Cities Show Sharply Different Take On Wisdom Of More Warehouse Development

Recent events demonstrate a sharp dichotomy in the attitude among and between different community leaders and residents over the hot button issue of warehouse development in San Bernardino County.
Over the last two decades, even as Southern California, the Inland Empire and San Bernardino County experienced explosive growth and residential, commercial and industrial expansion that was a continuation of the post-World War II trend that continued unabated for the last half of the 20th Century, warehouse development has been a part of that buildup, particularly in the last 20 years.
Southern California, which involves large port facilities in San Pedro and Long Beach, lands massive amounts of merchandise from manufacturers in Asia brought across the Pacific Ocean by ship. That cargo is offloaded onto trains and trucks and distributed throughout much of the country. In this way the Inland Empire has become a major logistics center.
Nevertheless, with more and more land locally being consumed by warehouses and distribution centers, some have begun to second guess the wisdom of allotting so much property, which could be used for other purposes, for the building of warehouses.
Increasingly, some elected officials, local residents and futurists are questioning whether warehouses constitute the highest and best use of the property available for development in the region. And while logistics facilities in modern times must be part of any land use mix, there is an argument to be made that there is a need to maintain a balance between such operations – or at least the quarters for such operations, as many of them stand empty – and other types of development. In refuting the assertions of the sponsors and proponents of warehouses that they constitute positive economic development, their detractors cite the relatively poor pay and benefits provided to those who work in distribution facilities, the large diesel-powered semi-trucks that are part of those operations with their unhealthy exhaust emissions, together with the bane of traffic gridlock they create.
Along the I-10 Freeway corridor running from Ontario in the west to San Bernardino in the east are four of San Bernardino County’s largest cities population-wise – Ontario, at 183,393, Rancho Cucamonga at 178,849, Fontana at 216,173 and San Bernardino at 217,491.
Of those, both Fontana and San Bernardino have embraced warehouse development as a means of economic development, to the point that Fontana’s mayor since 2010, Acquanetta Warren, is known by the sobriquet “Warehouse Warren.”
In March, San Bernardino gave go-ahead to one of the most ambitious warehouse projects in the region, dubbed San Manuel Landing, to be built by the San Manuel Indian Tribe near the city’s eastern border, which upon completion is to entail 1.153-million square feet under roof.
Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga have been far less hungry, or perhaps the word is desperate, for development, and somewhat more selective in what they allow to be built in their cities. Nevertheless, they too are hosts to a substantial number of warehouses.
Rancho Cucamonga is one of the more affluent cities in San Bernardino County in terms of the wealth of its residents, and as a municipality, it has the second largest budget among the county’s cities, with more than $224 million running through its various funds at present. Though Ontario’s residents are well behind those of many of the county’s other cities such as Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland and Redlands in terms of personal wealth, as a city it is home to some extremely lucrative businesses and other features, such as Ontario Airport, the Ontario Mills shopping mall, the Cemex corporate offices and others that provide the city with a prodigious revenue stream in terms of fees and taxes, such that it has more than half of a billion dollars a year running through all of its funds.
Thus, neither Ontario nor Rancho Cucamonga have found themselves under the gun to accommodate as much in the way of warehouse development as some other close-by communities. They have been at the periphery rather than the center of the warehouse-building frenzy.
Upland, which also lies along the I-10 Freeway Corridor, traditionally has not been a recurrent host of large warehouse projects.
Bloomington, an unincorporated county district of some 34,000 population that for the first half of the 20th Century was an agricultural community, in recent decades has become a major player within the logistics industry, and it finds itself attracting ever more warehouse development proposals. This was perhaps an inevitability, because of the I-10 Freeway, which runs through it; the major road arterials of Slover, Jurupa and Santa Ana avenues, all of which lead from the east toward Ontario Airport, to say nothing of the east-west railroad line that traverses it.
Rialto, a blue-collar city of 104,000, has welcomed some warehouses along the way.
Colton, with its 54,000 population, rail lines traversing north south, east and west and even diagonally, as well as its contiguity with both the I-10 and I-215 freeways has made it a natural haven for warehouses.
Warehouse developers and the owners of property to be converted to warehousing can make a quick buck. Consequently, they have proven to be significant donors of money to the campaign war chests of politicians who hold sway over the Inland Empire’s cities, as well as the county board of supervisors, which has ultimate land use authority over the unincorporated areas of the county, such as Bloomington. Many of those politicians have done the bidding of those who provide them with this campaign cash, in many cases going along with whatever development proposal is set down before them, including warehouses.
