Litigation over a mega warehousing project in Moreno Valley that opponents said would raise pollution to staggering levels and create massive traffic jams formally ended Thursday after more than five years of legal wrangling, with the developer agreeing to a range of compromises intended to offset the impacts of the 2,600-acre complex.
“This legal agreement shows that freight and logistics projects must, at the very least, include measures that allow residents to live and breathe in their community,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Aruna Prabhala. “As the warehouse trend accelerates, California officials need to focus on fighting the threats these huge facilities pose to our air, wildlife and climate.”
The center was joined in 2015 by the Coalition for Clean Air, Earthjustice, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley, the Southern California Environmental Justice Alliance, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and the Sierra Club in attempting to block the World Logistics Center.
At the time, the Moreno Valley City Council had certified an environmental impact report that paved the way for the warehousing complex, featuring 40 million square feet, or seven football fields, of buildings to go forward.
The development is centered on vacant land east of Redlands Boulevard, west of Gilman Springs Road and south of the Moreno Valley (60) Freeway. Highland Fairview, the developer, was a defendant in the civil suit, along with the city of Moreno Valley. Neither immediately responded to requests for comment regarding the agreement.
Traffic congestion and pollution were the key drivers of the plaintiffs’ action, which highlighted the thousands of big rigs coming and going from the site daily and clogged surface streets and freeway lanes that would ensue, dramatically increasing the particulate matter to which residents, particularly children, are exposed.
A Riverside County Superior Court judge sided with the plaintiffs, declaring numerous flaws in the final EIR approved by the council and ordering a revised one. The parties remained locked in legal battles that reached the appellate level in 2020.
A revised final EIR was approved in the winter of 2018, though a series of conflicts led to ongoing hearings. However, in January, the two sides reached a set of compromises, culminating in the settlement agreement.
The foremost components of the compact include:
— use of 680 electric trucks to replace the diesel variety and cut emissions;
— the developer’s supply of $1 million in electric vehicle grants, provided to Moreno Valley residents toward the purchase of EVs, as well as the installation of 1,080 free EV chargers around the development;
— use of solar power for many of the project’s facilities; and
— a $5 million investment in air filtration and noise mitigation devices on homes nearest to the site, along with the construction of berms, screens, retaining walls and setbacks to further reduce exposure to on-site activity.
“This settlement reflects significant work from the developer and Earthjustice’s clients to show the freight industry can electrify its operations and shift to zero-emissions solutions,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said. “The future of warehousing and how we move goods in this country is electric.”
Coalition for Clean Air CEO Joe Lyou said warehousing developments throughout the Inland Empire are “out of control,” but the settlement reflects “what can and must be done to reduce the adverse health and air pollution impacts of these warehouses.”
Sierra Club spokesman Carlo De La Cruz said the agreement will “bring direly needed air quality protections to Moreno Valley residents, who already breathe some of the worst polluted air in Southern California.”
The plaintiffs said the settlement will additionally include measures to preserve habitat of the Los Angeles pocket mouse, California golden eagle, hawks and raptors, the burrowing owl and the tricolored blackbird.
In its votes backing the project, the Moreno Valley City Council pointed to jobs creation as one of its primary incentives, with the prospect of 13,000 construction jobs and 20,000 permanent jobs being added to the labor market.
The project will also result in transportation infrastructure improvements on the east end of the city.
Highland Fairview’s opponents initially also included the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. But those entities dropped their opposition after reaching individual settlement agreements with the developer in 2016.
The AQMD relented after the defendants agreed to pay the pollution regulator millions in air quality improvement fees to offset the high traffic loads casting nitrogen oxides and other particulates into the region’s breathable space.
There was no word on when the developer will break ground.
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