Two of San Bernardino County’s most generous political donors this week were able to buy an approval of their controversial truck terminal project in Bloomington in a decision that exposed the degree to which Supervisor Joe Baca is isolated, disrespected and some would even say despised on the panel that heads San Bernardino County’s governmental structure.
David Weiner and Scott Beard united in an effort to develop a truck terminal located on an 8.95-acre parcel at 10746 Cedar Avenue in Bloomington. The property, which stands on the west side of Cedar Avenue between Santa Ana and Slover avenues, is zoned for commercial development under the countywide development plan, which the county recommitted to honoring less than two years ago.
Cedar Avenue and Locust Avenue are the major north-south thoroughfares in Bloomington, 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. Bloomington, historically an agricultural community, over the last 60 years 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.
As one of San Bernardino’s more impoverished communities with a collective population that falls within the lowest ten percent of the county’s residents economically, Bloomington’s aggregate population in recent years had a median household income which stood at $34,106 annually and a median family income of $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.
Bloomington is governed by the county board of supervisors, which for more than two decades 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.
Of importance is that 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 or cultural/recreational amenities. In this way the effort to promote the commercialization of Cedar Avenue has gone hand-in-hand with preventing its industrialization while the town remains under the jurisdiction of the county. This has been coupled with a move by some community activists toward municipal incorporation, whereby those involved hope Bloomington’s residents can seize control of their own destiny, which activists and thinking members of the community see as key to keeping Bloomington from being overwhelmed by industrial uses – factories, foundries, warehouses, distribution facilities, truck stops, trucking yards, truck terminals, rail yards and wrecking yards.
Forces outside the city, however, are intent, based on the profit motive, in transforming the city into an industrial enclave, while either pushing the residential and agricultural uses out or simply coexisting with them, understanding that the residents in Bloomington do not have the financial, legal, political or procedural wherewithal to prevent that industrialization from occurring.
Joe Baca was elected Fifth District supervisor in 2020. The Fifth District now encompasses Rialto, Rosena Ranch, Muscoy, western San Bernardino, Colton and Bloomington. The forces of industrialization moved early on to take Baca’s measure.
Nachhattar Singh Chandi through his company, Chandi Group USA, has developed large numbers of Black Gold fueling stations and fast-food outlets in Riverside County. The City of Indio hosts the Chandi Enterprises corporate headquarters. Chandi proposed shortly after Baca took office 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. Using that 8.9-acre site for a truck stop ran counter to the concept of developing the prime properties along Cedar Avenue into top-of-the-line commercial venues unrelated to the trucking industry, including malls and entertainment venues. 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, a prestigious sit-down restaurant, the project’s original selling point, was dispensed with altogether.
In actuality, Chandi’s proposal was a test of Baca’s political character and integrity. What was being tested was whether Baca would remain faithful to the best interests of the Bloomington community and its residents by standing by the principles in the countywide development plan in the face of temptation in the form of hefty campaign contributions Chandi was willing to offer him. Under Bloomington’s community plan, the property where Chandi was proposing to build was zoned for a commercial center, not a truck stop.
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 his corporate empire is centered. In the 2020 election cycle, he had gravitated toward supporting Baca’s primary opponent in the Fifth District county supervisor’s contest, then-Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez, primarily because Armendarez is a Republican and Baca is a Democrat. After Baca prevailed, however and before Chandi’s Cedar Avenue truck stop project came before the board of supervisors, Baca received $4,900 from Nachhattar Chandi; another $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 under the donation limits now in place.
On April 6, 2021, the board of supervisors considered the Chandi truck stop proposal.
The county received correspondence questioning, expressing concern, advising against or in outright opposition to the project from the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council, the Colton Joint Unified School District, and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. Another 57 Bloomington residents went on record against the project. Baca joined with all four of his board colleagues, who like him, had received copious campaign contributions from Chandi and his business associates, in approving the project. At the conclusion of the April 6 meeting, shortly after the Chandi project was approved, Baca 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, as scores of those he represented in the Fifth District were alarmed at the fashion in which he was willing to abandon his constituents and prostitute himself to Chandi on the basis of $16,700 in political donations offered to him by Chandi and his family members/business associates in exchange for his vote.
