Cavalier Local Warehouse Standards Require State Legislation Fix, Lawmaker Says

Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes has authored legislation that if passed would prevent any warehouse/logistics projects of more than 100,000 square feet yet to be built from being located within 1,000 feet of existing houses.
In the cities of Fontana, Upland, San Bernardino and Ontario, as well as within the unincorporated community of Bloomington, there has been considerable controversy over the political leadership in those respective places permitting the construction of droves of warehouses and distribution centers. Such projects, their detractors maintain, involving intensive truck traffic that is unduly burdensome on those who live in their shadow.
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, those against their proliferation decry 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.
Over the last two decades, Southern California, the Inland Empire and San Bernardino County have experienced explosive growth, a continuation of the post-World War II trend that continued unabated for the last half of the 20th Century. Whereas previously, residential expansion outpaced both commercial and industrial growth, warehouse development has over the last decade-and-a-half come to hold more than its own in terms of construction activity.
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 hub.
In this atmosphere, 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. Warehouse proponents reportedly have targeted Upland Mayor Bill Velto as an easy mark, believing money slipped to him will perpetuate his unquestioning support of warehouse development. That quid pro quo is being hidden, those within shouting distance of Upland City Hall say, by City Clerk Carrie Johnson not posting any campaign finance disclosure documentation relating to Velto for nearly 18 months, even as Velto has had multiple meetings with entities pursuing the construction of logistics projects.
In Ontario, the entire city council – Councilwoman Debra Dorst-Porada and councilmen Alan Wapner, Jim Bowman and Ruben Valencia – and Mayor Paul Leon have received substantial money from the development community pursuing warehouse and logistics project development. Having accepted money from those interests, Leon, Dorst-Porada, Wapner, Bowman and Valencia have consistently voted to allow warehouse projects in their 50.01-square mile city to proceed and have not been able to muster the resolve or strength of character to resist warehouse proposals even in those cases where a prospect of a higher and better use of the property in question existed, their detractors maintain.
Rancho Cucamonga City Councilman Ryan Hutchinson is an advocate of intensive warehouse development.
In Fontana, Mayor Acquanetta Warren has taken more than $100,000 in donations from warehouse developers. Both her admirers and opponents apply the sobriquet “Warehouse Warren” when referring to her. Warren has an unquestioned command over the three other members of her ruling council coalition – councilmen John Roberts, Phil Cothran Jr and Pete Garcia. Warren has vectored money from the warehouse industry to Roberts, Cothran and Garcia through her own campaign fund and has succeeded in getting warehouse project proponents to contribute directly to them. Garcia, who is employed by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, has voted right down the line with Warren on warehouse project approvals, even as the agency that employs him is taking action against ten transportation/trucking companies, several engaged in warehouse operations in some respects indistinguishable from the projects he voted to approve.
In July, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a civil action against the City of Fontana’s approval of a warehouse project to be located at the corner of Slover and Oleander avenues in southwest Fontana. In April 2021, the planning commission, in accordance with Warren’s dictate, applied to the project one of the least exacting forms of environmental certification that exists, a mitigated negative declaration, in giving it go-ahead. There followed an appeal of that approval to the city council, which heard it in June. Warren, Roberts, Cothran Jr. and Garcia rejected the appeal and upheld the planning commission, whereupon Bonta the following month filed suit, asserting that the city’s limited environmental review of the project and its failure to appropriately analyze, disclose, and mitigate the project’s environmental impacts violates the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the City of Fontana is required to implement all feasible mitigation measures to reduce harmful air pollution and other significant environmental impacts of the Slover and Oleander Warehouse project,” Bonta said. “Plain and simple: Everyone has the right to breathe clean air where they live and where they work. I am committed to standing up for communities who live at the intersection of poverty and pollution. Fontana residents shouldn’t have to choose between economic development and clean air. They deserve both. Unfortunately, the City of Fontana cut corners when it approved the Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project. We’re going to court to compel the city to go back and take a hard look at the environmental impacts of this project – and do all it can to mitigate the potential harms to local residents and workers – before moving forward.”
According to Bonta, “The Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project will be constructed in a low-income south Fontana neighborhood that suffers from some of the highest pollution levels in all of California. Over 20 warehouses have already been built within a mile of the project site, in an area that encompasses two public high schools and serves as home to hundreds of Californians. Collectively, these warehouses generate thousands of daily heavy-duty diesel truck trips. As a result, local residents and workers suffer from some of the highest exposures statewide to fine particulate matter, which are inhalable microscopic particles that travel deep into human lungs and are linked to increased risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and asthma attacks. They are also heavily exposed to ozone and toxic chemicals that can cause a wide array of other concerning health problems.”
