Environmental, community, and labor allies applaud Appeals Court ruling against VWR warehouse and City of Visalia

Sep 18, 2012, 20:11 ET from Teamsters Joint Council 7, San Francisco, CA

Attorney General joins plaintiffs as Court of Appeals reverses trial court ruling; disapproving of fast-tracked, new distribution warehouse in Visalia.

FRESNO, Calif., Sept. 18, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a stunning development, the 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno reversed the Tulare County Superior Court's ruling on the city's approval of a 500,000-square-foot Visalia-based warehouse by VWR International, a global laboratory and chemical supply company.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20100127/IBTLOGO)

In layman's terms, the Court of Appeals basically found that the City of Visalia bent every law to fast track the VWR facility -- the Clean Air Act, CEQA, and its own municipal code. "As a result, the facility will generate almost twice as much truck pollution as allowed by the clean air act, and will have massive unmitigated traffic impacts that should have been addressed under CEQA," stated Richard Drury, the Plaintiff's attorney.

In December 2010, the Coalition for Clean Air, Teamsters Joint Council 7, the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR), and the Center for Environmental Health, the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment filed a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against VWR and the City of Visalia. 

The new facility was fast-tracked through the City of Visalia despite efforts by environmental and legal experts to convince the City to conduct a full environmental impact review under CEQA prior to moving forward.  The Teamsters, who have over 700 members and two offices in Visalia, have represented employees at VWR in Brisbane for over 50 years.  In 2010, VWR abruptly told its employees they were shuttering the Brisbane plant and moving the facility to Visalia.

Residents' and workers' testimonies at the City Council expressed deep concern about the impact that truck trips and the transport of hazardous chemicals would have on traffic, air quality, and public health in the region, and that the City and VWR appeared to be skirting the law to move the project forward.

When the Tulare County Superior Court ruled against the plaintiffs, Attorney General Kamala Harris joined the environmental/labor coalition by filing an amicus brief in support of their appeal to the 5th District Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals found that VWR did not obtain a required Planned Development Permit (PDP) as required under the Visalia Municipal Code (CCP 1085) prior to the City issuing any building permits.  Likewise, the Court determined that Visalia's Notice of Exemption (NOE) under CEQA was null and void because it was filed before the project was approved – another sidestep of the law. Finally, the Court ruled that the City of Visalia may have illegally provided VWR with $1.5 million in taxpayer money for "site related improvements" in violation of its own municipal code.

"In a region with record air pollution, VWR seems to care about clean air about as much as they care about their employees – which is not much at all," said Rome A. Aloise, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents 40,000 Teamsters in the Central Valley. "We had to put VWR and their big clients, such as the University of California, on notice that the law cannot be ignored."

"This victory in court goes to clean air and protecting public health," said Elizabeth Jonasson of the Coalition for Clean Air's Fresno office.  "The City of Visalia should have never approved this project without considering the environmental and public health problems it would cause.  This court ruling sends an important message to California cities and counties – don't take shortcuts around the legal process.  The Coalition for Clean Air is committed to preventing and reducing air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, which suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country," said Ms. Jonasson.

In a related air quality victory, the Court held that the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District could be held to enforce the Clean Air Act Rule 9510 (Indirect Source Rule) on VWR's facility, which should result in a 50% reduction in air pollution emissions.

The Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) has been dedicated to making sure that every breath you take is a breath of clean air since 1971.  With offices in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Fresno, CCA reduces air pollution and improves public health in California through advocacy, outreach and education.  For more information, visit www.ccair.org.

SOURCE Teamsters Joint Council 7, San Francisco, CA