South Stockton is exposed to pollution in the top 10% of all communities in California, with some neighborhoods in the very top 1%. That’s abominable.
Which brings us to the Mariposa Agreement.
The agreement followed plans by Greenlaw Partners to build a warehouse complex of staggering size — seven “high-cube” warehouses comprising 3.6 million square feet on 206 acres off Mariposa Road — and to attract so many dirty diesel trucks that it ran afoul of California Attorney General’s Office and the Sierra Club.
Diesel emissions contain cancer-causing particulates.
“People’s health is being directly impacted when the number of trucks driving past their houses, their schools and their churches is going up and up,” said Eric Parfrey, a longtime Sierra Club activist.
The AG’s Office, Sierra Club, and Stockton negotiated an agreement that requires the Mariposa Industrial Park Project to convert its in-house diesel fleet to electric vehicles (EVs), install EV charging stations, enough rooftop solar to power base operations, and submit regular reports proving compliance.
The agreement also set up a $200,000 “community benefits fund” for residents to insulate their homes, replace windows, and upgrade their HVAC systems to cope with the impacts to air quality and noisy truck traffic.
Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office called the deal “some of the most advanced mitigation measures in the state.” The agreement is one to be proud of, though business leaders say it went too far.
That’s relevant because the Mariposa Agreement also obliged Stockton to create a municipal ordinance by the end of the year that will apply to all warehouses. The city is working on this law.
“I hope this serves as a model for future warehouse projects across the state,” Bonta said in a press release.
The context here is the explosion of warehouses and super-sized warehouses called logistic centers. Credit — or blame — e-commerce. The expectation of rapid shipping by Amazon-type consumers has caused a boom in warehouses within a regional radius of ports.
The boom has gotten plain crazy in the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Down there 4,000 warehouses cover over 1 billion square feet of land with many more in the pipeline. Carting goods to these warehouses requires half a million daily truck trips. Certain roads from ports to warehouses carry more trucks per day than some L.A. freeways!
On the one hand, this boom creates jobs at ports, warehouses, trucking companies and elsewhere. It gets you the stuff you want quickly. On the other hand, the pollution causes asthma, other health problems, as well as cognitive issues in kids.
Stockton ended up with the Mariposa Agreement not because it embraced good remedies but because it neglected them. Or in the words of the AG’s Office, “failed to adopt all feasible mitigation measures as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.”
It looks like the Planning Commission rubber-stamped the project, a throwback to the bad old days when Stockton developers got everything they wanted and gave too little back.
But local air quality officials have fallen down on the job, too, Parfrey wrote in a letter to Stockton.
“The San Joaquin Valley has been a laggard when it comes to enacting and, more importantly, enforcing air quality standards and programs,” wrote Parfrey (to see how bad things are, read this).
He blasted the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District for failing to adopt a strong “Indirect Source Rule,” a rule targeting warehouses for the polluting vehicles they attract.
“Here in the San Joaquin Valley, where we suffer from the worst air pollution in the country, our local elected officials and appointed representatives have failed to protect us,” he wrote.
The citywide warehouse rule is being fashioned by the Community Development Department, which is formulating options for the City Council, which will decide how best to balance environmental standards with the needs of business.
Industrial developers complain that many of the requirements are impossible in practice to carry out. Electric trucks, for instance, cost too much, lack adequate range, have inadequate load capacities and other shortcomings.
Another objection concerns installing enough rooftop solar to power “base operations.”
Parfrey was dismissive of industrial developer reservations on this point. “They don’t want to be forced to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars up front to put solar on the roof or parking lot; they would rather … push these costs onto their lease tenants,” he wrote.
But there may be valid concerns. Trevor Smith runs TS Planning and Development, a consulting firm with industrial developer clients.
“Base power — yes, you could put solar panels up there to provide base power needs — lights, office electricity,” he said, but base operational needs are trickier.
“If you have a 10-year lease with a company with conveyor belts that uses lots of energy, and 10 years on they leave and you get a guy who just wants to store boxes, what do you do with that energy?” Smith asked. “PG&E will only buy it back at wholesale.”
Hence a bad investment, Smith said. “So from a marketability standpoint it doesn’t make sense for someone to risk putting all that solar on top then have the user leave and you can’t sell it back to the grid.”
City staff itself pushes back on the proposed requirement that they monitor to ensure warehouses comply with state and federal environmental regulations.
That’s the state’s job, said Mike McDowell, Stockton’s Assistant Community Development Director. “It would be extremely challenging for staff to monitor that each and every one of these operators are enrolling and reporting.”
The council must find a happy medium that protects Stockton’s disadvantaged communities without monkey wrenching industrial developers. That said, the state-high levels of pollution afflicting south Stockton residents amounts to a moral call to do everything possible to alleviate their distress.
Plus, the ordinance can be a model that brings environmental justice to millions of Californians, Parfrey said.
“It looks like the City of Stockton is going to be one of the first ones out of the gate with this new ordinance,” said Parfrey. “So it’s important we get this right. Because this ordinance here will be used as a template for a lot of jurisdictions in Northern California and Southern California.”
Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of Stocktonia’s management and staff. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com