On July 22, 2021, the Wiener/Beard project, referred to as a truck terminal by San Bernardino County Senior Planner Anthony DeLuca, who served as the lead staff assignee on the project, came before the San Bernardino County Planning Commission. Fourteen 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 the project, which is intended to 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 proposal 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.
The project is to be located on property which was previously intended and zoned for commercial rather than logistics/industrial/service/repair use.
Planning Commissioner Kareem Gongora, Baca’s appointee to the planning commission, at the July 22 planning commission meeting went on record against the project. In contrast, previously, 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. Gongora’s July 22 vote was widely interpreted as an indication Baca was going to oppose the project. Despite Gongora’s opposition, three of his commission colleagues – 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.
For seven months the county temporized over the matter.
Some subtle and some more direct efforts were made to see how Baca would come out with regard to the project. His determination was deemed crucial to the fate of the project. That is largely because in far-flung 20,105-square mile San Bernardino County, the balance of the board of supervisors in making decisions on land use and other decisions pertaining to each individual district tend to follow the lead of that particular district’s supervisor, an arrangement of mutual preeminence by district by which the same courtesy is extended to all other supervisors. Thus, according to the tradition, since Bloomington is located in Baca’s Fifth District, it was expected that First District Supervisor Paul Cook, Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe and Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman would follow Baca’s lead and vote as he did with regard to the project.
Of note, nonetheless, was that both Wiener and Beard, well before the 10746 Cedar Avenue truck terminal was proposed, had made efforts to buy influence with Cook, Rutherford, Rowe and Hagman. To a lesser extent, Beard had made similar attempts with Baca. As it would turn out, Wiener’s financial influence with Rutherford, Rowe and Hagman trumped whatever collegiality they had with Baca.
The Sentinel was able to track and fully document $125,650 provided by Wiener and Beard and their related enterprises and associates to supervisors Hagman, Rutherford, Rowe, Cook and Baca, going back for slightly over a decade.
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.
Rutherford has received $59,300 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.
Rowe’s political fund has been endowed with $14,300 from David Wiener and $14,300 from Michael Wiener, for a total of $28,600. She has also received a $3,500 in political contributions 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. On October 4, 2021, Scott Beard provided Baca with another $1,500, so he had received from the Beards a total of $10,900 in the last two years. Beard was also active in contributing to politicians in Rialto, but the Rialto city clerk’s office did not have immediately available figures on how much money he had received from Beard and his wife while he was serving in the capacity of city councilman in that city. 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.
Information obtained by the Sentinel is that Wiener is averse to contributing any money to Baca, feeling at this point that doing so is “useless.” Baca, Wiener has opined, is not ready “to play ball,” meaning he will not sell his votes to Wiener in accordance with the latter’s wishes. In recent years, the now 94-year-old Wiener has let slip that he expects something in return for the money he has been shelling out to political officeholders. That, combined with the consideration that Baca is a Democrat leaves Wiener disinclined to provide him with any money. Baca is the lone Democrat on the board of supervisors. Both Beard and Wiener committed themselves to backing Republican as opposed to Democratic candidates and were major sources of campaign cash for Baca’s opponent, Armendarez, in 2020. This, beyond the consideration that Baca is seeking to mend fences with the residents of Bloomington over his vote in favor of the Chandi project gave him an incentive to oppose the Wiener/Beard truck terminal.
That Wiener expects something in return for the political donations he makes is an indication that those donations stand as quid pro quos. Under most circumstances, politicians in California are free to take money from individuals or businesses which are impacted by those politicians’ votes, as long as the money is not given or received with the implicit or explicit expectation that a favorable vote relating to the donor and/or his business before the governmental entity which the politician represents is to be made or was made in return. If, however, the money provided is considered by either party to be payment for a vote, such an arrangement qualifies under the law as bribery.
