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The Press-Enterprise, February 22, 2016

MORENO VALLEY: Environmental coalition ramps up legal fight against warehouse

The groups are the latest to sue twice, alleging initiatives protecting the World Logistics Center violate state law.



A coalition of five environmental and conservation groups has joined two regional agencies in suing Moreno Valley for a second time over the World Logistics Center.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, the groups accused the Moreno Valley City Council of violating state laws in its November vote to try to shield the 40.6-million-square-foot project from environmental challenges by approving three developer-backed initiatives.

“The initiatives were an unlawful attempt by the city council and developer to abuse California’s initiative process to evade environmental law for private gain,” Adrian Martinez, a staff attorney at Earthjustice who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the environmental groups, said in a statement.

The coalition is made up of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in Jurupa Valley, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Coalition for Clean Air.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District and Riverside County Transportation Commission filed challenges on similar grounds last week.

City officials blasted the lawsuits in a statement on the city website.

“It’s time to move beyond frivolous lawsuits which disrespect Moreno Valley residents and attempt to delay the arrival of long-needed jobs in our community,” Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez said in the statement.

A spokesman for developer Highland Fairview did not provide a statement, but in the past has said the project will provide jobs and improve the city’s economy.

The air quality district, transportation commission and environmental coalition are among nine groups that sued shortly after the City Council’s August approval of the project, which would transform the city’s eastern side with an office complex covering the equivalent of 700 football fields. They contend the city failed to address traffic and environmental concerns as required by state environmental law, with the project expected to involve 14,000 trucks a day.

City officials believe the initiatives – which essentially repealed the council’s prior approval and replaced it with nearly identical language – could allow them to fend off the environmental challenges.

Monday was the 90-day deadline to challenge the council approval of the initiatives, but in a closed session vote Friday evening, the council agreed to extend it to March 11 for just one party: Riverside County.

The action allows more time for settlement talks with the county, which is also among those suing and is considering a second lawsuit. The transportation commission – which is represented by the same attorney as the county – also agreed to give the city another 30 days to respond to its lawsuit, Interim City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said.

“It gives the parties breathing room,” he said.

Officials said they could not discuss confidential settlement talks, but throughout the process the county and transportation commission have pressed the city to ensure that adequate transportation improvements are funded to handle the increased traffic expected with the project.


Copyright 2016 The Press-Enterprise.

This article originally appeared here.

Jeffrey pine photo by John Villinski.