Scrutiny On Baca Intensifies As Bloomington Truck Terminal Decision Looms

Next Tuesday a decision by the board of supervisors is due with regard to a proposal by David Weiner and Scott Beard to build a truck terminal on a 9-acre parcel at 10746 Cedar Avenue in Bloomington.
County officials have been temporizing for nearly seven months in coming to a conclusion with regard to the project. At issue at this point is how spiritedly Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr., in whose district the Bloomington community lies, will oppose the project.
Stated differently, Baca very likely has the ability, many of his constituents believe, to dissuade his board colleagues from approving the project, but it is unknown whether he is willing to expend the political capital to thwart Weiner’s and Beard’s designs on the property, given the level of generosity the duo have displayed toward local officeholders in general over the last three-plus decades and the current crop of county supervisors, specifically.
San Bernardino County, the largest county in the lower 48 states at 20,105 square miles, covers territory that is larger than New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. It is divided into five supervisorial districts. A tradition going back virtually to the founding of the county in 1853, at which point it was headed by three supervisors and contained all of its present territory and most of what is today Riverside County, has been that each Bernardino County supervisor is entrusted with significant autonomy within his/her own district. That tradition holds true today, with the board having grown to include five supervisors, each of whom oversees one of five districts. Each of those districts is considered a fiefdom over which its supervisor exercises discretion based upon an understanding that the same courtesy is to be extended to all of the other supervisors.
This authority applies to land use decisions with regard to development proposals. And while the county has a land use services division in which the county’s official planning function is entrusted and ostensibly carried out, the fate of project proposals developed in the county’s unincorporated county areas are determined, with only the rarest of exceptions, in accordance with the wishes of the supervisor in whose district the development is proposed.
Bloomington is a 6.01-square mile unincorporated community with 25,482 residents, bounded by Rialto on its east and northeast sides, Fontana on its west and northwest sides and the Riverside County line on its south side. Historically, Bloomington was an agricultural community. Over the last 60 years, it has transitioned into a heavily-used transportation corridor, primarily because four major east-west arterials – Valley Boulevard, Slover Avenue, Jurupa Avenue and Santa Ana Avenue, all of which lead to or toward Ontario International Airport – traverse it, along with the I-10 Freeway and the Santa Fe/Burlington Northern/Union Pacific rail line. The community is saturated with over one hundred illegal truck-related operations which county officials seemingly lack the will to rein in. Simultaneously, the county has been permitting trucking-related operations and warehouses to be built within the community, while the cities of Fontana and Rialto and the Riverside County city of Jurupa Valley have given approval to trucking related concerns and warehouses at the periphery of Bloomington.
A respectfully-sized contingent of Bloomington’s residents has resisted, or attempted to resist, the efforts by land speculators and developers to foist industrial and logistic-related construction projects on the community. Their protestations have been only marginally successful.
Cedar Avenue and Locust Avenue are the major north-south thoroughfares in the community. Cedar Avenue under the Bloomington Community Plan is zoned to serve as the major commercial route other than Valley Boulevard in the town, where it was anticipated a mall or substantial shopping centers would locate, together with restaurants, a theater or other entertainment venues. On April 6, 2021, however, the board of supervisors gave go-ahead to Chandi Group USA’s proposal to build a seven-diesel fuel pump/eight gasoline pump truck stop to be located at 10951 Cedar Avenue, at the southeast corner of Cedar and Santa Ana Avenue, three-quarters of a mile south of the I-10 Freeway. That 8.9-acre site is immediately adjacent to 28 acres of property owned by the Colton Joint Unified School District, upon which the district had future intentions of building a school. Chandi’s Cedar and Santa Ana Avenue project was 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, truck scales, the aforementioned fuel pumps and above-ground fuel tanks. In the project’s final form, the restaurant, the project’s original selling point, was dispensed with altogether.
Given the proposed transformation of the property now under the control of Wiener and Beard at 10746 Cedar Avenue, a half mile south of the freeway and a quarter mile north of the Chandi project, into a truck terminal, Bloomington residents saw the prospects for Cedar Avenue becoming the once-promised commercial draw to the community dashed. Rather, it appeared that both sides of Cedar were destined to become part of an industrial wasteland, with a haphazard patchwork of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores being substituted for the more impressive venues county officials had once assured the community’s residents would eventually come in.
