Thanks to all of the people who sent letters to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the Ojai Quarry along Highway 33, a National Forest Scenic Byway, will be required to install landscaping around the entrance and along the road to help screen a portion of the operation. As part of their new permit, the quarry operator will have to develop a Landscape Plan that must be approved by the county’s Planning Director in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service. After the plan is approved, the quarry can receive a clearance to begin operation under the new permit. They then have 90 days to install the required landscaping. An annual inspection of the site will include an evaluation of the landscaping. See below for our original post about the quarry and the importance of scenic integrity along Highway 33.
One of the most iconic roads in the Los Padres National Forest, Highway 33 takes visitors on a scenic tour through the heart of Ventura County’s rugged backcountry After heading north from Ojai through ranches and tangerine orchards, the narrow mountain highway passes through three historic tunnels before climbing up the canyon of the North Fork Matilija Creek.
Keep going and you’ll see sweeping views of the Channel Islands, the sandstone monoliths of Piedra Blanca, and popular campsites and trailheads at Rose Valley. You’ll curve your way through the Sespe Gorge, ultimately reaching Pine Mountain Summit and descending into the remote Cuyama Valley.
It’s no wonder the State of California designated this as a Scenic Highway in 1988. The Forest Service followed suit, naming it the San Jacinto Reyes National Forest Scenic Byway in 1995 – the only national forest scenic byway between Los Angeles and the redwoods of Northern California.
While the route takes travelers through some of the most wild and untouched landscapes in our region, the southern entrance to the highway is dominated by a large, imposing rock quarry carved into a hillside. The permit for the quarry recently expired, and the quarry operator is seeking permission to continue mining for another 30 years.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors will consider whether to grant the permit at a hearing on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 1:30pm at the Ventura County Government Center.
On behalf of the hundreds of travelers and outdoor enthusiasts who use this route every day, ForestWatch for months has been urging the County to impose a simple permit condition that would require the quarry operator to plant landscaping to block views of the mine from the highway, and to renew the permit for 10 – 15 years instead of the 30 years requested. At a hearing late last year, the County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve a 30-year permit without any landscaping, and the quarry now faces a final vote by the Board of Supervisors.
The request for landscaping is nothing new – in fact, the original permit for this quarry – issued in 1976 – required the quarry operator to install landscaping. The permit was modified in 1995 and again, the County required landscaping to screen the entrance of the mine as well as the rock face where mining would occur. But the landscaping was never installed, and the County is now turning a blind eye and dropping this requirement entirely.
The County Planning Division has also refused to prepare a new Environmental Impact Report. In our letter to the Board of Supervisors, we argue that the County is legally required to prepare a new EIR for the following reasons:
- The scenic degradation has increased as the quarry has expanded over the course of the last three decades;
- The highway – by virtue of its two “scenic” designations – is now under stricter standards for scenic viewshed protection. These designations require the County to take extra steps to preserve the scenic integrity of the highway; and
- The operator’s failure to install previously-required landscaping is a significant change that must be evaluated in a new EIR.
Instead of preparing a new EIR, the County is relying on stale environmental documents prepared 22 and 41 years ago. The County has prepared an 12-page “addendum” to these old EIRs, but it does not evaluate any of these new impacts nor disclose the operator’s longstanding violation of landscaping requirements.
Next week’s hearing is the final opportunity for the public to demand that the operator fulfill the landscaping requirements that have been on the books for three decades. Show the Board of Supervisors that you care about the views along this iconic highway – click here to submit your letter to protect the scenic gateway to our Los Padres National Forest.