In a hearing that tested the limits of the degree to which a public deliberative process can be altered and still serve as the basis for a governmental board’s decision, the Upland City Council Wednesday night conducted a four hour and thirty-seven minute virtual meeting at which it gave approval for Bridge Development’s controversial proposal to build a 201,096-square-foot distribution center to be operated by on-line merchandise marketing giant Amazon.
The project, which was originally officially previewed to the Upland community last June as a three building complex with 977,000 square feet under roof prior to being reconfigured as a single building entailing less than one fourth of the square footage initially proposed, has proven unpopular with a vocal segment of Upland’s population from the inception, as they perceived it to be a development that was both inconsistent with and prohibited by the city’s zoning and land use regulations for the site; that there is inadequate street capacity around the project site to accommodate the vehicular traffic that would result from the project, creating gridlock; that there would be significant air pollution resulting from that increased vehicle use; that there would be no or minimal sales tax revenue to the city based on Amazon’s internet-sales model; that there would be a 100-year impact upon the city’s infrastructure surrounding the distribution facility based on Bridge Development’s 50-year lease and a 50-year extension clause with the property owner, the Bongiovanni Family Trust; that there would be an inadequacy of infrastructure-maintenance revenue; that the city was not being empowered to control or restrict the future intensification of the use at the site; that the project would mar the span along the Route 66 Corridor, at that point known as Foothill Boulevard at a relatively short distance from the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County boundary at the Upland/Claremont city limits, which serves as the gateway to the city; and the project would monopolize property, which lies so close to the Foothill Boulevard thoroughfare, more properly suited for commercial use.
As objections to the scope of the proposal manifested, the tentative site plan was modified several times until in October 2019 a revamped conception of the project was presented, one that was reduced to a single structure of 276,250 square feet. When the environmental review documentation for the project was posted on December 16, it came in the form of a draft negative mitigated declaration as opposed to a full-blown environmental impact report. In that documentation, the project was shown as a 201,096-square-foot distribution center to be located north of Foothill and south of Cable Airport. While the 37-day review period for that document was yet ongoing, on Thursday January 9, the Upland City Council, the Upland Planning Commission and the Upland Airport Land Use Committee held a joint workshop at City Hall to carry out a discussion of the draft initial study and draft mitigated negative declaration for the project. The vast majority of the public attending the meeting who addressed the city council and planning commission indicated opposition to the project.
A common theme iterated by the project’s opponents was that the use of the mitigated negative declaration process to provide certification for the project was inadequate, and an undertaking of the project’s scope was more properly evaluated in an environmental impact report. The mitigated negative declaration, those naysayers maintained, was replete with incomplete or erroneous information.
After feedback from the public was accepted in conjunction with the processing of the negative mitigated declaration, which some residents said was marred by the city’s failure to post all of the public input and commentary submitted to it, the planning commission met on February 12 to consider the project. Commissioner Alexander Novikov was absent that evening. Four votes/determinations/findings with regard to the project were slated for that night. Voting in conjunction with Airport Land Use Committee members Ronald Campbell and Howard Bunte, the planning commissioners present that evening – Chairwoman Robin Aspinall, Carolyn Anderson, Gary Schwary, Linden Brouse and Yvette Walker – voted unanimously to enter a finding that the project as proposed constituted a use compatible with the city’s zoning codes and general plan as set out in the airport land use compatibility plan. The planning commission then took up the critical issue of the project’s environmental certification. With Commissioner Walker dissenting, the panel voted 4-to-1 to ratify the mitigated negative declaration for the project, making what was essentially a finding that any untoward environmental impacts would be offset by the conditions of approval imposed on the project. The panel voted 3-to-2, with Schwary and Walker in opposition, to recommend approval of the development agreement, by which Bridge Development agreed to provide the city with $16 million to make up for the project not involving the collection of sales tax and to offset the city’s infrastructure costs to accommodate the development, including repair to streets worn down by the trucks and vans that will operate out of the facility.
When the project’s site plan was considered, a motion to reject it was made, garnering the support of commissioners Schwary, Walker and Brouse. Aspinall and Anderson dissenting in that vote.
Over the next two weeks, the members of the commission were subjected to pressure from project proponents inside and outside City Hall, as well as from lobbyists for Bridge Development Partners. On February 26, the commission reconsidered the project, and then took a follow-on vote, unprecedented in Upland history, to undo the February 12 decision that had rejected the site plan. With Novikov present, the commission reconsidered the matter, at which point Novikov joined with Walker in registering opposition to the site plan, while Schwary and Brouse reversed themselves from their February 12 votes, resulting in a 4-to-2 recommendation that the city council approve the project’s site plan.
