By Mark Gutglueck
The Ontario Planning Commission on Tuesday cleared the way for the Ontario City Council to approve the conversion of a large swathe of dairyland in what remains of the fast dwindling and now defunct Chino Agricultural Preserve to permit 5.333 million square feet of warehouses, factories, foundries and business parks to be constructed on property at the south end of the city.
The planning commission’s action was taken in the face of considerable resident opposition, which was at one point acknowledged by Commissioner Nancy DeDiemar.
Divulged in the staff report for the project was that the development that is to occur in the area, designated by the city as the South Ontario Logistics Center/Ontario Ranch Business Park, will require a significant suspension/negation of the city’s previous planning precepts for the area, reflected in the need to amend the city’s general plan, modify its land use plan and land use policy and change the land use designation – i.e., the zoning – on the more than 219 acres at issue in the action.
“In order to implement the specific plan… the project includes a general plan amendment to change the land use designations on 219.39 acres of land from 157.06 acres of low-medium density residential (5.1-11 dwelling units per acre) and 62.36 acres of business park with a floor area ratio of 0.55 to 184.22 acres of industrial and 35.17 acres of business park with a floor area ratio of 0.6, and modify the future buildout table to be consistent with the land use designation changes,” the report states.
The project falls within the Ontario Ranch area, the development standards for which were established after Ontario succeeded in annexing on November 30, 1999 8,200 acres of the 15,200 acres that remained in the Chino Valley Agricultural Preserve, which was previously unincorporated land functioning under the auspices of the Williamson Act in the late 1990s. Chino laid claim to the other 7,000 acres. The Williamson Act provided landowners with tax breaks as long as the property was used for agricultural purposes.
The commission in making its recommendation on Tuesday night essentially abrogated the land use ideals – calling for the property to be developed residentially – that had been put in place in accordance with the rationale for the annexation.
More tellingly, however, city staff’s report on the item stated that the project would result in no fewer than 16 negative impacts relating to the categories of traffic congestion, noise, global climate change, cultural resources, air quality and agricultural resources. None of those impacts, the staff report stated, could be fully mitigated to a level of “less than significant.” Thus, in making its recommendation that the city council proceed with the project, the commission was called upon by city staff to, and in fact did, make a finding of “overriding considerations” in making a recommendation that the project be allowed to proceed.
Of note was that there is no developer identified as the project proponent. Rather, the property’s owners are specified in relation to the project. It is the identity of those owners that best explicates why both city staff and the members of the planning commission had been given marching orders by the city council to make a recommendation to them in favor of the project proposal. The owners include Pocamo, LLC; the George Borba Family Trust; George Borba, Jr., the County of San Bernardino, the Rudy Haringa Trust and Gerben Hettinga. The Borba Family is one of the most prominent, wealthiest and socially/politically influential in San Bernardino County. Pete Borba was a Portuguese immigrant and dairyman who came to the Chino Valley in the 1920s and was the progenitor the Borba Dynasty. His son, George Borba, was fabulously successful.
As the owner/partner of George Borba & Son Dairy, he was both a director and president of the California Milk Producers Cooperative and the Los Angeles Mutual Dairymen Association, as well as a member of the Challenge Creamery Association. He was president of the California Milk Marketing Agency and an influential member of the Alliance of Western Milk Producers. For 22 years George Borba was a director of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency. He was a founder of Chino Valley Bank, later known as Citizens Business Bank, and he was chairman of the board for both Chino Valley Bank and Citizens Business Bank as well as CVB Financial Corp. for 38 years.
The extended Borba Family included Joan Borba, who was both a San Bernardino County Municipal Court judge and later a Superior Court judge. The George Borba Family Trust numbers as its beneficiaries George Borba’s widow, Dolores; George Borba, Jr. and his wife Jennifer; George Borba’s daughters Kim Borba, Linda Gourdikian, Cynthia Podmajersky and Victoria Rynsburger, whose husband, Andrew Rynsburger, is the scion of a long-established Chino Valley dairy dynasty.
