Bini: Sargent Ranch quarry is important to building Santa Clara County’s sustainable future
A creek at Sargent Ranch/Juristac in South Santa Clara County is pictured in this file photo.

    The proposed Sargent Ranch sand and gravel quarry in lower Santa Clara County presents the Bay Area with a unique opportunity to help the region develop a sustainable, locally-sourced vital building material while ensuring long-term protections for ecological and tribal resources.

    The construction-grade sand at the site is a key ingredient for the concrete we use for all types of construction—from repairing our crumbling infrastructure to building badly needed affordable homes, and everything in between. It is estimated the quarry would produce almost one-third of the construction grade sand needed over the next 50 years for the Bay Area.

    Today, the vast majority of this sand is imported by sea from Vancouver Island, Canada. The shipping alone creates four times the carbon footprint compared to sand that could be generated at Sargent Ranch. Locally sourced sand may seem trivial, but it is hard to overstate its importance for literally building a more sustainable future for the region.

    Of course, there are tradeoffs involved. Critics of the project have rightly pointed out concerns with the potential impacts on wildlife corridors and native cultural resources. In response, Santa Clara County has suggested an alternate proposal in the environmental impact report that addresses these concerns. The alternate, which has been endorsed by the project sponsor, proposes a win-win-win solution that protects wildlife corridors while establishing land ownership for the landless Amah Mutsun Tribal Band in perpetuity.

    It may be tempting to say the best solution is to simply leave the site untouched and continue the costly and environmentally inferior practice of importing sand into the region. This is not only far from optimal, it is contrary to our shared housing, transportation and environmental imperatives.

    For starters, we have seen the impacts of supply chain disruptions to construction. Importing sand means higher costs and slower construction. It may mean the difference of many projects being feasible or not. Our severe housing shortage and lack of key infrastructure such as the BART extension to San Jose demand urgent action. Denying this proposal will not only hinder the Bay Area’s ability to adapt for climate resiliency in the future, it will also fail to solve the concerns expressed by key stakeholder groups.

    What’s more: if forced to abandon the mining proposal, the project sponsor could instead propose to build according to current zoning. Such proposals could include wineries and mega estates. The county would have zero discretion to reject such proposals, since the property owner is already entitled to build any and all of these by right.

    For those who scoff at such an option, they need only look to the current land use applications by another property owner on portions of the property in Santa Cruz County. The uses proposed there, which include cannabis cultivation, can be built “by right” due to the zoning designation on that land.

    What does that mean for the region? It means that we will miss out on this unique and superior access to construction sand. It means that the wildlife corridors would be lost forever. And it means that native lands would still be developed with no solution to concerns of this community. In other words: everyone loses. The project sponsor has not proposed this, but it is a potential and frankly likely outcome should the project be rejected. It deserves further study under the environmental impact report.

    In the realm of public decision-making on land use, the task of policymakers is to determine the highest and best use for a site. In this case, a sand mine that includes the major mitigations the project sponsor has proposed and county staff is recommending are indeed that use. It balances the economic and infrastructure need for the construction grade sand with the need to protect important cultural and ecological resources.

    To be clear, these are hard conversations, but vital in order to reach a reasonable compromise. Future generations depend on this site, and it’s up to all of us to be responsible stewards of that future.

    We encourage all parties to come to the table to continue a dialogue on how the proposal can best meet the needs of our region. We owe it to our kids and grandkids.

    Dave Bini is executive director of the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council.

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