Since 2015, 26 warehouse projects have been processed and approved by the City of San Bernardino, entailing acreage under roof of 9,598,255 square feet, translating into 220.34 acres or more than one-third of a square mile.
In May, San Bernardino City Councilman Ben Reynoso, in consonance with four of his council colleagues, was able to provide direction to city staff to prepare an urgency ordinance that called for imposing a moratorium on building further warehouses in the city until city officials, with the input of residents, can formulate a set of standards with regard to such facilities, including how much of the city’s remaining available space in terms of undeveloped or blighted property should be utilized for warehousing, what requirements should be put on such development such as electrification of the vehicles utilized there and what restrictions should be placed on them, including distance from existing residential or school properties.
California law, however, requires that a moratorium on any specific type of building can be imposed only if it is passed by a four-fifths vote of a governmental entity’s legislative body. In San Bernardino, where the mayor is not empowered to vote, that means six of the seven members of the council had to sign off on the moratorium to meet or exceed the 80 percent passage threshold. Third Ward Councilman Juan Figueroa, a firm and fast political ally of Mayor John Valdivia, was unwilling to support a moratorium because Valdivia is heavily supported by warehouse developers, who have made major donations to Valdivia’s political war chest. Valdivia has passed some of that campaign cash along to Figueroa. Likewise, Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett, who has built his political career by professing to be pro-development and has been the recipient of money from the development community, was unwilling to support a moratorium.
Thus, though Reynoso had solid majority support of First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin and Seventh Ward Councilman Damon Alexander, he did not have the requisite political muscle to achieve the six council votes – tantamount to 85.71 percent of the council, to impose the warehouse moratorium.
Nevertheless, Reynoso, in league with Sanchez, Ibarra, Calvin and Alexander, will likely be able to block any warehouse development proposals in the county seat that do not embody the standards the five-member coalition deems desirable in such projects.
In neighboring Colton, the city council on May 4 put a 45-day moratorium on further consideration or approval of any warehouse projects not already in the pipeline. That gave city staff until June 18 to study the advisability and long term implication of allowing any remaining fast-depleting undeveloped land in the city to be converted into warehouses, distribution centers or similar uses. When staff by last Friday had not completed its assignment of making findings on whether permitting more warehouse development in the city qualified as a sensible land use strategy and what mitigations should accompany that type of development if it is allowed to occur, the council this week voted to extend the ban on further warehouse/distribution center development for another 10 months and 15 days, such that the moratorium will run through May 3, 2022.
Unfazed by the moratorium are a 960,000-square-foot warehouse that is referred to as the Barton Road Logistics Center, another 882,000-square-foot distribution facility referred to as the Agua Mansa Logistics Center and a more modest warehouse contemplated for South La Cadena Drive. Proponents for those three undertakings began the application process for them before May 4.
In Bloomington, residents there increasingly dismayed over the county’s disregard of their protests over the placement of warehouses into their residential neighborhoods and the granting of zone changes and variances required to accomplish this, are gradually becoming more sophisticated and activated in lodging protests and registering their discontent over such government actions, though the money the proponents of warehouse projects put up still rules the day.
In Upland, against overwhelming resident opposition, the city council as it was then composed in April 2020 gave Bridge Development Partners permission to construct for on-line retail behemoth Amazon at the western end of Upland a 201,096-square foot distribution center facility involving 25 dock high loading bays for 18-wheeler trucks, another 32 bays for delivery vans and trucks, along with 1,438 parking spaces around the building. The previous year, Bridge had previewed the project as three buildings comprising 977,000 square feet, but reduced the size of the project while city officials were contemplating the overture. The environmental certification for the project consisted of a mitigated negative declaration rather than a more comprehensive environmental impact report.
A group of residents, under the guise of a group they had formed, Upland Community First, sued the city, alleging a bevy of issues – including conflicting land use considerations, water consumption, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, and biological and cultural resources – were not adequately addressed with the mitigated negative declaration, and they asked that the Superior Court order that the project approval be rescinded and a full-blown environmental impact report be completed for the project before it is again considered by the city.
Judge David Cohn, while finding that the council acted within its legal discretion in making its negative declaration with regard to the lion’s share of issues raised by Upland Community First, ruled in a tentative decision which has yet to be finalized that the negative declaration was flawed in its analysis of the project’s air quality impacts, in particular the greenhouse gasses to be emitted from the warehouse operation. Without ordering up the comprehensive environmental impact report that Upland Community First had requested, Judge Cohn’s tentative decision called upon the city to do an in-depth study of the greenhouse gas issue and adequately research precisely how many thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and other particulate-bearing emissions would be dispersed in the atmosphere if the facility were to be built and begin operating.