Bloomington was given a potential reprieve from that fate, however, when the Colton Joint Unified School District on May 5 filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino County Superior Court challenging the approval of the Chandi project. The school district’s legal action called into question the thoroughness of the county’s evaluation and consideration of the project proposal, and the suit sought a court order that the county rescind the approval given to the project so that a full environmental impact report was prepared before it was reconsidered. Concessions were made, most notably the removal of the above-ground fuel storage tanks, and that suit has been settled.
Of note was that Baca had voted with all four of his board colleagues in favor of the Chandi project. Indeed, Chandi Enterprises owner Nachhattar Singh Chandi has proven himself to be a prolific donor to the campaign war chests of both national and state politicians, including half of a million dollars provided to a political action committee supporting former President Donald Trump. He is also one of the major donors to local officeholders in Riverside County, where he has developed large numbers of Black Gold fueling station projects and fast-food outlets. The Riverside County city Indio is the home of the Chandi Enterprises corporate headquarters. This year alone, Baca received $4,900 from Nachhattar Chandi; $4,900 from his wife, Suzana Chandi; and $4,900 from his brother, Sandeep Chandi. $4,900 is the maximum amount of money that a single donor can provide to a politician in San Bernardino County.
Baca walked into a buzz saw of controversy on April 6, 2021 when at the conclusion of the meeting at which the Chandi project was approved, he blasted past some dozen of his constituents, most of them Bloomington residents who were there to oppose the Chandi project, so he could rush out to the parking lot and speak with Nachhattar Chandi.
Baca did not anticipate the adverse publicity that would come his way when he voted to approve the Chandi project. Nor did he anticipate the even deeper resentment he would be subjected to when it was learned that he had accepted $16,700 from Nachhattar Chandi and his family members/business associates.
Baca was elected to the position of Fifth District supervisor representing what was then eastern Fontana, Rialto, Colton, western San Bernardino, Muscoy, Rosena Ranch and Bloomington in 2020. The Fifth District has now been altered as a consequence of last year’s redistricting based on the 2020 Census to include Rialto, Colton, Western San Bernardino, Rosena Ranch, Muscoy and Bloomington. Though he will not need to stand for election again until 2024, Baca and his political advisors have mild concern that his having abandoned his constituents in Bloomington in favor of the money to be provided to his electioneering fund by Chandi could haunt him in less than three years if a capable political adversary materializes who chooses to exploit the perception that is now afoot that he is willing to betray those he represents in exchange for cash.
Both Weiner and Beard have demonstrated themselves as being willing and able to show generosity to politicians if they are convinced it will do them some good.
The Sentinel was able to track and fully document $131,050 provided by Wiener and Beard and their related enterprises and associates to supervisors Curt Hagman, Janice Rutherford, Dawn Rowe, Paul Cook and Joe Baca, Jr. going back for slightly over a decade. That figure is likely less than the actual amount, as there are gaps in the reporting of the amounts of money reposited into the supervisors’ various accounts, most notably Hagman’s.
Hagman has received $16,350 from Wiener, either directly or from Wiener’s son, Michael Wiener, the Wiener Family Revocable Trust or what is referred to as the Survivor’s Trust Under The Wiener Family Revocable Trust. Hagman has also received $1,000 from Scott Beard Enterprises, LLC and another $1,000 from Gerald Beard Realty, which Scott Beard controls.
Up until the end of 2020, at which point she had been a member of the board of supervisors for a full decade, Rutherford had received $54,400 from Wiener, his son Michael Wiener, the Wiener Family Revocable Trust and the Survivor’s Trust Under The Wiener Family Revocable Trust. It is unknown how much money Rutherford received from Wiener and the individuals and entities associated with him while she was a member of the city council in Fontana prior to her election to the board of supervisors in 2010. For nearly four decades, Wiener has been a major contributor to elected officials in Fontana. Rutherford has also received $2,500 from Scott Beard.
