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Environmentalists Score $47M Settlement With SoCal Warehouse Builder

The proposed 40.6 million-square-foot project would be one of the nation’s largest logistics centers.

MORENO VALLEY (CN) — A coalition of environmental activist groups reached a $47 million settlement Thursday with the developer of a Southern California mega-warehouse who promised to incorporate green technology at the facility and invest in conservation efforts for the surrounding area.

For the better part of a decade, residents of Moreno Valley, California have been aware of the World Logistics Center warehouse project. Environmental advocacy groups called the proposed 40.6 million-square-foot facility a “climate and air-quality disaster” that would emit tons of greenhouse gases in the region.

In 2015, the groups sued developer Highland Fairview and the city after Moreno Valley approved the project. In 2018, a Riverside Superior Court judge ruled the project’s environmental review was thin on details on its carbon footprint. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, sued the city again in 2020 after the city approved a revised report on the project’s environmental impact, claiming the city did not carefully review the document.

But on Thursday, the coalition of environmentalists announced a settlement agreement with the developer.

“It’s been a very long process to get where we are today,” said Joseph Lyou, president and CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air, in a phone interview with Courthouse News.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the San Bernardino Audubon Society and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice joined the Coalition for Clean Air in suing over the project, and were also parties to the settlement agreement.

Highland Fairview agreed to a bevvy of measures to offset the site’s carbon footprint. Pursuant to the settlement, the building will incorporate solar panels and use electric trucks, forklifts and charging infrastructure on site, and the firm will invest $4 million in conservation efforts to protect the nearby San Jacinto Wildlife Area.

Moreno Valley residents may apply for $1,000 grants to subsidize electric vehicles purchases, and the developer will provide up to $5 million in home air filtration and noise cancellation equipment for nearby homes. The agreement totals to a $47 million investment the developer’s part.

Advocates call the settlement a win for the community and the nearby wildlife preserve, and say it will also check the warehouse boom in California’s Inland Empire region.

“Hopefully this is going to be the standard for warehouse development,” said Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez when reached by phone. “The new project, with this settlement agreement and other agreements, will result in a lot fewer impacts, and I think my clients did an excellent job in advocating for their positions. I think the project’s better for this work.”

The environmental groups hope the settlement will set a new standard for future warehouse projects and encourage cities to push for zero-emission standards across the nation.

“It sets a new baseline what is achievable and what should be expected of these warehouse development projects,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Aruna Prabhala in a phone interview.

San Francisco-based law firm Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger joined the advocacy groups in their settlement negotiations with Highland Fairview.

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