Upland residents just did the seemingly impossible, which is to kick the Amazon Distribution Center Developers squarely in the teeth, in Superior Court no less. I have nothing but mad love and tremendous respect for every resident that fought so hard against this project for years, with every public hearing so packed to capacity, there was no standing room left to occupy. I have never seen residents so up in arms and ready to do whatever it takes, to defend the city that they love. And what that entailed was the forming of a non-profit called Upland Community First and a very lengthy legal battle, which just ended last week. In my opinion, the ruling is a gut punch and negated the entire development agreement approved by the former Upland City Council. Want to know what happens now and what to expect from the Amazon developers, then continue reading this report, by clicking below.
UPLAND’S AVENGERS TOOK ON THE DEVELOPERS FOR THE RICHEST COMPANY IN THE WORLD & PREVAILED IN COURT LAST WEEK!
“With 18% growth in the last year resulting in an eye-watering brand value of $220 billion, Amazon is a clear winner as the world’s most valuable brand—towering over Google and Apple’s brand valuations,” according to Visual Capitalist. Yet Upland’s incredible residents just went mano a mano with the developer’s attorneys for that behemoth and the city and just won a major legal victory. We pray this will prevent the building of an enormous distribution center on Foothill Blvd, which will be leased to Amazon and used as a massive fulfillment center.
Who could ever forget April Fool’s Day 2020, during the city’s 1st remote COVID council meetings that residents were barred from attending, when Former Mayor Debbie Stone, Former Councilman Ricky Felix, along with Councilman Rudy Zuniga and Bill Velto (Upland’s current Mayor), voted to approve everything in the 3,393 Page Amazon Agenda, including the Development Agreement starting on page 123 below.
The development agreement dictated what the e-commence tenant (which The Upland Report was the first publication to report would be Amazon), would have to pay the city since the project will generate virtually no sales tax revenue. It also specified what roadway improvements the developer had to make to Foothill Blvd, 13th Street, Benson Ave, Central Ave, Arrow Hwy, 13th Street, 15th Street and 16th Street. It also sought to limit tractor-trailer truck traffic to only PM hours and delivery van traffic to daytime hours. However, employee vehicles would come and go around the clock, as the faculty would be operating 24/7. After the April Fool’s Day vote to approve, residents took to social media in mass, to vent collectively and broadcast their disgust. It seemed like the whole town was on the brink of losing their minds and their faith, in Upland politics.
Councilwomen Janice Elliott is the only member of the prior city council, who voted against the Amazon Distribution Center which was to be built on 50 acres off of Foothill Blvd, with an entrance near Lowes and In-N-Out. Now that Councilmembers Shannon Maust and Carlos Garcia are on the dais, where ironically their districts will be the most impacted by Amazon’s traffic, noise and pollution, does anyone believe that Elliott, Maust & Garcia will vote to approve another Amazon Development Agreement in the short-term near future or ever, specially without requiring a full blown Environmental Impact Report?
Being that both Elliott and Garcia are up for re-election in 2022, it is going to be vitally important that the residents fight like hell, to keep them in office. As I would bet the farm some nefarious developer’s PAC (Political Action Committee) will be desperate to unseat them. This already happened in Seattle where Amazon spent $1.5MM to unseat a councilwoman who opposed them but they were ultimately unsuccessful. God forbid if that were to happen here, expect to see another development agreement coming back before a 2022 city council. The developers have already been at this for years and now they have absolutely everything to lose.
In preparation of writing this report, I attended the last court hearing on June 14th, prior to Judge Cohn rendering his final decision last week. I’m going to do my best to explain why Cohn has told the city to trash their existing development agreement with the Amazon developers. Please note all references to UCF below, is the non-profit the residents formed to fight Amazon called Upland Community First and all references to GHG, means Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
To my great surprise while sitting in Judge Cohn’s courtroom, I was delighted that an enormous amount of time was spent by the lawyers arguing the merits of Upland resident Dr. Brinda Sarathy’s written objections regarding this project. Dr. Sarathy submitted her 10-page objection letter to the city on January 17th, 2020. For the record, Dr. Brinda Sarathy is a Professor of Environmental Analysis and Director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College. Sarathy has a PhD in Environmental Science and Policy and she is an absolutely awesome human being.
