Divided board OKs limited `Good Neighbor Policy’ to guide big box projects

Diane Sieker photo

A divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a limited “Good Neighbor Policy” that establishes criteria for gauging the compatibility of future logistics center projects with the unincorporated communities where they’re intended to be built and sets operational standards that may or may not be applied.

In a 3-2 vote, Tuesday, Nov. 19, with Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington in dissent for different reasons, the board authorized implementation of the policy on a district-by-district basis, giving each supervisor the ability to individually decide when the policy should be applied within their supervisorial boundaries.

“There are things in life where we opt in and opt out,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said, who hesitatingly supported the policy. “We can take these guidelines, but I’d much rather have the option (to decide) when to do something that might be so restrictive it creates extreme burdens … That allows us to have a little more of a refining down what fits in what areas.”

Hewitt and Supervisor Manuel Perez opposed a uniform application of the policy, declaring instead the need for flexibility predicated on the five supervisorial districts’ unique topography, commercial development opportunities and other issues.

Supervisor Karen Spiegel joined her two colleagues in voting affirmatively without feeling the policy was needed in her 2nd District,which has the least unincorporated space in the county.

Transportation and Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez subtly prodded the board to make a decision after trying in two previous meetings to gain traction for the policy, resulting in multiple revisions of its contents.

“We are trying to find the right balance and move the needle in the right way,” he said. “This policy is a broad menu, and some things may not make sense for some projects. It can be applied on an individual basis.”

A key feature for Jeffries, who originally desired the policy, was the establishment of a 1,000-foot setback for all big box projects, creating a one-fifth of a mile buffer between warehouses and so-called “sensitive receptors” – houses, day care centers, community centers, hospitals,churches, nursing homes, parks and playgrounds.

TLMA staff recommended a 300-foot buffer instead, and that is what the board adopted, prompting Jeffries’ dissenting vote.

Washington felt the policy framework as a whole was mired in“ambiguity,” and he could not back it.

The larger buffer cushion was at the heart of concerns expressed by several speakers who appeared before the board. When the 1,000-foot setback was tabled and the board revealed its divisions as to a uniform countywide application of the policy, a woman who identified herself as an environmental activist shouted that the supervisors were putting lives at risk.

When Jeffries directed deputies in the board chamber to escort the protester outside, she shouted, “Who is the law? I am a taxpayer. Is this how you use our tax money?”

Several fellow activists applauded her statements, and the woman would not budge when deputies approached her.

As board chair, Jeffries at one point threatened to cancel the remainder of the meeting and defer all undecided business to the next session in December if the demonstrator did not take her seat and refrain from shouting. After 12 minutes, the woman sat down and remained quiet.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a letter earlier this month encouraging the county to implement the Good Neighbor Policy, saying that the Inland Empire needs a “robust set of minimum standards” that will aid
stakeholders in deciding what projects work, which ones won’t and what requirements to impose when they’re authorized.

“The county’s good neighbor policy would be a step in the right direction toward more thoughtful, health-protective and just warehouse development countywide,” according to the letter. “The policy could also become a model for other jurisdictions that are grappling with similar issues.”

The attorney general’s office emphasized the policy should stress enhanced“community engagement” to determine what people living on the perimeter of a project think about it.

The approved guidelines, which will not supplant requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act, will focus on projects in excess of 250,000 square feet and that have at least 20 truck loading bays.

According to the TLMA, the policy’s aim will be to ensure quality-of-life issues are addressed “from the initial design process, to construction and through operations.”

TLMA officials will be responsible for gathering all pertinent details in the vetting stage of a proposed development and furnishing the information to the county Planning Commission and the board, when necessary, to help both bodies make appropriate decisions.

Contractors will be required to keep all construction equipment parked in designated areas, away from residences, and during building activity,truckers will be directed not to idle for more than five minutes at a time.

Facilities will need to be designed so that there is minimal spillover of truck traffic onto residential streets, and the policy calls for berms,trees and other landscaping to be installed for the benefit of  receptors.

Lighting and public address systems will have to be designed with the objective of creating the least disturbance, and routes will need to be laid out with the goal of putting trucks on freeways and highways quickly,minimizing time on surface streets.

During the construction phase, some heavy equipment will be required to be “Tier 4” certified by the California Air Resources Board for minimal pollution.

The policy will further encourage developers to look at ways of improving public infrastructure, including streets, in the immediate vicinity of each project as an offset to the impact of construction.