In the meantime, Bridge Development Partners, perhaps disenchanted with Upland and its residents’ unwillingness to welcome the Amazon distribution center into their community, has initiated an application with neighboring Rancho Cucamonga to construct on 91.4 acres in that city’s southeast corner two warehouse facilities totaling 2,175,000 square feet.
The two buildings, one described as consisting of approximately 1,422,500 square feet of floor area and the other as 752,500 square feet, are to be sited on a single property at 12434 4th Street in the City of Rancho Cucamonga, bordered by 4th Street to the south, which is also the jurisdictional boundary between the City of Rancho Cucamonga and the City of Ontario, and 6th Street to the north, and generally located between Etiwanda Avenue to the east and Santa Anita Avenue to the west.
At this point, Bridge, which paid $191 million for the 91.4-acre Rancho Cucamonga property upon which the retailer Big Lots until early last year operated a warehouse, has not identified the tenant for the proposed 2.175 million-square feet facility in Rancho Cucamonga. In Upland, Bridge has not acquired the property but has arranged to occupy it pursuant to a 50-year lease, with an option to renew for fifty more years beyond that.
Unlike the circumstance in Upland, Rancho Cucamonga officials are requiring a full-dimensional environmental impact report for the warehouse project in their city. As the location of the 2.175-million square foot facility is in an area that is zoned for and already occupied by light and medium-intensity industrial uses, it is anticipated the project will be deemed one that is compatible with its surroundings, and which will not trigger any environmental or other legal challenges. The Upland project is surrounded by existing mining, aviation, commercial, industrial and residential properties. It is widely believed that if it achieves success in bringing the Rancho Cucamonga project to fruition, Bridge will forsake the Upland project. Bridge officials, however, have not confirmed that.
In Fontana on April 20, 2021, the Fontana City Council entrusted to that city’s planning commission land use authority with regard to a proposal by Michael Weber and his Irvine-based company, Duke Realty, to consolidate seven parcels into a single parcel of approximately 8.61 acres at the southwest corner of Slover Avenue and Oleander Avenue upon which a proposed 205,949-square foot warehouse was to be built. The planning commission approved that project.
That approval included passage of the project’s design review and its tentative parcel map.
Elizabeth Sena, a Fontana resident, appealed that project approval to the Fontana City Council.
According to Sena, the proliferation of warehouses in Fontana generally, and the Weber/Duke Realty warehouse project specifically are contrary to the interests of the Fontana community. In a multitude of political and geographical contexts, according to Sena, there are “racial and ethnic disparities’ in terms of those who bear the brunt of the negative consequences of warehouse development. She maintains that elsewhere, as is the case in Fontana, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians more than the white population have the close proximity of warehouses, including their negative health consequences, imposed upon them by virtue of those onerous uses being located in or proximate to their residential neighborhoods.
With regard to the Weber/Duke Realty warehouse proposal, Sena wrote in her appeal, “This project is planned directly adjacent to Jurupa Hills High School in South Fontana. The pollutants from the persistent truck traffic, along with tire particulates are clearly harmful.” She asked how Fontana city officials could “justify harming our kids and the community? This blatant disregard for the safety of our community smacks of environmental redlining, using a warehouse developer-friendly planning commission and city council. In a recent Fontana City Council meeting, Mayor Warren stated: ‘I think we have taken every effort legally to keep people safe.’ This study proves that the mayor is wrong.”
Mayor Warren and her three allies on the council, John Roberts, Phil Cothran, Jr. and Peter Garcia, were able to sidestep the opposition that Sena raised, and the voices of protest that joined with hers, consisting of Carlos Tinoc, Tina Tinoc, Sunny Renteria, Julian Rambila, Julia Avina, Gabriela Mendez, Brian Culdy, Rosa Culdy, Yolanda Rivera, Jasmine Cunningham, Veronica Perez, Eddie Lopez, Ben Vasquez, Paul Salazar, Debrah Seldon, Cynthia Gonzalez, Alejandra Collazo, Andrew Noriega, Annelle Torres, Rebecca Gonzalez and Jose Valdez
The council, in a 4-to-1 vote, with Warren, Roberts, Cothran and Garcia prevailing and Councilman Jesse Sandoval dissenting, denied the appeal, upholding the planning commission’s decision to let Weber/Duke Realty proceed with the project.
-Mark Gutglueck

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