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5,000 Jobs Lost and Fresno E-Commerce Dream on Hold Over Land Conflict, Officials Say



Amazon fulfillment center in Fresno
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Five thousand jobs that would have landed in Fresno over the last two years have gone elsewhere because there was nowhere for them to go. That’s according to the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation.

Two million square feet of vacant, commercially-zoned land near the Ulta and Amazon e-commerce distribution centers in south Fresno still remains somewhat off limits two years after the Fresno City Council unanimously gave a thumbs up to development there.

Companies could still build warehouses or manufacturing facilities on the site, but they’d be faced with potential litigation from nearby residents and social justice advocates.

“I may come up with a plan before this year’s over.”Fresno Mayor Lee Brand

The area is south of the intersection of Highway 41 and Highway 99 and is referred to as the “reverse triangle.” Mayor Lee Brand once touted the area as the center of Fresno’s e-commerce future and the thousands of jobs it would generate.

But, a court battle between the developer and a group of residents called South Central Neighbors United put that vision on hold when the project’s proponent backed down. Opponents said the proposed build-out would cause negative impacts from groundwater depletion and increased daily vehicle traffic. GV Wire℠ reached out to the nonprofit advocacy group Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability (which represented area residents) for comment in this story, but was told they were not making any media statements around this specific issue.

Property planned for a business park in south Fresno, north of Central Ave. Amazon’s fulfilment center on Orange Ave. is visible at left. (GV Wire File)

As Brand is about to hand the reigns of the city over to Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer, he’s weighing a big decision.

Should he push forward with an environmental impact report for the area in the hopes of getting four council votes at the end? An EIR would clear the deck of potential lawsuits and allow businesses to come in. Getting the ball rolling sooner could save valuable time when a typical EIR takes about 8 months to complete.

Or, should Brand leave the situation for the next administration to confront with fresh eyes? Brand’s last official full day in the mayor’s chair is January 4.

“I may come up with a plan before this year’s over,” says Brand.

Business Opportunities Lost

Portrait of Fresno EDC CEO Lee Ann Eager

“Businesses that that want to come in and start building, they don’t want to have to mess with any any legal issues.”Lee Ann Eager, President and CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation

“Businesses that that want to come in and start building, they don’t want to have to mess with any any legal issues,” says Lee Ann Eager, President and CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation. “Probably a conservative estimate is about 5,000 (jobs that have gone elsewhere).”

Eager shared a few recent example, which include:

  • A Sephora distribution center that went to Reno in the first week of December.
  • Another Amazon (1 million square foot) e-commerce facility that went to Visalia.
  • A UPS distribution center that chose Visalia.

“We could not compete, as we had no sites for any of these,” said Eager. “We had a company that was going to start at 40 dollars an hour.”

Eager says one of the biggest opportunities the city lost was a German auto manufacturer that wanted to build electric vehicles here. “They were looking at $80,000-$90,000 dollars a year for a lot of the jobs that were coming through,” she said.

Eager says many of these employers would not only have provided good paying jobs, but fully benefited opportunities, job training, and college reimbursement.

According to Eager, Fresno is where businesses want to locate. They’re not willing to go to the Bay Area or Southern California anymore and other parts of California just don’t have the suitable land available they’re looking for, she says.

“Fresno is still the place where you can afford to bring your business here,” explains Eager. “You can afford to to pay the wages here. You can afford to buy a house here. We have really risen up to the top of the list for lots of companies around the country and around the world.”

Caglia Environmental

“At this point, things are more or less on hold until we actually meet with the new administration and council.”Developer Richard Caglia

The council approved a project by Caglia Environmental on Jan. 25, 2018 with a 7-0 vote. At the time it was not yet known what types of businesses would occupy the 110-acre development.

What’s clear at this time is the future of the site remains unclear.

“At this point, things are more or less on hold until we actually meet with the new administration and council,” says developer Richard Caglia (also an elected trustee of the State Center Community College District).

“Long story short, we ended up having to either take on the lawsuit because the city no longer wanted to take on the lawsuit or receive and or just rescind our entitlements,” said Caglia. “We ended up not wanting to take on the lawsuit and rescinded our entitlements.”

Caglia says he’s been meeting with other developers with property in the vicinity such as the Pickett, Brelsford, and Parnagian families to try to chart a path forward.

There’s been a series of proposals put forward by the city, developers, and community interest groups. But still, no consensus has come together between the parties involved.

Mayor Lee Brand

Brand says employers, some of which he met with personally over the last two years, were ready to go. But he says they all backed off because of the potential legal issues they’d be entangled with if they opened.

The good news, as Brand sees it, is Fresno is ideally positioned in the state to take advantage of what is most desired by employers.

Fresno is perfectly suited in the middle (of the state) with access to interstate highways. Pretty much good weather year round, no snow, no hurricanes or tornadoes. And yet the land is certainly much cheaper in Fresno than it is in other locations,” explains Brand.

Brand acknowledges there is a drawback in the “reverse triangle” area. “You’re in a hodgepodge of some little small tract homes here, a school there,” says Brand. “It’s so much easier to take an area like you’ve got maybe further to the east. I’ll say along Jensen or California, you get past Clovis Avenue, then you’re looking primarily grapevines, maybe one or two houses. So that’s much easier to develop.”

Newmark Pearson Commercial Broker

Ethan Smith, Senior Vice President at Newmark Pearson Commercial is very aware of the dynamics involved with the South Central Specific Plan that is currently underway within the industrial triangle.

“The formal document that will guide future industrial development has been in sort of a nebulous place for quite some time,” explains Smith. “Whoever the mayor is, is really the driving force behind the city’s strategy to address these things that came up as a result of the Caglia original application for approval.”