In­land city is split on mas­sive pro­ject

At 40 mil­lion square feet, Moreno Val­ley ware­house plan pits job hopes against en­vi­ron­men­tal fears.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Paloma Esquivel

In the last few years, the ware­houses have been pop­ping up swiftly in Moreno Val­ley.

On the east side of town, the Ger­man gro­cer Aldi is build­ing an 825,000-squarefoot dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­ity. A 1.6-mil­lion-square-foot dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­ity for the footwear com­pany Deck­ers Out­door and other busi­nesses is un­der con­struc­tion across town. An Ama­zon ful­fill­ment cen­ter to­tal­ing 1.25 mil­lion square feet opened last year.

But in the build­ing boom that has seen a surge of ware­house con­struc­tion in the In­land Em­pire since the re­ces­sion, Iddo Ben­zeevi’s pro­posed World Lo­gis­tics Cen­ter dwarfs all other projects.

If his plan is ap­proved, the devel­oper could build more than 40 mil­lion square feet of ware­house space — enough to fit al­most 700 football fields — on the eastern edge of Moreno Val­ley, on a vast stretch of River­side County bounded by tract homes on one side and rugged hills on the other.

Ben­zeevi and the pro­ject’s sup­port­ers say it would bring jobs to a city that has strug­gled with poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and a fore­clo­sure cri­sis that dev­as­tated neigh­bor­hoods.

Crit­ics are wary of the pro­ject’s scale, of the lowwage jobs and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems they say go hand-in-hand with ware­houses, and of Ben­zeevi, who, with his com­pany, has spent hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to in­flu­ence lo­cal elec­tions in the city where, as one coun­cil­man put it, “$5,000 is a lot of money.”

The cen­ter’s fate will prob­a­bly be de­cided later this year by the Moreno Val­ley City Coun­cil, but it is also

be­ing closely watched by res­i­dents and re­gional lead­ers, many of whom are con­cerned about the area’s in­creas­ing trans­for­ma­tion into a hub of ware­houses and dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters built to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing dig­i­tal and global econ­omy.

“It seems as if these ware­houses are lock­ing us in,” said long­time res­i­dent Dono­van Saadiq.

Kath­leen Dale, who has lived in Moreno Val­ley most of her life and is part of a group of res­i­dents try­ing to stop the pro­ject, says the city of about 200,000 res­i­dents is al­ready cop­ing with large num­bers of trucks go­ing to and from ware­houses.

On a re­cent weekday, she looked across the ex­pan­sive site that World Lo­gis­tics Cen­ter would oc­cupy to­ward the Skech­ers footwear dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­ity de­vel­oped by Ben­zeevi’s com­pany in 2011. The ware­house, one of the largest in the coun­try when it opened, is 1.8 mil­lion square feet and a half-mile long.

“They’re just talk­ing about plunk­ing another 20 of those in cookie-cut­ter form as far as you can see,” Dale said.

Since its in­cor­po­ra­tion in the 1980s, when Moreno Val­ley grew quickly to ac­com­mo­date fam­i­lies buy­ing homes they couldn’t af­ford far­ther west, the city has twice been hit hard by boomand-bust cy­cles of residential de­vel­op­ment. Af­ter the most re­cent hous­ing bust, aban­doned homes dot­ted neigh­bor­hoods for years. Many res­i­dents who had found de­cent-pay­ing jobs in con­struc­tion were left scram­bling.

To­day the city con­tin­ues to strug­gle, with a per capita in­come nearly 40% be­low the state av­er­age and nearly a fifth of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing be­low the poverty level, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data. For those who do have jobs, the av­er­age com­mute to work is 34 min­utes.

County Su­per­vi­sor Mar­ion Ash­ley said the city was stung by re­cent news re­ports that listed it as one of the worst cities in the na­tion for jobs.

Moreno Val­ley and the In­land Em­pire are “still re­cov­er­ing from the great re­ces­sion,” he said. “We’re still hurt­ing out here.”

Four years ago, city of­fi­cials ze­roed in on the lack of lo­cal jobs as Moreno Val­ley’s fore­most prob­lem and be­gan ag­gres­sively pur­su­ing lo­gis­tics de­vel­op­ment.

On the eastern edge of town, of­fi­cials pegged thou­sands of acres of un­de­vel­oped land owned by Ben­zeevi’s com­pany as ideal for lo­gis­tics. In the 1980s, Ben­zeevi had pro­posed an aero­nau­tics fa­cil­ity in that part of town. He later pitched a mas­sive residential pro­ject, also on the city’s east side. Nei­ther pro­ject got off the ground.

Ben­zeevi said his latest pro­ject, which has been en­dorsed by the city’s plan­ning staff, would bring 20,000 jobs to a city where peo­ple have been “wait­ing, lit­er­ally beg­ging for jobs to come.”

