SoCal County Joins Fight Against Development

     RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – A Southern California county agency joined environmentalists in fighting a proposed 40.6 million square-foot warehouse near a wildlife refuge, in twin lawsuits against Moreno Valley and developers.
     Moreno Valley, pop. 202,000, is on the eastern edge of the smog belt that begins in Los Angeles. Just east of Riverside, pop. 304,000, they are the two largest cities in Riverside County. East of Moreno Valley the smog, and traffic, dissipate in the Mojave Desert.
     The World Logistics Center advertises itself as an economic boon for the city. “It takes land currently designated for more housing and converts it to a job-producing land use,” the center says on its website.
     Moreno Valley approved plans for the center on 3,818 acres in eastern Moreno Valley, stretching from State Route 60 in the north to the San Jacinto Wildlife Area in the south and from Redlands Boulevard in the west to Gilman Springs Road in the east. Though most of the area will remain open space, the project calls for construction of a 40.6 million square-foot warehouse.
     The San Jacinto Wildlife Area, a 19,000-acre refuge southeast of Moreno Valley, hosts dozens of species of birds, including ducks, quail and pheasants, in its 9,000 acres of restored wetlands. It was the first wildlife area in California to use reclaimed water to nourish its wetlands.
     The California Clean Energy Committee sued Moreno Valley on Sept. 17 in Superior Court, and named developer Highland Fairview as a real party in interest.
     The Riverside County Transportation Commission sued them on the same day, with five other developers as real parties in interest. The only holdout in the Transportation Committee’s vote to sue was the mayor of Moreno Valley.
     Riverside County and the Socal Environmental Justice Alliance filed similar lawsuits on Friday, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District said it plans to file one too. Moreno Valley approved the environmental impact report for the Logistics Center on Aug. 19.
     The Clean Air Committee and the Transportation Commission claim the project, the city’s approval of it and its inadequate environmental impact report violate the California Environmental Quality Act.
     The Clean Energy Committee claims the city did not properly analyze the project’s energy requirements.
     “Initially, the city determined that due to the size of the proposed project, the energy impacts were potentially significant and then attempted to evaluate those impacts in the EIR,” the complaint states.
     Clean Energy says the city ignored its advice on how to conduct the analysis, and decided the project would use 376 gigawatt hours of energy, without explaining how it got that amount.
     The EIR’s conclusion that the project would not have a significant impact on energy use because it will comply with the California Energy Code is wrongheaded because the Energy Code cannot determine whether a 376 gigawatt increase in energy consumption will damage the surrounding environment; determine whether and where buildings should be built; take into account traffic and construction impacts; or address whether energy will be generated via renewable sources or fossil fuels, the complaint states.
     Nor does the project description discuss transportation impacts, on-site equipment operation, and the “the kinds or quantities of fuels that would be used for those purposes,” according to the complaint.
     The city ignored recommendations to use renewable energy by claiming that solar panels for “ancillary office uses” would be sufficient, despite evidence in its own EIR that refusing to use renewable energy would undermine conservation efforts, the group says.
     The EIR’s analysis of climate impacts improperly excluded emissions from transportation and electricity requirements by claiming the project is covered by the state’s Cap and Trade Program, which it is not, Clean Energy says.
     “The city failed to exercise its best efforts to find out and disclose all that it could about energy impacts. The city’s findings with respect to the energy impacts are unsupported,” the complaint states. It claims the city also “failed to address the irreversible commitment of resources by the project in a manner that would preempt future energy conservation.”
     The Riverside County Transportation Commission’s complaint contains similar allegations, with an emphasis on traffic.
     “As explained in the EIR, the project, at full build-out, will add 68,721 vehicles to area roadways every day (the passenger car equivalent of 89,975 surface street trips and 75,724 freeway trips per day),” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Traffic in Moreno Valley is congested, particularly at rush hour, particularly on state route 61, which crosses I-215 toward Riverside.
     When the EIR was circulated for public comment in April 2013, the county Transportation Commission, Caltrans and others criticized its inadequate traffic analysis, “including potentially unmitigated and significant transportation and traffic impacts,” according to the complaint.
     Those deficiencies were not corrected when the final report was issued in June, the commission says.
     The EIR acknowledged the project would affect roads, intersections and freeways in and beyond the city, but Moreno Valley refused to include mitigation measures, and refused Caltrans’ offer to help, the complaint states. The EIR concluded that traffic impacts were “reduced to the extent feasible” though there were no mitigation measures or any evidence to back up the claim, the commission says.
     “The EIR and its process also violate CEQA in numerous other ways due to deficiencies in the EIR’s environmental setting, inadequate disclosure and analysis, inadequate mitigation and failure to address potentially significant impacts,” the complaint states.
     The city’s approval of the project and the EIR therefore must be set aside, the commission says.
     None of the defendants responded to requests for comment Monday.
     The plaintiffs seek writ of mandate vacating certification of the project, its EIR, and all related actions and documents. They also want all construction enjoined until an EIR complies with CEQA.
     Clean Energy is represented by Eugene Wilson of Davis.
     The Riverside County Transportation Commission is represented by Michelle Ouellette with Best, Best & Krieger.
     Neither attorney returned requests for comment Monday.
     Defendant real parties in interest in the commission’s complaint include Sunnymead Properties, Theodore Properties Partners, HL Property Partners and affiliates.

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