A total of 59 letters and emails were sent to the board of supervisors about the Wiener/Beard project, both from members of the public as well as the state Attorney General’s Bureau of Environmental Justice, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Colton Joint Unified School District. Comments, both in written messages and at Tuesday’s meeting, focused on air-quality concerns, greenhouse gas emissions, health risks, pedestrian safety and traffic concerns.
For its consideration of the project, the board of supervisors was presented this week, on Tuesday, February 8, 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.
Heidi Duron, the county’s director of planning, presented a project overview to the board of supervisors on Tuesday. She sought to justify utilizing a mitigated negative declaration to provide the project with its environmental certification.
“The applicant updated the technical studies for health risk and air quality, which included the greenhouse gas analysis,” Duron said.
Duron matter-of-factly recited the context into which the project is located. The site was previously zoned for commercial use. To its north is low density residential and commercial zoned property. To its south is medium density residential/commercial zoned property. To its east is medium density residential zoned property. To its west is medium density residential zoned property. Across the street to the east is the Cedar Village Mobile Home Park.
The staff recommendation called for the zoning on the property to be changed from general commercial to service commercial. Without getting into specifics, Duron said that any negative impacts from the project had been mitigated so there would not be any untoward effect on the neighboring properties or residents.
“The proposed maintenance and office building is proposed to be located away from residential uses and adjacent to the vacant commercially zoned property,” Duron said.
The corporation based in Tucson, Arizona that owns the Cedar Village Mobile Home Park receive a notice relating to the project proposal but the 200-plus owners of the mobile homes that live on the property did not receive a notice.
Duron said, according to the initial study “The initial study [for the mitigated negative declaration prepared for the board of supervisors] concluded there would be no significant effects on the environment with the included mitigation measures. The project did not necessitate the preparation of an environmental impact report as California Environmental Quality Act thresholds were not exceeded.” She said there was one letter of support for the project and the county received 126 letters in opposition, citing traffic, noise and inappropriate use of the property.
She said that subsequent to the planning commission hearing on July 22, an email was received from the California Attorney General’s Office seeking clarification on the project and related technical studies. She said that in response to that email, updated air quality and health risk assessments were prepared for the project.
“An updated initial study was completed in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act which concluded the project did not have a significant effect on the environment, and a mitigated negative declaration was prepared,” Duron said. “The project still did not exceed any threshold that would necessitate the preparation of an environmental impact report.”
To approve the project, the board of supervisors was called upon to grant a conditional use permit, make a mitigated negative declaration and pass a proposed ordinance amending the zoning from general commercial to service commercial zoning.
Nancy Telleson, a business owner who lives adjacent to the project property, said to the board of supervisors, “Ask yourself: Would you want to live next store to this?”
Ana Carlos said, “There’s homes surrounding this project. There’s a mobile home park across the street with hundreds of families. Let’s be honest: You know you wouldn’t want your children living next to a truck stop. You wouldn’t want this in your back yard. You wouldn’t even want this in your neighborhood.”
Individuals trying to phone in their comments were unable to reach the supervisors. Their comments went unheard.
Joaquin Castejos said, “I’ve seen my community become a center for the logistics industry, with warehouses popping up everywhere. With this truck terminal, it is just an invitation for our community to continue to be a hub for warehouses for the logistics industry, for trucks. We already have bad air quality. It is up to the board of supervisors to protect Bloomington. This is not what we want to see.”
Gabriella Mendez said, “Every aspect of that report [the initial study for the mitigated negative declaration] is disputable.”
Gary Grossich, a member of the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council, said, “This 260-stall truck terminal and maintenance facility is clearly an industrial project trying to be passed off as a commercial service use to avoid an environmental impact report. There is no commerce or service open to the public being conducted. This will be an offsite ancillary use to accommodate an existing warehouse and is in essence part of a warehouse operation without a building. Just last year the board voted for another Bloomington truck terminal project and changed the zoning to industrial, which is the correct zoning for this project.
