Critics want moratorium on warehouses in key Inland Empire city

Opponents protest plan to rezone 220 acres in Ontario for industrial

Ontario, CA (iStock, Illustration by Shea Monahan for the Real Deal)
Ontario, CA (iStock, Illustration by Shea Monahan for the Real Deal)

A pushback against a boom in logistics warehouses across the Inland Empire is now focused on a farm field in Ontario.

A coalition of environmental groups is fighting a plan by the City of Ontario to rezone nearly 220 acres of former agricultural land to allow 5.3 million square feet of warehouse and industrial developments.

Nearly 1,000 residents signed a petition ahead of a March 1 vote by city leaders to create a South Ontario Logistics Center plan for the expansive field.

Ontario is a leading market in a wave of development of warehousing and distribution centers in the Inland Empire. The city of about 185,000 residents benefits from Ontario International Airport and an adjacent UPS air-cargo facility, in addition to major rail and freeway links.

Opponents of the plan for the proposed logistics center include the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College, the Sierra Club, the Inland Valley Advocates for the Environment and Randy Beckendam, owner of nearby Amy’s Farm and executive director of the Southern California Agricultural Land Foundation.

“The business park/warehouse development on this prime farmland will place industrial operations and diesel trucks next to homes, increasing dirty greenhouse gasses, poor air quality, and exacerbating congestion and dangerous traffic conditions,” the petition said.

The city has recommended a general plan amendment that would change the zoning for 219 acres bordered by Eucalyptus Avenue, Merrill Avenue, a future Campus Avenue extension and Grove Avenue.

A new plan would ditch the current residential zoning to allow a warehouse and logistics center. It would allow commercial and office space, technology, light manufacturing, warehouses and distribution centers, according to a city report..

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Of the 219 acres, 184 acres would be designated for industrial developments and 35 acres for business parks.
But critics want the historically agricultural city to hit pause.

“We want the city to take stock of the environmental cost to this, and the cost to human health as well as the increase in traffic,” said Susan Phillips, professor of environmental analysis and director of the environmental conservancy at Pitzer College, in Claremont.

Phillips and the conservancy estimate that the number of warehouses in San Bernardino County have increased to 2,998 in 2021, from 203 in 1990. The Inland Empire ranked third in the nation last year for large warehouse leases.

Many are built without adequate community input, Phillips said, often leaving nearby residents vulnerable to air pollution from diesel trucks.

Opponents of the proposed South Ontario Logistics Center asked that city officials postpone the vote and consider a moratorium on future industrial uses, particularly warehouses and logistics centers such as those used by Amazon and Walmart. Colton has issued a moratorium, while Redlands is considering a similar pause on warehouse projects.

The Pitzer College conservancy and the Land Foundation have submitted an alternative plan consisting of small farms and orchards growing crops for sale at farmers’ markets, which could include community gardens, a certified kitchen, walking trails and more.

“This small-scale project would provide a global model of how we can confront environmental issues on a bigger stage,” the groups wrote.

[San Gabriel Valley Tribune] – Dana Bartholomew

Read more