Mining in Mariposa County and the Conditional Use Permit 

See update after November 17th meeting.

Mariposa County recently announced a Public Hearing on Policies and Regulations for Mining Permitting on November 17th at 2:00 PM. Although mining didn’t appear to be an issue during my campaign for supervisor and so wasn’t included on my County Issues page, it’s certainly been a hot and controversial topic during my first few months in office! Let’s look at what this issue is all about.

The Mariposa County Planning Department is trying to update our older Title 17 Zoning Regulations to reflect the policies contained in Mariposa County’s General Plan, which was adopted by the County in 2006. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken so long to bring our zoning ordinances into compliance with the General Plan as discrepancies between the two documents are a source of confusion and to some extent that confusion has perhaps fueled the current controversy.

Currently the General Plan calls for mining to be a “permitted use” on the largest parcels in the County - those in the Agricultural Working Landscape land use classification that are 160 acres or more in size. The General Plan also states that for all other parcels, mining is a “conditional use” so on those parcels a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is required for mining operations above the State’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) minimum size of 1 acre or 1,000 cubic yards of disturbed material. Mining operations under the SMARA minimum do not require a SMARA or a CUP from the County, and most all of the mining by individuals or small mining operators, both now and historically, falls under this limit.

A CUP is not a new regulation in Mariposa and does not necessarily add new requirements for a project, per se, but rather gives the County and, more importantly, the community a chance to consider a proposed project in terms of its overall effect on neighboring parcels and the County in general. CUPs are required for almost all development projects in the County, including churches, schools, hog farms, chicken farms, shooting ranges, archery ranges and dude ranches. Virtually every other county in California requires a CUP for mining regardless of parcel size. Many people wondered, if a church needs a CUP and other counties require a CUP for mining, why should mining in Mariposa County be exempt from a CUP, especially on the largest parcels where industrial scale mining operations would most likely occur?

Last year the Agricultural Advisory Committee was considering changes to the zoning ordinances to bring them into compliance with the General Plan as described in Option 1. They also considered Option 2, which would require a CUP for all mining operations including those parcels that are 160+ acres in size. Option 2 passed the Agricultural Advisory Commission 5-0. Option 2 also passed the Planning Commission. The Board of Supervisors, after a somewhat torturous process, also approved moving Option 2 forward. Hence the need for the Public Hearing mentioned above as Option 2 does change the General Plan to include a CUP requirement for mining above the SMARA minimum regardless of parcel size.

I must add that for the last several years my husband and I have been on the board of MERG, a local group of volunteers whose byline is “The Environment is Our Economy”. I receive no compensation or any other material benefit from my association with MERG - an association that was apparent while I was running for office as I not only mentioned MERG on my campaign website, but letters to the editor by supporters of my competitors often pointed out that association. Nevertheless, I was elected in June of 2014 with 59% of the vote, against two other candidates.

MERG’s position is that mining is legal in California and as long as all environmental laws are followed, mining has a legitimate place in our current and future economy. MERG has apparently long supported use of a CUP for development projects in the County as it gives the community a chance to voice concerns to potential development interests and work out reasonable compromises. MERG has supported the requirement for a CUP for mining on larger parcels in the County. This is a long established position and I did not participate in forming this position or vote to take a position in the current series of events involving bringing our zoning ordinances into compliance with the General Plan.

Before I became a supervisor I consulted with several attorneys, including County Council, and retired supervisors about whether I could or should remain with MERG once I was a sitting supervisor. I was given clear guidelines as to when I might be considered to have a conflict of interest and I have been very careful on this issue, and in general, to avoid any such conflict. Conflicts of interest in general have to do with financial or other material interests that would be affected by a vote on a given issue. I have no financial or material interest in mining nor will I or my family in any way benefit from my votes on this issue.

Unfortunately the mining community was given false information that I personally was trying to ban or stop all mining in Mariposa County by pushing for Option 2 and the CUP. First, I have no desire to ban mining in the County. Mining is legal and does benefit the Mariposa economy. Second, the imposition of a CUP on large mining operations is not a ban any more than a CUP is a ban on churches or schools. Unfortunately some in the mining community seemed to accept this false information, and I was subjected to a barrage of emails, letters to the editor and posts on Facebook, some threatening me with life in prison or death because of my votes on this issue.

The mining community also submitted complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission implying that I had a conflict of interest and had broken the law by not recusing myself based on my association with MERG. The FPPC wrote back to these individuals that they could find no evidence of any conflict of interest as can be seen here.

So despite continuing demands that I recuse myself from voting on this issue from those opposing a CUP for mining - a requirement that has been in place here for nine years now for most all parcels in the County, and is a requirement in other surrounding counties - there is no legal or ethical reason that I should recuse myself from any such discussion or vote. On the contrary, I fully believe I’m carrying out the will of my constituents as well as the majority of people in Mariposa County.

I have also written a letter to the editor on how and why I formed my opinion about mining and the CUP that’s available here. I would hope that the FPPC clearing me of any conflict of interest would be the end of this. Let me simply state however that more bullying and threats are not going to change my mind on this issue. However, I am always up for polite and substantive discussions on this or any other issue.