Nine months after California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta has sued the city of Fontana for allegedly flouting a state-mandated environmental review process when he approved the construction of a trucking warehouse next to a high school, city officials enacted new regulations intended to curb air pollution from logistics centers as part of a legal settlement.
Bonta announced Monday that his office has resolved its legal dispute with the city of Fontana, which is accused of violating California’s environmental quality law. The action comes after city officials passed an ordinance last week outlining a litany of new requirements for future warehouse projects.
The new regulations require developers to establish a buffer zone at least 10 feet wide around all warehouse projects over 50,000 square feet. Drought resistant trees should also be planted and maintained in the buffer zone.
Additionally, any new warehouse development over 400,000 square feet must be powered exclusively by solar energy – with the exception of operations requiring refrigeration. All on-site equipment, such as forklifts, must be zero emissions, while loading docks must be located at least 300 feet from sensitive sites such as homes, schools, daycare centers or hospitals.
“On any given day, you might see long lines of parked trucks, their engines idling, belching toxic fumes into the air as they wait to access loading docks at the roughly five dozen warehouses in this one city,” Bonta said. “For too long, warehouse development in Fontana has gone unchecked and the city’s most vulnerable communities have paid the price for the polluted air, traffic and noise associated with round-the-clock warehouse operations. .”
Bonta’s lawsuit, filed in July, stems from Fontana City Council’s approval of a 205,000-square-foot warehouse on 8.68 acres of land adjoining Jurupa Hills High School, which is in a working-class Latino community. which, at the time, suffered one of the worst air quality in the state.
The school, which has approximately 2,000 students, is on the south side of Fontana, a part of town that has seen tremendous growth in warehouse development. At the time the complaint was filed, more than 20 warehouses had been built within a mile of the school. Most were built within the past 10 years, according to court documents.
In public meetings, residents have expressed concerns about the health effects of fine particles in vehicle exhaust, which can penetrate deep into a person’s lungs. This type of pollution has been linked to asthma and heart disease.
“Many parents have shared their concerns about increased nosebleeds or increased rates of asthma,” said Liz Sena, co-founder of the South Fontana Concerned Citizens Coalition. “Not to mention that part of our community has been affected by COVID, which will now have lasting effects on their respiratory tract. [system].”
Still, the city approved the plans of developer Duke Realty Corp. for a warehouse with 22 truck bays, 40 truck parking spaces and 95 standard parking spaces. The warehouse, which would operate 24 hours a day, was expected to witness more than 110 daily truck trips and 272 daily passenger car trips.
Bonta’s office argued that Fontana violated California environmental quality law by approving Duke Realty’s plan because it failed to account for the burden of air quality issues from existing traffic in warehouses.
Fontana officials, who described the new ordinance as “one of the strictest environmental regulations in California,” said the new stipulations will ensure that any industrial development in the city exceeds all federal and state environmental standards. for warehouses and freight operations.
“We agree with Attorney General Bonta – this order should serve as a model for other local governments in the state. We are proud to lead the way once again,” Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren said in a statement Monday.
Sena, the community leader of South Fontana, countered the idea that this is a proactive effort by the city. Before the attorney general’s office stepped in, she raised $315 to file a formal appeal of the Duke Realty warehouse project, which the city voted to reject.
“Of course they have to defend their reputation and make it look like it was their idea to create the order, when in reality they were forced into this order with the lawsuit,” Sena said.
The ordinance will only focus on larger warehouse developments, which have become the norm regionally and nationally. According to commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE Group, the average size of a warehouse in the Inland Empire between 2002 and 2007 was about 105,000 square feet. Between 2012 and 2017 it was around 305,000 square feet.
Much of the order sets out requirements for facilities larger than 400,000 square feet and will not affect the warehouse next to Jurupa Hills High School.
As part of the settlement, developer Duke Realty will have to spend $210,000, which will go toward planting a landscape buffer on school grounds and providing a five-year supply of air filters to up to to 1,750 nearby households.
For community members like Sena, it’s not a perfect compromise, but it’s a start.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Sena said, “but we have a lot of miles to go.”