At least part of the mystery over the nature and size of the development intended to take place east of Central Avenue and just north of Foothill Boulevard in Upland below Cable Airport has been cleared up. Nevertheless, the plans as revealed have begotten more questions.
In June, during a so-called workshop involving city officials and Bridge Development Partners, a proposal for a three-building warehouse complex involving 977,000 square feet under roof was previewed. In all, Bridge said, the warehouses would have 150 truck bays/loading docks. Once the entire facility was completed, it was projected that there would be at least 263 truck trips in and out of the complex. Multiple questions attended the plan, which was not fully fleshed out and was represented as tentative.
Because of the presence of Cable Airport to the north of the property in question, entrance and exit to the property appeared to be limited to three directions. Subsequently, however, improvements to an area along 13th Street near the south entrance to Cable Airport were undertaken, with no indication from tight-lipped city officials as to what the purpose for that work was. Concern was voiced about truck traffic the warehouse facility was anticipated to generate.
This week, on Monday, October 21, a special joint workshop of the Upland City Council, the Upland Planning Commission and the Upland Airport Land Use Committee was held. Brendan Kotler, vice president of development for Bridge Development Partners, without mentioning Amazon by name, indicated that the electronic commerce and product distribution giant will be the ultimate tenant of a warehousing facility that has been scaled back to less than one-third of that talked about in June.
Kotler said Bridge Development has firmed up its project description to a single building of 276,250 square feet, described as a retail and logistics center. The number of truck bays was radically reduced from what was earlier proposed, to just 20 loading docks. It was announced that rather than the more than 200 trucks coming into the center and then heading out each day, there would be only about 25.
That the tenant is to be Amazon can be surmised by the description provided by Kotler during the workshop and by Bridge Development Partners in its documentation. Kotler said Bridge Development Partners will be building the facility for a “Fortune 10 company.” According to Bridge Development Partners’ public announcement, the goal is to have the project completed in full absolutely no later than next September, in time for the tenant “to be able to deliver gifts for the next Christmas Season.”
Upland Development Services Director Robert Dahlquest, who is fully informed as to who the prospective tenant is, has committed to Bridge Development Partners to delay an official identification until further on in the project approval process. Nevertheless, Dahlquest identified the tenant as one involved in “e-commerce delivery.” Amazon is the only internet-based product purchasing and delivering company in the Fortune 10.
A few people have suggested that the planned tenant might not be Amazon, but rather Walmart, which in recent years has been experimenting with what it calls e-commerce fulfilment centers, from which merchandize is dispatched to on-line purchasers. Walmart is number 1 on the Fortune 10 list. Amazon is number 5.
From Bridge Development Partner’s perspective, the project presents a win-win-win-win-win for everyone. Bridge will complete a successful project. No truck traffic will snarl up 13th Street and impact nearby residential neighborhoods. Amazon will have a distribution node centrally located in the Inland Empire. A problem property that just a few years ago was the hosting ground of a homeless encampment and what some people consider visual blight that includes large piles of rubble, gravel, construction debris, slag and dirt will be converted into a modern development. Hundreds involved in the building industry will be employed during the construction phase and some 200 people will find jobs in the logistics center once it is completed and up and running. And, according to Kotler, Bridge Development Partners will provide the City of Upland $2.2 million in fees for permits and development impact mitigation.
For at least some Upland residents, however, there are some downsides. They point to Bridge Development Partners and Amazon having cozened city officials into allowing the project to proceed without an environmental impact report for the 50-acre undertaking being carried out. Amazon, despite qualifying as the largest retailer in the world, will be able to function in, out of and from the City of Gracious Living without having to pay any kind of tribute, since it does not charge its customers sales tax, and therefore Upland will not get any of that revenue. Moreover, the downscaling of the truck traffic component of the project that was originally proposed in June will be more than offset by a colossal increase in car traffic.
The roughly 25 trucks coming onto the premises daily will be ones delivering merchandise being sold by Amazon to customers. The merchandise will then be packaged and delivered to individual customers not by truck but by car. This will entail a tremendous volume of vehicular traffic. One indication of how much traffic is the massive size of the parking lot Bridge Development Partners proposes to augment the building with. Indeed, the square footage of the parking lot will be close to double the size of the building. Under the City of Upland’s guidelines, a 276,250 square foot building is required to provide 350 parking spaces. In the case of the logistics center it is building for Amazon, however, Bridge Development Partners is going to put into place 1,486 parking spaces for delivery vans and cars, which does not include the space earmarked for semi-trucks.
The Amazon business model involves its employment of delivery vehicles operated by independent operators/semi-independent contractors who purchase from Amazon delivery vehicles and use them to pick up merchandise from Amazon delivery stations, such as the one contemplated in Upland, and deliver the product to consumers for a set fee.
Questions attend the arrangement Amazon has with these drivers/deliverers. Undetermined at this point is whether the driver/deliverers qualify as independent contractors and whether they fall within the rubric of “gig workers,” who are provided with certain protections under Assembly Bill 5 signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom in September and which will go into effect on January 1, 2020. Assembly Bill 5 requires that companies employing independent contractors hire them as employees.
Thus, questions and mystery still to some degree attends the Bridge Development Partners’ warehouse project, including whether adequate mitigation for its impacts will be provided, including its burden upon traffic. A deeper set of questions pertain as to whether Bridge Development Partners will be able to deliver what it is hinting it will deliver: Amazon. If Assembly Bill 5 encumbers the way Amazon operates, that could convince the company that distribution centers of the type contemplated in Upland may no longer fit its purposes in California. Moreover, any move in the law that requires sales tax to be imposed on its internet sales might force the company’s hand, as well.
That Kotler and Bridge Development Partners have refused to confirm that Amazon is the eventual tenant at the project takes on a different meaning in this light. Someone once said, “Build it and they will come.” What will occur if Bridge Development builds a huge warehouse but in the end Amazon decides not to come?
It is anticipated the Upland Planning Commission will take up a consideration of the project so groundbreaking on the project can take place by January or February to meet the timetable for completion by September.