Prior to this year, Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s political fund had been endowed with $9,400 from David Wiener and $9,400 from Michael Wiener, for a total of $18,800. She had also received a $1,000 political contribution from Scott Beard.
David Wiener had, through 2020, provided Supervisor Cook’s electioneering fund with $2,500.
During the 2020 election cycle, Baca’s political war chest was the recipient of $4,700 from Bonnie Beard, Scott Beard’s wife, and another $4,700 from Scott Beard Enterprises, LLC, a total of $9,400.
Of note is that Baca, whose Fifth Supervisorial District includes Bloomington, did not receive any money from Wiener or his associated entities. Baca was elected to the supervisor’s post in the November 2020 election. That race had been a match between Baca, then a Rialto city councilman, and Jesse Armendarez, then a Fontana city councilman. Wiener has been active as a developer in Fontana since 1980, when with Herb Lundin, he developed the Vineyard Valley Shopping Center at the southeast corner of Sierra Avenue and Valley Boulevard. He has proven over the last four decades to be, with Reggie King, the Ten Ninety Corporation and Phil Cothran, Sr., the major patron of Fontana’s politicians. When the 2020 race for Fifth District county supervisor evolved into a head-to-head battle between Baca and Armendarez, Wiener by default sided with Armendarez, as he personally provided Armendarez with $7,200 during the 2020 election season and his son, Michael, gave Armendarez $4,700.
In the aftermath of the race, as Armendarez had been struggling to retire a substantial debt he accumulated in that failed run, Wiener, in April 2021, swooped in to give Armendarez another $4,700. Beard, the previous month, in March 2021, gave Armendarez $1,000 to erase a portion of the failed candidate’s 2020 electoral campaign arrearage.
On September 17, 2021, Beard provided Dawn Rowe with $2,500.
On October 4, 2021, Beard provided Baca with $1,500.
On October 4, 2021 David Weiner gave Dawn Rowe $4,900 and his son, Michael Wiener, gave Rowe another $4,900.
On November 17, 2021, the Survivor’s Trust Under The Wiener Family Revocable Trust provided Supervisor Janice Rutherford with $4,900.
Baca is the lone Democrat on the board of supervisors. A question stands as to whether Baca wants to live up to the mythos embraced by the Democrats, which holds that theirs is the party representing society’s downtrodden. While it is not San Bernardino’s absolutely most impoverished community, Bloomington has a collective population that falls within the lowest ten percent of the county’s residents economically. The median household income in Bloomington in recent years stood at $34,106 annually and the median family income is $35,936. Men living there had a yearly median income of $30,680 versus $20,606 for females. The per capita income for Bloomington came in at $10,953. About 19.8 percent of families in Bloomington and 25.3 percent of its population subsist below the poverty line, including 30.5 percent of those under age 18 and 10.8 percent of those age 65 or over.
Given that both Beard and Wiener have committed themselves to backing Republican as opposed to Democratic candidates and were major sources of campaign cash for his opponent, Armendarez, in 2020, Baca has multiple incentives to oppose the Wiener/Beard truck terminal. Indeed, at the July 22, 2021 San Bernardino County Planning Commission meeting when the project was considered, Commissioner Kareem Gongora, the representative of the Fifth Supervisorial District who was appointed by Baca, was the lone vote recommending against the approval of the project. Commissioners Jonathan Weldy, Michael Stoffel and Tom Haughey prevailed in calling upon the full board of supervisors to allow the project to proceed, with Commissioner Raymond Allard recusing himself. Allard said he was not voting because he had previously done engineering work for both Wiener and Beard.
At the planning commission meeting on July 22, 14 Bloomington residents spoke before the commission in opposition to the project. Prior to the meeting, the county’s land use services department had received 126 letters of concern or opposition to allowing the truck terminal to be located on the property previously intended for commercial rather than logistics/industrial/service/repair use. That Gongora, who serves on the planning commission at the pleasure of Baca, went on record against the project is telling, an indication Baca is going to oppose the project. In contrast, when the Chandi project was considered by the planning commission, Gongora abstained rather than stand against it, protecting Baca from the charge that he had acted in defiance of an instance of officially-expressed sentiment against the Chandi project reflective of the attitude of his constituents.
