Green Piece: Taking a moment to reflect

In Columns, Columns, Opinion

When I first moved to California, I was amazed by the natural environment here. There’s something really extraordinary about this place for people who aren’t native Californians. Just going for a drive in some places that are relatively scarce of population, one will see undulating hillsides and rugged terrain filled with shades of green, brown and copper.

The land imperceptibly transcends man’s attempt to tame it. I can’t explain why or how, but there are places in this great state that are just meant to be enjoyed rather than farmed, mined, flattened or built upon. These places of intense beauty deserve to be preserved so that multiple generations might enjoy them.

That’s one of the many reasons that I started this column.

I want to spotlight the efforts of individuals to conserve the natural ecology of Southern California; I truly believe this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  However, I’d be lying if I told you that my high school years in Temecula didn’t have a tremendous impact on my deep-seated love of conservation efforts.

In 2010, Liberty Quarry was starting to get plans together to use a proposed strip of land near the Santa Margarita River to extract gravel, sand and other materials over a 75-year period.

The land flanked an important San Diego State nature reserve and would have interrupted the flow of the river, which was one of only a few free-flowing rivers in the Southern California area that remained. At the time, I was an intern for the local newspaper in my town.

I had received my assignment from the Temecula Valley News, which was to cover the protest held by gravel quarry enemies at Ronald Reagan Sports Park. I had no attachment or investment in this project. For me, it was just another thing to write about.

However, as I watched people march in triple-digit heat that day, something clicked. It suddenly occurred to me that sometimes as people, we need to take a step back and evaluate the decisions we’re making in regard to our natural surroundings.

Although the growth of business is incredibly important, it’s also important that we set aside something in the midst of all our growth.

These individuals were standing together to fight against a business that would have hindered air quality, disrupted an important river, and would have posed a threat to wildlife that had previously held sanctuary between the proposed area and the ecological preserve.

I wrote the news story that night in the most formal and unbiased way, but part of me thought that people would be silly not to recognize that the proposed location for the quarry would have been a terrible one.

To make a long story short, the quarry issue would go back and forth. One year, the Riverside planning commission would vote against it, only to have it fast tracked as an agenda item for the following year.

This went on for a few years.

Liberty would fight long and hard to maintain its location near the Santa Margarita river, and the people of Fallbrook, Temecula and Rainbow would fight equally hard to  keep it out. It wasn’t until the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians paid a settlement of  $20.3 million a couple weeks ago that Liberty Quarry would finally halt its plan to use the area.

Now the land can effectively go back to its prior purpose. It can stand to function as a place where the ecosystem, air quality and water quality remain intact. It will also stand to keep life in the surrounding communities happier and healthier as well.

So what was the point of this extendedly long narrative?

Well, my point is that there are dozens of “Liberty Quarries” out there. Not literally, of course, but there are businesses that stand to pose a significant threat to their environmental surroundings. Whenever that happens, it’s important that people stand up to fight it.

Next time you have a little free time, drive out to a place that’s scarcely populated. Basically, the kind of place where the only thing around is nature. Granted, there aren’t many places like this left in Southern California.

But if you go to one of these places, you’ll see that there’s a lot worth preserving.

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  • Great article!
    Couple of minor details. The recent purchase of the area from Granite Construction Corporation is only the latest (hopefully last) assault on one of the last living, breathing volumes of earth in Southern California.

    I’ve hiked some of that area. It isn’t spectacular. It is surreal in its complexity and beauty. It is also the headwater region for the last wild river south of Los Angeles. Last.

    The west has long been conquered and tamed. If it were not for Camp Pendelton, suburbia would connect Los Angeles to San Diego creating San Angeles. Wild spaces are worth preserving. This particular area also happens to be the site of the Pechanga creation stories.

    After seven contentious years of citizens and local government battling Granite Construction’s plan to create one of the largest open-pit mines in the United States, it was the Pechanga who were able to save the land by purchasing it from Granite Construction for $3 million dollars. Three million dollars and another $17 million in “go away money” for a total of twenty million dollars.

    Twenty million dollars to Granite Construction without their having to put one truck on the land: that’s the business model Gordon Gecko (or Clyde Parker) would endorse!

    I meander.

    Your point is very well made: all our wild regions are under attack in one form or another. If not by the bark beetle (or some other invasive critter) then the multinational corporations who have invested heavily in mining the natural resources of the United States – and selling it back to us – at the highest price the market will bear.

    In January of 2012 $ 6 billion dollars have been invested by foreign countries in fracking operations within the United States. This includes China with a minus zilch environmental policy and France where it is illegal to use this technique out of fear for poisoning the nation’s water supply. Somehow these operations are going on in the United States and our elected officials appear to think that this is a good idea.

    If people like you and me and all whom we know do not stand for our land, we will fall for anything. Anything includes lies, half-truths, and expensive obfuscations of reality bought and paid for by corporations both domestic and multinational.

    I’ve lived most of my life in NYC. Eleven years in the south west changed me. I no longer view trees and leaves as inconveniences on my way to work, open spaces as blighted space, a wild thing as something which belongs in a zoo or on my plate. Frankly I miss that consciousness: life was simpler then.

    I no longer hug trees and open spaces. I venerate them.

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