Large warehouses sought for unincorporated parts of Riverside County might have to follow planning guidelines meant to protect communities from air pollution and other harms linked to the logistics industry.
But the “Good Neighbor” guidelines, approved on a 3-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 19, only apply in a supervisorial district if that supervisor wants the rules. And the guidelines, which don’t apply to projects already in the pipeline, include smaller buffers between warehouses and homes than desired by environmentalists and the California attorney general’s office.
Tuesday’s meeting almost ended abruptly after an angry outburst by a woman in the audience, who was confronted by sheriff’s deputies. No one was arrested and she left the board chambers before returning, county spokeswoman Brooke Federico said.
Warehouses are big business in the county, which lies between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the rest of the U.S. Compared to coastal areas, the Inland Empire has plenty of buildable land, making it attractive to developers who often build warehouses on spec, with clients customizing the space to their specific use.
The guidelines underwent several revisions as supervisors sought to balance logistics’ economic benefits with concerns about how neighboring homes, schools and other “sensitive” areas might be affected by diesel exhaust from trucks streaming in and out of the warehouses, as well as traffic, noise, light pollution and other issues stemming from logistics activity.
As first drafted, the policy applied to logistics projects with buildings that are 250,000 square feet or larger. Besides requiring air quality and noise studies before building, the policy limits how much grading can be done per day.
Trucks would be limited to five minutes of idling to cut emissions. Truck bays and loading docks would have to be at least 300 feet away from homes and other sensitive uses, and lighting would be directed downward into a project’s interior.
The final draft called for on-site equipment such as forklifts to be electrically powered. The revised policy also applies to projects with any building at least 250,000 square feet in size with more than 20 loading bays.
Five people spoke in favor of the guidelines, including Dr. Karen Jackpor, a physician and American Lung Association volunteer.
The number of people who die prematurely from air pollution is equivalent to two large airplanes crashing every day for a year, she said.
“I want you to picture more large airplanes crashing in Riverside County,” given its air-quality problems, Jackpor told supervisors.
The logistics industry weighed in on the rules, as did Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s environmental justice bureau. In a Nov. 13 letter to county planning chief Juan Perez, Becerra’s office suggested, among other things, boosting the 300-foot buffer to 1,000 feet and requiring off-road construction equipment to meet a stricter level air-quality standards set by the California Air Resources Board.
The higher standards concerned Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, whose district includes the Pass, Moreno Valley, Perris and Menifee. Many smaller construction companies, he said, could be shut out of building warehouses because they lack money to buy equipment that meets the stricter standards.
Noting each supervisor’s district is different, Hewitt suggested having the guidelines apply only if a supervisor wants them in his or her district. That motion was supported by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, who represents desert communities.
At that point, a woman in the audience began shouting at the board. Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, the board chairman, called a recess and later threatened to adjourn the meeting if there were more disruptions.
After the meeting resumed, Supervisor Chuck Washington questioned whether Hewitt’s idea was workable. Jeffries said the district-by-district concept could cause a scenario in which warehouses on one side of the 215 Freeway in Jeffries’ district are held to one set of standards while warehouses on the other side of the freeway — in Hewitt’s district — are held to another.
“I’m not sure how we enforce anything at that point,” Jeffries said.
Hewitt’s motion also called for a 300-foot buffer instead of 1,000 feet. Hewitt, Perez and Supervisor Karen Spiegel voted yes, with Jeffries and Washington opposed.
After the vote, someone in the audience – it’s not clear if it was the same woman – shouted: “You’re killing people. I hope you know that … Are you kidding me? Three hundred feet (for a buffer)?”