Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau speaks at a news conference in this September 2020 file photo.

published on March 29, 2022 - 1:42 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has sent a letter to Fresno County warning its draft General Plan appears to violate state laws — expressing special concern about planned industrial development.

The County’s general plan review and zoning ordinance update is ongoing. Final adoption hearings are scheduled to begin this fall.

“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.”

Fresno County issued the following statement about the letter:

“Fresno County is in the process of reviewing and revising its General Plan. This is a complicated process and there are many new laws that have been passed in recent years which must be addressed in the County’s General Plan. Receiving comments and direction from entities such as the Department of Justice is an important part of this process. We welcome Attorney General Rob Bonta’s comments and will continue working with his office and the community to assure that the final, adopted General Plan is in full compliance with all applicable laws and provides a viable long-term framework for future growth in Fresno County.”

In its draft general plan, the county explicitly proposes to locate new industrial sites in Malaga and Calwa, according to Bonta, “two predominantly Hispanic communities that are among the most environmentally vulnerable in the state.”

He said this “policy targeting Malaga and Calwa for industrial development likely violates state housing discrimination laws.”

Bonta goes on to say that the draft General Plan fails to comply with a law (SB 1000) requiring local governments to address environmental justice in their land use planning.

Fresno County identified more than 60 disadvantaged communities suffering from environmental challenges including poor air quality, lack of clean water, pesticide exposure and proximity to contaminated sites, Bonta said.

“Unfortunately, Fresno’s plan to address these inequities is lacking,” according to a news release.

Bonta says Fresno has also not prepared a vulnerability assessment, adopted climate adaption and resilience goals or set objectives of implementation measures as required by government code.

Since 2018, the California Department of Justice’s 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.”

The settlement with Huntington Park lays out a number of terms to bring the city into compliance with SB 1000. These include drafting “meaningful, tailored environmental justice policies”, adopting policies that address “safe and sanitary homes” and setting compliance benchmarks and participating in monthly meetings with the Attorney General’s Office to ensure continued compliance.

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