The San Benito County Planning Commission held a scoping meeting Aug. 2 for the proposed Ranch 35 Quarry project near the intersection of State Route 156 and U.S. 101. The meeting’s purpose was to inform the public about the scope of the quarry project and what the environmental review process entails.

Stevens Creek Quarry Inc (SCQ), the Ranch 35 project proponent, is a Cupertino-based firm specializing in the mining of drain rock, aggregate base rock and sand. It was founded by the Voss family and has been in business for four generations. It has teamed up with San Benito County planners to develop most of a 271 acre parcel just outside San Juan Bautista for a new aggregate quarry. 

The project site would use 204 acres of the 271 acre parcel and its proponents are seeking the planning commission’s initial approval to secure a use permit to develop and operate a brand-new aggregate mining quarry. The project also touts a reclamation plan that will help minimize the environmental damage caused by the mining operation and restore the land for grazing purposes.

A presentation by SB County’s Resource Management Agency (an arm of the Planning and Land Use Department) and Benchmark Resources outlined the plans at the Aug. 2 meeting. Benchmark is the county’s environmental consultant and will lead the creation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). 

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the county, as the lead agency overseeing the project, must issue a Notice of Preparation (NOP) to inform locals about the project and the potential environmental consequences. The NOP serves to notify the public that the EIR is underway and a two-month public comment period is opened for any questions or suggestions county residents may have.

California Assembly Bill 52 (AB 52) also requires public agencies to consult with indigenous tribes and tribal bands during the CEQA process. San Benito County is considered part of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s ancestral home and any development project here must engage in a consultation with Tribe leaders. According to Monika Krupa, a consultant with Benchmark Resources, her firm has already engaged with the Amah Mutsun.

If approved, the Ranch 35 Quarry is expected to create 25 new jobs and bring in revenue from a sales tax on SCQ’s income from the mining site. In addition, a 10 cent per-ton fee for every ton of material mined is proposed. Mining would occur in phases over an anticipated 75-year period with maximum annual sales not to exceed 1 million tons, according to the presentation.

During comments, District 1 Commissioner Rodney Bianchi asked the presenters whether the 25 potential employees would earn a prevailing wage and be able to afford to live in the area.

“My concern is, are those 25 employees…making enough to live in San Benito County?” Bianchi asked. “We’re bringing business—that’s fantastic— but if they can’t make enough and they’ve got to go live over in the valley…so now we’re taking people away from here.”

Jason Voss, the operations manager for SCQ, assured Bianchi that these will be well-paid jobs. Voss stated that over half of his employees that work at SCQ’s Santa Clara County sites reside in San Benito County. 

“70 percent of them live in San Benito County and they afford to live here,” Voss said. “A lot of them have their fingers crossed that they would like to work closer to home.”

The meeting adjourned and the EIR discussion will continue later this summer with a public hearing.

Hot mic moment 

After the meeting wrapped up, an interesting exchange took place as attendees began to head for the chamber door.

As commission chair Robert Gibson stood up from his seat to leave, he thanked the presenters.

“I look forward to seeing you…soon,” Gibson said.

District 3 Commissioner Robert Scagliotti, who was sitting to the right of Gibson, chimed in as well.

“I look forward to the money!” Scagliotti said.

The Free Lance reached out to Scagliotti via email and asked him to clarify his statement. He did not respond.

When asked for his comment, Gibson told this publication that he thinks Scagliotti’s remark alluded to the potential revenue the county would receive. He also stated that no member of the Planning Commission would stand to gain financially if the Ranch 35 Quarry project is approved.

“I am supportive of most businesses that are willing to invest in the county,” Gibson said, via email. “But each project will be judged on its own merits.”

“No, none of us stand to gain personally. All five of us are trying to do what is best for the county,” Gibson concluded.

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