Another ‘done deal’ bites the dust

Cameron Smyth Commentary, Right Here Right Now

Cemex. When will they ever learn?

With the Bureau of Land Management’s action to cancel the contract of Cemex — effectively bringing to an end our decade-long fight against one of the largest proposed sand and gravel mines in the nation — it brings to mind a similar fight from 20 years ago: Elsmere Canyon.

Much like Cemex, Santa Clarita was told the placement of a huge dump right along our border was a “done deal” and we should just accept it.

It was during this fight that I, as a young political staffer, saw first-hand what my father had meant when he talked of the spirit of our community and how Santa Clarita was different.

Many will remember the overflow crowd at Valencia High School where we all put aside our political differences and united as one community in our fight to “dump the dump.”

Now if Cemex had been paying attention or had studied this valley’s history, maybe they would have realized that the action by the BLM was just a foregone conclusion.

You see, Santa Clarita isn’t afraid to fight. Starting with our incorporation, we have been no strangers to taking on our share of “Goliaths,” and our community is full of “Davids.”

Throughout my years representing this community on the City Council and in the Legislature, I witnessed time and time again Santa Clarita residents stepping up to protect our community from outside interests who thought they could force projects into the SCV without a challenge.

However, today I want to acknowledge just a few of those whose efforts in this battle stood above and beyond.

First up is the City of Santa Clarita, and while council members Weste and Kellar had significant leadership roles both in D.C. and here at home, other council members like JoAnne Darcy, Marsha McLean, Frank Ferry and Laurie Ender all had a hand in fighting Cemex.

But these council members will be the first to tell you that much of the credit belongs to our city staff. Despite the assertions of one council member, we have a tremendously dedicated city staff, many of whom call Santa Clarita home and have no other agenda other than to do what is best for the city.

Those city staff members spent countless hours doing whatever it took to fight this project. City Managers George Caravahlo, Ken Pulskamp, and Ken Striplin, Government Relations Officer Mike Murphy and our City public relations team headed up by Gail Morgan all deserve significant credit for their efforts.

But like any fight, it takes a whole community effort, and Andy Fried and his coalition deserve special mention. There was never a time when he gave up or stopped working; he prodded, cajoled, whatever it took to keep this issue on the forefront of every local elected official’s agenda.

Community leaders in Canyon Country, which would have taken the brunt of the mine’s impact, always packed meeting rooms and filled congressional offices with emails, letters, phone calls and faxes — anything to win.

But what about our federal officials who were in the best position to take the fight to Cemex? I have to give credit to our U.S. Senators who used their position and influence to help preserve our community.

I also believe Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon deserves some credit, as well. I sat in too many meetings with him and his staff to believe he didn’t want to stop the mine.

That being said, I think it was clear his interest in the issue waned over the years and he did not use his influence and seniority nearly enough.

We saw that influence at work during his last months in office as his legislation made it through the House — only to be stopped by a Democratic Senator from New Mexico.

Now I realize BLM could have terminated the contract with Cemex at any time, but it was only our new congressman, Steve Knight, who aggressively pursued that approach — and history will remember it was Knight, not McKeon, who helped bring about the demise of the mine.

I’m sure the DCCC, which is trying to target Knight, is cursing this decision by Obama officials because they will now have a more difficult time selling that Steve is out of step with his district.

Now with all that being said, the mine is still not “dead.” As BLM acknowledged, Cemex has 30 days to appeal, and they have yet to publicly state their intentions.

So until the appeal period closes we must remain on alert and hope that Cemex has learned its lesson: Santa Clarita fought too hard to gain control of our own fate and we don’t intend to walk away anytime soon.