OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent a letter to the Fresno City Council expressing strong concerns with the proposed rezoning of nearly 100 acres of land in Southwest Fresno from residential mixed-use to light industrial. Residents of Southwest Fresno already suffer from some of the highest pollution burdens in all of California, and the proposed project site was re-zoned to residential mixed-use just a few years ago as part of a broader effort to address historical inequities in land use planning in the City of Fresno. Today’s letter, which highlights numerous legal deficiencies in the proposed rezoning, follows a roundtable with residents of Southwest Fresno on environmental justice challenges in their communities earlier this year.
“Southwest Fresno contains some of the most over-burdened and under-invested environmental justice communities in all of California,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In 2017, the City of Fresno undertook a long-overdue, years-long project to address the heavy pollution burden falling on Southwest Fresno communities – eventually rezoning multiple parcels of land to less intensive uses. The city’s proposal to rezone this land once again is misguided, and I urge the City Council to abandon this likely unlawful proposal.”
Southwest Fresno is one of the most pollution-burdened communities in the state. The community next to the project is over 95% non-white, experiencing extremely high rates of poverty and unemployment, and facing serious shortages of affordable housing. The community also suffers from some of the highest asthma, low birth weight, and cardiovascular disease levels in the state. The project is located next to sensitive sites, including two schools and an office administering the state’s supplemental nutrition program for women and children.
In 2017, the City of Fresno developed and approved the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan to combat and reverse the historical inequities and underinvestment in Southwest Fresno due to policies — including redlining —that led to industrial uses being clustered near these low-income communities. Now, the City of Fresno appears poised to backtrack on the commitment it made to these communities. Later this week, the Fresno City Council will consider an application by a number of industrial landowners to rezone nearly 100 acres in Southwest Fresno from residential mixed-use to light industrial.
In a letter today, Attorney General Bonta urges the City of Fresno to reject this misguided and potentially unlawful proposal. The Attorney General is concerned that this proposal may violate the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the city’s mandatory duty to affirmatively further fair housing. Specifically, the city appears to have failed to conduct an accurate environmental review and to consider the cumulative impacts of the project in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. The city has also not adequately disclosed how it intends to satisfy the Housing Crisis Act, which prohibits changes in residential land use designations that would decrease the availability of housing capacity, among other potential violations.
A copy of the letter is available here.