In the lawsuit, Bonta maintains the City of Fontana violated the California Environmental Quality Act in its approval of the Slover and Oleander warehouse project by failing to prepare an environmental impact report despite substantial evidence that the project will have significant environmental impacts, and that the city did not disclose the existence of dozens of other industrial warehouses in the area. The city further did not disclose, Bonta asserted, that the city has approved and is planning additional warehouse developments within blocks of the project, and it did not account for those nearby warehouses in its cumulative air quality analysis.
In San Bernardino, Mayor John Valdivia, after receiving substantial campaign contributions from both landowners and developers with an interest in warehouse development, thwarted an effort by Fifth District Councilman Ben Reynoso to have the city initiate an initial 45-day moratorium on the permitting of new warehouse construction in the county seat, which might have been extended for as long as two years. Reynoso sought the time-out from warehouse construction to allow San Bernardino, which since 2015 has approved 26 warehouse projects entailing acreage under roof of 9,598,255 square feet, or more than one-third of a square mile, translating into 220.34 acres, to consider a revamping of its general plan and making a determination on how much more warehousing, if any, the city wants to accommodate.
Reynoso obtained the consent of four of his colleagues – First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin and Seventh Ward Councilman Damon Alexander – to impose the moratorium. Their five votes on the seven-member San Bernardino City Council were insufficient to suspend warehouse development. California law requires that such a ban be 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 meant six of the seven members of the council had to sign off on the moratorium. Third Ward Councilman Juan Figueroa, a firm and fast political ally of Mayor John Valdivia, was unwilling to support a moratorium. Nor would 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, support a moratorium.
Thus, though Reynoso had solid majority support on the council, he has been unable to put the warehouse moratorium in place.
In Chino and Colton, however, city leaders there have embraced holding off on further warehouse construction.
In May 2021, the City of Colton, by a unanimous vote, gave city staff direction 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, simultaneously imposing the moratorium on warehouse construction. It has since extended the moratorium while the city studies the issue.
In October, Chino imposed a 45-day ban on constructing more warehouses in the once-agriculturally-oriented city.
Gómez Reyes, who is now the California Assembly majority leader, recently authored and introduced Assembly Bill 2840, which is aimed not at stopping warehouse development, she said, but rather imposing on it conditions intended to prevent warehouses from having undesirable consequences on those who must live near them.
Under AB 2840, local governments, in exercising their land use authority, would be restricted from allowing any subsequently built logistics projects of 100,000 square feet or more from being any closer than 1,000 feet from homes, schools, health care centers, playgrounds and other places where the inhabitants or those who frequent them are sensitive to or at risk of exposure to air pollution, including vehicle exhaust and diesel fumes. AB 2840 would prevent existing warehouses currently covering less than 100,000 square feet from expanding to 100,000 square feet or more if there are homes, churches, schools or the like nearer than 1,000 feet.
Also taken up in AB 2840 are concerns that warehouses do not make sound and reliable employment venues. The bill calls for a “skilled and trained workforce” to be employed in constructing the warehouses. The bill further mandates that a “set percentage of jobs created by the qualifying logistics use project shall go to local residents.” The bill does not say precisely what that percentage is.
Reyes’ 47th Assembly District includes Bloomington, Colton, Grand Terrace, Fontana, Muscoy, Rialto and part of San Bernardino.
AB 2840 is somewhat similar to legislation Gómez Reyes introduced last year, AB 1547, which had sought a buffer between warehouses and homes that was three times greater, at 1,000-yards between the boundary of the site and sensitive land uses such as schools, parks and residential neighborhoods. AB 1547 had also called for requiring on-site equipment such as forklifts and other dock machinery to be powered by zero emission technology. AB 1547 has not been enacted.
Warehouses are encroaching on residential neighborhoods, Gómez Reyes said. She said local governments are not doing their part in providing safeguards for residents, such as making sure the diesel trucks and other pollution-spewing machinery remains at a safe distance from those living, playing and attending school or other social events.
“If California is going to meet its environmental goals, we must develop environmental standards for warehouse developments, which often are built near already disadvantaged communities and account for nearly half of NOx [nitrogen oxide] emissions.” Gómez Reyes said.
Nitrogen oxides are a major component in air pollution, particularly nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO₂). They contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain, as well as affecting tropospheric ozone.
The Inland Empire has more than 1.1 billion square feet of warehouse space, the equivalent of nearly 23,000 football fields. Some warehouse projects have been constructed within 100 feet of homes, despite warnings from air regulators about the health dangers of people living that close to warehouse developments due to truck pollution.
Some 70 percent of the cargo that moves through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports moves via heavy diesel trucks through the South Coast Basin, with 40 percent of those trucks making delivery stops at warehouses, distribution centers, and logistics facilities in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
-Mark Gutglueck

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