Fresno

Calif. Attorney General gives Fresno Co. legal high-hand. Here’s a look at the spat.

A legal blindside from California’s top law enforcement officer over the still-being-shaped plans of one Valley county raised eyebrows last week.

Last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sent a letter to Fresno County officials saying the local general plan is illegal and alleged that it has targeted communities for new industrial development that are already impacted by pollution.

The overarching questions in its wake: why the sudden interest from California Attorney General Rob Bonta over a draft general plan? And are outside forces pressuring Bonta into a battle over local land use?

“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,” Bonta said in a statement. 

“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. 

However, the county has already been working on making the required changes, per state direction on the matter. 

The county is scheduled to hold its final adoption meetings in the fall. This spring, the county is holding its second series of community meetings regarding public review of the environmental impact report. A third series of meetings is scheduled for July and August, with the adoption hearings expected to take place in October and November, according to the county’s website.

Fresno County started the process of reviewing its general plan to achieve compliance in 2018.

“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,” the county said in a statement. 

“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.”

Privately, County officials fumed over Bonta’s bureaucratic attack, sources told The Sun.

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 added, prompting increased worries that the California Department of Justice was being directed to target Fresno County’s draft process by special interests.

Fresno County Supervisors would learn of the letter after the Department released it to media outlets and published it on social media.

In his letter, Bonta focused his ire on two new industrial sites that have been proposed in Malaga and Calwa, which the state sees as environmentally vulnerable.

Bonta said those proposals likely violate state housing discrimination laws and Senate Bill 1000 – which requires governments to address “environmental justice” in their planning.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.