“After voicing our concerns at the Planning Commission, the project was suddenly changed from a ‘truck terminal’ to ‘truck storage,’” Grossich continued. “Make no mistake, this is an active truck terminal, now being presented as a storage facility. The traffic analysis completely debunks the storage claim, showing as many as 572 truck trips a day which equates to one truck coming or going every two-and-one-half minutes, all day and night, 24/7. The project will increase truck traffic significantly on Cedar and the Cedar interchange which is already overburdened. The traffic study shows this project has as many or more diesel truck trips than warehouses which have been required to prepare an environment impact report.”
Grossich said, “This is clearly not the highest and best use for this prime piece of commercial property. Allowing this industrial project on a commercial corridor will effectively kill off any opportunity for future quality developments on Cedar, such as a supermarket, pharmacy, sit down restaurants and other retail uses the community desperately wants and needs. I’d like to remind Chairman Hagman and Supervisor Rutherford that several years ago you both voted against an industrial project located on Cedar that brought $60,000 a year in revenue, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to our community. In this case, there is no upside. No jobs or revenue are being created, only substantial negative impacts.”
Grossich told the supervisors, “This project goes against the Bloomington Community Plan that the county developed with the input of our community. Developers have the right to try and develop their property and we have the right to deny the project because it doesn’t align with our community plan, a plan the county spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on, with several years of community input that the board voted unanimously to support. If a developer can show up and get a zone change which contradicts our plan, why even have a community plan?”
Steven Rogers said, “The San Bernardino County Planning Division of Land Use Services is inappropriately using a mitigated negative declaration to identify and analyze and evaluate and provide environmental clearance documentation” for the project. “This project as proposed on undeveloped property will have unavoidable and unmitigated impacts on the environment if constructed, which must be thoroughly identified, analyzed and evaluated in a proper environmental impact report in order to be compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act. Particularly of concern is that a full traffic impact analysis has not been appropriately prepared for this project as required pursuant to the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority and CalTrans standards, which should be part of a proper environmental impact report prepared for the project. Only by utilizing an environmental impact report process can the project be properly analyzed for various impacts such as traffic circulation and air quality and those impacts which are shown to be unmitigated to a level of insignificance are identified and adopted by the approving agency in a settlement of overriding considerations as contained in an environmental impact report.”
Rogers said, “The project impacts have been significantly understated [which would] result in the county not receiving a fair share of developer improvement to the area’s streets and highways and will also result in the developer being undercharged for their pro rata interest share of transportation impact fees as collected by the county and the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency.”
A caller who was able to make it through was Owen Chang, the director of facilities for the Colton Joint Unified School District.
“Approximately a year ago, the county adopted a new countywide plan to guide the future development of Bloomington and other unincorporated areas of the county,” Chang said. “According to the updated plan, most of the Bloomington area was to remain residential in order to preserve Bloomington’s residential character. However, that has not been the case. Those projects which have been approved are adjacent or in close proximity to sensitive land use such as residential, convalescent homes and district schools, which is contradictory to the intent of the countywide plan. While we recognize the trend and proliferation of industrial warehouse demands on the region, we request the county be more proactive and deliberate in its approach and planning effort to help minimize health and safety effects caused by truck pollution from industrial operations that affect our most vulnerable population, our children and those with existing health conditions. Based on district concern with unmitigated traffic and air quality expressed in our comment letter, we respectfully request the board of supervisors deny this project or at minimum request an environmental impact report be provided for the project.”
Supervisor Baca said, “I have some concerns about the project. Looking at the hours of operation, it looks like 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. So that being a concern, beginning in May-June, construction of the Cedar Overchange is going to begin. It’s a three-and-a-half year project. My question with that project, beginning in June, did it take that into consideration, the amount of traffic that will be generated from this project and how it will impact the overpass?”
Baca referenced the truck routes for the project and established that trucks leaving or going to the facility are supposed to go north and south on Cedar and not into the nearby residential neighborhoods.
Duran did acknowledge the zone change on the property from commercial to service commercial, without providing a justification for doing so.
In a low-key fashion, Baca brought up the difference between an environmental impact report and a mitigated negative declaration, but accepted Duran’s representation that an environmental impact report was not needed and that a mitigated negative declaration for the project will suffice.