The proposed facility at 10746 Cedar Avenue being considered next week was initially described by the county and San Bernardino County Senior Planner Anthony DeLuca, who is serving as the lead staff assignee on the project, as a “truck terminal.” The county is now referring to the facility as a trailer storage yard.
The project upon completion would provide storage for trailers during delivery off-seasons and/or between deliveries, and would run seven days a week and 24 hours a day, with an average of more than 700 truck trips into or out of the terminal daily. The facility is to include 275 parking spaces in total, 260 spaces of which will be 12 feet by 55 feet. The proposed project includes a 2,400 square-foot building for office use and storage, an approximate 250 square-foot guard shack, and a 4,800 square-foot maintenance shop with four repair bays.
In considering the project, the board of supervisors has been presented with the option of making a mitigated negative declaration to provide it with its environmental certification.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act, most development projects are subjected to an environmental certification process. Some types of environmental certification are more intensive than others, ranging from an environmental impact report to an environmental impact study to an environmental assessment to an environmental examination to a mitigated negative declaration to a negative declaration.
An environmental impact report, the most involved type of environmental analysis and certification there is, consists of a thorough 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. An environmental impact report specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts. A mitigated negative declaration falls near the other end of the scale, and exists as a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project, by which the panel entrusted with ultimate land use authority, as in this case the 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.
A mitigated negative declaration is a statement that a full-blown environmental impact report with regard to a project in question need not be completed because the project itself incorporates revisions and/or mitigation measures that will avoid or mitigate impacts to a point where no significant impacts on the environment will occur and that there is no substantial evidence in light of the whole record before the public agency that the project, as revised and/or approved, will have a significant impact on the environment.
An argument could be made that a project as involved as the Wiener/Beard truck terminal, by which 760 truck trips per day are to occur accompanied by the presence of repair and servicing facilities at which petroleum and lubricants, brake fluid, solvents and degreasing agents as well as other chemicals and asbestos will be present and in use, should be subject to a comprehensive environmental analysis.
Were Baca willing to do so, he could make an issue of the county land use division’s failure to require that Wiener and Beard complete an environmental impact report for the undertaking. He could argue that by utilizing a mitigated negative declaration, the county is running the risk of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Bloomington residents by an enterprising attorney. A comprehensive environmental impact report on the project would very likely reveal there will be unmitigated impacts from the project, requiring a declaration of overriding considerations, one that holds the benefit to the community will outweigh the drawbacks. This would trigger the need for a community benefits agreement, one which might commit Wiener and Beard to making concessions to carry out public improvements that could cost them hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars over the life of the terminal.
One area in particular in which the county land use services division, Wiener and Beard are legally vulnerable to activists in the Bloomington community and a lawyer potentially representing them is with regard to the general commercial zoning on the subject property, which the county sought to get around by redesignating as commercial service. A pointed challenge of that in court would likely turn up that the truck terminal is more accurately cataloged as an industrial use.
The pertinent question, many Bloomington and other Fifth District residents maintain, is whether Baca will make an early and strong showing of his opposition to the project within his district that will serve as an appeal to his board colleagues that they should unite with him in turning Wiener and Beard down or whether he will simply engage in a wan and empty gesture by opposing the project with a quiet vote against it late in – that is, at the very end of – the process that will do nothing to dissuade supervisors Rutherford, Hagman, Rowe and Cook from siding with their campaign contributors Wiener and Beard over Bloomington’s residents.
Greg Young, an elected member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors and as such one of Bloomington’s most prominent political figures, said he has been given to understand that Baca intends to vote against the approval of the truck terminal project.
“I hope that Supervisor Baca will take a vigorous stand against what is a terrible project with tremendously negative implications for our community, and that he does it in such a way that he encourages his board colleagues to oppose it, rather than just showing token opposition, which would carry with it very little prospect of changing the outcome of the vote,” Young said.
-Mark Gutglueck

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