Rialto Residents Launch Effort To Second Guess Council With Referendum Of Warehouse OK

Two separate votes earlier this year by Rialto councilmen Andy Carrizales, Ed Scott and Rafael Trujillo to divide the Pepper Avenue Specific Plan finalized in 2017 into two separate areas and add to its permitted uses light industrial zoning so that a 735,185-square foot warehouse/distribution center have sparked controversy that refuses to go away.
The two members of the council who opposed that action – Mayor Deborah Robertson and Joe Baca Sr. – made statements and contacted officials about the location of that warehouse and its proximity to the home in which Carrizales lives, ultimately triggering an official complaint by a Rialto resident, Lupe Camacho, to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging Carrizales had a conflict of interest in voting upon the warehouse project as it carried with it the possibility of impacting the value of his property. After an investigation into the matter by Christopher Burton, the acting chief of the Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement division, as well as input offered by Sarah Lang, a Sacramento-based attorney retained by Carrizales, the Fair Political Practices Commission determined that it was Carrizales’ mother-in-law and not the councilman, who owned the property in question where he and his family live. In this way, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, Carrizales has no conflict of interest.
Having shot too high and missed with what turned out to be the spurious allegation against Carrizales, the opponents of the warehouse project remain undaunted. Convinced that the vote by Scott, Trujilo and Carrizales is out of step with the attitude of the community, activists, including ones aligned with Robertson and Baca, a group called Rialto NorthEnd210 and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice have embarked on an effort to collect enough signatures to put a measure on the March 2024 ballot to give the city’s voters a straight up-and-down vote to rescind the 3-to-2 approval of the project.
Quite simply, those activists say, among those Rialto residents who are aware and care, more oppose the 470,000-square-foot warehouse than are in favor of it.
In March 2022, prior to Baca being a member of the council, the city council first considered the project proposal. Droves of residents, in particular those living within proximity of the proposed warehouse site, turned out to make clear their opposition to the project. A recurrent motif in those complaints was that warehousing is incompatible with the primarily residential nature of the area and once warehouses come in, that change will tip the balance toward more and more “light industrial” and then “medium industrial” uses, either driving the existing homeowners out of the area or subjecting those who remain to living in an environment in which traffic and the presence of semi-trucks powered by diesel engines as well as further industrial uses in which potentially hazardous substances are stored or from which they are transported represent a hazard to their safety and health.
The group is working against a seemingly unforgiving deadline, as it must gather 6,000 valid signatures of city voters by July 27 in order to qualify the referendum for the March 2024 primary ballot.
The 2017 Pepper Avenue Specific Plan called for a commercial center on the property proximate to Frisbie Park and provided no allowance for industrial use. The city seemed to be acting in conformance with that intent, and the City Council confirmed the specific plan as yet operative earlier this year. The planning commission appeared to have shut the door on Orange County-based Howard Industrial Partners’ proposal to construct the 470,000-square-foot warehouse within the Pepper Avenue Specific Plan area when it returned a verdict against the project in keeping with city staff’s recommendation. At its April 25 meeting, the city council considered the project. During the public hearing, Tina Brown, Tim Curan, Michelle Sanchez, Gabriela Valenzuela, Efrain Valenzuela, William Jernigan, Reverent Charles, Eduardo Campos, John Peukert, Anita Peukert, Bob Guiness, Frank Montes, Raquel Fuentes, Courtney Smith, Brenda Parker, Zalen Reed, Lupe Camacho, Celia Sarabia, Mirna Ruiz, Marvin Norman and Wilda Calhoun addressed the city council, expressing opposition to amending the Pepper Avenue Specific Plan and allowing the industrial project. After deliberating, however, the City Council abruptly reversed the city’s course with regard to prohibiting industrial uses within the Pepper Avenue Specific Plan area and approved Howard Industrial Partners 470,000-square-foot warehouse, with the majority of Scott, Carrizales and Trujillo prevailing in the vote over Robertson and Baca.
That vote was confirmed on June 13.
The controversy over the proliferation of warehousing in Rialto replicates what is going on in nearby cities.
While many local cities are, and have been for some time, in a warehouse development frenzy, some San Bernardino County cities have come to eschew further warehouse development as, 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. The glut of logistics facilities in the Inland Empire has some thinking their numbers are out of balance. In refuting the assertions of the proponents of warehouses that they constitute positive economic development, their detractors cite the relatively poor pay and benefits provided to those who work in distribution facilities, the large diesel-powered semi-trucks that are part of those operations with their unhealthy exhaust emissions, together with the bane of traffic gridlock they create.
Fontana has been so aggressive in building warehouses over the last dozen years that the city’s mayor, Acquanetta Warren, is known by those who both oppose and favor warehouse development as “Warehouse Warren.” In 2021, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sued Fontana over its affinity for warehouses, forcing the city into a settlement that calls for far greater regulation of the construction of logistics facilities in the city of 214,307.
In 2021 and 2022, the cities of Colton, Chino and Redlands imposed a temporary moratorium on the further construction of warehouses in their jurisdictions and the San Bernardino City Council by a five-sevenths majority very nearly did the same in June 2021. That effort to declare a moratorium on further warehouse construction within the county’s largest city failed because the five-sevenths margin of passage was less than the four-fifths vote of a governmental entity’s legislative body that is required under California law to impose building moratoria.
There is more than 930 million square feet of warehousing in San Bernardino and Riverside counties at present, with more being built. That includes 3,034 warehouses in San Bernardino County. In Ontario alone, there are 289 warehouses larger than 100,000 square feet. Reportedly, there are 142 warehouses in Fontana larger than 100,000 square feet. In Chino there are 118 warehouses larger than 100,000 square feet, 109 larger than 100,000 square feet in Rancho Cucamonga and 75 larger than 100,000 square feet in San Bernardino. Since 2015, 26 warehouse project applications have been processed and approved by the City of San Bernardino, entailing acreage under roof of 9,598,255 square feet, or more than one-third of a square mile, translating into 220.34 acres. After Ontario, Fontana, Chino, Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino, the city in San Bernardino County with the next largest number of warehouses of more than 100,000 square feet is Redlands, with 56, followed by Rialto with 47. In addition to those 47 larger warehouses, Rialto has another 125 warehouses of under 100,000 square feet. Altogether the 172 warehouses in Rialto encompass over 96 million square feet.

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