A representative of a Coca-Cola distribution plant warned that his company could go elsewhere — and take 214 jobs — if a proposed new facility in south Fresno was not approved Wednesday night.
“If the city of Fresno and the county do not want us here, the easy answer is we’re going to end up somewhere else,” Reyes Coca-Cola representative Pehr Peterson told the Fresno Planning Commission. “It would be a loss of jobs if this is not approved because we would be moving somewhere else. There would be other communities that would take us in.”
Despite concerns from environmental groups, commissioners heeded that warning and approved the plant 5-0.
The site on the southwest corner of East and North avenues is zoned for heavy industry. It will include the distribution plant, as well as office space, and a truck maintenance and wash facility.
Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling said it has outgrown its present Fresno County location at Malaga Avenue and Golden State Boulevard.
“To continue to thrive, to continue to grow, we need a new building,” Peterson said. Coincidentally, the proposed location is across the street from a Pepsi bottler.
Peterson said the distributors are converting their fleet to electric vehicles when they open in 2024 and plan for solar. They also committed to local hiring for building the plant.
Environmental Groups Resist
The move met resistance from environmental advocacy groups. They expressed concern that the construction and operation of the plant would create unhealthy levels of pollution.
“Moving forward with this application contributes to a long-standing pattern of concentrating industrial facilities and development within south-central Fresno. It will continue to perpetrate disproportionate environmental impacts that place vulnerable communities at risk,” said Natalie Delgado of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
City planning staff said the proposal would only create 321 daily passenger and 160 daily truck trips, not creating a significant impact. The city’s planning department recommended approval.
Ivanka Saunders with LCJA expressed skepticism about those numbers.
“We are trying to remind you that those different projects are not following environmental justice protections. And you can sit here and think, well, I should trust my city. We’re telling you organizations do not have successful litigation against the city unless there is proof and evidence that something is amiss. And there is definitely something amiss,” Saunders said.
LCJA wanted a two-week postponement of the vote.
Environmental groups like LCJA have opposed expanding the city’s and county’s industrial zones, mainly found in south Fresno. Last year, Attorney General Rob Bonta sent both the city and county letters questioning whether such project approvals meet state environmental and planning laws.
With a unanimous vote, @CityofFresno Planning Commission approves the distribution center—showing complete disregard for environmentally-burdened communities in South Central Fresno, focusing only on the needs of industry. https://t.co/7KpfM247nd
— Leadership Counsel (@LCJandA) February 2, 2023
Commissioners Monica Diaz, Kathy Bray, Haley Wagner, Brad Hardie, and Peter Vang voted in favor. Commissioners DJ Criner and Robert Fuentes were absent.
Arias Will Evaluate
The proposed plant is in District 3, represented by Councilman Miguel Arias. He has not taken a position.
“I will review public records, resident comments, legal exposure, and public health impacts,” Arias said. He will also await Mayor Jerry Dyer’s recommendations “to address traffic, pollution, and health impacts on west Fresno.”
Dyer’s office said he supports the plant.
“The Mayor is fully supportive of Coca-Cola relocating their operations into the City of Fresno. This move will increase our revenues and provide much needed jobs as well as serve as an economic stimulus in the city,” Dyer’s office said.
Arias says the project will come before the city council at an undetermined date.