California Attorney General Rob Bonta is joining the Sierra Club’s lawsuit against Moreno Valley over the city’s long-term plan that both parties allege fails to protect the environment and residents.
A year ago, the Sierra Club sued the city for approving its 2040 general plan update, alleging that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act.
The lawsuit alleged that Moreno Valley’s environmental impact report failed to address public health impacts, did not disclose potential air pollution and left out solutions that could reduce environmental impacts. The Sierra Club alleged the city used outdated environmental reports rather than the city’s current state, which includes many warehouses.
Bonta’s decision to “intervene” in the case means his office is now a separate plaintiff in the case, according to a Friday, July 1, statement from the Attorney General’s press office. The office “will represent the People’s interests in enforcing California laws designed to protect public safety and the environment,” the statement says.
Tom Thornsley, chair of Moreno Valley’s Sierra Club, welcomed Bonta’s move.
“To see them actually getting involved, is really kind of nice,” he said. “I’m delighted.”
“Communities in Moreno Valley experience some of the highest levels of air pollution in the state,” Bonta said in a news release. “We’re intervening today so that those communities do not continue to bear the brunt of poor land use decisions that site warehouses outside their doors.”
Bonta alleviates the city failed to determine whether the general plan would increase pollutants and pollution near hospitals, school and other sensitive areas. In June, a proposed 1.26 million square-foot warehouse called the Moreno Valley Trade Center was set for the city council’s consideration purpose postponed by the developer.
Moreno Valley’s Interim City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said Friday that he wasn’t surprised by Bonta’s involvement.
“I believe the city has done everything they should have done under CEQA,’ Quintanilla said by phone.
Quintanilla said he isn’t concerned over Bonta’s intervention because the Attorney General’s office didn’t raise additional issues beyond those already in the Sierra Club’s suit.
As for Bonta, he alleged in the release, that health issues are affecting Moreno Valley communities that “live at the intersection of poverty and pollution.”
In Moreno Valley, 60% of the population is Hispanic, 17% is Black and 5% is Asian, according to the 2020 Census. The average income per person is $22,364.
Moreno Valley is listed on the CalEnviroScreena mapping tool from the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessmentst, as a disadvantaged community affected by pollution and where residents are often vulnerable to its effects.
This isn’t the first time the state Attorney General has called out Inland Empire cities for what it sees as poor environmental impacts.
Former Attorney General Xavier Becerra — now secretary for the US Department of Health and Human Services — accused Moreno Valley of ignoring state environmental laws when it approved the World Logistics Center for the city’s east end in 2015.
Last year, Bonta sued Fontana over a giant warehouse project in a low-income community that he said violated environmental laws, but later settled the suit.