoit’s son, Ben, who won a seat last November on the Wildomar City Council.
Altogether, the donations represent a tiny fraction of what supervisors raise annually. Ashley, for example, raised a little more than $155,000 in 2010 alone, according to his campaign statement filed with the county clerk.
In his email, Ashley wrote that, as always, his vote would be based on the project’s merits and residents’ best interests. “Sometimes that means I vote with supporters and sometimes that means I vote against them,” he wrote.
Ashley wrote he has taken in $51,000 from anti-quarry interests, including the Pechanga tribe and The Rancon Group, a Murrieta-based collection of development-related companies whose founder, Dan Stephenson, opposes the quarry.
Verne Lauritzen, Stone’s chief of staff, said Stone wants to hear what people have to say during public hearings on the quarry. Stone’s district includes Temecula.
Tavaglione did not respond to a request for comment.
Temecula City Councilman Jeff Comerchero, who is on the council’s Liberty Quarry subcommittee, said the donations to supervisors don’t surprise him.
CITY TO CITY
Since 2000, Granite has donated more than $3 million to candidates and ballot measures throughout California. Recipients include former governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown.
None of Granite’s dollars were contributed in Riverside County in 2000. But in 2009 and 2010, more than $27,000 — 23.85 percent of Granite’s total California donations — were donated in the county.
In her email, Reuther of Granite wrote her company’s presence in the county has grown in the past 20 years.
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