Events Overtaking Warren

For the fourth time in less than three months, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren has sustained a solid blow that threatens to lessen or even annul her once preeminent position among the region’s local political leaders.
Having staked her reputation as the champion of warehouse construction in the Inland Empire by welcoming, since she became mayor in 2010, virtually every proposal to construct logistics facilities and distribution centers anywhere in the 43.07-square mile, 214, 307-population city she leads, Warren this month saw the tables turn drastically against her with the revelation that of the 168 warehouses in Fontana, 83 of them, or more than 49 percent, are out of compliance with the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Rule 2305, also known as its Warehouse Indirect Source Rule.
Rule 2305 pertains to excessive nitrogen oxide and diesel particulate matter emissions from those warehouses.
Throughout her tenure as mayor, Warren has insisted that warehouse construction represents an economic and social boon to Fontana, in that the building of warehouses constitutes easy “economic advancement” for the community, which allows those with capital to acquire or tie up property and quickly convert the land into logistics facilities consisting of tilt-up buildings, thereby generating fast money and investment in the local economy. She has been so aggressive in accommodating warehouses that she has become known by those who both oppose and favor warehouse development as “Warehouse Warren.” In recent years, a growing number of urban planners, futurists and local residents, including a wide cross section of Warren’s own constituents, citing 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, have questioned whether warehouses constitute the highest and best use of local property available for development. Warren has consistently ignored or pointedly dismissed the assertions that through approving the scores of logistics facilities that have come into the city under her watch, her coalition on the council has allowed warehouse developers, owners and operators to not only exploit those who work in the facilities but victimize nearby residents through the environmental impact of such land use. The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s recently launched enforcement action in which it has cataloged that more than 49 percent of the warehouses in Fontana have run afoul of at least one and in several cases more air pollution control regulations validates the objections those who have called Warren’s stewardship of the city into question.
An intrinsic part of Warren’s political strength over the years has been the adroit fashion in which she positioned herself as the leading African American personage within the San Bernardino County Republican Party. Indeed, with the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee’s support as well as the sponsorship of scores of Republican Party members over the years, Warren was able to not only keep herself in place as mayor in Fontana but election cycle after election cycle successfully support other Republicans to serve with her on the Fontana City council, including John Roberts, Jesse Armendarez, Phil Cothran Jr and Peter Garcia. She did this despite the Democratic Party’s overwhelming 5-to-2 ratio advantage in terms of registered voters in Fontana.
Less than a week prior to the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s September 20 announcement of its action with regard to out-of-compliance warehouses, several members of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee at that organization’s September 14 meeting made an issue of Warren having crossed party lines to endorse Democrat Norma Torres in her race against Republican Mike Cargile for Congress in California’s 35th Congressional District and her son, Robert Torres, also a Democrat, who is vying for Assembly representing the 53rd District in next year’s election against Republican Nick Wilson. It is contrary to the Republican Central Committee’s by-laws for a central committee member to endorse a Democrat and a violation of California Elections § 7413 for the member of a party central committee to endorse someone from a different party for election in a contest if a member of his or her own party is vying in that race. Thus confronted, the leadership of the central committee, in the form of Ben Lopez, who is the central committee’s secretary and parliamentarian, made a declaration that Warren is no longer a Republican Central Committee member.
It has recently come to light that federal investigators have become interested in the circumstance related to local and federal elected officials speculating in land within and adjacent to the high-speed rail corridor running from Las Vegas and first to a station in Victorville/Apple Valley and then to Rancho Cucamonga, penultimately to Anaheim and ultimately to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. At issue in the investigations reported to be under way is whether those elected officials, in any of their actions in their elected or appointed capacities, have created or are creating a situation by which they might profit or otherwise are involved in personal financial investments or transactions in which they would have an advantage akin to insider trading. One of the names mentioned as falling under the scrutiny of those federal agencies, said to include the Federal Transportation Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Security and Exchange Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was Warren.
