Supervisors Approve Bloomington Truck Stop Project Without H2O Safeguards

This week, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors overrode the concerns of local residents, local water district members and officials with the Colton Joint Unified School District by giving a deep-pocketed campaign donor go-ahead on a development plan that will allow contaminant-tainted water run-off from his project in Bloomington to be injected directly into the regional water table.
In the months and weeks before approval was ultimately given to that project, the county in lockstep with the developer hid from the public information relating to how stormwater at the site will be handled.
The project in question is Chandi Enterprises’ proposal to construct what has essentially evolved into a truck stop to be located at 10951 Cedar Avenue, at the southeast corner of Cedar and Santa Ana Avenue in the unincorporated county community of Bloomington, three-quarters of a mile south of the I-10 Freeway.
The property is currently zoned for low density residential use, in which the minimum density is to be no greater than a single unit per acre, with agricultural uses permitted on the property. The project proposal called for a zoning amendment altering the residential land use to commercial.
In the more than two years that the project has been on the drawing boards and under consideration by the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department, its character and intensity has significantly changed. Initially it was represented as a commercial center with a large restaurant as its centerpiece. It was at that time intended, Chandi Enterprises maintained, to involve some retail units, two fast food outlets and a gas station. Multiple versions and redrafts followed, until at present an opposition to the project has formed. According to those project opponents, the facility is most accurately described as a truck stop.
Trucking in the unincorporated county community of Bloomington is a sensitive issue. With its current number of residents approaching 26,000, Bloomington is larger population-wise than six of San Bernardino County’s cities or towns – Needles, Big Bear Lake, Grand Terrace, Yucca Valley, Barstow and Loma Linda. It straddles the I-10 Freeway essentially south of the cities of Rialto and Fontana and north of the Riverside County line. Paralleling the freeway are the parallel Union Pacific and Southern Pacific the railroad lines as well as the major east-west thoroughfares of Santa Ana Avenue, Jurupa Avenue, Slover Avenue and Valley Boulevard, all of which lead toward Ontario International Airport. Thus, the community, once intensely agricultural in nature, has become more and more identified with the transportation industry. In addition, the City of Fontana, led by Mayor Acquanetta Warren, has for the last decade sought economic rejuvenation by the construction of warehousing. The rise of the logistics industry in an area proximate to Bloomington has led to an intensification of truck traffic through the community.
Moreover, a significant number of residents in Bloomington are themselves associated with the trucking industry. In many cases, those residents have grown accustomed to using their property as storage and parking areas in ways that are not in compliance with local codes. The county has been reluctant, remiss or neglectful in enforcing these regulations, such that bootleg trucking operations proliferate in Bloomington neighborhoods.
Among a significant portion of the Bloomington population there has been resistance to the development of warehousing or other enterprises that have the ultimate effect of cementing Bloomington as a trucking-centered community. Even as outside entities have sought through the county, which has land use authority over Bloomington, legitimate entitlements to construct warehousing and distribution operations in the community, residents have registered consistent protests. Generally, those protests have been ineffective. Most of those development proposals clashed in some regard with the zoning or development standards for the area. Nevertheless, even over resident opposition, the county planning commission and the board of supervisors have consistently granted the discretionary variances, zone changes and planning document amendments necessary to allow those projects to proceed, even though the options existed to withhold those approvals. This has led to the charge that county officials, most notably the board of supervisors, has consistently sided with developmental interests over the residents of Bloomington. It has been suggested that those county officials have little or no regard for the community of Bloomington, with a population at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder, in comparison to business and developmental interests with a propensity for providing the county’s elected leadership with hefty political contributions on the legal side and outright bribes and kickbacks on the illicit side. The Chandi Enterprises trucking augmentation facility at 10951 Cedar Avenue is largely seen as an illustration of this trend.
Others have suggested there is a racial/ethnic component at play. Members of county staff have remarked that while a project such as the Chandi Enterprises trucking facility can find a home in a district like Bloomington, where 2010 Census figures put the percentage of Latinos in the community at 64.4 percent, a similar project would not see the light of day in the white affluent unincorporated county communities of San Antonio Heights or Lake Arrowhead.
Perhaps the most alarming element of the plan is that the county has hidden from public view that it has allowed Chandi Enterprises to utilize the least expensive and least intensive methodology to arrest the flow of pollutants that will emanate from the site once it is has been converted to a truck stop. The county has elected to “let the native soil” do all the work in terms of stormwater dispersal instead of insisting on more stringent mitigation options.
Most telling in this regard was that the county did not require Chandi Enterprises to carry out a full-blown environmental impact report for the project, instead allowing its environmental certification to be effectuated by the board of supervisors making what is called a mitigated negative declaration.
