Contentious ‘The District’ project officially approved by Jurupa Valley City Council

Contentious ‘The District’ project officially approved by Jurupa Valley City Council
Members of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) holding up signs during the Jurupa Valley City Council meeting on Thursday September 6, 2023. 

After nearly five hours of intense debate between residents, city leaders and developers, the Jurupa Valley City Council voted 3-1 in favor of 'The District at Jurupa Valley Specific Plan' (The District) on Thursday, Sept. 6.

Councilmember Armando Carmona took issue with the project and voted against the yes votes of Councilmembers Guillermo Silva, Brian Berkson and Mayor Chris Barajas. Councilmember Leslie Altamirano was absent.

The standing-room only public hearing featured overwhelming resident and union labor support, following the City planning Commission's 3-2 vote in favor of the project on August 23.

‘The District’ project aims to develop 3 million square feet of land between Rubidoux Boulevard and the Santa Ana river by the 60 freeway to spur economic growth in the region.  

More specifically, ‘The District’ is a mixed-use development project that will include a 1.5 million square foot warehouse, 42 acres for 1,192 single and multi-family homes, 11 acres of public space such as parks and bicycle trails in addition to 1.36 million square feet of commercial and retail space, which, according to the developer, is projected to create 8,000 temporary jobs and 2,700 permanent jobs and add a surplus of $2.2 million to the city’s existing budget surplus.

In addition, $100 million in fees and infrastructure improvements will be paid by the developer to improve their property and the surrounding area, Berkson explained in an email.

Berkson also explained that he requested an additional $1.5 million for the construction of a “homeless shelter with wrap-around services” and that the developer will pay an additional $250,000 over five years to help fund “services for the homeless.”

In light of the developer’s investments to prompt economic growth and address homelessness, ‘The District’ represents a transformative shift for some residents.

For Ronny Romo, owner of the Rubidoux-based Pizza Plugg and longtime diesel mechanic, the project represents an opportunity for good paying union jobs and much needed tax revenue for the city.

“Rubidoux is in shambles,” said Romo, highlighting the danger the unhoused and the local “riff-raff” posed to his clients and his livelihood. “We do need this development. This development is crucial to the area because all my life that I’ve been here, I’ve seen nothing around here—nothing—no growth.”

Meanwhile, some in the audience expressed concern with the project.

Joaquin Castillejos, a Bloomington resident and community organizer with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), explained that the City of Jurupa Valley has been an example for nearby cities, citing the city’s tendency toward “sustainable development” and  “environmental justice.”

“However, allowing a warehouse in an area that is not zoned for a warehouse, does not demonstrate environmental justice,” Castillejos said.

He continued, citing a cautionary example of the San Bernardino County of Supervisors and their decision to approve of a zone change to allow for warehouse development to spur economic growth in Bloomington.

“But what has happened since then?” Castillejos asked. “The approval opened the doors to developers who have started buying out residents all over Bloomington.”

According to the California Environmental Quality Act website, “The new specific plan [for “The District] would permit development of up to . . . 3 million square feet of commercial and land uses,” including “warehouse” use “as permitted by the Agua Mansa Warehouse and Distribution Overlay Zone,” which is proposed to apply to a portion of ‘The District’ project site.

For Castillos and his sympathizers, the concern centers on the effects of zoning amendments on local residents.

Even so, ‘The District’ may generate sustainable economic development and stability for the City through new sources of sales and property tax and new jobs.

“I think there’s a consensus across the board that development is sorely needed in this particular area,” Carmona said. He explained that “vulnerable communities” too often must choose between economic prosperity or “severe health impacts” and, in principle, could not vote yes.

“We need to demand more,” Carmona said. “I can’t, in good conscience, support a project that's going to be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of our community,”

Following Carmona’s comments, Councilmember Berkson addressed concerns regarding traffic in the area and explained that while a warehouse is a “big black eye,” the additional components of the project are enough to justify it, especially the presence of a soon-to-be big ticket tenant that cannot, according to Berkson, be disclosed.

“The thing that I know—that none of you know—is that the developer's planned tenant, who I can’t disclose to you, to me, is the make-or-break-it thing in this whole conversation,” Berkson said. “The tenant that they claim would like to come in here, would be transformational to this entire area. Not just to Rubidoux, but to the whole city.”

Berkson continued, explaining that while the developer’s planned tenant will be a transformative draw for the area, there is a “lot of money on the line” for the developer if they fail to secure their planned tenant for the project, citing the $5 million he asked the developer to pay the city if they fail to secure their big-draw tenant.

“I don't want them to fail,” Berkson said.

The problem, however, for former Jurupa Valley Mayor Anthony Kelly Jr — tenant or no tenant— is that this project was unanimously denied before, he said, because of the “big monstrosity of the warehouse.”  

“At the end of the day, fumes are fumes,” Kelly said.