A scandal involving development of a hub for cargo carrier DHL has raised questions about reuse of the March Air Force Base in western Riverside County. Whether the scandal will cost March the DHL operation is unknown, but some people in charge of March redevelopment are questioning the governing system established for base reuse.
In February, an investigated attorney hired by the March Joint Powers Authority (JPA) reported that the developer of the DHL hub, March GlobalPort, had provided the JPA and the public with an incorrect flight path for the cargo airplanes. The flight path map presented by March GlobalPort showed the planes taking off over Interstate 215 and Highways 60 and 91. The real flight path, however, takes the planes right over two Riverside neighborhoods. Residents of those neighborhoods had sued to halt the DHL project, but they lost in Superior Court and did not appeal.
The flight path revelation came only days after a consultant hired by the JPA reported that March GlobalPort had overestimated landing fee revenue from the DHL operation. The consultant said fees would amount to only $9.5 million over 20 years — not the $26 million the developer had predicted.
Opponents of the DHL project, including Riverside County Supervisor and JPA Commission Member Bob Buster, have seized on the new information to question both the JPA’s structure and cargo hub, which began operating last fall.
Others are at least questioning the JPA, which is overseen by a commission composed of two elected officials each from the county, the City of Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris.
“There is absolutely no communication,” said Ed Adkison, a Riverside councilman who sits on the JPA commission. “When things go awry, I find out about it by reading the newspaper. How can you have oversight if you don’t know yourself what is going on?” Adkison pointed to a recent citation the JPA received from fire authorities for storing aviation fuel improperly — an embarrassment Adkison learned about in the newspaper.
The JPA commission recently hired Tom Evans, a former Riverside interim city manager and former chief of the city’s municipal electric and water utility, to audit JPA operations and make recommendations.
Most base reuse efforts have a joint powers authority in charge of redevelopment, and the JPAs frequently sign agreements with master developers. This is true at March. However, unlike other base reuse efforts, in the case of March, the JPA — not the local city or county —has land use police powers.
Adkison said the JPA was never intended to be a permanent entity, and now that uses of most of the 4,400-acre base have been planned and approved, it may be time for a change.
“At some point in time, the JPA needs to go away,” Adkison said. “The JPA was never supposed to be a municipality. Now, as you’ve got these buildings going up, they need municipal services and infrastructure.”
Not all JPA members agree. Richard Stewart, a Moreno Valley councilman and current JPA chairman, has repeatedly said there is no need to break up the JPA now. In recent weeks, Stewart has clashed with county and Riverside representatives regarding the JPA’s future. Last month, the City of Riverside released a map that proposed spheres of influence over the base and adjacent lands. The map gave 4,332 acres to Riverside, 543 acres to Moreno Valley and 44 acres to Perris. The map outraged Moreno Valley and Perris officials.
“We are all equal partners in this authority,” Moreno Valley Mayor Bonnie Flickinger told the Riverside Press Enterprise. “What bothers me is that this was unilateral. Perris and Moreno Valley and Riverside County are not suburbs of Riverside, and Riverside is not the center of the universe.”
At the heart of the acrimony, though, is the investigative report prepared for the JPA commission by Los Angeles attorney Leonard Gumport. The JPA asked for the investigation after the Press Enterprise reported last September, shortly before DHL flights commenced, that the flight path map presented by Greg Diodati, then the managing partner of the cargo hub developer, was inaccurate. The incorrect map was displayed at two public hearings in September 2004. During the second hearing, the JPA commission voted 7-1 to approve the cargo hub.
Nine days after that vote — but before a routine, “second reading” of rezoning for the cargo hub — Diodati submitted a letter to the JPA providing new flight path information.
“Diodati’s October 1, 2004, letter was intentionally cryptic and misleading to the public, including the March JPA commissioners,” Gumport reported. “In the letter, Diodati obscured from the public and the commissioners the discrepancies between the flight path depicted in the inaccurate chart and the different flight path used in noise contour maps prepared by March GlobalPort’s noise consultants.”
Apparently a draft of the noise consultants’ “single-event noise exposure level study” based on the correct flight path was presented to JPA staff members only hours before the commission voted to approve the project. A final version of the noise study was made public before the October 6, 2004, second reading.
Diodati has publicly stated he did nothing wrong and did not intend to deceive anyone. However, he has been removed as the developer’s managing partner.
Two months after the JPA approved the cargo hub, DHL selected March over the former Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino and Ontario International Airport for a new cargo hub that could ultimately employ 250 people. Officials in San Bernardino and Ontario concede they are at least closely monitoring the situation, although DHL has not indicated it intends to relocate.
Andy McCue, managing director of the Blakeley Center for Sustainable Suburban Development at UC Riverside, said the recent revelations could hinder continued redevelopment at March, which had been seen as a model for others to replicate. If the individual jurisdictions start “Balkanizing,” redevelopment could truly suffer, he said.
“A lot of the momentum they had has been dissipated,” McCue said. “It’s not just the DHL project. All of these other things are starting to come out of the woodwork now. But the fact remains that for all of the cities around here and the county, March remains a very attractive economic development opportunity.”
Indeed, a development agreement between the JPA and Lennar for a 1,290-acre business park remains in place. Development for a portion of that project has already begun.
Ed Adkison, City of Riverside, (951) 826-5991.
Andy McCue, Blakeley Center for Sustainable Suburban Development, (951) 827-4103.
March Joint Powers Authority: www.marchjpa.com