An estimated 2,000 people turned out for the first of two meetings that will determine the fate of a proposed quarry near Temecula.
The meeting lasted for seven hours at Rancho Community Church, 31300 Rancho Community Way.
The bright orange hats and shirts of the anti-quarry group "SOS-Hills" filled the crowd, along with the occasional green buttons, shirts and hats of the pro-quarry group "Friends of Liberty Quarry."
Spectators filled nearly all the seats, milled in the halls and listened to the meeting outside through mounted speakers.
Watsonville-based Granite Construction applied for surface mining permits, a change of zone and various other permissions with the Riverside County Planning Department. It's scheduled to vote on the plan at a meeting next Tuesday.
The planning commission, seated at a portable dais on the church's stage, listened to a presentation from Granite, then a presentation from the county's planning department staff, which recommends approving the quarry.
Then, dozens of members of the public went before the commission to share their feelings on the quarry.
The report produced by the county relied on faulty data and showed the project would harm Temecula residents, said Temecula Mayor Pro-Tem Chuck Washington.
"The air quality impacts are so horrendous, they cannot be adequately mitigated," he said.
The Temecula City Council passed a resolution earlier this year opposing the quarry. The city also tried to annex the land the quarry is planning to mine in an effort to bring it into its jurisdiction, though the plan fell short of its goal.
Some at the meeting felt the benefits the project would outweigh the harm.
"There will be a significant public benefit in terms of lower taxes to build things like schools and other infrastructure," said Kenneth Dickson, a Murrieta school board member.
"The quarry will move us a step forward to a more sustainable quality (of life) than we had in a long time," said Richard Loomis, a Hemet resident.
Several times during the meeting, audience members stood up and started yelling. One man stood up, pointed at the planning commission, shouted they were arrogant, and stormed out of the room. Another time, a man went to the front of the crowd and shouted a stream of complaints. "Look at the size of it, the size of it is huge," he shouted as a deputy pulled him from the room by his arm. "The silica dust, the animals," he yelled.
For the Pechanga tribe, the question is more than an issue of cost versus benefit. The hill is a holy place, and the quarry to them would be like mining the Holy Sepulcher, said Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga band of Luiseno Indians.
"That's the birthplace, literally, of the world," said Mark Macarro, the tribal chairman of the Pechanga band of Luiseno Indians. "The first funeral took place on top of that mountain, and this mine would propose to absolutely and utterly destroy it."
The project will have some unavoidable side-effects, including noise and air pollution, but these can be mitigated by stopping trucks from idling, using alternative fuels and buying offsets - which means paying another company to produce less pollution to make up for the mining company going over the county's limit, according to a report by the planning department.
For some residents, that's not good enough.
"Unless they cap it with a dome like a nuclear power plant, they can't control the damage," said George Dilao of Temecula. "As for Hemet and another town who think this is a great idea for our backyard, they're welcome to put it in their backyard."
The next hearing will run from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday at Rancho Community Church. The meeting is free and open to the public.