A planned south Fresno business park project, touted by City Hall as an economic driver but pilloried by environmentalists, is no more.
Caglia Environmental is pulling the plug on a 2-million square foot industrial park project, slated for Central and Orange avenues. The project received unanimous approval from the Fresno City Council nearly a year ago. Neighbors and environmentalist responded with a lawsuit.
“While granting the applicant’s request to rescind his development permit is regrettable because it delays when new jobs could come to deserving Fresnans, I support the decision because it is the right thing to do to move this project forward in a responsible manner and bring more investment, jobs, and opportunities to our community,” said Fresno Mayor Lee Brand.
“I would also like to add that under my leadership the city of Fresno is moving full speed ahead on a Programmatic EIR to study over 6,000 acres of land in order to spur industrial, warehouse, and e-commerce job creation efforts.”
The manner in which the council approved the project became a wedge issue in the recent District 3 council race, won by Miguel Arias. He denounced the way the city chose industry over people.
“This was clearly mishandled by the city since the beginning,” Arias said. “They proceeded to fast-track a project that would have a significant impact on the environmental health of residents without following the basic environmental review process.”
Caglia: ‘Do Over’ Needed
“It would need to be a do-over. At this point in time … I am in the processing of evaluating that. I don’t know what it looks like yet.” — Richard Caglia
Now, Caglia has asked the city to rescind its approval.
On Tuesday (Jan. 8), Caglia’s attorney sent the city a letter asking the council to unwind the development permit and approval of the environmental assessment. The council will consider that request at its Jan. 17 meeting.
“It speaks for itself,” Caglia said. “It would need to be a do-over. At this point in time … I am in the processing of evaluating that. I don’t know what it looks like yet.”
Despite the seeming end of the project, Caglia said his company’s business prospects for the coming year remain positive.
“Life is short. I have my health, my kids have their health. I have a roof over my head. I’ve got a job, I’m paying my bills. How much luckier can I be than that?” said Caglia, who is a State Center Community College District trustee.
Validation for Residents
“It’s a validation for the residents of west Fresno and it’s a reminder to the mayor’s office and City Hall that they can’t simply fast-track corporate interests at the expense of local residents.” — Councilman Miguel Arias
Arias began his council term earlier this week. He pointed to the approval of this project during his campaign as something he wanted to change on behalf of his constituents.
“My district in that neighborhood has the highest concentration of pollution in the state of California. It was shortsighted to believe they can simply fast-track a project like this and ignore any impact on neighbors,” Arias said.
Residents Daniel Macias expressed joy at the latest news.
“We’re relieved this step was finally taken. If we need to keep fighting, we’ll take that course,” said Macias, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Project Approval Leads to Lawsuit
Under the name South Central Neighbors United, the group filed a suit, which is ongoing. The suit alleged that the city failed to undertake proper environmental review.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Among the concerns: increased traffic because of more trucks, the associated effect on air quality, and the prevalence of a cancer cluster in the neighbors south of the proposed project.
The council, believing that the project could create jobs and economic prosperity, approved the project nonetheless. City officials pointed out that the land was already zoned industrial.
Arias said that the city may also be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees for both sides.
Councilman Steve Brandau supported the project then, and still does.
“It’s a sad day that hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development and hundreds of jobs are being sidelined,” Brandau said.
During the debate, Brandau called out environmentalists.
“To Ashley Werner and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which really to me, those are poverty pimps. That organization is poverty pimps. They play on people’s fears. They come down here constantly, now, standing in the way of the very thing folks need. And, our community needs more importantly,” Brandau said that evening.
While rebuked by colleagues for the comment, Brandau never backed down.
Brandau, who took the gavel as council president on Thursday (Jan. 10), is also running for county supervisor in a March 5 special election.
In many public appearances and speeches throughout the year, Mayor Lee Brand pointed to the Caglia project as an economic boost for the city.