Over the next month, the nation, state, region, county and City of Upland fell ever more firmly into the grip of the health threat crisis created by the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus. On March 12 California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order banning public gatherings of 250 people or more and then firmed that call for social distancing and isolation with a shelter-in-place mandate on March 19, practically prohibiting municipalities from holding traditional meetings such as those of the city council, planning commission or other entities at which members of the public were free to attend and participate.
The Bridge project’s opponents, meanwhile, began to openly express the concern that city staff was militating toward the approval of the project rather than making an unbiased evaluation of its merits upon which the city’s ultimate decision-makers, the city council, would be able to base a fair decision as to whether Bridge should be given an entitlement to proceed. Some of the more vocal members of the project opposition called upon the city council to postpone any decision on the project until such time as the city could resume holding public hearings at which the entirety of those within the Upland community who wanted to attend the meeting at which the council would make that decision could be present to weigh in on the matter. While a decision was made to remove the consideration of the project off of the agenda for the council’s March 23 meeting, a hearing on the project was rescheduled for a special meeting on April 1. At its March 23 meeting and again at a specially called meeting held on March 31, the council was asked and then ultimately declined to postpone the April 1 meeting/hearing date for the project.
Thus, the council convened Wednesday night, not physically in Upland’s city council chamber, but rather virtually from their respective homes or professional offices, with Mayor Debbie Stone being the only member of the panel at City Hall, where, from her office by means of a video hook-up with the others, she conducted the meeting. A video of the council members and the audio of the proceedings, with a 30 to 40 second delay, was broadcast or displayed on the city’s local cable network as well as on the city’s website.
Mike Poland, Upland’s contract planner, briefed the council on the project, and Community Development Director Robert Dalquest provided the council with an encapsulation of the development agreement.
In his presentation, one of Poland’s statements circumscribed an element of the controversy and contention with regard to the project. Noting that the land upon which the project is to be constructed was designated or zoned for commercial/industrial mixed use, he said that typically industrial uses were “limited general industrial, manufacturing, assembly, warehousing, multi-tenant industrial, research and development, and airport related uses.” He did not specifically reference a transportation facility, but nonetheless stated, “Staff has found the use is consistent with the Upland General Plan. Furthermore, with the zoning code, we found that the project complies with the development standards of the commercial/industrial land use designation, and that this site is under zoning intended to accommodate a variety of industrial, retail and support activities.”
Poland further stated, “On the basis of the mitigated negative declaration, comments received and the whole record, there is no substantial evidence that the project will have a significant adverse impact individually or cumulatively on the environment.”
According to Community Development Director Robert Dalquest, Bridge Development had upped its previous offer of endowing the city with $16 million in return for approving the project to $17 million. He said Bridge had committed, as part of the development agreement, to provide the city with $14.5 million in what he termed a “sales tax in-lieu fee” to make up for the city’s loss of sales tax from untaxed sales at the facility. On top of that, Dalquest said, Bridge will provide some $2.5 million of in-kind assistance to the city consisting of road improvements and/or signalization on Foothill Boulevard, Central Avenue, Benson Avenue, 13th Street, 15th and 16th Street. If the tenant’s operations exceed 50 truck trips per day or if the van trips exceed 187 trips in the morning rush hour or 171 trips in the evening rush hour, Bridge is to be fined $45,000, Dalquest said.
Heather Crossner, Bridge Development’s first vice president for development, and Brendan Kotler, Bridge’s executive vice president, touted the project to the city council.
Crossner said the project had the support of city staff, the planning commission and the explicit endorsement of 1,100 city residents. She said the project as was being considered by the city council had been changed from Bridge’s original proposal and had been shaped by public input, based on nearly one year of public discussion and five community meetings and hundreds of pages of written responses to the proposal during the mitigated negative declaration process. She said that the “critical” input of the public with regard to Bridge’s proposal “every step of the way has made this project better.”
Crossner gave a breakdown of the $17 million to be provided to the City of Upland by her company that differed from the way that Dalquest had represented it. She said the city was to receive $14.5 million in “voluntary community benefits” that were donated in keeping with the development agreement along with another $2.5 million in development fees. She said the company would provide not $2.5 million in street improvements to the city but $3.5 million. She said if the company operating out of the distribution center exceeded the number of vehicles allotted to it on a single day, the company would be subject to $45,000 fines for each violation during the first ten years and $47,500 fines for each violation during the net ten years. The company is allowed no more than 50 three-axle or more truck trips per day, with a maximum number of 187 van trips during the morning rush hour and 171 van trips during the evening rush hour. Semi-trucks are to bring merchandise to the facility and vans are to deliver the merchandise to Amazon customers.
