Applicants proposing to develop the Las Pilitas Quarry near Santa Margarita have made a good faith effort to minimize negative consequences for the town, particularly when it comes to truck traffic.
We’re especially impressed by their focus on the safety of students attending Santa Margarita Elementary School. Among other measures, they’ve offered to coordinate with the school to avoid truck traffic during peak pickup and drop-off times.
We also commend the applicants for their willingness to limit business to a maximum of 135 loads of gravel per day, which equals 270 total truck trips. Keep in mind, 270 would be the maximum number of trips — not the average, which the applicants put at 160 per day. (The environmental impact report’s estimate of average daily traffic is much higher: 273 trips.)
Yet even with a daily limit, we believe the character of this small but growing community would be compromised, and for that reason, we cannot support the project as proposed.
We believe San Luis Obispo County planning staff and the Planning Commission made the right decision in denying the project.
We recognize — as the applicants point out — that there already is a substantial amount of truck traffic passing through Santa Margarita.
But that’s no justification for allowing a use that would contribute substantially more. If anything, stronger efforts should be made to reduce the number of trucks on Highway 58, rather than adding to it by as many as 270 trips per day.
That said, we appreciate the need to develop the supply of high-quality granitic rock near Santa Margarita. So does the county. Just a couple of weeks ago, the county Planning Commission approved a 33-acre expansion of the Hanson Quarry, which is also near Santa Margarita.
Some supporters of the Las Pilitas application allege the Hanson Quarry approval amounts to a double standard. We disagree. There are similarities between the two, but the traffic circulation patterns differ. The Hanson Quarry does generate traffic passing through Santa Margarita along El Camino Real, but the route bypasses the elementar y school. Also, trucks coming from the north — an estimated 60 to 65 percent of traffic bound for the Hanson Quarry — take Santa Barbara Road, avoiding Highway 58 and the town of Santa Margarita altogether.
As to the argument that the Las Pilitas Quarry would take some business away from Hanson, which means there would not be much of a net increase is gravel truck traffic, we agree that will likely be the case. However, Las Pilitas trucks would still be passing near the school and the residential neighborhoods east of Santa Margarita.
Besides, it’s not the shortterm future that worries us.
We’re more concerned about the Santa Margarita of 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, when there will be more residents, more tourists, more schoolchildren, more cyclists on the road. No matter how many school crossing guards are hired or how careful truck drivers are to obey speed limits, asteady stream of heavy trucks rumbling through town is going to create noise and exhaust, impede regular traffic and detract from the character of the community.
We do not believe the Board of Supervisors should approve the project unless the applicants can develop an alternate route to the quarry. (The project’s environmental impact report looked at the possibility of accessing the quarry via the existing Hanson Quarry access road and a new private road, but the applicants don’t believe it’s a feasible solution.)
A less-ideal alternative would be to further reduce the maximum number of trucks allowed per day somewhere closer to the applicants’ estimated average of 160 trips — but even that would be pushing it.
We wish we could support this project as proposed.
It would be good for the economy. It would generate jobs. It would help ensure a ready supply of materials needed in road building, housing construction and a host of other projects. It also would allow the owners of the Las Pilitas property to use their land as they see fit.
But it is bad planning to allow an incompatible use today, and it’s even worse planning to allow an incompatible use that could continue 50 years into the future.
We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to deny a permit for the Las Pilitas Quarry unless and until the Highway 58 traffic issue can be resolved.