Though Ben­zeevi has been crit­i­cized for inf lat­ing the num­ber of jobs that would ul­ti­mately be avail­able at the Skech­ers fa­cil­ity, lo­gis­tics jobs are help­ing pro­pel the re­gion out of an un­em­ploy­ment cri­sis that reached rates of more than 14% five years ago. Last year, about 20% of all jobs cre­ated in the In­land Em­pire were in the lo­gis­tics in­dus­try. In May, re­gional un­em­ploy­ment was at 6.4%, lower than Los An­ge­les County’s 7.3% rate.

“The in­dus­try has been a boon to com­mer­cial real es­tate de­vel­op­ers and landown­ers, and it has in­creased em­ploy­ment in the re­gion,” said River­side Mayor Rusty Bai­ley, who is keep­ing a close eye on the pro­ject. But, he added, he’s still learn­ing about whether “those jobs al­low some­one to sup­port a fam­ily, buy a home and in­vest in their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.”

John Hus­ing, chief economist for the In­land Em­pire Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship, which in­cludes lo­cal cities and busi­nesses (in­clud­ing Ben­zeevi’s High­land Fairview), said the cen­ter’s 40 mil­lion square feet amounts to about two years’ worth of new lo­gis­tics space oc­cu­pied by busi­nesses in the In­land Em­pire.

“Which would you rather have: hap­haz­ard, one-at-atime de­vel­op­ment adding up to 40 mil­lion square feet, or master plan the whole thing at the same time where you can make sure all of the ameni­ties are there?” he said.

In a com­mu­nity that is al­ready cop­ing with some of the worst air qual­ity in the na­tion, how­ever, crit­ics say the pro­ject would im­pose a heavy en­vi­ron­men­tal bur­den.

The cen­ter would likely draw about 14,000 trucks on daily trips into the city, ac­cord­ing to the pro­ject’s en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact re­port. Emis­sions of mul­ti­ple pol­lu­tants would ex­ceed thresh­olds set by the South Coast Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Dis­trict and would have to be mit­i­gated.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact re­port and Ben­zeevi say a re­quire­ment to use newer trucks would elim­i­nate the health im­pacts of diesel ex­haust.

But the Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board re­cently sent the city a let­ter call­ing the re­port, which was paid for by High­land Fairview, “legally in­ad­e­quate.”

The city also has re­ceived letters in re­cent days from a host of ob­jec­tors to the re­port, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Lung Assn. in Cal­i­for­nia, the South Coast Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Dis­trict, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife, var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and county trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials who say it failed to ad­dress or mit­i­gate the pro­ject’s “sig­nif­i­cant traf­fic im­pacts.”

“There’s a lot of red f lags be­ing thrown from all over the state,” said Adrian Martinez, staff at­tor­ney for the en­vi­ron­men­tal law non­profit Earthjus­tice, which has been mon­i­tor­ing the pro­ject.

This month, hun­dreds of res­i­dents packed a city recre­ation cen­ter for a plan­ning com­mis­sion hear­ing on the pro­ject. Many were op­posed to it, but there also was a large num­ber of work­ing­class men and women who car­ried signs that read “Yes to Jobs.”

Some such as Rafael Brugueras, who has lived in Moreno Val­ley for 22 years, learned about the pro­ject when some­one knocked on their door and in­vited them to a small gath­er­ing with Ben­zeevi.

It’s time, Brugueras said, “to once again give the city of Moreno Val­ley an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate jobs.”

RosaMaria Martinez, 60, said she used to own a day­care busi­ness in town and of­ten served par­ents who left their chil­dren at 6 a.m. and didn’t re­turn un­til 8:30 p.m. “We need jobs,” she said. As the city moves to­ward a de­ci­sion, Ben­zeevi con­tin­ues try­ing to ex­plain to res­i­dents his vi­sion for World Lo­gis­tics Cen­ter.

He says his latest pro­ject could make Moreno Val­ley rec­og­niz­able around the world.

He talks of build­ing an iconic struc­ture — pos­si­bly a large bridge in the shape of a white tri­an­gle that would ex­tend above the free­way on an exit lead­ing to World Lo­gis­tics Cen­ter — to en­sure that visi­tors know they are en­ter­ing “the No. 1 lo­gis­tics cen­ter in the United States.”

The bridge would be paid for by lo­cal fees, in­clud­ing those im­posed on de­vel­op­ers for in­creased traf­fic cre­ated by a pro­ject, he said.

“It’s an icon,” he said. “It’s just like the Golden Gate sym­bol­izes San Fran­cisco and the Eif­fel Tower sym­bol­izes Paris.”

‘The in­dus­try has been a boon to com­mer­cial real es­tate de­vel­op­ers and landown­ers, and it has in­creased em­ploy­ment in the re­gion.’

— Rusty Bai­ley,

River­side mayor

Gina Ferazzi Los An­ge­les Times

RIVER­SIDE COUNTY RES­I­DENT Betty Mas­ters protests the Moreno Val­ley City Coun­cil’s sup­port of Iddo Ben­zeevi’s pro­posed World Lo­gis­tics Cen­ter.

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