Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weighing in on the World Logistics Center Debate


Computer-generated view of the WLC hub from Gilman Springs Road
Source: WLC EIR

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


The first major public hearing for a proposal to develop the eastern side of Moreno Valley into a massive logistics and goods movement complex was held on Tuesday. Hundreds attended the Planning Commission meeting to voice support or opposition of developer Iddo Benzeevi's proposed World Logistics Center master plan according to the Press Enterprise. Benzeevi is CEO of Highland Fairview, a privately held full-service real estate development company specializing in large scale Industrial, Commercial and Residential developments.

First of all, the locals who attended this public hearing--both supporters and the opposition--are to be thanked because it clearly showed the governing body that they are concerned for the future of Moreno Valley.

Benefits of WLC: More Blue Collar Jobs
Graphite Business Park: Logistics, manufacturing, distribution job hub in Corona.

The main selling point I see of the WLC plan is jobs.

There's absolutely no question that the region can use them. That is an indisputable fact. What remains debatable is amount of jobs associated directly within the WLC itself as well as the number of increased net truck driver and warehouse positions.

I'm hearing the number is around 20,000 jobs or something like that. The Sketchers facility employes about 600 workers according to the Press Enterprise but that development took jobs away from Ontario with a reported net job loss of up to 400 per the newspaper. To be fair, another company may have invested in the old Sketcher facilities which may have neutralized the lost jobs.

Regardless of the final net gains from WLC, robust job hubs traditionally stimulate the retail and restaurant sectors which in turn leads to more hiring all throughout the local marketplace. Thus, if WLC gets built as proposed and there really is a net job gain, I expect a good economic stimulus in the area.

WLC and Urban Sprawl: Valid Concerns by the Opposition

The Transit Coalition believes the World Logistics Center is urban sprawl and needs to be opposed until its major issues are dealt with straightly and impartially. That is, the position is don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. The baby being the blue collar job expansion the Inland region can certainly use; the bathwater being the undesirable side effects. There are three chief concerns raised by the opposition. They are air pollution, traffic congestion, and local land use and infrastructure.

Let's start with land use.

The WLC property is currently zoned as the Moreno Highlands Specific Plan which is mostly residential development with a mixed-use area along Alessandro Boulevard with open space sections for golf courses and wildlife corridors. The northern segment of the Gilman Springs Road corridor is zoned for business parks. Much of this land is currently not developed other than some rural dwellings here and there.

State law mandates that each city and county has a general land use plan in place. Citizen requests and applications to change the plan should only be made if there is a compelling reason to do so and the plan can be changed no more than 4 times each year. In fairness, balancing the Inland Empire job-to-housing ratio would be a valid reason to rezone Moreno Valley's eastern side. However, affected neighborhoods need to be actively involved in the discussion and findings need to be transparent because land-use changes directly affect them.

Moreno Valley has an obligation to its citizens to ensure existing local public works infrastructure and services can support such amendments. If not, the developer needs to pay for the upgrades. That means the concerned citizens should tolerate no developer pandering or stonewalling from the governing body. Officials must reflect the values of their citizens, not just the values of Mr. Benzeevi. Every valid concern brought up--whether in favor or opposition of WLC--must be heard out and dealt with straightly and impartially.

Photo: © Wikimedia/Raunet CC-BY-SA
Both the California Air Resources Board and the Riverside County Transportation Commission have also raised valid questions regarding air quality and transportation infrastructure improvements. I believe their points are valid. I was in Moreno Valley late last summer for a day-long event and when it got hot in the afternoon; the air became very dirty through the evening with LA's smog flowing into the valley. I had to go inside when I tried to enjoy the evening sunset. I don't recall any reports of anything extraordinary like wildfires. Therefore, the vast number of added truck traffic using WLC must not be pollutants. Moreno Valley's citizens need to breathe clean air.

To be fair, the trucks using the WLC would be required to use cleaner 2010 engines but these engine types simply can't eliminate all of the health risks associated with the pollution according to Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute. However, heavy-duty big rigs are on their way to becoming much cleaner, with hybrid and zero-emission trucks making their way into the marketplace. If zero-emission cars and trucks do become the norm, WLC trucks added up won't be pollutants. Plus Southern California's overall air quality will be cleaner and we should all support that. But the public needs a firm promise that these types of cars and trucks will be the norm upon completion of the 15 year WLC master plan. Putting such a promise in the project EIR by 2030 would offset the air quality concerns.

Regarding regional transportation infrastructure, peak traffic along both Gilman Springs Road between SR-79 and SR-60 and the SR-60 itself through the Badlands are quickly approaching capacity based on previous field studies. Both would likely need to be expanded beyond Caltran's proposal to add truck lanes along SR-60 and those upgrades should happen as the developer builds out the 15 year WLC master-plan, not afterwards. The developer should work with RCTC and pay into these projects. An ideal public-private partnership project may be adding both a truck lane and extending the SR-60 carpool lane through the Badlands to I-10 in Beaumont. That would provide transit infrastructure for RTA Route 35, 210 and SunLine Route 220 with potential expanded services. Plus a new bus transit line between Hemet and Moreno Valley via Gilman Springs Road may also be warranted. Again, the developer would phase in these upgrades as WLC gets developed.

Finding Common Ground on WLC


As divisive as this debate can get, we should all find some common ground on this project by holding the power structure to account while allowing Mr. Benzeevi and the rest of the marketplace to invest private capital into the Inland Empire job market with fair and efficient government oversight. I do believe that businesses are overdue for statewide regulatory reform and streamlined application processing, but policies need to be fair and apply to all businesses to ensure fair competition.

Yes, I believe WLC is currently urban sprawl and should be opposed as proposed and Benzeevi should not get a special pass from the rules to address the negative impacts. But if the facility's pollution, traffic, and general land use and infrastructure issues are dealt with impartially and fairly without breaking the opportunity of expanding the local job market, Moreno Valley can have a first-rate job hub, cleaner air, and mobility for its people. That's something we should all support.

Combined with the growing medical sector and by strengthening law enforcement, rebuilding the family unit, and expanding restorative justice programs for trouble youth in order to stop gang crime and revitalize neighborhood streets, Moreno Valley could one day become the place "Where Dreams Soar."

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