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Judge grants state attorney general intervention in Fresno environmental justice lawsuit

A group of southwest Fresno residents and their advocates gathered Thursday, March 1, in front of the B.F. Sisk Courthouse in downtown Fresno, where they have filed suit to block plans for an industrial park in their neighborhood.
A group of southwest Fresno residents and their advocates gathered Thursday, March 1, in front of the B.F. Sisk Courthouse in downtown Fresno, where they have filed suit to block plans for an industrial park in their neighborhood.

A Fresno Superior Court judge has granted an order for the California attorney general’s office to intervene in an environmental justice case against the city of Fresno and a local developer.

Judge Rosemary McGuire granted the order allowing the attorney general’s office to join plaintiff South Central Neighbors United in seeking a mandate voiding the Fresno City Council’s approval of the project, plus an injunction to prevent the city or developer from moving forward on the project until a full environmental review is conducted and measures are taken to offset any negative effects on neighbors.

The Fresno City Council in January approved developer Richard Caglia and Caglia Environmental’s permit for a 110-acre industrial park on the north side of Central Avenue between Orange and Cedar avenues. The vacant site was zoned for heavy industrial purposes for more than 30 years. The Amazon fulfillment center, nearing completion, is located on the west side of Orange Avenue, across the street from the Caglia site. The Ulta Beauty warehouse is just beyond the Amazon site.

The lawsuit alleges that the city did not fully evaluate the potential environmental effects that the project would have on nearby residents, including families who live on the south side of Central Avenue.

“The project would operate directly across the street from a residential community that already bears a disproportionate burden of environmental and public health impacts from industrial warehouses and distribution centers, hazardous and solid waste sites, and other noxious development in Fresno,” the complaint states.

The 855,000- square-foot Fresno Amazon fulfillment center will employ 1,500 full-time workers who will pack and ship items sold online. The 72-acre site has parking for more than 350 semi-trailers and about 2,600 spaces for employee parking.

“The city’s approval of a massive warehouse in our community without proper review puts our health and our homes at risk,” said Daniel Macias, a member of South Central Neighbors, in a statement. “The court’s decision to allow the attorney general to intervene is a big help to our neighborhood and our community. We hope the attorney general’s support for our case brings the city and developer to the table to find real solutions and good will.”

The attorney general’s petition seeks disclosure of the industrial project’s environmental impacts and appropriate mitigation of the project’s environmental impacts on the surrounding residents.

Caglia plan.JPG
Social justice advocates are concerned about how a proposed industrial park in southwest Fresno will affect nearby residents and a school. Tim Sheehan tsheehan@fresnobee.com


“The attorney general’s intervention underscores the gravity of South Central Neighbors United’s claims and their concerns about warehouses’ unmitigated impacts on their health, neighborhood and homes,” said Ashley Werner, an attorney with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which represents the residents.

“It’s important to note this neighborhood is, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the most pollution-burdened neighborhood in the state of California. We hope the attorney general’s intervention helps city of Fresno really take these issues seriously.”

Werner called the attorney general’s intervention rare.

City officials declined comment, citing a policy to not speak on pending litigation. Caglia and an attorney representing him did not return phone messages left by The Bee.

The action from the attorney general’s office is part of its new environmental justice bureau, created earlier this year. It’s the first intervention by the bureau, although it’s not the first time the attorney general has been involved in matters regarding the California Environmental Quality Act, such as this one.

A case management hearing is set for Aug. 1.

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix
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