Warren is a voting member of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency, known by its acronym SBCTA. In that capacity as a member of the SBCTA board, she would conceivably have direct or indirect input, impact or control on where stops along the line, other than those in Victorville/Apple Valley, Rancho Cucamonga and Anaheim, which are already set, are to be located.
It is unknown at this time whether or not Warren has looked into or has picked up any land out in San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert running along the I-15 Freeway, which in most spots in the desert closely parallels where the high-speed train line is to be constructed.
For more than a decade following her election as mayor in 2010, which followed by eight years her appointment to the city council in 2002, six years her election as councilwoman in her own right in 2004 and two years her reelection in that capacity in 2008, Warren has bestridden Fontana like a political colossus. She has lived into the role of Fontana’s kingmaker, throwing her support behind candidates for office she favors and using money in her electioneering fund to bankroll campaigns against candidates she opposes. With only a handful of exceptions, within the confines of Fontana, those she has backed have won and those she opposed have lost. When she set her sights on removing two members from the Fontana school board by pursuing a recall against them, that effort succeeded. Beginning seven years ago, she was able to maintain in office or get elected to office three of the four councilman she has served with in that time – Roberts, who remains on the council; Armendarez, who left the council in 2020 to run for county supervisor; Cothran, who successfully vied for election to the council in 2018 and was reelected last year; and Garcia, who was elected in 2020 with Warren’s support to replace Armendarez. In this way, since 2016, Warren had, counting her own vote, control of four-fifths of the council on practically every issue of substance that has come before the city in that timeframe.
In what was for Fontana a landmark vote in July, the first crack in Warren’s hold on the city became apparent, more than a dozen years after she first took possession of the mayor’s gavel.
Until that point, Roberts, Armendarez and Cothran up until 2020, and Roberts, Cothran and Garcia from 2020 onward, had gone right down the line with her on every single vote pertaining to warehouse projects. On July 5, the council took up a request by Newport Beach-based Acacia Real Estate Group to construct three industrial commerce center buildings totaling 540,849 square feet on 29.4 acres between Citrus and Oleander avenues, north of Santa Ana Avenue, and south of Jurupa Hills High School. To approve the project, the council would have needed to alter the land use designation and zoning on the property from residential to industrial, as well as sign off on placing the warehouse proximate to a school. Those requirements, however, seemed in no way to represent any meaningful barrier to the approval of the project, as councils headed by Warren had, literally more than a dozen times in the past, granted zone changes to facilitate warehouse development and Warren, Roberts, Cothran and Garcia had not hesitated in the past to allow warehouses to be built close to schools. Indeed, in 2021, Warren, Roberts, Cothran and Garcia had prevailed in a 4-to-1 vote to approve the construction of a 194,000-square foot warehouse immediately adjacent to Jurupa Hills High School on its north side.
At the hearing for the matter, city staff presented its case for the project being approved and the owner of the property said he was in favor of proceeding. Members of the public were heard from, with residents living nearby or parents with children attending the high school voicing their opposition and construction workers who stood an opportunity to obtain work erecting the warehouses enunciating their support. Thereafter, those present either braced themselves or confidently expected to hear the council as it is presently composed vote as it always had – with Warren, Roberts, Cothran and Garcia in the affirmative and Councilman Jesse Sandoval in opposition – in giving the three projects go-ahead.
As it turned out, however, Roberts, in whose district the proposed project is located, and Garcia cast votes against the warehouses’ approval, as did Sandoval. By a 3-to-2 margin, Warren and Cothran found themselves on the losing end.
When it rains, it pours. For the entirety of the second decade of the Third Millennium and more than two years beyond that, Acquanetta was the golden girl of Inland Empire politics. After an unbroken string of electoral and administerial victories over the course of a dozen years, the 67-year-old Warren between the beginning of July and the end of September has been hit with four setbacks that carry with them the potential of pushing her from the precarious pinnacle of politics she proclaims to possess.
Warren was unavailable at City Hall this week when the Sentinel sought to speak with her.
-Mark Gutglueck

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