AG letter fuels opposition to Fresno County industrial development plans

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The Friends of Calwa group is hosting a community meeting to discuss the industrial development planned for their neighborhood in southeast Fresno. They say they have enough industrial activities there. Photo contributed

A letter from the state’s top lawyer warning Fresno County about industrial development plans comes as officials still don’t know what the 3,000-acre project would look like.

It’s a project that neighbors say they don’t want at all, favoring retail groceries, housing and health care instead. Proponents of industrial development say these things are not mutually exclusive. But for planners, finding a balance that meets the needs of a neighborhood, a county and an attorney general means crossing uncharted waters.

The need is there

The letter from California Attorney General Rob Bonta discusses county plans to bring 3,000 acres of ready-to-use industrial land to Calwa and Malaga in southeast Fresno.

The industrial park would be part of the overall plan submitted to county officials.

Developers have long lamented the lack of industrial land that meets their needs.

“We’re basically fully leased, no space over 50,000 square feet,” said Ethan Smith, senior vice president of real estate brokerage firm Fresno Newmark Pearson Commercial.

Businesses are looking for this type of warehousing and distribution space.

Ace Hardware and Auto Zone announced multi-million dollar projects in Chowchilla and Visalia, creating hundreds of jobs in those areas.

Many of these companies are considering Fresno, but the challenges to expand “are a material hurdle,” Smith said.

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig said there aren’t enough ready-made sites for the expansion.

These are jobs

He said elected officials hold regular community meetings and he mostly hears from people who want good-paying jobs.

Fresno County consistently ranks above state and national unemployment averages.

One of the measures used by the researchers is the number of jobs per roof, Magsig said, with 1.25 to 1.5 jobs per household being a healthy balance. While the city of Fresno meets that standard, the county’s 14 other cities do not, Magsig said.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data for Fresno County shows that the number of industrial businesses associated with truck transportation increased 98% from the third quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2021. There were 881 establishments in fall 2021, compared to 443 during the same period of 2017.

These employers provided 6,951 jobs in Q3 2021, up from 5,240 in Q3 2017. Average weekly earnings rose 12.5% ​​over the four-year period, with workers earning $1,044 a week from $928.

These jobs have a higher net income than other entry level jobs.

Jobs in trade, transportation and utilities — which includes retail and more — paid an average of $951 a week in 2021.

Jobs in recreation and hospitality averaged $481 in weekly pay.

“More zoned industrial sites give us a greater opportunity to expand existing businesses and bring new businesses here as well,” Magsig said.

At what price ?

Community groups, however, say there is enough industrial development in communities with high poverty rates already burdened by environmental impacts.

“The community no longer wants industry here in the Calwa area,” said Laura Moreno, executive director of Friends of Calwa, a community group.

It was members of the Friends of Calwa who wrote a letter to Bonta asking him to get involved.

“We’ve dealt with the county and the city and they haven’t done anything, so we’re contacting the attorney general, so hopefully he can help us,” Moreno said.

What community members want are more grocery stores, health care clinics, parks, and low-income housing.

The city of Fresno this month announced a new health clinic to be built in Malaga by United Health Centers. The plan is to open by the end of 2023, according to the Fresno Bee.

But Moreno said between the railroad, E&J Gallo Winery, Donaghy Sales and the new Amazon, “we’re pretty much surrounded.”

“Nothing benefits our community,” Moreno said.

Bonta’s office had written the letter to the Fresno County Department of Public Works and Planning saying that the general plan’s proposals encouraging new and expanded industrial sites near Calwa and Malaga were in opposition to SB 1000, which has was created to protect disadvantaged communities from discriminatory planning. Strategies.

“This policy appears inconsistent with racial discrimination in housing laws, the county’s mandatory duty to positively promote fair housing, and the Air District’s Community Emissions Reduction Plan,” the letter states. He also noted that “the county has failed to adopt climate adaptation and resilience strategies.”

Moreno said many community members suffered from asthma and other health conditions that the trucks involved in the industrial development would aggravate.

Malaga and Calwa have been named among the “highest priority locations” for air monitoring standards under state law AB 617.

Get it early

What surprised Magsig was how early the letter arrived in the process. The industrial park is years old and an environmental review has not yet been done. Magsig said it was difficult to comment on the plan when the impacts have not yet been studied.

In the summer of 2021, the council directed staff to begin examining the feasibility of the industrial park.

A press contact with the Bonta office wrote that they wanted to submit their comments in time to inform the county’s environmental analysis and any necessary revisions to its general plan.

“The Bureau of Environmental Justice regularly submits comment letters to cities and counties to promote SB 1000 compliance in their corporate plan,” the email reads.

A letter regarding industrial development was written to Tulare County officials in June 2020.

Tulare County planners chose to write an environmental justice component directly into their master plan.

In response to the action, staff from the Attorney General’s office offered to help draft a response.

“The Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Justice would like to serve as a resource for Tulare County as it updates its corporate plan during this difficult time and throughout the drafting process,” the letter reads.

Tulare County planners did not respond by press time.

learning curve

Environmental justice policies are still relatively new, said Bernard Jimenez, resource planning and management officer for Fresno County. Jimenez leads the master plan writing team.

They’ve been working on the plan on and off for a number of years, he said, with “a number of starts and stops.”

The hope is to have the public hearing process by the end of the year.

Since studying the feasibility of the industrial park, they are studying not only utility, transportation and infrastructure needs, but also balancing policies that promote economic growth while protecting disadvantaged communities, Jimenez said. .

Bonta’s letter does not outright oppose industrial zoning.

“We have no general objection to the portion of the policy regarding the location of new industrial sites within the Golden State Industrial Corridor,” the letter states. He added that specific developments can cause concern if they increase pollution.

“The county should evaluate all proposed developments to determine if they comply with the law,” the letter states.

The problem is that there are no models to fall back on to determine what environmentally friendly industrial zoning looks like, Jimenez said.

“It’s something that would have been ideal to receive from the state attorney general’s office, like maybe some examples from other jurisdictions,” Jimenez said.

The areas of Malaga and Calwa have access to railways and highways, making it a prime location.

One strategy that can be implemented is the separation between corridors.

In a separate interview, Lee Ann Eager, CEO of Fresno Economic Development Corp., said one solution may be to protect the residential industry using retail commercial zoning.

“Overall, I think the vast majority of people in Fresno County want better, well-paying jobs,” Magsig said. “And there is a way to have both industrial and residential land in close proximity to each other as long as the impacts can be mitigated.”

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