County Sued Over Approval Of Warehouse In Bloomington

On September 25, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors over the verbal objections of approaching 50 citizens, two California lawmakers and the written protests of more than 500 local residents gave JM Realty Group go-ahead to convert residential land in Bloomington into a warehouse. Just a little more than a month later, Earthjustice and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice this week collectively took legal action against San Bernardino County, the board of supervisors and the developer over that approval.
On August 21, 2018, the county had scheduled a hearing before the board of supervisors with regard to JM Realty Group’s petition to convert the zoning on 17 acres of property located on the south side of Slover Avenue between Laurel Avenue and Locust Avenue in Bloomington adjoining Bloomington High School from residential to light industrial, amend the county’s general plan, approve a conditional use permit, and certify the final environmental impact report for and approve the construction of a 334,000 square foot warehouse project there. What had been the existing residential zoning in question allowed a maximum of two units per acre, and the move to change the zoning to allow a warehouse to be located on the project was opposed by 29 of those who were on hand to speak at the August 21 meeting, while nine members of the public, including the landowner, voiced support for allowing the project to proceed.
Because of a technical glitch in having provided notice of the hearing for the project, the matter was continued until the September 25 board meeting. Those members of the public who had weighed in at the August 21 meeting were not permitted to address the board at the second hearing. Another 22 people did come forward on September 25 to offer their comments, with four saying they were in favor of allowing the project to proceed and 18 inveighing against the project, referred to as the Slover Distribution Center. The vast majority of those speaking in favor of the project were members of the construction workers’ union. The two members of the state legislature representing Bloomington, California State Senator Connie Leyva and Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez-Reyes were present at the hearing and went on record as being opposed to the project.
Leyva, who was president of California Labor Federation for two decades before going into politics to become today the office holder in California’s 20th Senate District, noted the presence of a bevy of orange shirt-clad construction union members within the meeting chambers and that most of them were there in support of the project because the construction phase of the warehouse building will be a source of jobs for those in the construction industry. Nevertheless, she said she believed the project was ill-suited for the site the board of supervisors was considering. “Warehouses don’t themselves pollute,” Leyva told the board of supervisors. “It’s the trucks, the hundreds and hundreds of trucks that come in and out that pollute. I have had a hard time trying to figure out how this particular project will benefit the community. I, like all of you, took an oath to take care of all of the workers and all of the residents that you represent. I don’t see how this helps the residents who will live right behind this project. I don’t see how it helps the school children that will be within a thousand feet. Rezoning this property helps one person. It helps the developer. You might get some nice new sidewalks out of it. We might get a couple bushes, so it looks a little prettier. But who does this project really help? And why does it have to be built here? You have been working on this for three years and it is as if this is the only piece of property left in Bloomington, and there’s no place else to build this warehouse. There are plenty of other places that we could build this warehouse and build it with the project labor agreement so that my brothers and sisters in the labor movement will be able to do their job and continue their careers.”
Indicating she understood that Josie Gonzales, who represents Bloomington on the board of supervisors, was backing the developer, Leyva appealed to Gonzalez’s board colleagues to stand with Bloomington’s residents against the project. “I have spoken with Supervisor Gonzales, [who] I know… will be supporting the project,” Leyva said. “I’m asking that each and every one of the others of you – Mr. [James] Ramos, Mr. [Robert] Lovingood, Mr. [Curt] Hagman and Mrs. [Janice] Rutherford – to please vote no today on rezoning this piece of property from residential to commercial because I don’t see where it benefits the people that I took an oath to represent.”
47th District Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez-Reyes referenced the strong opposition of her constituents “to the Slover Distribution Project which is being proposed to be built right in their back yards. I have been presented with petitions signed by hundreds of community members objecting to the project. They tell me they bought their home for themselves and their families knowing the property behind their backyard was zoned residential, not industrial, not commercial. They, like the rest of us, want to be sure they do the best they can for the future of their family. Imagine their concern when they found out the owner of the property was now attempting to put a 344,000-square foot warehouse, the size of six football fields, less than 100 feet behind their backyard. The residents tell me that it is now clear the developers’ discussions have been with the elected officials rather than with the residents. As a constituent, I am deeply concerned about another warehouse that will necessarily add to the already overburdened diesel traffic in our communities. I’m concerned that residents bought their homes knowing that they were going to be next to a lot zoned residential, which is now being proposed for a change to industrial. It is clear in this instance that the property was purchased with clear knowledge that it was residential. There were no promises made that a warehouse could be built there. The owners have a desire to build something that is not allowed under the present zoning. It is now up to you to decide if this particular owner’s desires are more important to you than the desires of the residents. An aye vote for this project will set a precedent in the region which says it is okay for policymakers to disregard the voice of their constituents, that the only people who have a voice in policy in our community are those who have the resources to influence policy. Democracy is so much more than that.”
Ultimately, after public input and that of county staff as well as a brief statement by a representative of the developer, on a motion by Gonzales which was seconded by Rutherford, the board voted 4-to-1, with Ramos dissenting, to grant the zone change, amend the county’s general plan, approve a conditional use permit, certify the final environmental impact report and allow the warehouse project to proceed.
This week, San Francisco-based Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice filed a civil suit alleging the 292-page environmental impact report for the warehouse project was inadequate. By approving the project and signing off on the environmental impact report, the suit maintains, the members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors “prejudicially abused their discretion by certifying an environmental impact report that does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.” As the plaintiff, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice is petitioning the court to void the final environmental report, withdraw all approvals of the project and prohibit the county from granting any further approvals for the project until an adequate environmental report is completed, resubmitted and adequately reviewed and considered by the board of supervisors.
County spokesman David Wert told the Sentinel, “The county hasn’t been served with or seen the lawsuit, so we can’t even confirm it exists. But assuming it does, and based upon what we’ve heard from reporters, the county’s response is that the county is confident the environmental impact report and the entire process complied with the California Environmental Quality Act and the board’s action was appropriate.”
Wert said, “Keep in mind that in these types of suits, the only question that can be posed is whether the process complied with the California Environmental Quality Act, and the only evidence allowed are the documents that were submitted to or created by the county during the process, including transcripts of public hearings. Also, there is nothing at stake for the county. The project applicant pays all legal costs and the burden is on them to defend the environmental impact report and other elements of the process. There would be no damages or other penalties assessed against the county or anyone else.”
Mark Gutgueck

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