I swear my IQ has shot up 10 points, each time I’ve chatted with Brinda and for that I must say thank you Dr. Sarathy.
Now, in addition to the very brave residents who formed Upland Community First and their Upland Attorney Cory Briggs, we also now owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Brinda Sarathy too. I firmly believe after hearing 2-3 hours of courtroom arguments on 6/14/21, that it was literally Brinda’s objections to the city that Judge Cohn’s based his legal ruling on. Specifically, in Brinda’s brilliant letter below, she pointed out the city had incorrectly calculated the GHG (Greenhouse Gas Emissions) for the project, using the theory that the Amazon Distribution Center would be an industrial project and a “stationary source” of GHG, instead of a commercial, mixed use, retail project and a “mobile source” of GHG emissions.
Clearly, with 1,104 delivery vans coming and going all day + parking for 337 cars + 25 semi-trucks bringing in boatloads of merchandise all night, Dr. Sarathy is right that this project’s greenhouse gas emissions will be primarily from “mobile sources.”
Dr. Sarathy then went on to explain that by mis-classifying the site as an industrial project, the city would be allowing approximately 3 to 7 times more greenhouse gas emissions at the site, than is allowed under commercial, mixed use or retail projects. At least that is my interpretation of the very technical statements made by Dr. Sarathy below, starting on page 7 under the highlighted section titled, “MND Finding I.”
Lois Sicking Dieter, has always echoed and added to Dr. Sarathy’s analysis and Lois should know. She’s a Mechanical Engineer with a Masters Degree in Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and works for California’s Air Resources Board, evaluating diesel emissions. Lois is also a member of the non-profit Upland Community First, who bought the legal challenge against the city for approving the distribution center project. You may recall, Lois was also a mayoral candidate in 2020.
On Page 66 of Judge Cohn’s Final Order, is Item VI Conclusion, which states,” For the reasons explained above, the court grants UCF’s petition on the sole ground that substantial evidence does not support the “threshold of significance” chosen for GHG emissions. As result, the City’s finding that there will be no significant effect on the environment with respect to GHG emissions is without adequate support. This does not mean, necessarily, that an EIR is required. The City has discretion to choose an appropriate “threshold of significance” and to determine under that standard whether an EIR is required. The Development Agreement is also set aside, because its approval was based, in part, on the findings of the MND that there will be no significant effect on the environment with respect to GHG emissions.”
Here’s what Lois had to say about Cohn’s legal decision,“This has been an arduous task and an epic team effort that began in June, 2019. Thank you to all the residents in Upland and Claremont that support Upland Community First’s efforts with their talent and contributions. We continue our commitment to hold Upland and Bridges accountable to all applicable city, state, federal laws.”
Another Upland Community First member had this to say after Cohn’s ruling, “The majority of our citizens do not want Amazon and never got to express their opinions since the final meeting was April 1st, 2020, which was our first non-participation meeting due to Covid. They and we hope the mayor and city council will now bury this project forever. There is no sales tax, only little bribes to certain segments of the community. This project will end up costing our city massive amounts of money for road maintenance. It will forever add more pollutants to our community, with the increased truck and van traffic. The Amazon entrance is located at the same intersection where one of the city’s biggest senior citizen mobile parks also exits onto. The potential exists for deaths of some of our great senior citizen population residing there, due to traffic collisions from the project’s vans and trucks and pollutants. Upland citizens will be watching the follow up very closely, to make sure the mayor and council do the right thing, as their future as elected officials could be jeopardized if they choose to go against the will of their voters.”
And just so that everyone knows, the distribution center developers agreed in writing, to pay the city’s legal bills in the event there was a legal challenge regarding the development agreement or the approval process.
All that’s left to say today is, thank you to the members of Upland Community First, Judge Cohn, Attorney Cory Briggs, Dr. Brinda Sarathy, Councilwoman Janice Elliott and to every resident pictured below or who wrote a protest letter, who will indeed be watching the follow-up and aftermath of this, very closely.
Finally, I don’t want anyone to miss what the Sentinel just published regarding Cohn’s ruling, which can be read here. As always, I’m absolutely humbled at the readership of these reports, which is always in the thousands and an occasion, has broken ten thousand. I couldn’t love this city more and I know, all of you do too. Bravo Uplanders, Bravo!
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