To a question from Councilwoman Janice Elliott as to whether Amazon could designate Upland as its point of sale for all of the business it does in California, thereby making Upland the recipient of all sales tax revenue the company would generate in California, Kotler deflected the request, saying “At this time, we don’t have a tenant signed up, and I think the tenant that everyone presumes [Amazon] is going to be on the site, I don’t believe they’ve designated any site like this, any city like this, as a designated point of sale. My understanding is Amazon and a lot of these retailers like Amazon have statewide agreements that prevent them from doing individual agreements with any sort of municipality or city. Let’s not forget that this facility is just a portion of a longer logistics chain. So, if every city that had a portion of the logistics chain claimed that they wanted sales tax, then the entire system would break down. It would not be doable in this place at this point to make Upland the point of sale.”
City residents were permitted to participate in the meeting telephonically if they had made registration of their intention to participate at least two hours prior to the meeting, such that they were phoned by a member of the city clerk’s office during the course of the meeting, with each allotted up to three minutes to make a verbal presentation.
Justin Cadzow said, “I don’t trust Bridge at this point, and I don’t think this city council should.” He decried the ambiguity with regard to who was to be Bridge’s tenant, in particular the prior identification of Amazon as the tenant and Kotler’s unwillingness to acknowledge that Amazon will occupy the facility. He characterized that as “misinformation.”
Albert Pattison said, “One thing I know is the citizens are concerned with what the impacts of this project are going to be. Yet little or no discussion was given to their concerns.” He said there was an “inadequate job done … in compiling documentation for the mitigated negative declaration, which would have better been carried out in a more comprehensive environmental impact report. Let me remind the council that the project the developer has proposed is inconsistent with a number of municipal standards, a primary one being zoning. In this way, it is neither incumbent upon nor advisable for the city council to grant project approval to an undertaking so out of step with the vast majority of Upland’s residents’ concept of what is appropriate for this city. The citizens’ message apparently is not getting through to the city council or the developer, who is persisting with a project adverse to the values and expectations of Upland’s citizens.”
Helen Young said she had “concerns about air quality. I am concerned about control over exhaust and truck traffic on our streets.”
Planning Commissioner Alexander Novikov stated, “The temptation to approve the Bridge Development project is great. Is this warehouse an appropriate symbol for our great city? Will this project add value to the culture and quality of life of Upland, or is this a shiny object that momentarily distracts us, only to leave us with traffic congestion, a jolt to our tranquil community and bring us an onslaught of more behemoth projects? What are we giving away if this project is approved? What does it say about us and our values?”
Novikov said that as a planning commissioner he had studied the project and after weighing all the pros and cons, “I came to the conclusion that this project is not the best fit for the location.” He said “It is better to have nothing than a big distribution center. Let’s take the opportunity to come together and envision what the possibilities are for that space that will add value to the community and enhance our quality of life. Let’s have the courage to deny this project and allow the gift of time to plan together. I hope that each of you will listen to your constituents who are also your neighbors and friends, and reject this project.”
Greg Bradley told the council the mitigated negative declaration had “an incomplete and inadequate analysis of project alternatives” and that under the California Environmental Quality Act the environmental analysis “must describe a reasonable range of alternatives to the project or to the location of the project.” Bradley said the city “should consider site suitability and availability of infrastructure, general plan consistency, other limitations and jurisdictional boundaries.”
Bradely said the mitigated negative declaration was “defective because it lacks feasible alternative uses and sites, and did not include evaluations of alternative options, including looking at what would occur if the project was not approved. The public has not been provided with enough information to make a determination of the impact of the project.”
Roger Stephenson said the city had not put into the record all of the correspondence related to the project submitted by the public. He further said, “The development agreement in the package is different from that version recommended to the city council by the planning commission.”
While the project parameters did draw a limitation on trucks of three or more axles, Stephenson said, the project if approved would allow “really large vehicles and vans to come and go as they please.” The development agreement, he said, leaves “too much open for interpretation or misinterpretation.” He said that “In my opinion the revisions incorporated this late in the approval process indicate the city realizes that the mitigated negative declaration and supporting documents are inadequate. The terms within the city approval documents are not mitigation measures under the California Environmental Quality Act and were were not part of the public review process. The draft mitigated negative declaration should be rejected by the city and a whole environmental impact environmental report for the project should be required. That environmental impact report would allow for a traffic analysis that truly reflects the actual distribution hub logistics character of what is proposed and allow for an adequate account of the number and types of vehicles and trip generation rates, reevaluate impacts to roadways based on appropriate assumptions for vehicle trips and routes and also a clear recognition of the huge structural canopies over the van loading areas and what they represent: shade from the sum or increased area for operations.”
