The San Rafael Rock Quarry has been in operation since the 1870’s. For detailed information regarding the production levels of the Quarry, please visit the Quarry: Production History page. (For even more info on the Quarry, see the San Rafael Rock Quarry Index in the Library/Archives).
For decades, the Quarry site was zoned “heavy industrial.” In 1982, the quarry property was rezoned to residential/commercial because the quarry’s owner anticipated closing the quarry and proposed the new land use. Upon rezoning, ongoing quarrying activity became a “nonconforming use” whereby the quarry owners could continue to use the site as it was used at the time of the rezoning, but could not expand or intensify operations. Nonconforming uses are effectively frozen in time until they cease, to protect other developments that spring up around that use in anticipation of its ultimate demise. The quarry owners did not object to the zoning change and stated their expectation that the quarry would likely be shut down by the early 1990s. In anticipation of the quarry’s closure, new homes were entitled by the City and built in close proximity to the quarry. The inherent incompatibility of an industrial mining operation in a residential and recreational area became all the more obvious once these new homes were built and occupied. When the property was sold to the Dutra Group, residents became subject to expanded operations instead of the anticipated closure.
In 1986, Dutra Group purchased the site, with knowledge of its nonconforming status, but ignored the limitations against expansion and intensification. Hours and output expanded, and truck trips, noise and dust increased substantially; buildings were built without permits. Neighbors were impacted far more intensely than ever before. A 2001 Grand Jury investigation questioned the efficacy of County oversight of the operation (see, Who’s Minding the Rock Quarry?)
Neighbors complained for years about noise, dust, trucks, vibrations, and blasting from Quarry operations. After negotiations failed to produce meaningful controls, in 2003, lawsuits were filed by the State of California, the Pt. San Pedro Road Coalition, individual homeowners and, ironically, the County of Marin. A trial was held to determine the quarry’s vested rights, given its nonconforming use status. Judge Sutro ordered an injunction ceasing all operations unless an Amended Reclamation Plan (ARP) was approved. The quarry also decided to submit an Amended Operating Permit as well.
The court stayed that order, allowing operations under temporary operating conditions while, over the next six years, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was completed. Separately, he issued an injunction against certain specific activities, including the importation of asphalt grindings. 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 Pre-September 2010 Document Archive Draft and Final Environmental Impact Report Indices). The EIR found 15 significant environmental impacts, among them significant impacts that cannot be mitigated: increased risk of cancer for residents in the vicinity of the quarry and Point San Pedro Road and incompatibility with residential and recreational land uses. (see Pre-September 2010 Document Archive Health and Other Issues Index).
The ARP provided for mining to a depth of 450 feet below sea level and flooding the bowl with bay water at the end of mining. Due to the depth, a dead zone will be created at the bottom unless a mechanical method of mixing of the water in perpetuity can be ensured.
Following approval of the EIR, the Board initiated the process of review and hearing, culminating in the approval on September 28, 2010 of an Amended Operating Permit and Reclamation Plan for the Quarry (this page provides a summary of that permit and a link to the full text). The Coalition argued that all studies concerning mitigations needed to be complete before the permits could be granted. However, the quarry was given one year after the issuance of the permit to complete the studies. In late-2010, the Coalition waived the right to challenge the legality of allowing the issuance of the permits prior to completion of the studies in exchange for a commitment from the quarry to provide materials for the repaving of Pt. San Pedro Road with sound mitigating asphalt—a project that was completed in 2014.
The approved 2010 quarry permit contained 172 conditions. Among the most important conditions, were:
- Repaving of 3.5 miles of Pt. San Pedro Road with open-graded asphalt to reduce road noise
- Enclosure of noisy quarry operations
- Changes in blasting procedures
- Reducing operating hours, including barging hours
- Air Testing
- Marsh Restoration
- Ongoing dialogue with our community
In July 2013, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved a request by the San Rafael Rock Quarry (SRRQ) to amend SRRQ’s quarrying permit (See Quarry Permit Amendment). The change to the permit allowed the SRRQ to import asphalt road grindings (basically, torn up asphalt resulting from road repaving) so that the grindings can be recycled into new road asphalt. The asphalt recycling permit must be renewed in two years. However, renewal will not be allowed if the quarry has not completed all studies that were required as conditions of the operating permit and reclamation plan. The County granted extensions of time to the quarry for completion of the studies that were to have been completed within one year of the granting of the Operating Permit and approval of the ARP in 2010. Unless a greenhouse gas reduction plan and the economic study for water quality in the quarry bowl are completed by July 2015, the quarry will not be granted a renewal.
The Coalition has challenged the County’s approval of the permit amendment on the basis that the change constituted an impermissible expansion of the nonconforming use associated with the Quarry site.
Recycling sounds “green,” so why oppose it? Because in 2004 Judge Sutro determined that asphalt recycling was an unlawful expansion of quarry operations under County law and banned it. In 2010, the County incorporated that ban in the quarry’s new permit. To acquiesce in the County’s attempt to roll back this protection against future quarry expansion would establish the precedent that the County can authorize the expansion of any non-conforming use that the quarry may request, in violation of law, and at the expense of the surrounding neighbors’ ability to quietly and healthfully enjoy their residences.
The Coalition is asking that the Court impose again its own 2004 ban of the practice and force the County to respect that prior decision, as it did in 2010 when it inserted the ban in the quarry’s permit. The County Development Code expressly prohibits expansion of non-conforming uses and our position is supported by the Court’s 2004 decision.
This issue presents a test of the Pt. San Pedro Road neighborhood’s ability to hold the quarry and its operations to its legal constraints as a non-conforming use. Acquiescence to the County’s approval of this amendment will be the first step back to the 1990s when the quarry operated with impunity and the County served as its enabler. The Coalition and the neighborhood must do all we can to insure that does not happen.
As of September 2014, no court has yet considered the Coalition’s challenge to the Supervisors’ permit amendment. The County has thrown up a number of procedural objections to the Coalition’s lawsuit. The procedural challenges are likely to be resolved in the coming months, and either the nonconforming use issue will finally be addressed in the courts or the Coalition will need to re-challenge the County’s approval of the permit change if the amendment is renewed in 2015.
At long last, the quarry will have some pressure to do these studies. Completion of the economic study for water quality in the pit will determine how much it will cost the quarry to circulate water in the pit once quarrying operations cease and the side of the bowl is breached to allow it to be filled with bay water. The cost will be used to determine the amount of the bond the quarry must post. The size of the bond is important since, should the quarry go bankrupt (as it did in the past), the County (i.e., the taxpayers) will be left with a huge liability if the quarry fails to complete its Reclamation Plan.