An environmental impact report is an involved study of the project site, the project proposal, the potential and actual impacts the project will have on the site and surrounding area in terms of all conceivable issues, including land use, water use, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, and biological and cultural resources. It specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts.
A mitigated negative declaration is a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project, by which the panel entrusted with a community’s ultimate land use authority, in this case the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, issues a declaration that all adverse environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated, or offset, by the conditions of approval of the project imposed upon the developer.
Ultimately in the case involving the Chandi Enterprises truck stop in Bloomington, that mitigated negative declaration did not adequately address the manner in which water run-off from the site, which will include rainwater washing over the vehicles and the pavement, taking with it fuel spillage, both gasoline and diesel, petroleum products, solvents, and other chemicals that will then be injected directly into the ground without any form of treatment, ultimately percolating down into the water table.
In the county’s initial study, officials basically said that any water quality issues will be handled after the project is approved during the final permitting process. No plans for treatment or containment were made openly available to the public.
Greg Young, a Bloomington resident and board member of the West Valley Water District, which supplies water to Bloomington, began inquiries some time ago about what methodology would be used to ensure water run-off from the project would not contaminate the local water supply. At present, there is no storm drain system in that area of Bloomington.
“As a water board member, I wanted to find out what they would be doing to treat the water before putting it into ground,” Young told the Sentinel. “That turned into a two-month long odyssey to get a simple answer to what is a pretty simple question.”
Under guidelines set up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, projects that will result in the contamination of stormwater washing over them must obtain an MS4 general permit. An MS4 permit is designed to reduce the amount of sediment and other pollutants entering state waters from or through stormwater systems. Entities regulated by the MS4 general permit must develop a stormwater pollution prevention program and adopt what is referred to in governmental parlance as best practices.
Young sensed early on that he was getting stonewalled, he said.
“They had a traffic study, and an air quality study and a noise study, but there was nothing on the county website on the subject of the impact on groundwater,” Young said. “I asked and asked again for the water quality mitigation report relating to the project, and then started making my inquiries in writing. I was trying to corner them and get a straight answer to what they had done to obtain from the State Water Resources Board a permit for a stormwater discharge permit. The MS4 permit is a broad permit, and the county had not obtained one for this project. I asked for answers based on what they are supposed to do according to the permit the county has. What I was asking for was the water quality mitigation report the county was required to do, as this project was listed as a priority type in the overall MS4 permit. After three emails, the third of which I will admit was rather strident, someone finally did get back to me. This is what they said: ‘We cannot release that to you because the county doesn’t own that document. We do not have the permission of the developer/consultant to release that to the public. You can view it in person if you want, but only if you agree to not take pictures of it or make copies, and someone will need to monitor you the whole time you are examining the document.’”
Continuing, Young said, “So, I had no other alternative really, and I agreed to those terms. That was how I was able to get to the water quality mitigation plan document and see it, which wasn’t all that substantial. The whole section was pretty thorough when it came to listing out in substantial detail the types of pollutants that are going to come off this project, but there was nothing about mitigation other than that the project would have a giant infiltration chamber.
“I wanted to see what there was other than this chamber to treat the water before it goes into the ground,” Young went on. “Mind you, this run-off is going to be water with grease, oil, solvents, gasoline, diesel fuel, radiator fluid, transmission fluid and the like of which is to get washed into the system, this infiltration tank. So I asked, ‘How is that going to be treated?’ It was at that point that the county fessed up and told me, ‘There is basically nothing in the way of a filtration process. It’s just the run-off being collected into the chamber and then it is just merged into the soil.’ Soils have a finite capacity to screen out pollutants. Clayier soils prevent contaminants from migrating deep into the soil and lessen the chance they will reach the water table. But for that to occur, you need soil that is composed of 40 percent to 60 percent clay, and most of the coring samples from the project site showed only traces of clay. Contaminated water will move through sand very quickly. If you keep pouring contaminated water into the ground, sooner or later that will force all of the pollutants down into the water table.”
A consultant working for Chandi confidently declared that the water table would remain safe using that methodology, Young said, on the theory that the ground would serve as a filter through which the water would pass but the contaminants would be caught. “He talked about it like he had found the cure for cancer and he said that as the run-off goes though all these layers of sand, the contaminants would get captured,” Young said.
Young expressed skepticism at that, since he is knowledgeable about the efforts to remove perchlorate from the local water table after that chemical was released into the ground in the Rialto area in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has since declared the area of contamination to be a Superfund site, and it is believed that the effort to purge the local aquifer of the cancer-causing agent which, when consumed in even minute quantities, wreaks havoc to the thyroid gland, will take the better part of the next century.
