Tehachapi News

Kern developers look to avoid Inland Empire’s logistics problems

- BY JOHN COX jcox@bakersfiel­d.com

The Inland Empire’s overcrowde­d logistics and warehousin­g industry presents more to Kern County than just economic opportunit­y. It offers what some see as an example of how not to proceed.

Growing concern about air pollution in San Bernardino and Riverside counties last month prompted dozens of environmen­tal and community organizati­ons to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for a regional moratorium on new warehouse developmen­t. He declined, but expectatio­ns are that legislatio­n will be reintroduc­ed soon for imposing a 1,000-foot buffer zone between new constructi­on of warehouses and sensitive sites like homes.

As industrial developmen­t accelerate­s in Kern County — in large part, to take up slack created by obstacles to continued expansion in the Inland Empire — developers hope to avoid making the same mistakes in a region that already suffers from air quality that typically ranks as the worst in the country.

With its haphazard, inefficien­t developmen­t, the Inland Empire is “not the model that anyone wants to emulate,” said John Guinn, the former Shafter city manager now overseeing private developmen­t of the Wonderful Industrial Park, a 1,600-acre, master-planned logistics hub expected to jump from 9,000 employees in Shafter now to 25,000 in the years to come.

The property’s Los Angeles-based owner and developer, The Wonderful Co., for which Guinn works as executive vice president of real estate, says it engages regularly with local environmen­tal

justice groups on ensuring sustainabi­lity and maximizing community benefit. The company’s Shafter industrial park is located more than a mile from the nearest residence.

Wonderful points to investment­s, existing and planned, for providing renewable energy at the site for operations and transporta­tion fuel. The company also highlights plans for rerouting drayage trucks away from vulnerable communitie­s around Shafter.

“We have carefully planned and worked in collaborat­ion with partners in the region to ensure operations are efficient without adding to those burdens where people live,” Guinn said. “This is where our own employees live, and these communitie­s are our priorities.”

Lebec-based Tejon Ranch Co., another major developer of distributi­on and industrial space in Kern, with

housing proposed within the same commerce center as millions of square feet of warehouse space, sees a “night and day” difference between Kern’s and the Inland Empire’s buildouts, in terms of density and number of projects, spokesman Barry Zoeller said by email.

Under a voluntary agreement with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Zoeller noted, the company has funded regionwide measures estimated to make up for all emissions generated by its Tejon Ranch Commerce Center at full buildout. He emphasized the project’s economic benefits.

“Given the number of jobs and economic opportunit­y it creates, the logistics industry is an important component of Kern’s economic developmen­t and diversific­ation strategy,” he wrote.

Activists in the Inland Empire are less certain.

Ana Gonzalez, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmen­tal Justice, which co-sponsored a report attached to last month’s letter to the governor, said the group’s health concerns would apply to developmen­t of distributi­on centers in Kern.

“It’s the same folks, same mentality,” she said. “They want to get away with the minimal regulation­s.”

“They’re putting these developmen­ts in low-income communitie­s that don’t even benefit from e-commerce,” she said. “At this point we just need state interventi­on.”

The report CCAEJ put out with the help of the Sierra Club and the Robert Redford Conservanc­y called the Inland Empire’s warehousin­g growth a critical environmen­tal justice issue that, because of diesel engines’ heavy emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulat­e matter, has led to inequities in cardiac, respirator­y and reproducti­ve problems in vulnerable communitie­s.

More than 300 warehouses stand 1,000 feet or less from 139 schools in the Inland Empire, the report said, adding that 367,584 people live within a quarter mile of a warehouse, about 60 percent of them Hispanic.

Besides calling for a oneto two-year moratorium on developmen­t while protective new policies can be crafted, the report recommende­d raising project approval standards, codifying best industry practices and doing more to enforce existing regulation­s.

A deputy air pollution control officer with the valley air district said all new developmen­t, not just warehouses, introduces new emissions from constructi­on, operation and associated truck traffic. The decision on whether to allow them, he noted, comes down to local agencies’ mandated considerat­ions of environmen­tal impacts.

The district generally suggests local government­s condition their approval on investment­s in zero- or near-zero emission vehicles and other equipment, limitation­s on engine idling, provision of electrical power for refrigerat­ion trucks and planting of vegetative barriers.

“They don’t adopt every measure we put forth,” Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Morgan Lambert said.

Based on its experience with communitie­s and land-use agencies in warehouse-heavy places like southwest Fresno, he said, the district suggests government work closely with community members “in trying to help address what those impacts may be in those different communitie­s.”

Assuming distributi­on work can be done responsibl­y, warehousin­g and logistics work is seen as a crucial activity that can make sense in Kern.

Industry wages are seen as low, but applicatio­ns continue to outpace job openings, Bakersfiel­d industrial property broker Wayne Kress said in an email. He noted warehousin­g uses far less water than ag, and generates greater property tax revenue, at a time when massive fallowing of farmland in the southern valley is expected in the years ahead.

The free flow of goods by road, rail and air must be a primary considerat­ion, said Executive Director Ahron Hakimi of the Kern Council of Government­s, which has responsibi­lity for managing congestion throughout the county.

Kern COG has been working with Wonderful and others, including regional and state agencies, on a plan to smooth the flow of cargo through the county for the benefit of local residents and businesses alike.

Rerouting trucks away from communitie­s is part of the idea, along with greater use of intrastate rail, greater automation of goods movement and developmen­t of a large intermodal facility to increase efficienci­es. No changes are expected soon, and there remains the question of how to fund changes under considerat­ion.

A spokeswoma­n for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environmen­t, a locally active environmen­tal justice group that The Wonderful Co. said it has been working with on equity and sustainabi­lity matters in Shafter, said Friday the group could not provide a comment for this story.

 ?? COURTESY OF WONDERFUL REAL ESTATE ?? The J.M. Smucker Co., a Fortune 500 food producer, has reportedly signed a deal to lease this 1 million-square-foot warehouse at the Wonderful Industrial Park in Shafter. The warehouse is among many at the developmen­t, with more to come.
COURTESY OF WONDERFUL REAL ESTATE The J.M. Smucker Co., a Fortune 500 food producer, has reportedly signed a deal to lease this 1 million-square-foot warehouse at the Wonderful Industrial Park in Shafter. The warehouse is among many at the developmen­t, with more to come.

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