Kris Gooding said she had concerns about the project’s impact on “traffic conditions,” which she said would involve “miles of delivery vehicles [and] chaos.” She said the project was incompatible “with the character of our city.” She said the company which compiled the mitigated negative declaration, Kimley Horn, had insufficiently charted the degree to which the project will “impact on residents’ quality of life.”
Lois Sicking Dieter decried the “incomplete hydrology and incomplete water quality analysis in the mitigated negative declaration,” saying its “findings are inaccurate because the city relied upon a flawed methodology, outdated software, generalized conclusions based on erroneous data, undefined calculations causing misleading results and analysis, lack of detail and inaccuracies in the city’s data input.” She asserted that the analysis and conclusions of the entire declaration are misleading as they understate the environmental impact of the proposed project. She said the city’s claim to having obtained similar data and to have arrived at the same conclusion after updating the software from a 1999 version to a 2016 version was “physically impossible.”
The stormwater system at the site would not be able to capture or contain water flow from rain events, she said, after the project is completed. She said the city was further ignoring the historic nature and features of Route 66 – Foothill Boulevard – in its consideration of the placement of the project at that location.
Brinda Sarathy said, “A full environmental impact report is essential. The city’s claim that the project is a warehouse permissible under the commercial industrial mixed use zoning is a significant misrepresentation of the actual operations of the project, which is not a mere warehouse for the primary storage of commercial goods but rather a soon-to-be node in a delivery station network characterized by the ongoing and continuous sorting and distribution of goods on a 24/7 basis. It is not a currently permitted land use under the existing general plan. As a transportation-oriented facility, the project directly conflicts with some of the stated purposes of Upland’s mixed-use zones, such as to foster developments that reduce reliance on the automobile, create pedestrian-oriented environments and support social interaction by allowing residents to work or shop within walking distance to where they live.”
She said an “e-commerce delivery hub dependent upon semi-trucks” was inconsistent with making the adjacent span along Foothill Boulevard an attractive and welcoming gateway from Claremont and Los Angeles County into Upland.
Someone identified only as Daniel said, “We need income to come into Upland to keep our city the way it is.” He said the project would “move the city forward.”
Russ Burroughs said he, his wife and surrounding neighbors “are opposed to this project.” He said Bridge was utilizing people from outside the city to voice support for the project “but none of them even live in Upland.” He said there was already excessive congestion on Foothill Boulevard.
Cindy Phillips referenced a letter from Claremont’s community development director which spoke of Claremont officials’ concerns with the underestimation of the truck traffic from the project, and impacts onto Claremont’s streets and roadways. “Please vote no until an environmental impact report is completed,” Phillips said.
Steven Reyes stated, “I am for the project, but I am concerned about their gathering of information and how they determined how much revenue they would be producing in the city.” He said he wanted to know if the projections of what that revenue was to be were true or false.
Brigitte James said, “I am for this development. Bridge has listened to the concerns and ideas the community has given regarding this project.” She said Bridge had altered its original plan to make the project “fit this community while still meeting the needs for a potential business partner. This development is perfect for this site. It is past time for this property to be developed. Please approve this project.”
Steve Bierbaum referenced prior written objections to the project from a group he is involved with, the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens. The coalition’s objections to the mitigated negative declaration, Bierbaum stated “are based on the city’s failure to address significant impacts,” which he said related to “land use, planning, traffic, air quality greenhouse gas emissions and wildlife that violate the legal mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Bierbaum said the project was “mischaracterized as a warehouse.” It was a “high intensity use logistics distribution center” that will be incompatible with residential properties and schools located nearby, Bierbaum said. He said development of the property in as a distribution facility was not permitted under the general plan. An environmental impact report should be prepared for the project before the city approves it, he said. He maintained that by approving the project without an environmental impact report the council was “inviting a legal challenge to that recommendation” because “the mitigated negative declaration did not adequately analyze the cumulative adverse impacts from the project.”
Terri DiMarco with the Upland Chamber of Commerce referenced Bridge’s proposal as a “positive development project” with “long lasting benefits to the citizens and businesses of Upland,” which will welcome visitors and residents to the city.