“The soil in the middle of the valley is super sandy,” Young said. “Letting all the storm run-off from a truck stop servicing up to 36 trucks at any given time, with underground gasoline tanks and above-ground diesel tanks, run through the soil is not a cure. The contaminants will get pushed further down into the soil. Things will just accumulate, and over time it will get worse. In 40 or 50 years a soil and water table remediation effort will cost hundreds of millions if not a billion dollars.”
Attempts to get the West Valley Water District involved in examining the matter were made, but opposition to this emerged from the West Valley board president, Channing Hawkins, who is a staff member with Fifth District Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr. Hawkins nixed having the water district he heads look into the matter because Baca, like his colleagues on the board of supervisors – Fourth District Supervisor and Chairman Curt Hagman, Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe, Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford and First District Supervisor Paul Cook – are now or will soon be recipients of largesse put up by Chandi Enterprises owner Nachhattar Singh Chandi.
At this week’s meeting held on Tuesday. April 6, the item for the consideration of the Chandi Enterprises truck stop was pushed to the end of the agenda, such that it was the last and, at one hour 22 minutes and 22 seconds, the most lengthy matter considered by the board of supervisors during its 4 hour, 27 minute and 45 second convocation.
Colton Joint Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Miranda spoke to the board of supervisors on Tuesday about what he said was his “concern for students attending schools operating near the proposed project.” Before Miranda made his remarks, Terry Howell, the school district’s general counsel, ceded his time to Dr. Miranda. Miranda said the proximity of the truck stop to Crestmore Elementary School, a quarter of a mile away, Walter Zimmerman Elementary School, a quarter of a mile away and Slover Mountain High School, a half mile away, presented safety issues. Miranda noted the district also owned the 28 acres immediately adjoining the project site. Miranda said the district had reviewed the project proposal and submitted in “good faith” input with regard to the plans, expecting a substantive reply. Chandi Enterprises did not respond until March 1, he said, indicating the district’s “concerns still have not been addressed adequately.” Those concerns extended to, Miranda said, traffic, the physical endangerment of students, as well as air quality impacts and above-ground diesel tanks at the site.
Just as Miranda was getting to a request that Chandi Enterprises be required to do a complete and comprehensive environmental impact report for the project, he was cut off by Clerk of the Board Lynna Monell because he had at that point exceeded three minutes. Despite the consideration that Howell had conceded his speaking time to Miranda, Hagman, as board chairman did not allow Miranda to continue, keeping Miranda from getting his request that an environmental impact report be completed for the project on the record.
Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council Member Angela McLain read into the record a statement from Diane Mendez-Cantu, the chairwoman of the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council. McLain quoted Mendez-Cantu as saying, “When the Chandi project was originally proposed, the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Commission fully supported it. We were excited about this project and welcomed the Chandi Group into our community. Well, we were all fooled. What this project has morphed into is a full-blown truck stop, with forty big-rig truck spots, seven diesel bays, above-ground fuel tanks and truck scales, right next to 30 acres of residentially-zoned property. This is not what Bloomington needs or wants.”
According to Mendez-Cantu, the Chandi Group had engaged in a “bait and switch” deception of the county and Bloomington’s residents. “The project is not what was originally proposed,” McLain read from Mendez-Cantu’s written statement. “It is dangerous for our residents to have a project of this magnitude in the center of our community, bringing in more truck traffic per day than the last six warehouses built in and around our community combined.”
Roxanne Nabozo, a Bloomington resident, questioned the wisdom of putting diesel fuel tanks above ground.
Gary Grossich, a member of the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council, told the board of supervisors, “You are giving the developer a blank check to open one of the largest truck stops in the area with virtually no conditions placed on the project. The county appears to be taking the see no evil speak no evil and hear no evil approach while pretending this is not a full blown truck stop while all the documents and facts say it is. The 6,410 daily vehicle trips shown in the traffic study are more than six Bloomington warehouses combined, and yet no significant mitigation? A truck stop belongs along the freeway, not in a neighborhood surrounded on three sides by residential zoning.”
The board was about to give permission to the Chandi Group to proceed with a project “you would never support if it was proposed in your community,” Grossich said.
Eric Scott a former member of the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council said members of the Bloomington community had given the Chandi Group input on what was deemed an acceptable use of the site, and that Chandi responded with a project that was diametrically opposite of what was requested.
“The safety of the residents of Bloomington is again threatened, the health of the residents of Bloomington is again threatened and the quality of life of the residents of Bloomington is again affected,” Scott said.