Because of the multiple issues relating to the South Ontario Logistics Center/Ontario Ranch Business Park, the Ontario City Council, which must ultimately make the binding and definitive decision on the development of the property, sought political cover such that it would be able to avoid being held to account for suspending the city’s land use, zoning and development code in order to give go-ahead to a project with 16 unmitigated environmental impacts. Having the planning commission provide it with a recommendation of the project, the council members believe, will provide them with a fig leaf behind which they can hide, and maintain that they were simply confirming the judgment of a blue-ribbon panel, the members of which had considered the matter closely. The commission is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the council. At several junctures during Tuesday night’s meeting, several of the commissioners deferred to city staff on technical questions relating to zoning and environmental considerations pertaining to the project, justifying approval of the project based not on their own authority but the presumed expertise of the staff and the city’s consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.
The unanimous vote of the commission to recommend that the city council allow the conversion of the property to industrial and business park use was roundly opposed by the overriding number of city residents and others who participated in Tuesday night’s meeting by phoning in their comments.
Of note was that labor unions, which have an established pattern of supporting development projects in Southern California, went on record against the project. Among those labor organizations expressing opposition were Local Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 398, the District Council of Ironworkers and Teamsters Local 1932.
There was one exception. Juan Olmedo, a representative of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said he wanted to “speak in support of the South Ontario Logistics Center Specific Plan. The developer has made a solid commitment to ensure that this project will support our local community residents. This construction job pays a good, livable wage, benefits and a retirement to our construction workforce.”
Anthony Noriega, the director of District 5, League of United Latin American Citizens of the Inland Empire, said, “As planning commissioners you need to recognize the Ontario community is opposed to this project.”
Noriega blasted the city and the commission for not only its support of the South Ontario Logistics Center but other distribution center, industrial and warehouse projects in the recent past.
“As is evident in this project and other warehouse projects, you support the expansion of warehouses without considering the negative impact on quality of life of the entire community, including our existing neighborhoods,” Noriega said. “Your past and current decisions have failed to protect the quality of life in existing neighborhoods at the detriment of its residents and citizen and of the individual communities. The increased pollution, noise, truck traffic that will be caused by this warehouse project and other projects has already caused and will continue to cause great harm to the health, quality of life to Ontario communities.”
Ontario city officials did not cooperate with the Sentinel in providing the correct spellings of the names of those who participated in Tuesday night’s meeting. The names given below are phonetic approximations based on what was heard during the course of the teleconferenced hearing.
Evan Marshall, representing Californians United for a Responsible Economy, said, “I’m here before you today to request the planning commission not take any action on the project at this hearing. Evidence… shows the project has significant environmental impacts that the draft environmental impact report did not adequately disclose, analyze and mitigate. These are violations of the California Environmental Quality Act that the city has not yet corrected. The planning commission cannot make a recommendation to certify the draft environmental impact report or approve the project until our comments and the comments of other members of the public have been fully addressed in a legally adequate final environmental impact report. Regarding health risks, the draft environmental impact report failed to evaluate the cumulative lifetime cancer risk as a result of project construction and operational emissions. Californians United for a Responsible Economy experts provided evidence demonstrating that the project’s cumulative emissions exceed the air district’s significant threshold of ten-to-one million. This is a significant impact that requires mitigation. Regarding air quality, the draft environmental impact report concluded the project criteria air pollution emissions would result in a significant and unavoidable air quality impact, but the draft environmental impact report fails to consider all feasible mitigation measures for these air quality impacts which is required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Our experts proposed additional air quality mitigation which the city must consider. The draft environmental impact report thus must be revised to ensure that the proposed project emissions are mitigated to the fullest extent feasible. The draft environmental impact report and the project have many unresolved issues. The city has not yet responded to our comments or other public comments and has not revised or recirculated the revised draft environmental impact report in response to comments. It is therefore premature for the planning commission to recommend certification of the final environmental impact report for approval of the project to the city council.”
Irene Chisholm said, “I’m calling with objections to putting more industrial buildings and rezoning in that area from residential to industrial, especially since we have a shortage in housing. I ask that you reconsider that and be responsible in the development of Ontario. Ontario is supposed to be a balanced community. I think it’s off balance because more attention is paid to the industrial areas than to the residential areas and the residents who have spoken up against more industrial areas, industrial buildings and the pollution of the air and the traffic it brings when you put more industrial buildings in the area. You cannot put a wall up to keep the air in one area. The air goes all over. The pollution that’s brought in by bringing in more large industrial, bringing in more trucks, affects the area that we live in in Ontario [and] other areas that surround us. Look at what you are doing to the city of Ontario. Plan strategically and make it a balanced plan.”
