Upland Citizens Group Brings In Attorney To Ensure Hearing Gives Public Shot At Full Participation

An ever-widening circle of Upland residents is pushing Upland officials to suspend the city council’s scheduled April 1 consideration of Bridge Development Partners’ proposal to construct a 201,096-square foot distribution center for on-line retail giant Amazon on property north of Foothill Boulevard and south of Cable Airport until circumstances will permit a public hearing process that will accommodate all elements of the community seeking to weigh in on the controversial project. Those residents want the decision on the matter held in abeyance because they believe the exclusion of the public from the council chamber where the meeting will be held will not allow adequate consideration of the community’s perspective with regard to the project. The city’s plan to allow the public to remotely attend the meeting by means of video and phone hook-ups will not allow the traditional give-and-take that occurs in a conventional public meeting setting, abridging the citizenry’s right to be heard and depriving the council of the perspective of those they are supposed to be representing, those residents say.
The effort to dissuade city officials from rushing toward a decision on the development proposal comes as a consequence of Upland residents’ concern that city officials will utilize the ongoing restrictions pertaining to limiting the spread of the coronavirus to foreclose public input with regard to the project. That concern has intensified, spilling beyond Upland’s city limits as the physical impact of the project is now recognized as having a regional dimension, extending into the neighborhoods and the streets of neighboring Claremont and Montclair.
After the city council’s show of reluctance last week to postpone the public hearing despite state and federal mandates restricting large public gatherings, a subset of the community calling itself the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens retained legal counsel as a show of resolve to prevent what some in that group characterized as the “fast tracking” of the distribution complex project, which Amazon corporate officials have reportedly requested in order to get enough of the project completed to allow operations from the facility to take place in time for the Christmas 2020 buying season.
The coalition’s employment of the law firm of Palmieri, Hennessey & Leifer represents a tangible escalation in the resistance to the project, and a sign that the city’s anticipated approval of the project will encounter a legal challenge that holds the prospect of preventing Amazon from meeting the 2020 operational goal. Though the project has been on the drawing board for at least two years, with confidential discussions relating to it going on between Bridge’s representatives and city officials in early 2018, the project was originally previewed to the public in June 2019 as a three-building 977,000-total square foot warehouse complex with 150 truck bays/loading docks to accommodate what was estimated to be no fewer than 263 truck trips in and out of the complex on a daily basis.
When the scope of the planned undertaking generated considerable controversy, Bridge significantly revamped it, in October indicating that it would entail a single building with 276,250 square feet under roof. Alarm among a cross section of the city’s residents persisted, however, as Bridge indicated that the project, which under the city’s guidelines for a 276,250 square-foot project would be required to have 350 parking spaces, was instead going to include 1,486 parking spaces for delivery vans and cars, which did not include the space earmarked for semi-trucks.
On December 16, 2019, when the site plan for the project was posted on the city’s website, it was shown as entailing a single building of 201,096-square feet, a further reduction. Nevertheless, the method the city allowed Bridge to use to gain environmental certification of the project – a far less extensive and therefore less expensive mitigated negative declaration (MND) process rather than a full-blown environmental impact report (EIR) – raised hackles in the community, and the cacophony of protest has not in any fashion subsided.
More than two dozen of the city’s residents have delineated multiple elements of the documentation cited by Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc., the entity used by Bridge to formulate the mitigated negative declaration, which they maintain to be incomplete, inadequate or inaccurate, rendering the environmental certification for the project less than comprehensive and in some respects misleading.
This was exacerbated by a voting faux pas that occurred over the course of two weeks last month. On February 12, with one of its members, Alexander Novikov, absent, the Upland Planning Commission recorded a 3-to-2 vote denying site plan approval for the project, with members Robin Aspinall and Carolyn Anderson in favor of the project proceeding and members Gary Schwary, Linden Brouse and Yvette Walker opposed.
On February 26, without prior adequate public notice of the scope of the action that was to take place, the planning commission revisited the project. Analysts have since concluded the failure to make clear that the vote was to extend to the already concluded issue of the site plan’s rejection violated the spirit and letter of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law.  At that point, with all six rather than just five members present, the entire commission, on a 4-to-2 vote, made a recommendation to the city council that the site plan be approved. This occurred with Novikov joining Walker to reject the site plan while Schwary and Brouse abruptly reversed themselves, voting to give the site plan go-ahead without explaining their rationale for doing so or giving the public an opportunity to comment or provide input. Brouse’s tenure on the city council is set to conclude later this month.
Residents opposed to the project have voiced their perception that city staff has recommended that the city council approve the project in an expedited manner to meet Amazon’s desire to begin operations at the facility at the earliest possible date. Those residents say that City Manager Rosemary Hoerning, Development Services Director Robert Dahlquest and Mike Poland, Upland’s contract planning manager, have been influenced by Bridge’s offer to provide the city with $16 million in so-called deal sweeteners in exchange for the project’s approval. They maintain that the $16 million inducement has blinded the city’s administrators into ignoring the more than $50 million in long term costs the project will entail as a consequence of damage to the city’s roadways and other infrastructure, exacerbated by the onerous impacts the project will have on the quality of life of the city’s residents, including traffic snarl-ups, increased noise and air pollution and resultant deleterious health effects from the exhaust of the vehicles operating out of the facility over the 50-year lease life of the project.
Project opponents believe there is a prospect that the city council, stampeded by city staff’s advocacy of the project, will be able to utilize the state and federal mandates to limit public gatherings to hold a public hearing for the project at which they will be able to minimize public input, and simply rubberstamp the project application, giving it binding approval.
In an effort to foreclose that possibility, the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens retained Palmieri, Hennessey & Leifer to persuade the city council against doing just that.
In a letter dated March 20 addressed to City Clerk Keri Johnson and, in his capacity as the city’s for-hire development consultant, Michael Poland, attorney Patrick Hennesey established his firm is representing the coalition with regard to its efforts to fully weigh in on the project prior to the city council’s deliberations over its approval.
“As you know,” wrote Hennessey, “each of the coalition’s members strenuously objects to the city’s proposed adoption of the mitigated negative declaration, and each member desires to be physically present to address the council regarding those objections at the public hearing. In light of the large number of objections by the community against this project, the coalition requests that the city continue the April 1, 2020 special meeting for no less than thirty days because no personal appearances will be permitted in light of the governor’s recent declaration of a state of emergency in response to the Coronavirus.”
Hennessey’s letter concluded, “Most importantly, there is no urgent necessity warranting that the city move forward with this objectionable project during the state of emergency.”
In the introduction to his letter, Hennessey wrote that “The coalition respectfully requests that this letter be included as part of the formal record” relating to the Amazon project. Coalition members told the Sentinel this was meant to convey to city officials that they intend to legally contest the project approval if it is given.
-Mark Gutglueck

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