Desert Hot Springs councilman Russell Betts says construction crews are profiting from illegal mining in his city. He wants to stop it, but the land owner says, they're just following city orders. It's happening on a busy construction site at an open lot just off Highway 62, in the northwest part of Desert Hot Springs. Workers from Tri-Star construction shovel and plow large mounds of dirt and rock. Betts says by the look of their machines, he believes the crews are surface-mining illegally. "For the life of me, I can't see how anybody would think they could come in and set up an operation like this, zoned for residential with no permits," said Betts.
The owner of the land, a company called Skyborne Ventures has the permits to build a 2080-unit community. It's waiting for the real estate market to rebound, and it recently received a citation from the city's code enforcement. It tells Skyborne to clean up its property by July 7, or pay. "It requires us to remove the construction debris, and the materials from illegal dumping," said James Kozak, the president of Strategic Land Partners, one of the owners of the company.
Kozak says he hired Tri-Star to clean up and that's what they're doing, not surface mining. Betts doesn't buy it though. The councilman says someone's taking from the large mounds and profiting. "I don't know what the cost is per ton, but there's obviously a motive here to put some money in their pockets," said Betts.
We asked Tri-Star where the materials go, they gave us this statement:
"All the debris has to leave the site. Some loads were sent to local recycling facilities, some to the Riverside County land fill where fees were paid."
Betts also takes issue with the dust and noise affecting nearby residents like Billy Nakuta. "It starts to roll, and when it does, it rolls right through here, picking up pebbles and things like that," said Nakuta.
Kozak says his company reached out to the Home Owners' Association about the clean up and tells people like Nakuta it won't be much longer. "Every reasonable measure has been taken and again this is a temporary situation that's going to occur for a couple more weeks," said Kozak.
Councilman Betts asked the state mining and geology board to look into the project. An investigation is ongoing.