Duran did say impacts from the project were categorized as less than significant without defining how that conclusion was reached.
Baca was not forceful in lodging his protest with regard to the project and seemed to sense that he was politically outmuscled on the board, as if he expected his colleagues to vote in favor of the project. He came across as being more concerned with preventing similar projects from being approved in Bloomington in the future than effectively blocking the Wiener/Beard proposal.
“I think with this project coming forward, it really sparks a bigger picture of a policy question for the Bloomington community,” Baca said, somewhat resignedly. “One, we don’t require an environmental impact report, which I think at some point in time we have to consider. And based on this project, it does have some public benefit, but I’m looking at here that potentially some 260 trucks additionally on the road every day, and the problem is with those trucks being on the road, we don’t have the ability as a county to maintain those roads or have the money to maintain those roads. I looked at some of the public benefits, which are minimal. They will probably benefit the applicant more than the residents for some of those minor benefits. I’m looking at long-term. We start looking at smart growth. How do these projects begin to pay for themselves in unincorporated communities? I think we have to have a bigger policy question on how do we maintain services. The bigger policy question: We have to start looking at smart growth and as projects come in, can they pay for themselves? I believe, in my opinion, when Cedar is completed there will be opportunity for economic opportunities on the corridor of Cedar Avenue.”
At that point, Baca spoke of the Chandi project in a positive sense, suggesting its commercial elements would generate revenue for the Bloomington community.
Baca refocused on the Wiener/Beard project. “I can’t support this project based on the impacts it will have and the future impacts,” he said. “Our school district opposes it and many of the residents oppose it, so I’ll be in opposition of this project today.”
He did not appeal to his colleagues to support his opposition and by his statements indicated he thought reform of the county’s land use policy had to come in the future and that it would not be applied to this project.
What came across was that ten months ago, by joining in with his board colleagues in supporting the Chandi project in return for the fat checks Chandi was writing to the various supervisors, Baca had lost any semblance of moral authority to the point that a majority of his colleagues do not respect him enough to abide by the tradition of heeding his lead in determining the fate of project proposals within his own district.
Rowe’s attitude was that once Baca compromised himself by taking money from Chandi in exchange for supporting his project, he no longer had grounds to legitimately question her or Rutherford or Hagman for accepting money from project proponents such as Wiener and Beard, and then voting to approve their project.
Rowe, slighted Baca, noting that his predecessor as Fifth District supervisor, Josie Gonzales, supported the project, and she used that as a justification for supporting a project that Baca opposes.
Rowe used the term truck stop rather than truck terminal in seeking a description of the project from Duron. This allowed Duron to deny it was a truck stop. There was no reference to the term truck terminal, which was how the county originally described the project. Rowe did not press Duron on the topic.
Rowe inquired if the number of daily truck trips would reach the 572 that Grossich referenced.
Rowe accepted Duron’s assertion that such a number was a “worse case scenario.”
A county consultant whose precise identity was not provided and said her name was phonetically something like “Cheryl Chads” who claimed to be the vice president of the Willburn Corporation, acknowledged that greenhouse gas emissions had been of concern along with diesel fume contaminants early in the examination process, but the county had settled that issue by rewriting its study for the mitigated negative declaration. “Toxic emissions were below the threshold set by the EPA,” Chads, or whatever her actual name is, said.
Rowe asked if there would be a dedicated left turn arrow for the Cedar Village Mobile Home Park coming out of the project. Neither Duron nor the woman whose name may or may not have been Chads knew whether that was the case. Rowe betrayed her commitment to the Wiener/Beard project when she did not insist that such a feature be put into the plans for the project in writing before it was voted upon. “Let me just say that if there is not, I would request one,” Rowe said.
Supervisor Cook raised questions about hazards created by truck traffic on Cedar Avenue.
