The developer's sketch of the proposed 200,000 square-foot Coca-Cola warehouse in South Central Fresno. Source: Fresno Planning Commission.

What's at stake:

A Coca-Cola distributor is about to build a new 200,000 square-foot warehouse in South Central Fresno. Fresno community groups say that more of Coca-Cola's $25 billion profits in 2022 should go towards mitigating their impacts on local neighborhoods.

The Fresno Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal to build a 200,000 square-foot warehouse in South Central Fresno at its meeting on Wednesday. Three commissioners – David Criner, Monica Diaz, and Robert Fuentes – were not present at the meeting.

Set amidst one of California’s most polluted census tracts, the warehouse will add 175,000 car and truck traffic trips to the area annually, city planners estimated. The developer estimated that the project’s increased traffic will annually emit over 3,000 tons of nitrous oxide pollution – one of the Valley’s most dangerous pollutants.

The proposed warehouse, at the corner of North and East Avenues, is part of an expansion plan by Reyes Coca-Cola. The site is planned and zoned for heavy industrial uses.

The new Coca-Cola warehouse is between highway 99 and 41, in South Central Fresno. Source: Fresno Planning Commission.

Pehr Petersen, a spokesperson for Reyes Coca-Cola, said the company’s existing 65,000 square-foot warehouse, near Malaga, was too small. “To continue to grow, we need a new building.” 

South Fresno Community Alliance and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, spoke against the project in its current form at the meeting on Wednesday.   

“Moving forward with this application contributes to a long-standing pattern of concentrating industrial facilities and development within South Central Fresno,” said Natalie Delgado, a policy advocate at Leadership Counsel.  “It will continue to perpetrate disproportionate environmental impacts that place vulnerable communities at risk.” 

The planning commission’s approval of this warehouse was delayed three months because of opposition by the Laborers International Union of North America. In November, the union group wrote a letter to the planning commission with concerns about the local air quality impacts of the project.  They, however, withdrew their opposition after Reyes offered “further environmental measures,” according to their letter to the planning commission. They did not elaborate on the details of those environmental measures in their letter.

“The notion that this will create a substantial number of new jobs is highly questionable,” said Kevin Capehart at the hearing, a Fresno State economics professor, who called for more economic and environmental analysis to be conducted.

The planning commission approved the warehouse before negotiations over community benefits could be completed, despite calls from Leadership Counsel to delay approval for a few weeks.

A community benefit fund for South Central Fresno was established two years ago to mitigate against the public health impacts of new industrial development. When the fund was established in March 2021, it was lauded by city leaders as “an example for future projects,” the Bee reported.

While local industrial developers are not required to donate to the community fund, Leadership Counsel and South Fresno Community Alliance want to establish a pay-it-forward precedent that was pioneered by community residents and Leland Parnagian, a local developer.

Peter Vang, chair of the planning commission, could not be reached to comment on why the body chose to move forward before negotiations were complete.  

In the wake of the planning commission’s approval, Leadership Counsel said on Friday that the Dyer administration could have done more to maximize the environmental mitigation measures Reyes will pay for.

The warehouse project awaits approval by the Fresno City Council. 

“The doors are open to any company that wants to benefit off of exploiting a low income community with cheap land,” said Ivanka Saunders, regional policy manager at Leadership Counsel. 

“If you’re the city that’s allowing for permits, have the balls to say, ‘if you want to have your business here, you need to make sure that you’re protecting residents from pollution and that you are actually employing some of our poorest residents’.”

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Gregory Weaver is a staff writer for Fresnoland who covers the environment, air quality, and development.

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