The Victorville City Council shelved a request by the city of Santa Clarita Tuesday night to support federal legislation to block a huge gravel mine in Soledad Canyon – opting instead to hold a workshop before making a decision.
Victorville is a critical player in the move to cancel Cemex’s federal mining contracts. Like previous legislation carried by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, the current bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, calls on the federal Bureau of Land Management to compensate Cemex for the value of its Soledad Canyon mining contracts with money from the sale of BLM parcels in and adjacent to Victorville.
Unlike a McKeon bill that the Victorville council supported in 2008, the Boxer bill takes away some of the authority Victorville would have had over the ultimate disposition of the BLM lands, a staff report states.
Like the McKeon bill, the Boxer bill gives the local governing agency first right of refusal to buy the land. But that means the county of San Bernardino would have more say than in 2008, because some of the BLM land immediately outside city limits is no longer in Victorville’s sphere of influence.
Some of the parcels are different this time, and Victorville’s sphere of influence also has been “revised down” since 2008, the city attorney said.
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurie Ender attended the meeting on behalf of the Santa Clarita City Council and asked her high-desert counterparts to support the Boxer bill, S.759.
Mining has occurred for decades in Santa Clarita at modest levels, she told the council, but at 56 million tons, the size of the Cemex plan “is incompatible with the urbanization that has occurred” in recent years.
Ender characterized the Boxer bill as a “refinement of the earlier bill” that presents “an opportunity for Victorville to realize some of your economic development goals.”
In 2008 there was an indication Victorville wanted to buy the BLM land and use it for new commercial development that would generate tax revenue.
There was no talk of such a desire Tuesday, and the council had more questions than could be answered in one evening.
“I was disappointed but I understand their position,” Ender said afterward. “I’m pleased they went the direction they did rather than making a decision (that would hurt Santa Clarita).”
“I think a workshop is a terrific idea,” Ender said, “and I look forward to getting everyone to the table. The Victorville City Council is just as concerned about the interests of their residents as the Santa Clarita City Council is concerned about the interests of our residents.”
The only other person to address the council on the issue was Mark Ostoich, whose San Bernardino consulting firm represents TXI, a major cement producer in Texas and California.
“We’re right in the middle of it and it fragments a critical resource zone,” Ostoich said of the BLM parcels.
“Both bills (McKeon and Boxer) contemplated first right of refusal (for the local jurisdiction),” Ostoich said. “But unless a public agency stepped in, (the land) could be sold to various private interests.”
One Victorville council member suggested his city wasn’t about to buy any large swaths of undeveloped land – especially without a redevelopment agency. Moments before addressing the Cemex issue, the council had taken certain actions relating to the dissolution of its RDA.
Mining company representative Mark Ostoich
Ostoich said TXI has been mining in the region for 130 years, and that the area has valuable mineral resources that should be kept intact – or replaced with other parcels. He said TXI didn’t support the McKeon bill, either, but did participate in talks to locate “alternative BLM lands.”
“Had that come to fruition, it might have changed” TXI’s position, he said.
“The MRZ (Material Resource Zone) is designed to protect resources and promote mining,” Ostoich said.
Victorville Councilman Jim Kennedy, an accountant with an office in San Bernardino, said he needed more time to understand the differences between the earlier McKeon and current Boxer bill.
“I am unclear on the differences between the old bill and the new bill, (and) what the effects would be on Santa Clarita and Victorville,” Kennedy said. He also wanted more information about the specific properties in the potential transaction and the effects on mining company rights.
“It’s a moving target,” he said. “It’s a totally different footprint from what it was two years ago.”
According to the Victorville staff report, the McKeon bill wouldn’t have allowed the sold lands to be used for mining, but the Boxer bill does allow mining – and the federal government retains the mining rights.
Mayor Ryan McEachron, an insurance agent in Victorville, supported Kennedy’s call for a workshop in order “to get all of the parties at the table to talk about it.” He directed his city staff to schedule a meeting with Santa Clarita officials as well as representatives of the BLM, Boxer, TXI and Cemex.