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Moreno Valley leaders OK initiatives in favor of 40-million-square-foot warehouse project

Riverside County resident Betty Masters shows her displeasure for the Moreno Valley City Council and opposition to a proposed 40-million-square-foot warehouse for a World Logistics Center on May 28 in Moreno Valley.

Riverside County resident Betty Masters shows her displeasure for the Moreno Valley City Council and opposition to a proposed 40-million-square-foot warehouse for a World Logistics Center on May 28 in Moreno Valley.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Moreno Valley city leaders have voted to adopt measures that would help insulate a 40-million-square-foot warehouse project from environmental legal challenges.

Plans for the World Logistics Center, a sprawling collection of warehouses that would take up as much space as 700 football fields on the eastern edge of Moreno Valley, were approved by the city in August.

On Tuesday, the council replaced its previous approval with a set of ballot initiatives, which it adopted outright rather than send to voters.

The city had faced a barrage of legal challenges from local government and environmental groups saying it failed under state law to properly address the environmental and traffic effects of the project.

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The center is expected to add more than 68,000 car and truck trips a day to an area with some of the worst air pollution in the nation.

The project’s developer and its many supporters have argued that it will bring much-needed jobs to a city that has struggled to provide opportunities for work.

In a statement issued after the vote, developer Iddo Benzeevi said “the Moreno Valley City Council heard the voters loud and clear, and so did we, they want the city to move forward with the World Logistics Center ... project as quickly as possible, creating jobs, hope and opportunity for thousands of residents.”

At least nine legal challenges have been filed in court by Riverside County, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, multiple environmental groups and others.

Each allege that the city failed in its responsibilities under the California Environmental Quality Act to explain and address the project’s environmental impacts.

Tuesday’s move follows a decision last year by the California Supreme Court, which ruled that the Sonora City Council could bypass the usual analysis required under CEQA by adopting a ballot initiative, even without a public vote.

City councils in Carson and Inglewood earlier this year also approved similar initiatives for football stadium projects in those cities.

Supporters of the World Logistics Center, backed by $300,000 in funds from the developer, began gathering signatures for the ballot initiatives in September.

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Though two council members expressed their desire to take the initiatives to a public vote, the council ultimately voted 5-0 in favor of adopting the initiatives outright.

“I hear the cry of the people,” said Mayor Jesse Molina, a supporter of the project. “It is time. It’s time now … to step up.”

Penny Newman, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, which is behind one of the court challenges, said the group is now weighing its legal options.

“We’re really disappointed that Mr. Benzeevi is using every loophole he can find to avoid being transparent and really having the project looked at and its impacts mitigated,” she said. “This is a loophole that really needs to be corrected. If you have a ballot initiative, it should go on the ballot.”

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In a letter this week, attorneys for the South Coast Air Quality Management District told city officials that they believe two of the three initiatives are unlawful.

For more Inland Empire news, follow me @PalomaEsquivel

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