Rochelle Johnson said Bridge “listened to our concerns, using our feedback to revise the plan.” She mentioned the money that Bridge was venturing toward civic improvements. “I highly encourage that you approve this project tonight,” she told the council.
Ralph Cavallo said, “I’m in favor of approving the project now more than ever. In addition to dramatically improving the entrance to our community, the developer has truly stepped up more than any other developer I have ever heard of in making financial guarantees that will benefit our entire community for years to come. I’m particularly pleased with the projected 300 new jobs from the project. Upland should benefit by additional sales tax raised by some of those new employees patronizing our retail stores. The Bridge people are good people who have bent over backward and then some to meet our demands. This is a worthwhile project that should be totally embraced by our entire council and community.”
Lisa Nicely said that if a project’s impacts are “accumulatively considerable,” an environmental impact report is required. “Failure to assess accumulative harm may risk environmental disaster,” she said. She said the mitigated negative declaration did not adequately assess the project’s impacts. She further said the mitigated negative declaration did not examine the issue of existing contamination at the project site.
Heather Dunham said she supported the project. “I feel that this is a project that is of great benefit. I feel this is an improvement we need to make happen as soon as possible.”
Bob Cable said, “We seem to be dragging our feet on every project that comes before this city. I would urge you to improve this as quickly as possible and get this thing up. We keep hearing these ‘what ifs. We’re going to clog the streets with traffic. We’re going to kill people.’ We could be saving lives at this very moment if this project had been done a year ago and was up and running. Not only would we have people still employed, but we’d have medical supplies coming in not only to this city but every other city in this county.”
Cable asserted that Bridge Development Partners met “all the demands and then some.” He said that layering condition and condition upon the project proponent would take away the incentive for Bridge and any other potential developers to pursue projects in the city. “What message have you sent to every other developer who wants to come into this city?” he asked, his question posed under the assumption the city council was going to turn thumbs down on the project. “Approve this project and let’s bring some jobs in.”
Bill Behjat told the council to consider “the consequence of the pollution that would result in illnesses and sicknesses … cancer… asthma… kidney failure. Children at school would be more susceptible to illnesses,” he said, as would be “the elderly especially close to the facility and [nearby] traffic lights.” He suggest the council deny the project approval.
Jim Thomas told the council, “I trust you will all make a decision that is best for our city. Whatever the item on the agenda, there will be a small faction in the city showing up in strong support or in strong opposition. In the end your decision is not based on the numbers expressed pro or con, but a decision that will be best to benefit our community.”
Noting the 50-acre property on which the project is proposed to be built had remained undeveloped throughout the post-World War II building boom, Thomas asked, “When will Upland have an opportunity to attract a better offer? Perhaps there will be a higher and better use for that land, but the current offer is pretty darn good.”
Kim Anthony said the opposition to the project consisted of only about one percent of the city’s population. She implied that 99 percent of the city’s residents were in favor of the project, which she said provided city residents with an opportunity to achieve economic self-sufficiency and financial mobility.
Mahmood Khan said the project would “bring dollars into the community and create opportunity and new projects for the youth. I support this project. Hopefully, you will all vote for it.”
Rae Shephard said, “I feel it would be a very good benefit for Upland not only form the revenue generated there but for those employed at the warehouse and the potential for the upgrades for the schools and the parks.”
William Realyvasquez inquired as to what infrastructure improvements Amazon would make in support of the project and whether there would be taxes collected on the goods coming in through or sold from the logistics center.
Tommy Morrow said “This is a great project. Bridge Development Partners have demonstrated that they will be good neighbors. During this year long process of getting this approved, Bridge has done everything that was asked of them so that they could move forward. This is a great opportunity.” Morrow said those going to Montclair or Claremont to enlist assistance in opposing the project should move to those cities.
Ta Lese Middleton said the Bridge project was “an important opportunity and we should get behind it.” The undertaking will, she said, “convert a dirt lot into a modern business.”
John Swanlund said of the project, “I am pro this, just to let you guys know.”
Barbara Lindsey said, “I just want to let you know I support the Upland Bridge Point project. This plan will work for the City of Upland and the green technology is really going to be the wave of the future. This project will also add jobs immediately.”
Amber Thorneycroft said she thought the project “is going to bring a lot of needed jobs into the community. I also think it will bring a lot of needed revenue into the city.”
