State prosecutors will take the lead in a lawsuit seeking to compel the city of Moreno Valley to address a bevy of environmental issues that allegedly undermine safeguards against pollution, it was announced Thursday.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta directed Department of Justice attorneys to intervene in a civil action originally filed last summer by the Sierra Club, which is challenging the city’s 2040 General Plan because of broad allowances for large-scale commercial developments that threaten to reduce air quality in an area of Riverside County that already struggles with pollution.

“Communities in Moreno Valley experience some of the highest levels of air pollution in the state,” Bonta said. “We’re intervening so that those communities do not continue to bear the brunt of poor land-use decisions that site warehouses outside their doors. Economic development and environmental justice are not mutually exclusive, and we’re committed to helping local governments find a sustainable path forward.”

The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the DOJ, city planners have not adequately addressed the impacts of proposed developments over the next several decades, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

A major concern cited by the Sierra Club is what effects higher ozone, or smog, levels would have on residents who live in close proximity to the new warehouses and other facilities that could be authorized under the General Plan.

“Moreno Valley’s `Climate Action Plan’ also contains unenforceable measures that fall short of what is required to mitigate the General Plan’s anticipated greenhouse gas impacts,” according to the DOJ.

Prosecutors said that the city needs to re-evaluate the cumulative burden of higher pollutant levels and whether the plan includes robust components to limit exposure risks to schools, hospitals, daycare centers and other “sensitive sites.”

Bonta pointed to a recent legal settlement with Fontana that led to the city adopting an ordinance that established “stringent environmental standards” to ensure future warehouse developments limit truck activity in the vicinity of “sensitive sites” and incorporate mitigation measures, including “landscape buffers,” to lower the reach of emissions in residential areas.

A hearing on the civil action against Moreno Valley is set for July 21 at the Riverside Historic Courthouse.

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