“I wanted to get an analysis from CalTrans, an analysis of those freeways and those areas that had repeated accidents, repeated injuries, deaths, things like that,” Cook said. “Okay, I thought this was a legitimate request. It came back that evidently CalTrans [the California Department of Transportation] has a policy that they do not talk to individual board members such as myself. I just came from an environment where I had a top-secret clearance. We talked about nuclear weapons. We talked about these things, but CalTrans cannot talk to an elected representative that has some questions about the areas where you have the highest number of deaths and accidents.”
Before being elected to the board of supervisors, Cook was a member of Congress.
“I still haven’t gotten over it,” Cook said. “I just cannot understand that. I’m still ambivalent about that. If we’re trying to find out, based on the past histories of the accidents and deaths – I don’t know the area – if it has spiked, that would help me make a decision. It shows that the entrenched bureaucracies that are supposed to give us feedback here so to help us in our decision-making [haven’t come through with that information]. I’m just really really disappointed.”
Cook gestured at Hagman, who he said as board chairman had the authority to make such an inquiry with CalTrans, calling him “the grand poohbah.”
Hagman did not respond.
At one point, Cook indicated that what the project called for was a widening of Cedar Avenue. This would not come about, he exclaimed because of “Reluctance to add another lane?! You’re going to get more people killed! There’s no excuse for that bureaucratic thinking,” Cook said. “I’m sorry. The biggest enemy right now, I hate to say it, seems like CalTrans. I want development and want to help out the communities. I’m very ambivalent right now. I was going to support this, but because of everything that’s going in there, I’ve got severe reservations if one of the major players in this won’t answer my questions. And the questions are not about how many feet on a line. How many people were killed? How many people were killed with truck accidents? How many people were killed in that area? It is going to influence these decisions.”
Beard sought to diffuse the situation brought on by Cook’s tirade.
“Just to be clear: This is definitely not a truck stop,” Beard said. “I neglected to thank Heidi [Duron] and her team and [former Land Services Director] Teri Rahal, who is retired now, and the diligent effort they put in to make sure we toed the line on all the studies and really analyzed this project thoroughly. So, you have a very good staff down there that tries to look out for the benefit of the county.”
In response to a question from Baca about how much money the truck terminal would provide Bloomington through enhanced tax revenue, Beard said, “It is a not big generator of revenue for the community of Bloomington. We have worked on this project a long time. We have tried to take into account all the necessary mitigation for the surrounding property owners. We are going to provide a traffic signal that frankly should have been installed 25 years ago for the mobile home park folks. We reached out to the community. It’s not a popular project, but it’s not the horrific 500 traffic trips a day that’s been represented by everyone. The number of truck trips is really hard to gauge.”
Hagman, Rowe and Rutherford suggested the project would help redress illegal parking in the community. Both Hagman and Rutherford prompted groans from Bloomington residents by those assertions, as residents said that someone should tell Hagman, Rowe and Rutherford to approve truck parking projects near downtown Redlands in Rowe’s Third District or on Euclid Avenue in Ontario in Hagman’s district or on Haven Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga in Rutherford’s district. Hagman, however, made clear that as the county’s Fourth District supervisor, he was not voting on behalf of Bloomington’s residents but rather those of Chino Hills, Chino, Ontario, Montclair and south Upland, such that he wanted to get illegally parked trucks out of his jurisdiction. “From my point of view, I need to look at my region, and not any particular city each time,” Hagman said. “I’m doing the same sort of soul searching for the Fourth District right now with the illegal truck parking and ‘How do I provide places – either leave my district or stay in my district – and find real parking that are (sic) environmentally sensitive and not going on dirt fields, things like that, in residential neighborhoods, which is what they are doing right now. We also in unincorporated areas do not have the same mechanisms that our cities do to create funds to offset and provide something in return for our residents when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to amenities for the areas, that funding stream.”