Dede Ramella said the city council had joined in an effort of “manipulation and control” by Amazon. She said the project carried the specter of a “done deal. They are showing us that no one can fight them, the system is rigged, they are bigger than every one of us. They are saying to the citizens of Upland, ‘We’ll win. Set down your pencils. Put your banners away. You can’t fight us. We are bigger than God.’ They are controlling our cities, our councils, our life choices. Our local government is bought and sold. They own you and the city. Look at what they are offering: the bribes to our schools, our parks, our downtown area, even our chamber of commerce. For God’s sake, they’ll stop at nothing. Hey Brandon! I mean Bridge: Can you put us in the black for the pensions, too? They can do what they want. No amount of money can or will stop them because they hold all the gold. The Upland residents have been misled, lied to and now taken advantage of. To the city council and planing commission: You are either blind or ignore the whole picture of what this will do to our once-welcoming community. I am pleading with you not to approve this disastrous global development.”
Frederick Lynch said, “There’s no doubt there are benefits from the proposed distribution center, but I think there are so many unanswered questions, so many doubts, particularly with regard to the unintended consequences in terms of noise pollution, air pollution, traffic and safety that greater care is warranted. I think we are meeting at a time of enormous crisis. I think more deliberation, more input, is definitely needed. I think we need a full environmental impact report. The builder has been very coy about who the tenant is going to be. I’ve heard the name Amazon tossed around. If it is Amazon, we are letting probably the most powerful economic and political force in the country into our community. Once they are here, to try to regulate them and try to control them is going to be very difficult. Make sure you have all the Ts crossed and the Is dotted before Amazon arrives. This needs a great deal of care.”
Kathryn Di Stefano said she had requested that the council not risk litigation by holding meetings pertaining to contentious issues remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Tonight, I’m asking again that Upland not place itself at legal risk,” Di Stefano said. “Do not adopt the mitigated negative declaration for the Upland Bridge project, and conduct a full environmental impact report.”
DeVo’n Espinoza said, “I want to voice my support for the Bridge Development Partners project,” calling it “beneficial. I support this plan. I approve of this project.”
Mireya Atoura said “I am in support of the Bridge Point Upland project. I would appreciate and I would be very grateful if you would approve this project. I have a feeling it would bring a lot of positive things to our community.”
Craig Stover said, “I’m in favor of the Bridge project so we can do what we can to help the schools and school district help more kids.”
Eric Gavin said, “I remain in support of this project. This is private development on private land that either does or does not comply with our general plan. That is the only decision tonight. My opinion of the project doesn’t matter, any more than it matters what someone does in their own backyard, so long as it is legal and fits within planning and zoning documents. The planning commission recommends and your staff has told you again tonight it is legal, it does fit. Now is not the time to add a bunch of new requirements on the project to satisfy the angry say-no-to-everything crowd.”
Linda Trawnik said that the “city will receive millions of dollars to support important services” as a consequence of the approval of the project. “I keep hearing people saying they are going to Claremont City Council members regarding this project,” she said. “I cannot imagine what the purpose of that is. This is a decision of our Upland council members and only Upland council members. Bridge Development, who in my experience throughout this process has been attentive, is a great partner. I’ve never seen a more generous offer for a project in our city. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Paul Trawnik said the project “would be a great boon to the Foothill Corridor and the city” and “would bring much-needed funds into city coffers.” He said the project would provide temporary and permanent jobs.
Joann Washington said, “I’m calling in to support the Bridge project. The project is transforming a vacant lot that no one ever uses into something modern, nice-looking and productive. We should be doing more with it than just letting it sit there any longer.”
Natasha Walton told the council the mitigated negative declaration has an incomplete analysis of the impacts to biologic resources in the project area. “The project area is considered sensitive rare habitat as defined by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife,” she said. “Furthermore, the project potentially threatens a species of special concern, the burrowing owl, that could be there. The mitigations proposed are inadequate [and] contrary to the Department of Fish & Game’s protocols.” Walton said that Bridge was not making a sufficient effort to determine whether the owl is present on the property.
Bridge was not dealing rightfully with regard to the threat the project was posing to a rare plant on the site, the sage scrub, she said.
Gary George said he was “lending my support to the project. It would be a fantastic addition to the city, especially in the times in which we’re living.”
Selena Khan said the project “is important to Upland’s economy. I think it will provide a lot of jobs for all people who need it, especially in times like this.”
Ferdinand Estrada said, “Rightfully, there is a conversation about whether to deny this project, and I understand the concerns, of course. However, it is critical we vote to move forward, now. This is a project that has gone through a long and, most importantly, open public process. We have all been given multiple opportunities to participate. If we don’t get this project approved now we risk Bridge Development walking away. It is time to vote yes and improve this wonderful city.”
Kim Lyles said of the project, “I think it would be a wonderful, wonderful project for Upland to have and it will bring new jobs to the community.”
