Residents in several disadvantaged, unincorporated communities in southeast Fresno are fighting for their health and are not giving up without a fight – a legal fight.
South Central Neighbors United, a group of concerned citizens, filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court on Feb. 23 against the City of Fresno and Caglia Environmental LLC to demand greater scrutiny of a proposed industrial park site in southeast Fresno.
“Plain and simple, this project is a bad neighbor for the residents of this small southeast Fresno community,” said Ashley Werner, senior attorney at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
The counsel and Shute, Mihaly, & Weinberger LLP are representing the citizens group in the lawsuit.
“We do not discuss current or pending legal action, but we can say that the last two times this group and their affiliates have represented similar lawsuits against the City, they were dismissed,” said Fresno Mayor Lee Brand in an email statement. “In fact, after the group petitioned the court to make the City pay for its legal fees, the judge denied it, saying that ‘the lawsuit, in this court’s opinion, did nothing to advance the Petitioners’ cause.’”
The concerned residents live near the proposed site and has the support from Faith in Fresno, and Fresno Building Healthy Communities.
In January, residents pushed the Fresno City Council to prioritize the health of their local communities, but approval of the industrial site prompted the residents to take action.
“In a rush to approve this new development, the City of Fresno has failed to protect the health and safety of residents of some of the state’s most pollution-burdened communities and of this region by disregarding residents,” said Werner. “Community members deserve to have a say because industrial sites don’t belong in neighborhoods and near schools.”
The proposed industrial park sits north of Central Avenue between Cedar and Orange avenues. Orange Center Elementary School is nearby.
“We are talking about the health and lives of children and families. The city is disregarding residents’ concerns, as well as its own general plan and development code,” said Werner.
South Central Neighbors United said Fresno personnel approved the 2.1 million square foot industrial park in October 2017 without a public hearing and with no public notice other than an advertisement in the city’s local newspaper the Fresno Bee and at the County Clerk’s office.
However, Mark Standriff, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the City of Fresno said “the Council only approved a discretionary development permit to build seven shell buildings on land that has already been planned and zoned for industrial use since 1984.”
“No specific uses or tenants have been identified for this property yet, so it did not require public comment because there is no project,” Standriff said.
“We want justice, the same as residents of north Fresno,” said Katie Taylor, a resident across the street from the project site and a member of SCNU.
Nineteen organizations and individuals filed an appeal of the decision in November 2017 to the Fresno Planning Commission and City Council, requesting that the city study the project’s air quality, water supply, traffic, public health and other impacts, and provide for a public process as required by state and municipal code.
The city council unanimously denied the appeal on Jan. 25 and voted to approve the project.
“We want to be heard and to move forward in a positive direction. We are not just fighting for ourselves, but also for our kids,” Taylor said.
Residents rallied last week outside the BF Sisk Courthouse during a press conference to announced the lawsuit to block the “bad neighbor” coming into their communities.
“The city has been dismissive and negligent in failing to consider our community’s pleas,“ said Daniel Macías, a member of SCNU who lives next to the project site. “The city has not studied the imminent impacts of this project to our community. These actions have left us no choice but to join a lawsuit.”
“These kind of lawsuits are frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money, costing the taxpayers of the City of Fresno hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend,” Brand said. “More importantly, they attempt to roadblock and delay much-needed projects that would bring jobs and improve the quality of life for the very people they claim to represent.”
This story was updated to included comments from Fresno Mayor.