One month after California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a sharply-worded letter excoriating Fresno County’s draft general plan over its views on industrial development, Fresno County officials are firing back over the perceived blindside by California’s top cop.
The letter, which rebuked Fresno County officials for targeting a pair of unincorporated communities near south Fresno – Malaga and Calwa – for continued industrial development.
Fresno County officials fumed over the letter as a bureaucratic attack crafted by California’s Department of Justice in coordination with well-connected social and environmental justice advocate groups.
The Attorney General’s missive was released to environmental justice groups more than a day in advance of its public release, multiple sources with knowledge told The Sun, prompting increased worries that the California Department of Justice was being directed to target Fresno County’s draft process by special interests.
A letter sent to Bonta by Fresno County Chief Administrative Officer Paul Nerland on Thursday, obtained by The Sun, scolded the Attorney General for the unprovoked attack on a pending land use process with little communication other than a media blitz.
“While it is common, in the administrative process, to receive comments from public agencies in response to the release of draft documents, it is uncommon to have such comments released simultaneously with a press release to various media outlets and social media platforms,” Nerland wrote.
“This approach gives the County the impression that the Comment Letter’s primary purpose was to place undue political pressure on the County by making conclusions based on broad assertions rather than the provision of meaningful feedback. . .”
In the letter, Nerland notes that the draft general plan has been public for more than eight months without receiving comments from Bonta’s office.
The letter goes through a nearly line-by-line rebuttal to claims waged by Bonta, countering claims waged by the lawmaker-turned-Attorney General that it was targeting disadvantaged communities.
He alleged that proposals for the two areas likely violated Senate Bill 1000, a law that requires government agencies to address “environmental justice” as part of their long-range planning.
Nerland notes that Bonta’s assertions were based on older verbiage that was dropped from the draft county General Plan.
Bonta “barely acknowledges, in passing, a key, primary condition of. . . [the county’s industrial policy statement] seeks an “initial focus” in such existing areas, as the logical place given their current planned and authorized industrial uses, and in doing so, in no way excludes consideration of other areas within the County,” Nerland wrote.
Fresno County’s chief administrator pivoted to a searing indictment of the Attorney General’s legal threats, arguing that Bonta:
- Failed “to consider the County’s real need to diversify its local economic base to create jobs and attract investment for the good of the entire region – particularly those disadvantaged communities that are so in need of well-paying jobs.”
- Omitted the fact that Malaga and Calwa are already designated and zoned for commercial and inustrial uses.
- Gave sweeping generalizations about Fresno County’s perceived noncompliance with state law and failed to provide “examples of acceptable environmental justice policeis from other counties of a similar demographical and geographical nature,” specifically noting a lack of examples from the San Joaquin Valley.
- Failing to provide Fresno County with supplemental or alternative locations to pursue long-range industrial development
- Claiming that merely complying with Senate Bill 1000 – the law requiring “environmental justice” considerations in planning procedures – would be deemed as legally insufficient.
Nerland also noted that any potential alternative location for industrial development offered by Bonta would run counter to a bevy of other state mandates – including drastically raising the amount of vehicle miles traveled by workers, displacing agricultural production in rural communities, and increasing groundwater use.
“Rather than expending the State’s resources asserting positions that are unsupported by existing law or by the County’s existing General Plan and zoning designations, we encourage your office to work with the County and other San Joaquin Valley counties to seek specific solutions that respond to the many challenges facing this unique region of California.”