When it comes to regulating local quarries, the city of Richmond is between a rock and a hard place.
Unstable slopes and extended fissures at two derelict quarries, both inactive mines, pose a threat to public safety, said the State Board of Mining and Geology (SMGB), but unless Richmond renews its mining ordinance, not much can be done about it.
According to state board Executive Officer Stephen Testa, the city’s current mining ordinance expired in 1998, leaving most regulatory power to the SMGB, a department of the California Department of Conservation.
So last month, Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt drafted an ordinance in an effort to reclaim the city’s authority.
“Like most land uses in the city, it’s nice to have local control over these things,” he said. “You never know when state agencies are going to act on these things.”
The ordinance earned Testa’s stamp of approval. Getting it past Richmond brass, however, has proved more trying.
At a council meeting in February, City Attorney John Eastman summarily rejected the proposed ordinance on grounds that drafting responsibilities fall exclusively on the city attorney, Butt wrote on his website tombutt.com. According to the website, Eastman further argued that the ordinance must undergo review per the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)—which requires decision makers to examine environmental impacts prior to undertaking a project—before council can vote on it.
Testa said the city attorney is incorrect.
“I do not perceive it as an issue with CEQA” Testa said. “All the city has to do is approve the ordinance, send it to our office, then the board certifies that ordinance and at that point, the city becomes the lead agency.”
“[Butt’s] draft ordinance is fine with us,” he said.
Eastman did not return calls for comment. Earlier this month, he was quoted in the Contra Costa Times saying it was “a complicated legal issue” and that he hadn’t yet “made a determination.”
In December, the state board issued notices of violation to the Richmond [Chevron] Quarry, located east of the San Rafael Bridge, and the Point Richmond [Canal] Quarry on Canal Boulevard at Seacliff Drive.
The Richmond Quarry, owned by Chevron and operated predominantly as an asphalt facility by Dutra Materials, was cited for shouldering an unstable cut-slope that could topple down into a tank of neighboring petrol tanks and threaten public safety. The Point Richmond Quarry operator was cited for unstable slopes and fissures extending onto East Bay Regional Park property where people frequently hike. A landscape company uses the site for materials recycling.
Additionally, both quarries were deemed guilty of breaching revegetation and reclamation mandates under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMRA) of 1975, policies aimed at minimizing the toll mining exacts on the environment.
The state board gave the sites 60 days from March 9 to comply with its requests. If they fail to do so, the state board could charge owners up to $5,000 a day in fines, retroactively effective Dec. 22, 2005, Testa said.
“We expect to comply,” said Doug Straus, an attorney for the Bottoms Family Trust, which owns the Point Richmond Quarry. “We’re doing everything we can.”
A representative from the Richmond (Chevron) Quarry did not return a call for comment.
Meanwhile, the city can only exercise its power over zoning and perceived nuisances at the quarries, Butt said. For instance, Richmond could penalize the Point Richmond Quarry for operating a recycling facility without proper permitting.
At a meeting Tuesday, Butt said the city attorney was instructed to take action against the quarries.
But “so far, the city hasn’t done anything,” he said.
As for the mining ordinance, Butt fears it’s dead in the water.
“The City Council has no interest in moving forward with it, and the city has no interest in moving forward with it,” he said, convinced petty council politics were overshadowing the larger issue.
Butt said, “This is an example of why Richmond has been so dysfunctional for so long.”
City Councilmembers had not returned calls by press time.