Quarry: Quarry History

Background

The founding of the Coalition and, thus, the SPRQ Committee was generated by the community’s need to address environmental fallout from the Quarry Operation. As a result of the Committee’s efforts, the Marin County Superior Court issued a ruling on the operations of the Quarry. That, in turn, resulted in the County of Marin requiring an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for an amended reclamation plan (ARP) for the Quarry. In submitting an ARP to the County, the Quarry also decided to submit an Amended Operating Permit as well.

Both submissions were combined by the County into a single EIR which was approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors on October 28, 2009 (see EIR Archives). Following that approval, the Board initiated the process of review and hearing, culminating in the approval of an Amended Operating Permit and Reclamation Plan for the Quarry (see Permit Approval Archives).

The San Rafael Rock Quarry (the “Quarry”) is a 750-acre open pit and strip mining operation located at 1000 Point San Pedro Road in Marin County, California, on a promontory that extends out into San Rafael Bay, and that features a prominent and wooded hill (South Hill). The site is generally bounded by the Bay and Peacock Gap residential area, though its immediate borders include McNear’s Beach Park (a family oriented recreational area) and a salt marsh wildlife area. The Quarry site has seen quarrying operations of varying intensities since the 1870’s.

The Quarry provides raw materials used for road construction, levee repair, marine construction and other industrial purposes. Because it has bayside access, it transports materials both over the roads by truck and over water by barge. For more detailed information regarding the production levels of the Quarry, please visit the Quarry: Production History page.

1982 – Rezoning and an Amended Reclamation Plan

In 1982, the County of Marin re-zoned what is now the Quarry’s property from industrial (M-2) to commercial/residential (RMPC) in connection with the City of San Rafael’s 1980 Peacock Gap Neighborhood Plan. Because quarrying operations are not compatible with a residential/light commercial zoning status, the 1982 rezoning caused the Quarry to become a legal “nonconforming” use, which invoked County ordinances prohibiting the Quarry from expanding or increasing the intensity of its use.

Also in 1982, the owners of the Quarry (the Basalt Rock Company) submitted an amended reclamation plan (the 1982 Reclamation Plan or ARP 1982) that proposed, among other things, to increase the Quarry’s pit depth to 200 feet below sea level and to cease mining operations by the early 1990’s. A reclamation plan is required by state mining law, and its purpose is to ensure that adverse environmental effects of mining are prevented or minimized, and that when mining is completed the site is adaptable for another use. ARP 1982 was approved by the County without requiring an environmental impact report.

Dutra Group Buys Property in 1986

The Dutra Group purchased the Quarry property from the Basalt Rock Company in 1986, and soon sought to expand Quarry operations, including extending allowable pit depth to 300 feet, the strip mining of South Hill and the extension of the Quarry’s life for another 30 years (the previous owners had estimated that the Quarry’s useful life would end in 1992). Dutra Group representatives claimed to be unaware of the property’s residential zoning status and its consequent nonconforming use. Nonetheless, the Dutra Group took no action to rezone the property to a status consistent with its intentions.

The Quarry steadily, and illegally, expanded operations into the mid-1990’s. Residents in the Pt. San Pedro Road area began to complain of the increased noise, dust, and truck traffic resulting from the expanded operations of the Quarry. The Quarry defended these activities by arguing that a California Supreme Court case (Hanson Brothers Enterprises, Inc. vs. Board of Supervisors of Nevada County, (1996) 12 Cal. 4th 533) allowed the Quarry to expand operations consistent with the previous owners’ expansion plans that existed before the site was rezoned. Though the matter generated much discussion on the local political scene, especially with County officials who were urged by residents to monitor and restrict quarry operations, nothing much changed. Even through an early 1997 Dutra Group bankruptcy, the Quarry continued to expand Quarry operations. Many residents in the area had seen, heard, and felt enough when a tremendous dynamite blast in the Quarry bowl in 1997 caused substantial damage to local homes resulting in claim settlements with many homeowners.

Challenges to the Quarry Multiply

In 2000, the Marin County Planning Commission determined that the Quarry was not in compliance with the 1982 Reclamation Plan with respect to (among other things) pit depth and truck traffic, and directed the County staff to order the Quarry to comply with the plan. It also noted that the operating restrictions contained in ARP 1982 were no longer adequate for the Quarry’s operations. However, the Quarry continued to operate well beyond the restrictions set forth in ARP 1982 with the County of Marin taking no action.

In 2001, a Grand Jury was convened to investigate the handling of Quarry operations matters by various Marin County government departments. The Grand Jury made a number of findings, including that the County had failed to reassess the value of Quarry property based on the 1986 purchase price, failed to collect property taxes due on illegally constructed and remodeled dwellings on Quarry property, and allowed the Quarry to expand operations illegally and beyond applicable zoning restrictions.