Ultimately, the board of supervisors gave unanimous approval to the project, dubbed the Bloomington Commercial Center.
The meeting concluded shortly after the hearing on the project ended. A number of Bloomington residents, anxious to speak with Baca, waited in the foyer of the county administrative building outside the board meeting chambers to question him about his vote. Baca, however, along with Hagman, rushed past them, determined to speak with Nachhattar Singh Chandi, the owner, president and chief executive officer of Chandi Enterprises, to arrange for the reception of political donations.
Chandi, whose corporation’s headquarters are located in Indio, has done extensive development in Riverside County, where he has established himself as one of the most prolific donors to elected officials there. Chandi has bragged that he made more than $1 million in donations in four years. Having recently discovered the pay-to-play environment in San Bernardino County, he has recently redirected a considerable degree of his company’s developmental focus northward. Previously, he made substantial donations to Paul Cook while he was a member of Congress prior to his election to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors last year. Chandi has shown dexterity in the way in which he makes donations to politicians, and has used others through whom those donations are delivered. In this way, members of the board of supervisors are confident they can depend on Chandi to deliver to them substantial amounts of money, far in excess of the $4,700 per person cap put on donors to members of the board of supervisors in San Bernardino County.
Hagman, the board chairman, is contemplating making an exit from the board of supervisors when his current term is up in 2022, and is mulling a run for the California State Senate or Congress. He is hopeful that he can touch Chandi for $200,000 in donations.
Likewise, Baca believes that Chandi will endow his campaign war chest with at least $100,000.
On the Chandi Enterprises side of the equation, the company has hired Roger Hernandez, who served in the California Assembly at the same time that Curt Hagman and Paul Cook were also Assembly members, to lobby them and assist in conveying money to them, both in the form of political donations and other gratuities.
Baca believes that Chandi will come through with money earmarked for him based not only on his vote on Tuesday, but as a result of an unstated commitment between the two that Baca will support any further projects the Chandi Group undertakes in San Bernardino’s unincorporated communities, and most tellingly, the manner in which Baca was willing and was able to use his staff member, Channing Hawkins, to squelch the West Valley Water District’s exploration of the methodology that will be used to divert contaminant-laden run-off from the project into the ground without treatment. By allowing Chandi to go with the least expensive method of dealing with the stormwater run-off – simply diverting it untreated into the water table – Chandi Enterprises saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Toni Merrihew, the chief financial officer for the Chandi Group, during Tuesday’s meeting signaled to the members of the board of supervisors that they can count on her boss, Nachhattar Singh Chandi, coming through with some mega-donations in the future if the Bloomington Commercial Center were to be approved. “The Chandi Family is known for their generosity to the communities in which we do business,” Merrihew said.
Merrihew somewhat obliquely acknowledged what many of the project’s opponents said, that the Chandi Group had initially proposed a far different undertaking than what was ultimately approved by the board of supervisors.
“We made many revisions to the site design for different reasons, project economics, changing interests in prospective tenants, but one thing that has not changed from Day One when we put the project together: we knew it would be a gas station and we knew we wanted to have a truck fueling station,” Merrihew said, indicating that the Chandi Group assumed from the outset that Bloomington is fated to be a trucking-oriented community. “The reason for that was clear when we drove the area and saw the number of trucks that are here. When we see the warehouses that are in your community, we knew that it made sense. The final design that we’ve come up with is bright, its attractive, it’s welcoming.”
Merrihew minimized, as best she could, the big rig-centric aspect of the project.
“It’s intended to be a neighborhood center,” she said. “The project is not designed to entice truck drivers to pull in and stay for long periods. We don’t have lounge areas, nor are we affiliated with any of the major truck stop companies. What we are looking to do is just provide a convenient stop for those trucks that are already in the neighborhood.”
Merrihew did not address reports that Chandi Enterprises intends to approach Amazon and FedEx and cut them deals for fueling contracts, which will bring their traffic from Fontana and Rialto to Bloomington to use its truck stop.
She said the project will “generate new jobs” and serve as means of improving the local economy “in the way of sales tax revenue. Gas tax revenues are are a big economic incentive to cities and communities.”
Merrihew said the Bloomington truck stop would be a success. “This isn’t our first rodeo,” she said.
Speaking to how the project started out as one thing – a retail center that was to center around a restaurant – and ended up as another – a truck stop without a restaurant – Merrihew denied that the Chandi Group had engaged in bait and switch tactics. It was just that a truck stop is the best that can be had in Bloomington, she said.
