Credit: (source: belonging.berkeley.edu)

S. E. Williams |

Last July, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed suit against the City of Fontana challenging the city’s approval of the Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project. 

The 205,000 square-foot project borders Jurupa Hills High School and as affirmed by Bonta, is located in one of the most polluted areas in the state.

Bonta claimed the city had failed to appropriately “analyze, disclose, and mitigate” the project’s environmental impacts  as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), asserting the city’s limited review of the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Attorney General Rob Bonta claimed the City of Fontana had failed to appropriately “analyze, disclose, and mitigate” the Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project’s environmental impacts  as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. (source: theievoice.com)

Bonta was pointed in his comments when the lawsuit was filed stating, “Plain and simple: Everyone has the right to breathe clean air where they live and where they work.”

He  stressed that in his role as California’s Attorney General (AG), “[He has] a responsibility to enforce the state’s environmental laws, and as the People’s Attorney, I am committed to standing up for communities who live at the intersection of poverty and pollution.”

The AG highlighted how Fontana residents should not have to choose between economic development and clean air. “They deserve both,” he declared. “Unfortunately, the City of Fontana cut corners when it approved the Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project.” Adding the goal in going to court was  to compel the City of Fontana to go back and “take a hard look at the environmental impacts of this project.”  He was asking the city to do all it could to  mitigate the potential harm to local residents and workers, before moving the project forward. 

As reported by the IE Voice when the suit was filed last year, the Committee for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) Interim Executive Director Ana Gonzalez, supported Bonta’s action. “By stepping up for the community,” she said, “Attorney General Bonta has shown he stands with the EJ (Environmental Justice) communities impacted by these developments. This shows that by organizing and mobilizing, we can come together and hold our officials accountable.” 

On Monday, April 18, Bonta announced what’s being described by his office as an “innovative settlement” with the City of Fontana to “protect vulnerable communities from pollution associated with industrial development where they live, work, and go to school.” 

The settlement is expected to resolve allegations that Fontana violated CEQA when it approved the Slover and Oleander warehouse project in the city. 

(source: change.org)

The agreement calls for developer Duke Realty to adopt substantial mitigation measures to minimize the impacts of the project to the surrounding community. More broadly, last week Fontana adopted an ordinance, as required by the settlement, that set stringent environmental standards for all future warehouse development projects in the city. 

“For years, warehouse development in Fontana went unchecked, and it’s our most vulnerable communities that have paid the price,” said Bonta. 

“Today’s settlement demonstrates how innovative solutions can be used to address environmental injustices, without hindering development. Because when we build, we must build responsibly. Most importantly, the impacts of this settlement are not limited to mitigating the impacts of a single project,” said Bonta referring to Fontana’s newly adopted ordinance adding that it should serve as a model for other local governments across the state to build upon. “We must ensure that future development does not repeat past mistakes.”  

Last November, the CCAEJ called for community support to denounce two new projects being considered for the  Bloomington community. One of the projects, a warehouse, would be located near Bloomington High School. 

Residents and supporters of the CCAEJ protest new warehouse sites in the Inland Empire that exist in close proximity to residential neighborhoods and schools (Photo courtesy of CCAEJ)

Over the past five years, Fontana has approved several dozen warehouses totaling approximately 16 million square feet in southern Fontana alone. 

The Sierra Club filed a separate lawsuit in this case, however, Monday’s settlement resolves both cases.

Some of the new requirements adopted by the city include site designs to keep trucks away from sensitive sites such as schools, hospitals, and daycares, promotion of zero-emission vehicles for on-site operations, landscaped buffers, installation of solar panels to meet 100% of energy needs for larger warehouse projects, and use of environmentally friendly building materials. 

The ordinance also includes a number of provisions to boost economic development and protect the health and safety of construction laborers, warehouse workers, and truckers.

The settlement requires Duke Realty to also  take mitigation steps in response to the agreement. They include design changes and other protections for nearby residents, reduced emissions from equipment used during construction and operation, solar power, and more. The developer must also establish a $210,000 community benefit fund that will be used to enhance landscaping buffers at Jurupa Hills High School, which shares a border with the project, and to purchase and distribute a five-year supply of high quality air filters to up to 1,750 households in the surrounding community. 

In another win for public health, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has also announced a process to revise its CEQA guidance for analyzing cumulative air quality impacts. The Attorney General’s lawsuit challenged Fontana’s reliance on SCAQMD’s existing guidance in its approval of the Slover and Oleander warehouse project. SCAQMD staff have proposed a groundbreaking approach for new guidance that would consider existing burdens associated with nearby pollution sources and, where warranted, quantify for the first time cumulative air quality impacts and the effects on human health. A copy of the settlement, pending court approval, is available here. You can also find a copy of Fontana’s newly adopted city ordinance here.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.