Supervisor wants County to acquire and close Lehigh plant

Aerial view of the Lehigh Permanente Quarry

Supervisor Joseph Simitian wants Santa Clara County to pursue plans to acquire and close the Lehigh Cement Plant and Quarry property, citing its environmental impacts. But Lehigh officials warn about the impacts of shuttering an operation that continues to play a vital role in Bay Area construction projects since beginning operations in 1939.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will consider a referral from Simitian to direct County staff to explore the possibility of claiming the property from Lehigh, which includes 3,510 acres within mostly unincorporated areas of the County but also in parts of Cupertino and Palo Alto.

Simitian says negative health impacts from mining and the development of housing near the plant “warrant a reevaluation of the plant’s continued operation.” He adds that Lehigh’s operations predate the County’s zoning ordinance.

“And our ability frankly to oversee mining operations is therefore somewhat limited, and that has been source of concern,” the supervisor said.

Meanwhile, Lehigh is seeking to expand its operations at the site. In a statement, spokesperson Jeff Sieg said Lehigh is open to discussing ideas that could support both its operations and the community’s desires in its future plans for the land.

“Lehigh appreciates Supervisor Simitian’s efforts to begin a discussion regarding the future of the Permanente site,” said Sieg. “The Permanente cement plant and quarry have been and remain key contributors to the local economy and vital suppliers to critical Bay Area construction projects. As we evaluate optimal reclamation approaches and the future of the property in general, we look forward to hearing the County’s ideas that respect both the community interests and Lehigh’s property rights, as well as help create a more sustainable future.”

Speaking on their own behalf, the mayors of Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale have expressed support for Simitian’s proposal.

“This is about much more than the potential cessation of commercial activity on the site,” Mayor Anita Enander said. “It is about identifying possible uses that would be beneficial to our communities far into the future.”

In the preliminary proposal, the County makes no mention of how it would come up with the funds to acquire more than 900 acres involved at the site.