Ta Mia Morrow said “It is important for us to take advantage of opportunities such as this that could boost the local economy and also put money in our education system, our roads, our parks, as well as our police department. I want to urge the mayor and city council to consider the benefits of a proposal such as this, and what it will mean to our community.”
Marjorie Mikels, whose opportunity to address the council was initially foreclosed when Mayor Stone moved to close the public hearing prematurely, was given an opportunity to speak before the city council began its deliberation. “I respectfully object to the council’s decision to proceed with this important public hearing without members of the public being present. I also want to see the speakers, the brave people in our community with courage to come out and speak on behalf of their vision for the city. Cyberspace is not adequate, because I can’t see any of those speakers, including the Bridge people. It is not the same as a public hearing. I really object to you going forward with that. You really didn’t need to do this.”
Mikels called for a specific plan overlay of the site before the project was given consideration or approval. “What kind of uses are we going to allow in this area?” she asked. “By the confused procedural path that you have taken by this whole process, I think you believe you have already settled the issue of whether the site is consistent with the zoning map and the general plan, but that issue really has not been decided properly. You are going to get litigation as soon as you do this without an environmental impact report and without consistency of the zoning plan.”
When Mikels mentioned evidence that Bridge had been paying individuals to make statements in support of the project, her access to the meeting microphone was terminated.
The council’s deliberation ensued, which involved its members’ having a palaver with staff members, including Dalquest and City Attorney Steven Flower with regard to certain issues.
An issue raised by Councilwoman Elliott pertained to the city’s current land use and zoning codes and whether the project site was properly zoned to accommodate a distribution facility, in particular as project opponents have contended what Bridge Development Partners is proposing is incompatible with the area generally as well as specifically with the city’s codes. In putting the matter before the council, staff did not offer the council the option of considering granting a zoning variance.
“I completely disagree with the argument that this is a permissible use in the industrial/mixed use zone,” Elliott said. “The City of Upland General Plan provides for warehouse and distribution centers only in the College Heights Focus Area, which is south of Foothill. Our general plan does not include distribution centers in its list of permissible use for mixed use commercial industrial zones. That’s it. If you look at the Upland Municipal Code, and you look for the different land uses that are permissible in the City of Upland, you find that the definition of warehouse, which the American Planners Association defines, as ‘a use where goods are received and/or stored for delivery to the ultimate customer at remote locations.’ This project, this warehouse, is not storing goods for customers at remote locations. These are last mile deliveries. The major use of this land is distribution or a delivery center. That accounts for the rest of the land use, other than the landscaping. So the warehouse is ten percent. The parking facilities is considerably more than that. There’s no listing of a distribution center. There is no listing for delivery service in our Upland Municipal Code, and the Upland Municipal Code states that unless it is included, it is prohibited. So, I strongly contend that this is not a permissible use in our Upland Municipal Code and in our general plan. In addition, the general plan is very articulate as far as the vision for the City of Upland in mixed use commercial industrial zones. This use of delivery service does not make sense there because of its proximity to other neighborhoods and its proximity on Foothill Boulevard. This is not an appropriate land use.”
City Attorney Steven Flower said, “I can say that the definition of warehouse is not a spot on match here, but at the same time it’s certainly within the city’s discretion in how it interprets its own code, and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation in this case, although others may disagree, to say this project would fall within the definition of warehouse. It really is a matter of just the council’s discretion in interpreting the city’s own code in this instance. Even if there’s other codes or other authorities that might have more specific definitions, our code has this definition, and, as I said, I think it’s a reasonable interpretation. In that regard I defer to the planning experts, and staff previously determined that this met the definition. It’s now the council’s call.”
The denouement of the meeting ensued, with the definitive action then taken by the city council, which voted to approve the mitigated negative declaration 4-to1 with Elliott dissenting. She indicated she voted no “because we need the studies of an environmental impact report to determine the impacts of the proposed development since I questioned some of the underlying data and assumptions in the mitigated negative declaration impact studies.”
The council’s second decision pertained to accepting a lot line adjustment for the project site. That adjustment was approved in a 5-to-0 vote.
The council’s third vote dealt with the site plan approval, which passed 4-to-1 with Mayor Stone and councilmen Rudy Zuniga, Bill Velto and Ricky Felix prevailing and Councilwoman Elliott dissenting. Elliott cited the zoning inconsistency between the project description and site in voting against the site plan.
The council then took up the development agreement which specifies the $17 million commitment in revenue Bridge is to guarantee the city. It was passed on a 5-to-0 vote.
