Hundreds oppose Ontario’s plan for warehouses and business park – San Bernardino Sun

Hundreds of people are voicing their opposition to a specific plan that would pave the way for a warehouse and logistics center on former agricultural land in south Ontario.

A petition with 952 names was submitted to the Ontario City Clerk on Monday, Feb. 28, in advance of a City Council meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, when the matter is scheduled for a vote.

“We are trying to build a coalition to help our region put a pause on this process,” said Susan Phillips, professor of environmental analysis and director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College.

“We want the city to take stock of the environmental cost to this,” Phillips added, “and the cost to human health as well as the increase in traffic.”

The city’s economic development team is recommending the council approve an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and general plan amendments that would change the zoning for 219 acres bordered by Eucalyptus Avenue to the north, Merrill Avenue to the south, the future Campus Avenue extension to the west, and Grove Avenue to the east.

A new plan would eliminate the current residential zoning for low- and medium-density housing and business park and replace them with business park and industrial land uses. This would allow up to 5.3 million square feet of industrial and business park developments, including warehouses, according to the staff report.

The report says the change in usage would meet market demands for business parks and warehouses because the developments would be located adjacent to the Chino Airport, Ontario Ranch developments as well as the Merrill Commerce Center Specific Plan.

Up for approval Tuesday night is establishment of the South Ontario Logistics Center plan that would allow for a variety of uses, including commercial, office space, technology, light manufacturing, warehouses and distribution centers, the city staff report outlined. Of the 219 acres, 184 acres would be designated for industrial developments and 35 acres for business parks.

The Pitzer College-based conservancy is joined in its opposition by the Southern California Agricultural Land Foundation, the Sierra Club, the Inland Valley Advocates for the Environment, Nature For All, the Planning and Conservation League, the League of United Latin American Citizens and many other nonprofit groups.

Phillips and the conservancy estimate that the number of warehouses in San Bernardino County have increased dramatically, from 203 in 1990 to 2,998 in 2021. Many are built without adequate community input, Phillips said, often leaving nearby residents vulnerable to air pollution from diesel trucks that serve these warehouses, a recognized public health concern.

She said the green coalition is asking that the city postpone the vote and consider a moratorium on future industrial uses, particularly warehouses and logistics centers such as those used by Amazon and Walmart.

Other Inland Empire cities hearing complaints from residents about warehouses that add to traffic, noise and air pollution have enacted moratoriums. The Redlands Planning Commission voted Feb. 22 to recommend a moratorium on warehouse projects but the final say rests with the City Council, which has not yet taken up the matter.

The petition against the Ontario project, penned by Randy Randy Beckendam, owner of nearby Amy’s Farm and executive director of the Southern California Agricultural Land Foundation, was signed by nearly 1,000 people, including residents of Ontario, Claremont, Pomona, Chino, Montclair, Riverside, Upland and Chino Hills, as well as a sprinkling from cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“The business park/warehouse development on this prime farmland will place industrial operations anddiesel trucks next to homes, increasing dirty greenhouse gases, poor air quality, and exacerbatingcongestion and dangerous traffic conditions,” the petition letter concluded.

The Pitzer College conservancy and the Land Foundation submitted an alternative plan, consisting of mini-farms and orchards growing crops for sale at local farmers’ markets. The “closed-loop” community would be a food hub that recycles all its waste, while increasing carbon sequestration, which can reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change and improve air and water quality, Beckendam’s group wrote in the petition.

The green groups want to see a certified community kitchen, a native wildflower garden and pond to create new habitat for bird and animal species, bike and walking trails and community gardens.

“This small-scale project would provide a global model of how we can confront environmental issues on a bigger stage,” the groups wrote.

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