Hagman referenced community facility districts, community benefit plans and developer impact fees, but did not propose putting any of those in place as a condition for the Wiener/Beard project approval. Bloomington, Hagman essentially suggested, is on a fast track to become an industrial wasteland, and in “the bigger global view” he suggested it was proper to allow truck parking to go on in Bloomington rather than anywhere else. The solution, first proposed by former Supervisor Gonzales was to allow massive numbers of truck to “properly” park in Bloomington, Hagman said in justifying this philosophy, and he said that it was too late for Baca to try to undo that. “Do we really want to push these out to another jurisdiction? Where would that be?” Hagman asked, winkingly suggesting that Bloomington is the ideal place for such a project as the one proposed by Wiener and Beard because the lack of sophistication and money within the impoverished class in Bloomington made it unlikely that the community could mount an effective legal challenge of the approval. “I think it’s behoovant upon us to work for our cities and our unincorporated areas to look at the bigger picture. When I counted the number of newly parked trucks in south Ontario, it’s close to 5,000. And as they develop Ontario Ranch out, those 5,000 trucks have to go somewhere, and they’re there every night. They [truck drivers] go to work. They live in our community. They get the truck and do their short-haul back and forth each night. So, when I talk to my City of Ontario, I say, ‘What’s your plan?’ ‘Well, they have to go out into the High Desert.’ We don’t want 5,000 more trucks each day up the [Cajon] Pass. So, what can we do to plan for regional capacity for our own needs in this area? It’s not for somebody else’s. These are our own industries moving around. I still have my own issues, too.”
Understatedly, Baca responded to Hagman, who is the board chairman, “We [the Fifth District and Bloomington in particular] don’t have the ability to sustain these projects.”
Hagman, Rowe and Rutherford displayed thinly veiled contempt for Baca, whom they consider to be a political lightweight who is inconsistent in his resolve to advance his public career, one who is willing to step over those he represents in some cases and becoming squeamish when do is politically advantageous to the board collectively in others. Baca had joined with them last April in giving short shrift to his Bloomington constituents in exchange for Chandi’s money, they are acutely aware, but was in this go-round turning his nose up at the money Wiener and Beard are throwing the board’s way.
When Baca asked for a “cap” on the number of trucks that can go through that area per day, the board, in a smug show of disrespect toward him and one of commitment toward Wiener and Beard, pointedly did not even acknowledge what he had requested. No such cap was put into the operating conditions for the Wiener/Beard project.
For a brief moment during Tuesday’s hearing, it seemed as if Baca might have cobbled together three votes – his own, Cook’s and Rutherford’s – to prevent the Wiener/Beard truck terminal project from getting go-ahead.
Rutherford said, “I do just want to echo one thing that Supervisor Baca said. I talked with staff about this individually. We’re getting to the point with so many of these projects that we know we’re going to end up in litigation. That’s frustrating as an elected official. That’s frustrating for the taxpayers’ dollars. It’s not how the system is supposed to work, but it’s how it works in California these days. I think one of the things the county should start doing to help prepare us for that kind of land use decision-making is require more environmental impact reports up front. I think that would give this board additional information to make the decision, give the community additional input and provide an extra layer of protection as we go into litigation processes.”
Rutherford seemed to be on the brink of suggesting that the Wiener/Beard project be reconsidered under the standards not of a mitigated negative declaration but rather a full-blown environmental impact report. With her vote on that grounds, Cook’s vote based on inadequate truck traffic safety data and Baca’s opposition, it appeared that the project might be rejected outright or at least might be postponed pending a more thorough environmental analysis.
Rutherford then dashed that possibility
“That said, I disagree with Supervisor Baca’s position on this,” she said.
Curiously, however, Rutherford hinted that an appeal of the board’s approval of the Wiener/Beard project will be forthcoming.
“I know it is going to end up before a judge and a judge will make the ultimate decision,” Rutherford said.
Rowe motioned to accept staff’s recommendation that the project be approved. Rutherford seconded that motion.
The vote was taken. Cook stonily sat silent, refusing to vote. Baca cast his vote against the project. The motion passed, 3-to-1-to-1, with Hagman, Rowe and Rutherford prevailing, Baca in opposition and Cook abstaining.
Two of San Bernardino County’s most generous political donors this week were able to buy an approval of their controversial truck terminal project in Bloomington in a decision that exposed the degree to which Supervisor Joe Baca is isolated, disrespected and some would even say despised on the panel that heads San Bernardino County’s governmental structure.