The sand mine in Marina, which has caused southern Monterey to have the highest coastal erosion rate in the state, and is the only remaining coastal sand mine in the country, has been illegal from the start.
But it's not because it's ravaged the local coastline for more than 50 years, it's because the county never issued it a permit.
On Jan. 14—the same day the Weekly ran a cover story about the mine—Mike Novo, former director of the Monterey County Resources Management Agency, sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission in response the agency’s inquiry about the property and mining operation.
The mine has been in operation since 1959, and in 1965, the owners of the mine moved the extraction site from an inland pond to a dredge pond on the beach, where it has continued operating ever since.
And according to Novo’s letter, the county has never issued a use permit for the mine, which means it’s been operating illegally for over 50 years.
“According to our records, no use permit was obtained,” Novo writes. “Therefore, when the dredge was created and put into operation in 1965, it lacked the necessary authorization…
“Since a use permit would have been required for this site for use of a dredge-pond, from 1955 on, and one was never obtained, it cannot be considered legal.”
The Coastal Commission shared the letter with the Weekly in response to a Public Records Act request, and it reveals a substantive piece of leverage the agency has in its ongoing negotiations with Cemex—the company that acquired the mine in 2005—which came after the agency threatened to issue a cease and desist order against the operation on March 17, based on several alleged Coastal Act violations.
Cemex has been granted a third extension—until June 23—to respond with its “statement of defense,” and in talking with Coastal Commission staff, further extensions seem likely until negotiations wrap up or are called off.
“It’s our policy, whenever we can, to settle with an alleged violator,” says Alex Helperin, a senior staff counsel for the agency. “It seems like every time we issue an order, unilaterally we get sued, and it’s two years of litigation.”
Helperin says Coastal Commission staff have met with Cemex about a half dozen times in the past months, and that negotiations are intensifying.
When asked if the Coastal Commission might allow the mine to continue operating with less intensive extractions, Helperin says “all options are on the table, we’ve considered everything.”
He adds, however, that whatever agreement the agency reaches, Coastal Commission staff has to believe the law supports it.
John Del Arroz, a statewide enforcement analyst with the agency, adds that the issuance of any order—whether it's a cease and desist order or a mutually agreed upon consent order—is subject to a public hearing.
Del Arroz adds that extensions are not uncommon when negotiations are ongoing.
“We would rather have them engaged in negotiations than honing their defenses,” he says. “Once people start to do that, it encourages them to think in a way that’s adversarial rather than cooperative.”
The other documents obtained by the PRA request are mostly scheduling emails between Coastal Commission staff and Sacramento-based attorney Bonnie Neely, who is representing Cemex, and who served on the Coastal Commission from 1998-2010, acting as chair in her last two years.
Helperin says more recent communications between the agency and Neely are confidential, and would not be released until negotiations wrap up.