It was standing-room-only during a special session of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority (SBIAA) on Monday, Dec. 30, at the Norton Regional Event Center. The single item on the agenda was the ratification of the final form of a ground lease agreement between the SBIAA and Hillwood Enterprises for the development of 100 acres of land for the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility on the northeast portion of the former Norton Air Force Base.

The ratification follows a public information hearing that was held in August of 2019, a multi-year environmental and community review process, which included input from the FAA, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and many other resource agencies and community participants.

The FAA issued a finding of no significant impact on the environment. The FAA’s report was received by the airport late on Monday, Dec. 23, and the meeting was scheduled and announced on Friday, Dec. 27, just before 10 a.m., fulfilling the state’s law regarding notification of public meetings.

AllianceCalifornia told the commission, “The average wage of the jobs created at Eastgate is projected at $26 per hour and will include new aviation-specific occupations,” and AllianceCalifornia is “committed to finding a tenant for Eastgate that offers robust benefits including medical, dental, vision, paid leave and other financial assistance.

There were dozens of public comments for this item; it took a little over two hours for the commission to hear those public comments.

There were multiple unions along with the members from the Highland Chamber of Commerce at the session that supported the Eastgate project along with community organizers and citizens who were against the project.

The citizens against the project said it would worsen the air quality in San Bernardino County and would cause people to get cancer.

Two of the people who made public comments were candidates for District 3 Supervisor Karen Ickes and Redlands City Councilman Eddie Tejeda who are running against commission member Supervisor Dawn Rowe. Ickes voiced her opposition to the project. Tejeda said that he read the lease before entering the room and “that there is a lot of missing information” and that the community members who were voicing their opposition to the project “had a right to be upset.”

At one point during the session, multiple audience members were trying to speak over the citizens who had signed up for public comment, they were told by airport staff to quiet down or that they would have to clear the room.

Many citizens opposing the project were asking for a “community benefits agreement,” saying that the airport should have one.

SBIAA Executive Director Michael Burrows responded saying, “The airport deed and FAA grant insurances prohibit the airport from entering into a community benefits agreement.”

Burrows then gave the floor to Hillwood Senior Vice President John Magness who gave a small presentation and spoke to the commission saying “Sustainability and job creation are at the core of Hillwood’s values,” and that “In partnership with nine highly-skilled labor unions, Eastgate will demonstrate the economic potential for environmentally responsible air cargo facilities at AllianceCalifornia.”

Following Magness’ presentation, the commission voted unanimously to approve the ground lease project.

Highland mayor and alternate Larry McCallon said after the meeting that Eastgate was a “good project,” that it would provide an “economic engine” to the local economy.

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