The vote provided Bridge Development Partners with an entitlement to proceed, putting the ball into the court of the project’s opponents to take legal action if they are to follow through on their stated determination to prevent the project from proceeding.
The entity known as the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens has been a prime mover in the effort to resist the project, having retained the law firm of Palmieri Hennessey and Leifer to represent it. Communication between the firm, on behalf of the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens, and city officials prior to Wednesday night’s hearing intimated that if the project were approved, the coalition would take legal action to enjoin Bridge Development Partners from proceeding.
In a letter dated March 30 to Upland City Clerk Keri Johnson and Michael Poland, Upland’s contract planner, Palmieri Hennessey and Leifer principal Patrick A. Hennessey wrote, “As proposed, the city contemplates converting a low-density, heavy industrial site zoned commercial/industrial mixed-use located near Cable Airport, and many sensitive receptors such as, without limitation, single and multi-family residential communities (located approximately 1,000 feet away), Cabrillo Elementary School (located approximately 1,500 feet away) and Sycamore Elementary School (located approximately 1.5 miles away) into a high-intensity use logistics/distribution center and transit hub that is not otherwise permitted under the city’s general plan and zoning ordinances. The cumulative effect of the proposed project, if approved, would create pockets of incompatible adjoining land uses. These ‘pockets’ would foment future discord between the existing residential developments, public schools and businesses who have long-established uses in and around the affected areas, and Amazon’s high-intensity distribution and transit hub. The list of potential environmental impacts that would be created by approval of the project is substantial, warranting further investigation and analysis. Yet, the planning staff has, up to this point, recommended that compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act may be achieved through approval of a mitigated negative declaration. The planning staff is mistaken in its recommendation of a mitigated negative declaration for the sweeping changes being proposed, and if the city council follows this recommendation, it is inviting a legal challenge to that recommendation. The mitigated negative declaration either defers and/or does not adequately analyze the cumulative adverse impacts that the proposed project will have to the surrounding environs within and outside the project area. The mitigated negative declaration insufficiently addresses the potential significant effects of the proposed project when, in fact, the available information and findings support a fair argument that there will be a number of significant impacts that will not be adequately mitigated. It is apparent that the proposed project will result in significant adverse environmental impacts and will significantly affect the quality of the human environment. Accordingly, pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, an environmental impact report must be prepared to address the myriad of potential significant environmental impacts that will result from the proposed project.”
According to Hennessey, there were significant shortcomings in the mitigated negative declaration which trigger the requirement that an environmental impact report be prepared for the project. Those shortcomings, he wrote, included an improper baseline analysis, inadequate and incomplete analysis of project alternatives, an inadequate air quality assessment and health risk assessment study, an inadequate greenhouse gas analysis, outlined mitigation measures predicated on faulty assumptions of vehicle miles traveled per trip and an inadequate transportation/traffic analysis, an incomplete analysis of the project’s impacts to biological resources at the project area, a failure to address cumulative impacts from what Hennessey termed “reasonably foreseeable future actions” as significant and unavoidable. Hennessey said the mitigated negative declaration further failed to analyze hazardous waste residue on the project site and mandate a cleanup of that problem. Hennessey said the mitigated negative declaration suffered from “an inadequate noise assessment/analysis and an incomplete hydrology and water quality analysis.”
Furthermore, Hennessey’s letter states, “The proposed project constitutes bad land use and planning and is violative of the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance for the project area. The proposed project is tantamount to impermissible ‘spot zoning’ in that the city contemplates the development of a high-intensity distribution center and transportation hub for the delivery of pre-ordered packages and parcels for on-line retailer Amazon in a historic low-intensity and low-density industrial use area of the city. The proposed project is inconsistent with the city’s general plan, and not a permitted use under the project area’s current zoning of commercial/industrial mixed-use.”
Coalition members told the Sentinel they are mindful of the financial resources that Amazon possesses, that they believe it is a reasonable assumption that Amazon has bankrolled Bridge Development Partners in the effort to obtain an entitlement to proceed with the project and that Bridge agreed as part of the project approval to indemnify the city against any legal challenge to the project approval. They said they are conferring among themselves and with Palmieri, Hennessey & Liefer with regard to the coalition’s best legal recourse at this juncture.
In a hearing that tested the limits of the degree to which a public deliberative process can be altered and still serve as the basis for a governmental board’s decision, the Upland City Council Wednesday night conducted a four hour and thirty-seven minute virtual meeting at which it gave approval for Bridge Development’s controversial proposal to build a 201,096-square-foot distribution center to be operated by on-line merchandise marketing giant Amazon.