Rialto City Council has become a battleground over a contentious warehouse project approved by the City Council in a narrow 3-2 vote on April 25th. The proposed warehouse, planned for the intersection of Pepper Avenue and the 210 freeway, is an area initially zoned for retail, commercial, and housing.
However, the contentious approval has ignited allegations of conflict of interest, health hazards, and misuse of zoning laws. The voices from the City Council are echoing across the community with increasing intensity as the drama unfolds.
Councilmember Joe Baca Sr. is leading the opposition, arguing that the warehouse will create hazardous health conditions in the area, particularly concerning the recently renovated and neighboring Frisbie Park, and increase the city’s maintenance cost due to the wear and tear from increased trucking. “After city staff investigated all aspects of the industrial project, our planning commission recommended against it and said it’s not in the best interest of the City of Rialto,” Baca said.
Baca further questions Councilman Andy Carrizales for participating in the vote, after an attorney’s opinion cited a potential conflict of interest due to his close residential proximity to the proposed warehouse, but it was later found that Carrizales’ mother-in-law owns the property that he resides in. It was also noted that after the attorney recommended Planning Commissioner John Peukert to abstain from the vote due to how close he lives to the proposed warehouse project that he recused himself from voting.
Baca also questioned the project’s economic benefit, “We don’t know how many employees, tenants, or if it will even bring jobs to the City.”
The situation took a turn when Baca challenged the legality of the vote. “Rafael secured money for a certain organization out of Rancho Cucamonga, and Andy voted with a conflict of interest. It would have been a 2-2 vote if one had recused themselves,” he asserted.
Defending his position, Carrizales dismissed Baca’s allegations as being politically motivated. “Joe Baca is stirring up false allegations just to grow his own personal political influence… This is all about Joe Baca’s personal advancements after the last 10 years of failed, embarrassing, and disastrous campaign runs,” Carrizales retorted.
He continued, “I sought legal advice regarding the vote on the Pepper Avenue warehouse, and I have no conflict of interest voting on that project. My mother-in-law owns the property my family and I live in. Therefore, I have no conflict of interest or financial interest. I believe Baca is upset because the developer didn’t give him a donation to the Joe Baca Foundation! The foundation that was paying all of his family members until they were exposed; now that’s a financial conflict of interest! I’ve told Baca if he believes that I am breaking the law or have some financial gain from this project to report me to the FPPC.”
Mayor Deborah Robertson also voiced her opposition, sharing Baca’s concerns about the warehouse’s potential environmental and community impact. “I am opposed to projects that will affect our community’s quality of life,” Robertson stated. She also critiqued developer and applicant Tim Howard’s attempt to amend the community’s previously adopted plans for the area.
In a further complication, Robertson disclosed that Howard had proposed millions of dollars in donations to the Rialto Unified School District (RUSD), The National Latina Business Women’s Association Inland Empire Chapter, and the Rialto Police Department (RPD). She suggested this was a strategic move to buy approval for the controversial project, asserting, “This community benefit thing has become a joke.”
She ended the call by stating, “I want to be clear, I am not opposed to industrial development, but I am opposed to projects that will affect our community’s quality of life in multiple ways.”
Despite these claims, Councilmember Rafael Trujillo argued that the donations would significantly benefit the community. “I have no financial benefit or conflict of interest. My community stands to win, and I stand with working families. The National Latina Business Women’s Association Inland Empire Chapter is a strong organization of women doing great things in the community… Why would any of my colleagues on the Rialto City Council target women of color who have shown—through their hard work—to be the backbone of the thriving local business community?” Trujillo questioned.
He continued by saying that he supports several organizations working across the community. “In this case, the Executive Director is from Rialto and has numerous stories of accomplishments that were highlighted during Women’s History Month at the Rialto City Council Meeting. This organization provides contract procurement and training for women of color, a space where micro business owners can grow, take their businesses out of their home, and establish contracts with public agencies.”
While this conflict has taken the city by storm, and the council seemingly wants to do right by the community in their own way, two things are certain: 1.) Another warehouse is coming, and 2.) We’re stronger when we’re together and on the same page.
Learn more about the city here.