Coalition Sues Quarry

In 2002, the Point San Pedro Road Coalition along with other neighbors living adjacent to the Quarry, the County of Marin, and the California Attorney General, filed a lawsuit against the Quarry alleging that the Quarry has been and is illegally operating beyond the scope of its nonconforming use and that the Quarry constitutes a nuisance. A trial was held, and Judge John A. Sutro, Jr. issued an opinion on January 21, 2004.

Judge Sutro made a number of findings, including generally the following:

  • Since 1982, the Quarry should have operated, but did not operate, consistent with the provisions of ARP 1982.
  • Since 1982, the Quarry should not have operated, but did operate, in a manner that had a significantly greater adverse impact on the neighborhood.
  • The Quarry neglected to file an amended reclamation plan to reflect its current operating plans, thus constituting a violation of California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA), various Marin County ordinances and the Peacock Gap Neighborhood Plan, and an unlawful business activity.
  • Notwithstanding these violations, and given that the Quarry has operated illegally for so long without effective oversight by Marin County authorities, the Quarry should not be shut down without giving it and County authorities the opportunity to present an amended reclamation plan governing future operations.

Judge Sutro then ordered that the Quarry be enjoined from conducting future mining operations on the property, but suspended the injunction to allow the Quarry to submit an amended reclamation plan to be considered by the County. The order was amended soon thereafter to prescribe “interim operating conditions” that are to apply while the amended reclamation plan is being considered.

In 2004, the Quarry submitted to the County a proposed amended reclamation plan (“ARP 2004”), setting forth how the Quarry property ought to be reclaimed for other uses after mining on the site is completed.

Further Developments

In 2007, Marin County determined that an environmental review should be conducted on the Quarry’s ARP 2004 and on the Quarry’s amended operating permit. ARP 2004 proposes to mine the site for another 17 years to an ultimate depth of 400 feet. One component of ARP 2004 is the movement of millions of cubic yards of earth and mining waste into the quadrant of the site that is closest to neighboring homes. This massive and continuous earthmoving program that would dramatically and negatively impact the community and the environment by increasing noise and dust well above present levels. Most of this would be conducted in the summer months when residents are engaged in outside recreational activities and when they keep windows open at night for ventilation.

The Dutra Group has proposed this earthmoving activity as an aspect of the updated reclamation plan. Although this activity is not proposed as part of updated Quarry operations (it would most likely be refused as an impermissible expansion of the Quarry’s nonconforming use), the Dutra Group is proposing to expand its permit illegally by simply characterizing the movement of over 2 million cubic yards of earth over 17 years as reclamation instead of operations.

ARP 2004 also proposes the same future reuse as ARP 1982, that is:

  • 350 residential units (including single family units in the Northeast and Northwest Quadrants,
  • marina-front second story apartments and townhouses in both quadrants and on terraces on the south side of South Hill,
  • an administrative-professional complex in the Northwest Quadrant and marina commercial space in the Southeast Quadrant around the lagoon and on the bayfront,
  • space for retail, yacht sales, a hardware store, restaurants and a hotel, and possibly even a ferry terminal,
  • a marina lagoon constructed by flooding the bowl from the bay, and
  • a 600-slip marina and yacht club.

Approval of ARP 2004 does not approve the land uses described above. The governing policy documents for land use on the site are the Marin Countywide general plan and the San Rafael general plan. Unfortunately, neither the current draft of the new Marin Countywide Plan nor the recently approved San Rafael 2020 general plan includes tangible policy standards for redevelopment of the Quarry site.

The Coalition contends that the permit application that is running parallel to consideration of ARP 2004 may result in what is effectively a business use permit that will regulate hours of operation, truck traffic on public roads, barge and loading operations, vibration from blasting and other things. For its permit, the Quarry is seeking to adopt most of the interim operating conditions contained in Judge Sutro’s amended order as the Quarry’s permanent rules of operation.

The Environmental Impact Report

Marin County determined that a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) should be conducted in parallel on the Quarry’s ARP 2004 and the amended operating permit. This process began in 2007 with public hearings on the scope of the EIR. In April 2008, the County staff released the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) on these two applications. The Coalition reviewed the DEIR and submitted extensive written comments to the County, along with oral comments, in a public hearing (see the DEIR Archives for full documentation)

As a result of public hearings and reviews by the County staff of the DEIR, a Final EIR (FEIR) was published. Further hearings and reviews were conducted on the FEIR. After amendments and changes, the FEIR was published and became the basis for hearings on the merits of a permit application and Amended Reclaimation plan (see the FEIR Archives for full documentation).

Final Permit and ARP Approval

The most important document, and the culmination of all the previous activities and efforts is the SRRQ Operating Permit and Reclamation Plan (PDF document) as approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors on September 28, 2010. A summary of this document is also available.