Colton School District Sues Over Supervisors’ Approval Of Bloomington Truckstop

The Colton Joint Unified School District has sued the County of San Bernardino over the board of supervisors’ April 6 approval of Chandi Group USA’s 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 8.9-acre site where Chandi Group USA intends to locate the truck terminal is immediately adjacent to 28 acres of property owned by the district upon which it had future intentions of building a junior high school. The character and intensity of Chandi Group USA’s Bloomington Commercial Center has significantly changed since it was formerly presented as a proposal to the county in October 2019. At that time, Chandi Group USA said it wanted a zone change and general plan amendment so it could undertake a commercial project that was to have a large restaurant as its centerpiece and which would involve some retail units, two fast food outlets and a gas station. The Bloomington community was generally supportive of that concept.
Multiple versions and plan redrafts followed, in the midst of which opposition to the project formed. According to those project opponents, the facility is most accurately described as a truck stop.
On April 6, 2021, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors gave unanimous approval to the project. Under the configuration approved, the project is to consist of 260 parking spaces including 149 for cars, 36 to accommodate trucks, and 75 for recreational vehicles or smaller or mid-size trucks, a 9,900-square-foot convenience market, two fast-food drive-thru restaurants, a 2,400-square-foot office and storage building, a guard shack, a 4,800-square-foot maintenance building with four repair bays, truck scales, seven diesel fuel pumps, eight gasoline pumps and above-ground fuel tanks. In the project’s final form, the restaurant, the project’s original selling point, was dispensed with altogether.
The property was 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 approving the project, the board of supervisors granted that zoning amendment and a general plan amendment. In carrying out that action, the board signed off on the project’s environmental certification as well. Development projects of any significance in California must be processed for approval in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. While the board of supervisors under the California Environmental Quality Act had the option of requiring any of a series of environmental reviews, with the most comprehensive of those being a full-blown environmental impact report in which a thorough analysis of the project would have been carried out accompanied by an exacting set of measures to offset any untoward environmental consequences, the board of supervisors chose instead to utilize the least intensive form of environmental certification, that being a mitigated negative declaration, which was simply a finding by the board that there would be no adverse environmental aftermath to the project being built or that if there was, that negative impact would be adequately addressed by the conditions of approval.
Even before the project was approved, there were residents of Bloomington and others who were asserting that the impacts of the project, including its deleterious effects with regard to air quality, water quality and its burden upon infrastructure in the area, particularly roads, as well as the increase in vehicular and truck traffic it would create rendered the project, if not inadvisable, then one for which the project proponent should have been required to do a full environmental impact report.
The owner of Chandi Group USA, Nachattar Singh Chandi, has made substantial contributions to the political war chests of supervisors Paul Cook, Dawn Rowe and Joe Baca, Jr., and has made a commitment to back the future political endeavors of Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. Baca’s acceptance of the project was considered key because Bloomington falls within the county’s Fifth Supervisorial District. Baca is the Fifth District supervisor.
In return for Chandi’s generosity toward them and the assistance he has provided in perpetuating their political careers, members of the board of supervisors pressured the county’s land use staff, including Heidi Duron, the county’s planning director, to gloss over the project’s environmental drawbacks, and provide the project with a staff endorsement before it was considered by the county planning commission at its February 18 meeting and before the board of supervisors considered it on April 6. The land use services department acceded to that pressure, such that its report on the project convinced the planning commission, at its February 18 meeting, to vote 4-to-0 to recommend to the board of supervisors that it approve the project, over the objections of six Bloomington residents who at that time spoke in opposition to the project. Kareem Gongora, Baca’s appointment to the commission, abstained.
Substantial opposition to the project by Bloomington residents was registered at the April 6 board meeting, but the expression of those sentiments did not dissuade the board from approving the project.
In its lawsuit filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court on May 5, 30 days after the board’s vote to approve the project, the Colton Joint Unified School District calls into question the thoroughness of the county’s evaluation and consideration of the project proposal, and the suit seeks a court order that the county rescind the approval given to the project so that a full environmental impact report is prepared before it is reconsidered.
In addition to owning the property abutting the truck stop site, the school district has two elementary schools — Crestmore and Walter Zimmerman — within a quarter-mile of the project site, and operates Slover Mountain High School, which is roughly a half-mile north.
According to the suit, the county failed “egregiously by not providing any analysis or mitigation pertinent to school uses,” in a way that “the county ignored the district’s schools altogether,” by engaging in “scant analysis and fig leaf mitigation.”
County land use staff, in preparing the documentation for the Chandi Group USA’s truck stop, and the board of supervisors, by approving the project, which entailed an alteration of the long-existing zoning at the site, the lawsuit states, ignored entirely the incompatibility of uses between a truck stop and schools where hundreds, indeed thousands, of students will be in attendance on a daily basis during weekdays while school is in session. The county, according to the lawsuit, “is laying the groundwork to transform significant quantities of land in the immediate vicinity of several schools into a trucking, commercial, and logistics hub.”
A central element to the lawsuit is the district’s request for an environmental impact report relating to the project before it is allowed to proceed.
During the April 6 hearing, Board Chairman Curt Hagman went out of his way to prevent Colton Joint Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Miranda from getting into the record prior to the board’s vote on the project the district’s request that Chandi Group USA be required to carry out an environmental impact report.
Miranda spoke to the board of supervisors during the hearing on the project on April 6 about what he said was his “concern for students attending schools operating near the proposed project.”
Before Miranda made his remarks, Terry Tao, an attorney representing the district with regard to real estate issues, obtained information to speak before the board and then 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 project’s plans, expecting a substantive reply. Chandi Enterprises did not respond until March 1, he said, and he indicated 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 environmental impact report for the project, he was cut off by Clerk of the Board Lynna Monell because his remarks at that point exceeded three minutes. Despite the consideration that Tao 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.
Legal experts are divided as to whether Hagman’s gambit to get the request for a full environmental impact report onto the record prior to the vote will assist the county in staving off the school district’s legal challenge or not.
Under one legal theory, a governmental entity’s action in making a land use decision cannot be challenged after the fact if prior to the approval, at the time and place designated for a public hearing relating to the project approved, as in this case the Chandi Group USA Bloomington Commercial Center truck stop on April 6, the issue relating to the challenge is not raised. Thus, under this legal interpretation, the county can claim “Kings X,” by telling the court that the school district failed to make clear on the record its objection to the county’s use of a mitigated negative declaration rather than a complete environmental impact report to provide the environmental certification of the project.
A different interpretation, however, is that Hagman and Monell actively prevented Miranda from making the request by purposefully abbreviating and foreclosing his comments. Under this interpretation, Hagman having disregarded Tao’s request that his time to speak be provided to Miranda, would further establish that the county had purposefully precluded the request for a full environmental impact report from being lodged.
Mark Gutglueck

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