City takes ‘wait-and-see’ approach on Cemex suit

Site of proposed Cemex mine in Soledad Canyon as viewed looking northwest from Soledad Canyon Road. Signal photo by Dan Watson

Members of Santa Clarita’s subcommittee on the Cemex issue said Tuesday there was no public announcement in response to the international mining corporation’s recently filed lawsuit because the city is not a party in the litigation. 

The decision runs contrary to years of campaigning by the Santa Clarita City Council, which fought a very public campaign against the mine, then engaged in a truce, then declared a victory against the mine earlier this year.

The most recent announcement from the city came this past spring — the declaration of an end to the decades-long battle with Cemex due to a government ruling by the Interior Bureau of Land Appeals. However, court records indicate that, about two months later, the building material company filed a lawsuit in federal court aiming to overturn the IBLA decision. 

In March, the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled on two Cemex 10-year contracts that were canceled by the Bureau of Land Management in 2015: Officials said the agency considered one of the contracts invalid, and the second is to expire in July 2020. Because the time necessary to obtain the required permits to mine sand and gravel just outside Santa Clarita’s eastern border in Soledad Canyon is estimated to take anywhere between 16 to 18 months, mine opponents considered the ruling a win. 

“After 20 years of fighting, we can finally say we believe there will not be a mega-mine in Soledad Canyon,” Councilwoman Laurene Weste said during a March news conference at City Hall following the IBLA decision. 

Cemex then filed a complaint in federal court May 1, stating the decisions of the IBLA, which handles appeals for Department of Interior decisions, and the Bureau of Land Management were “unlawful,” and that the company was being illegally deprived of its mining rights.

In response, the federal government answered the complaint in court on July 15, admitting to certain claims and denying others, adding that Cemex “failed to act in good faith.”

Click here for a link to a timeline on Cemex.

While local residents may remember seeing banners and ads across the SCV as part of the city’s campaign against the planned Cemex mine, this new lawsuit is different in terms of making a public announcement, officials said. 

“The year was 2007 when Cemex and the city agreed to discontinue our outreach and public fight,” said Councilman Bob Kellar, who is part of the subcommittee. “That’s one of the reasons why you haven’t seen the issue as much as you had. Nevertheless, as a city, we continue to fight the battle every inch of the way; but in this lawsuit, we’re not named.” 

Weste mirrored those remarks, saying that because the city is “not a party in the lawsuit there should be no reason for an announcement. This is between Cemex and the federal government. We just recently learned this.”  

Kellar said he first heard about the May lawsuit during a trip to Sacramento in July, when he met with the director of the BLM for a separate matter, along with fellow Cemex subcommittee member Weste, and Mike Murphy, who retired Friday and, as the city’s intergovernmental relations officer, was the city staff’s point person on the Cemex issue. 

“(The trip in July) was the first time any of us became aware,” Kellar said. “I can’t say I’m surprised. This has been many years of battle for the city of Santa Clarita and also our representatives in Washington, going back to (Howard “Buck”) McKeon and (Steve) Knight. I would approximate 30 trips to D.C. over the years.” 

Both Weste and Kellar said the matter hadn’t been discussed by the council in closed session due to the city not being involved in the lawsuit, which Mayor Marsha McLean reiterated Tuesday. 

“We have not met at all to discuss this,” she said, adding that she first read about the lawsuit in The Signal. “The city is not named in their suit, and so there’s nothing for us to do at this time than to just wait and see how their suit progresses.” 

It’s a waiting game for now. 

“I don’t think there was ever a surprise that (Cemex) would sue,” said City Manager Ken Striplin. “We will continue to be vigilant and monitor the situation as it moves forward and make sure that this never comes back as much as possible.” 

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