“We know that the community would like to see retail stores and restaurants in new development,” she said. “Honestly, so would I, but we’ve spoken with a lot of real estate brokers, pre-COVID and now during this situation, and at the present time we’ve got a lot of ‘nos’ on the area. People don’t like to hear this, but when the national retailers look at an area, they look at the demographics and what it will support, and right now they’re telling us that we just don’t have – they use the word retail gravity. We just don’t have that here.”
Young said he believes the community will come to regret the action the board of supervisors took on Tuesday, but that day will come long after the current set of politicians who okayed the project are out of the picture.
“They rushed through with a negative declaration on this, and the grave potential of what this will do to the groundwater beneath it is unmitigated,” Young said. “There was a really embarrassing moment when the documentation for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act was examined, and it was clear they had used material that was copied and pasted from a previous document for a different project in Sun Valley, in a different county. That was an out-and-out misrepresentation. The county did not question those documents.”
Young said, “This project evolved over a two-year period and they began and ended the environmental assessment long before they got to the final version. They did not bother to update the study before they put the draft out there to be certified and rushed through the negative declaration. At the meeting when the superintendent of the Colton School District said that the issues that had been raised were not satisfactorily addressed, the board of supervisors didn’t bat an eye. The actual documentation that was provided in conjunction with this project was shoddy as hell, with documents that cut right to the heart of the threat to regional groundwater hidden from the public. The county relied upon a consultant handpicked by the developer to carry out what essentially became the basis for the environmental certification of the project, and the county land use staff, the county planning commission and the board of supervisors were provided with only what that consultant wanted them to see.
“They are going to allow contaminated water to go straight into the ground untreated with only the interruption of an infiltration chamber,” Young continued. “They are just going to let dirty rainwater be infiltrated straight into the soil. They are not cleaning that water before it goes into the ground and in 30 or 40 years, in every square inch of the valley, we won’t be able to use the water below us because it will have been poisoned. Instead of forcing the developer to spend $500,000 now, they are going to make it so the county’s future taxpayers will have to spend $500 million or more later.”
Young said he had special concern with regard to Supervisor Baca, who represents Bloomington on the board of supervisors. The other board members, he said, do not represent Bloomington or San Bernardino County’s Mid-Valley, and one could anticipate that they would not have the local population’s best interests at heart.
“I was hoping Joe Baca, Jr. might do the right thing and convince his colleagues that we need to be very careful about this,” Young said. “Basically he went along with the developer on this project over the concerns of the community. He did not fight to get any of the potential sales revenue to be designated for the community and to offset the problems this project is going to bring. All the revenue will go into the county general fund. If he did not wish to stop the project or did not feel he had the votes to do so, he could have at least tried to get some of the funds designated for the community. At one point, Mr. Baca did try to push the developer to add the restaurant pad back into the project, but went along with staff who said they could not make any changes to the site plan at this time. Ultimately, he took at face value the word of someone who appeared to be misrepresenting things, and did not demand the substance of that representation to be included in the approval. Time will tell if Mr. Chandi will ever keep his verbal promise.
“The long term impact on this will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Young lamented. “Sadly, this is another example of a supervisor not standing with the community. There are many people in Bloomington who had hope that Mr. Baca would be different than his predecessor, who engaged in selling us out to the highest donor on a regular basis.”
At the February 18 county planning commission meeting at which the project was considered, six Bloomington residents spoke in opposition to the project. A common theme in most of the statements related to the unsuitability of the site as a truck stop. The planning commission voted 4-to-0 to recommend to the board of supervisors that it approve the project. Kareem Gongora, Baca’s appointment to the commission, abstained.
Heidi Duron, the county’s planning director, at this week’s board of supervisors meeting said, “You can see that while there is parking and services offered as convenience for trucks, the project is a commercial center that will serve the Bloomington community at large with auto fueling and drive-thru restaurants.”
Neither Duron nor Chandi Enterprises’ environmental consultant Chuck Holcomb addressed the manner in which an infiltration chamber was to be used to collect stormwater run-off from the project, and neither offered an explanation of the basis upon which Chandi Enterprises had obtained a water discharge permit to inject that contaminated water into the regional aquifer.
Deputy County Counsel Jason Searles was assigned by the county’s top lawyer, County Counsel Michelle Blakemore, to vet the project from a legal standpoint. Searles is said to have had misgivings about the project and whether its approval would withstand a legal challenge on environmental certification grounds. Blakemore, whose function during her tenure as county counsel has brought her face-to-face with multiple circumstances in which bribes and kickbacks are being channeled to members of board of supervisors, has advised her staff that if they want to keep their jobs, they will need to look the other way when indications of graft on the part of their political masters, the county supervisors, loom into view.

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