Will Fresno put the brakes on an industrial park project? Some residents hope so

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.

The Fresno City Council will consider rescinding a development permit and environmental assessment for a controversial planned industrial park in southwest Fresno, following a lawsuit filed by residents concerned about environmental impacts.

The City Council will take up the matter during its regular meeting Thursday and decide whether to rescind the permit and mitigated negative declaration for the project.

John P. Kinsey, an attorney with Wanger Jones Helsley PC who represents Richard Caglia and Caglia Environmental, sent a brief letter with the request Tuesday.

The project has been embroiled in litigation after a group of residents, South Central Neighbors United, filed a lawsuit in February asking a judge to overturn the City Council’s approval of the project. Last June, the California Attorney General’s Office intervened in the case.

For the past year, both sides engaged in mediation, but could not come to a resolution. The action is what South Central Neighbors United sought in its lawsuit and will make the case moot.

“We couldn’t be more happy with the results that have come about,” said Daniel Macias, a member of South Central Neighbors United. “It’s something the city should’ve done from beginning when considering impacts in the surrounding community.”

The proposed project includes a 110-acre industrial park on the north side of Central Avenue between Orange and Cedar avenues. The site is near the newly completed Amazon and Ulta warehouses in a vacant area that’s been zoned for heavy industrial purposes for more than 30 years.

Neighbors, represented by Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, argue the city didn’t properly analyze potential environmental effects the project would have on their neighborhood. City leaders said the project would spur job growth and boost the local economy.

“While granting the applicant’s request to rescind his development permit is regrettable because it delays when new jobs could come to deserving Fresnans, I support the decision because it is the right thing to do to move this project forward in a responsible manner and bring more investment, jobs and opportunities to our community,” Mayor Lee Brand said in a statement.

“I would also like to add that under my leadership, the city of Fresno is moving full speed ahead on a programmatic (environmental impact review) to study over 6,000 acres of land in order to spur industrial, warehouse and e-commerce job creation efforts.”

The City Council in November took action to conduct environmental reviews on an industrial specific plan and on the city’s general plan. Advocacy groups including Leadership Counsel, Fresno Building Healthy Communities, education, air quality and environmental justice groups, penned a letter to city officials seeking community engagement while completing those reviews.

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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 Office likely will monitor that process to ensure the city complies with state laws, such as the California Environmental Quality Act.

“This doesn’t end here,” Macias said about the upcoming environmental reviews. “It’s the first step in a lengthy process.”

Newly elected District 3 Councilman Miguel Arias said he plans to support Thursday’s action.

“This situation was mishandled from the beginning,” he said. “We have to make sure the city follows the legal process and puts the interest of residents and neighbors ahead of corporations.”

Arias noted Caglia was not at fault and simply followed the city’s process. Caglia declined to comment on the letter, saying it speaks for itself. He’s in the process of evaluating future plans, he said.

If the council votes to rescind the permits, that would be a win for South Central Neighbors United, said Ashely Werner with Leadership Counsel.

“I think the lesson here is the city is responsible and accountable to listening to its constituents and residents impacted by its development projects,” she said. “The city is not above law. If chooses to disregard the law, there will be consequences.”

Leadership Counsel will seek attorney fees from the city for the lawsuit. Werner said she hopes the city won’t pursue litigation in response to that request.

Moving forward, Werner hopes city officials will make smart development decisions and include residents in the decision-making process.

Arias agreed, saying “Going forward, we must stop treating residents and advocates like the enemy and instead welcome them to the decision-making table as stakeholders of our city.”

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix

Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.