SB Approves 1.1 Million Square Foot Warehouse Near Airport

The San Bernardino City Council in a 5-to-2 vote Wednesday night gave the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians clearance to proceed with the construction of a 1.153 million-square-foot warehouse proximate to San Bernardino International Airport south of Third Street between Victoria and Central avenues in San Bernardino. The Highland City Limits lie, at that point, immediately north of Third Street.
The project, referred to as “San Manuel Landing,” is to be located on four now-consolidated parcels totaling 52.97 acres owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and the Inland Valley Development Agency.
The warehouse, which is to consist of 1,153,644 square feet under roof, is slated to feature 113 docks and roll-up doors on the north side and 105 docks and roll-up doors facing south.
Curiously, at this point the tenant of the facility has not been specified. While indications are the building is to be used as a distribution facility, it is unlikely that the occupant will be on-line retailer Amazon, as that company has already established nearby a 660,000-square foot regional air hub, at which merchandise arriving as freight aboard planes landing at Southern California Logistics Airport is temporarily housed and then transferred to trucks for delivery either directly to Amazon customers or to Amazon fulfillment centers.
“This project is proposed as a speculative business with no specific tenant, but has been designed specifically for use as a high cube warehouse facility,” the staff report for the project stated. According to that staff report, the project upon completion will result in local streets bearing the addition of 2,500 vehicle trips emanating from or going to the warehouse, with 136 of those trips coming during morning rush hours and 174 during peak use evening hours.
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which operates the San Manuel Casino at the base of the foothills above Highland near the northeast portion of San Bernardino, has captured considerable wealth because of its regional gambling monopoly. The tribe has used a portion of that revenue stream to generate community goodwill by engaging in charity work and sponsorship of community activities, and it has emerged in the last two decades as a major contributor to the political funds of elected officeholders, including those on the San Bernardino City Council.
Cal State San Bernardino President Tomás Morales, San Bernardino Valley College President Diana Rodriguez, Inland Valley Development Agency Executive Director Mike Burrows and San Bernardino Area Habitat For Humanity Director David Hahn were among local luminaries heard from during the course of the meeting, which was held remotely and by means of teleconferencing to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus. They recommended that the city council give the project approval, citing the tribe’s generosity and community involvement. Others supporting the project were local construction union members, who touted the project as one which would supply construction jobs to its members. Those workers are to be provided with, union representatives said, union scale wages agreed to by the tribe.
There were, nonetheless, a fair number of individuals who made phone calls to the city prior to the meeting, and registered objections to the project. Those recorded calls were played during the general public comment portion of the meeting. Most of the calls enunciating opposition to the project did so on either or both environmental and long-term economic grounds. Those objections held that the project would result in substantial negative impacts on air quality and that warehouse work does not provide a reasonable livable wage.
The project’s supporters maintained that the warehouse would be a “green” one in at least one respect, that being it met or exceeded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. The staff report for the project nevertheless stated, “Based on the initial [environmental] study provided, the proposed project has the potential to result in significant effects on the environment for which feasible mitigation measures may or may not be available to reduce all of those effects to below thresholds of significance.” The report stated that in making its recommendation for the approval for the project, a statement of overriding considerations had been prepared for the city council to sign off on, an admission that the city’s leadership recognized the project would have deleterious impacts upon the area in question but that this was outweighed by the positive elements of the project.
Given the tremendous political pull of the tribe, observers and project opponents found troubling the manner in which the council’s consideration of the development proposal was carried off without any members of the public who opposed its approval weighing in during the hearing on the matter.
Councilman Ted Sanchez, while acknowledging that it was unfortunate those wishing to inveigh against the project during the public hearing held for it did not get to participate, said that circumstance was not the result of a deliberate effort to disenfranchise project opponents. He said that the council not meeting in person as is traditionally the case and the conducting of meetings remotely, along with poor communication by the city clerk, explained what happened.
“Whenever the council sits in judgment as to whether a project will get approval or not, one of the legal requirements is that you allow the public to comment,” Sanchez said. “Before, when we had open meetings, all you had to do is show up. Now, with this COVID ordeal, the steps you need to take to be heard are more elaborate, and a lot of people are not familiar with how to do that.”
In the general public comment period for the meeting, people phone in to a well-advertised number fielded by the city clerk’s office before the meeting takes place, and their calls are recorded and then played during the meeting. To participate in a public hearing, citizens must dial a specific number that is not widely distributed to be able to speak while the proceedings are under way.
“People in the immediate area of the project get a letter and the number to call for them to participate in the public hearing is on that,” Sanchez said. “To be candid, even I, as a councilman, don’t know what that number is. I doubt that I could find that number right off. We need to find a better way to get the message out there.”
Asked how it was that those who were in support of the project were able to get through during this week’s meeting, Sanchez said, “I don’t know. The tribe or someone with them may have made calls to those people to inspire them to call in with messages of support during the meeting and gave them the number. I know there are a lot of players out there trying to game the system, but I don’t really think this was an example of that. I don’t think there was anything nefarious about this. There were a lot of people who spoke against the project during public comments and if they would have known they could actually make their point during the public hearing, they may have preferred to do that. We will have to work on correcting that in the future.”
Sanchez said he supported the project because he felt its positive aspects outweighed the negative ones. He pointed out that the tribe was sensitive to the environmental impact of the project and had vowed to use “tier four” machinery, such as earthmovers and bulldozers, in the construction phase.
Sanchez explained what he meant by tier four machinery.
“Since 2015, standards have been put in place on off-road diesel-powered vehicles,” he said. “The most advanced of these falls into the tier four category. They spew very little in the way of diesel exhaust into the air, with something like 90 percent of the pollutants captured before they are released.”
Councilman Ben Christmas-Reynoso, who has long advocated against warehouse and distribution center development in San Bernardino, said, “I can’t in good faith support this project, or any warehouse in the city of San Bernardino.” He joined with Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin in voting against its approval. The remaining members of the council, Sanchez along with Sandra Ibarra, Juan Figueroa, Fred Shorett and Damon Alexander, supported the project.
-Mark Gutglueck

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