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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent a letter to the County of Fresno identifying numerous deficiencies in its draft General Plan, a comprehensive long-term framework that informs a community’s future development and growth. In the letter, Attorney General Bonta warns Fresno that its draft General Plan currently appears to violate state housing discrimination and environmental justice laws, and specifically expresses concern with Fresno’s proposal targeting two of the most pollution-burdened communities in the state for new industrial development.
“In crafting a general plan, local governments have the opportunity to think critically about future growth in their communities and promote policies that address historical inequities in their land use planning,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Instead, Fresno County drafted a plan that explicitly targets communities already heavily burdened by pollution for new industrial development. This policy and other aspects of the draft plan likely violate state housing or environmental justice laws – and certainly violate the spirit of these laws. I urge Fresno to take this opportunity to course correct. Fresno's general plan must protect the health and safety of all of its residents, including those living in the more than 60 communities Fresno has identified as disadvantaged.”
Housing Discrimination: In its draft General Plan, the County of Fresno explicitly proposes to locate new industrial sites in Malaga and Calwa, two predominately Hispanic communities that are among the most environmentally vulnerable in the state. According to CalEnviroScreen, Malaga and Calwa rank among the most polluted census tracts statewide for particulate matter pollution, toxic releases, clean-up sites, groundwater threats, hazardous waste, and solid waste, and its residents suffer from increased risk of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other health burdens as a result. New industrial development would only add to the existing pollution and health burdens.
In the letter, Attorney General Bonta warns Fresno that its policy targeting Malaga and Calwa for industrial development likely violates state housing discrimination laws. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination either intentionally or through the imposition of a neutral policy which has the discriminatory effect of making housing opportunities unavailable based on race or other protected characteristics. This prohibition includes any practices resulting in polluting, toxic, or other hazardous land uses that adversely impact current residents. If finalized, Fresno's policy is likely to have health and quality of life impacts that have a discriminatory effect.
Environmental Justice: Fresno’s draft General Plan also fails to comply with Senate Bill 1000 (SB 1000), a law requiring local governments to address environmental justice in their land use planning. To comply with SB 1000, the General Plan must identify and describe any disadvantaged communities in its jurisdiction, include meaningful and tailored environmental justice goals, policies, and objectives to address the needs of these communities, and be developed in coordination with the local community.
In the draft General Plan, Fresno identifies over 60 disadvantaged communities that suffer from a range of environmental challenges including poor air quality, lack of clean water, pesticide exposure, and/or proximity to contaminated sites. Unfortunately, Fresno’s plan to address these inequities is lacking. Many of the policies Fresno proposes are already required by state law or are so vague as to be unenforceable. Fresno also fails to propose policies that prioritize the needs of disadvantaged communities and, in the case of Malaga and Calwa, has proposed a policy that would actually exacerbate existing pollution and health burdens in these disadvantaged communities.
Climate Resilience: Fresno has also not prepared a vulnerability assessment or adopted climate adaption and resilience goals, policies, objectives, or implementation measures, as required by Government Code, section 65302. As Fresno takes steps toward compliance, Attorney General Bonta encourages Fresno to treat equity as a critical component of all climate adaptation planning.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to fighting environmental injustices throughout California and being a voice for frontline communities hit first and worst by environmental pollution. On April 28, 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced the expansion of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Environmental Justice.
Since 2018, the Bureau of Environmental Justice has submitted a dozen comment letters to cities and counties to promote SB 1000 compliance in their general plans. Most recently, the Bureau of Environmental Justice announced a settlement with the City of Huntington Park to ensure the development and adoption of a meaningful, tailored environmental justice element. You can find more information on the Bureau and its work at: oag.ca.gov/environment/justice.
A copy of the letter can be found here.