Hugs and handshakes were shared in good measure Thursday as more than 100 residents, supporters and city dignitaries gathered to hear Pechanga’s announcement that it had officially closed escrow on land that would have served as the site of the controversial Liberty Quarry.
There were a few tears too.
The years-long battle to thwart efforts to bring the mining project to Temecula saw its end today and was reveled in by city officials and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians — each of whom fought vigorously to repel the quarry.
“We know how much this meant to (the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians). It’s been a roller coaster and they have been there every step of the way,” said Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards.
Temecula City Councilman Jeff Comerchero said: “Today is all about thanks. It was a long battle but it was worth it.”
The announcement came as a surprise to residents and city leaders while many of them geared up for a a new round of battles after the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to consider Granite Construction’s request to fast-track a smaller version of the original Liberty Quarry.
A hearing had been set for Dec. 11.
“I’m just sorry that the Board of Supervisors didn’t recognize the will of the people,” said SOS-Hills.org volunteer and supporter Doug Dye.
According to Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro, while the battle may have seemed lost, the Pechanga tribe had actually begun negotiations with Granite Construction in July to effect a $20.3 million purchase of 356 acres that would have been the site of the mining project.
Both parties remained quiet as they hammered out the details — until today.
Macarro thanked Granite Construction for its willingness to negotiate in good faith, but noted that measures are being considered that will fully secure the land from any possible, future infringement.
This includes a provision that prohibits similar projects from operating within 90 square miles of the land the Pechanga tribe believes sacred.
“We need assurances that this will not resurface in our community again,” Macarro said to the crowd.
Speaking in the tribe’s native tongue, Macarro said, “It is a good day.” He added that the mountain, considered by tribe members as the Luiseno’s Garden of Eden is no longer known as the Liberty Quarry project site, but as Pu’eska Mountain.
The rocky reserve served as the scenic backdrop to today’s announcement, with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds as officials took turns to offer thanks and express relief.
Among the speakers were Riverside County Supervisors Jeff Stone and Bob Buster who, like Macarro, each offered concern that a fractured board had failed Temecula residents opposed to the quarry.
Supervisor Buster praised volunteers, calling their support “the best grassroots effort I’ve ever seen.”
Temecula Mayor Pro Tem Mike Naggar addressed the crowd, pledging thanks to tribal leaders, adding: “We’ll never look at that mountain the same again.”
Macarro concluded: “The story of the mountain is not over. This is about more than just a moment. This is about tomorrow and this is about the future.”