Sean Silva, who identified himself as a member of Californians United for a Responsible Economy, said the project “failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in accurate assessments of environmental impacts on air quality, public health, greenhouse gas emissions, energy and transportation and traffic concerns. A statement of overriding concerns seems inappropriate, to say the least. We believe a project like this, with potential for five million-plus square feet of industrial park and warehouse buildings must stand for more rigorous environmental study, which was not done. We believe. in a project like this, developers must prove that their proposed project does to the upmost the least damage to the environment it can do. That is a hallmark of the California Environmental Quality Act. None of that has been achieved. The city has decided to accept an inadequate report on this project and the developer has not made any commitments on its own to address the gap between their project and the safest alternatives.”
Raymond Smith said, “What is the overriding benefit to we who live here? We don’t want to live like this. You don’t want to live like this. I ask you to deny this project.”
Lois Sicking Dieter, an engineer employed in the analysis of air pollution by the California Air Resources Board, said, “The proposed project for the South Ontario Logistics Center is before you to allow nine warehouse/logistics center buildings of a total 5.3 million square feet on 219 acres of currently agricultural land to be rezoned to industrial and business park use.”
Sicking Dieter said her opposition was “based on several aspects to include unavoidable significant environmental impacts identified in the environmental impact report as agricultural resources, air quality, historic resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle miles traveled. The mitigation monitoring and reporting program proposed to mitigate these environmental impacts is inadequate and falls short of true mitigation. Staff provides a statement of overriding considerations as a remedy for those aspects that have ‘unavoidable’ significant environmental impacts.”
Sicking Dieter referenced “concerns regarding the evaluations for agricultural resources, land use and planning, air quality, noise, biological resources, population/housing, where 157 acres were zoned for low to medium residential units of the 219 acres now proposed for an industrial warehousing and logistics center, and hydrology/water quality. Several appear to warrant designation as having a ‘significant environmental impact.’ In the big picture, I ask you, are these environmental impact report elements and staff recommendations defensible if challenged?”
Though Chino Airport was built previous to World War II and was in existence as a civilian aviation facility when Ontario annexed the 8,200 acres in the agricultural preserve in 1999 and zoned the property residentially shortly thereafter in anticipation of the demise of the agricultural preserve, Ontario officials now maintain that the property has been rendered unsuitable for residential development because of the airport’s presence.
According to the staff report, “In response to current industrial market demands, the general plan amendment proposes industrial development along the project’s Merrill Avenue frontage. Additionally, the general plan amendment proposes business park development along the project’s Eucalyptus Avenue frontage, which will serve to buffer future medium density residential land uses [consisting of] 11.1 to 25.0 dwelling units per acre allowed to the north, across Eucalyptus Avenue, from the heavier industrial uses that would be allowed by the proposed general plan amendment. The project site is located within the Chino Airport Influence Area and is impacted by safety zones 1, 3 and 6. The safety zone policies and criteria provide restrictions that limit the height and placement of buildings, lot coverage, concentration of people, the storage of hazardous materials, and excludes or limits sensitive land uses (residential, schools, day care centers, hospitals, etc.). The project site is also impacted by existing aircraft traffic patterns from Runway 3-21, where aircraft fly directly over the project site while making touch-and-go landings, a maneuver where aircraft land on a runway and take off again without coming to a full stop; the pilot then circles the airport in a defined pattern to allow many landings to be practiced in a short time. State law requires that local jurisdictions ‘rely upon’ the compatibility guidance provided by the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook (published by the Caltrans, Division of Aeronautics) for establishing compatible land uses. The existing general plan low-medium density residential land designation is considered an incompatible land use within the safety zones and prohibits residential land uses within Safety Zone 1, limits residential density to one dwelling unit per 2-acre lot in Safety Zone 3 and limits 300 people per acre within Safety Zone 6. The proposed general plan amendment from business park and low-medium density residential to industrial and business park would create land use consistency with Chino Airport and satisfy the criteria set forth in the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook.”
By Mark Gutglueck