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Banning dismisses planning commissioner after writing op-ed critical of warehousing

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City of Banning
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www.banning.ca.us
Former Banning Planning Commissioner Marco Santana speaking at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting.

On Feb. 8, the Banning City Council dismissed planning commissioner Marco Santana after he published an op-ed piece that was critical of warehouse developments in the city.

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Marco Santana
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Headshot of former Banning Planning Commissioner Marco Santana.

On Feb. 17, the Banning City Council is expected to vote on a new 600,000 sq. ft. warehouse, with some expecting the council to approve the development.

Just last week, the city council voted to remove a member of the planning commission, after he voiced broad concerns about the impacts of the logistics industry on the community.

Marco Santana wrote in January an opinion piece in the Record Gazette, in which he made the case that warehouses are bad for Banning. “I essentially presented facts and information, regarding other warehouses in the Inland Empire. And then I made the case to say hey, I don’t believe that this is the path we should be going down," said Santana.

He argued that warehouses cause more truck traffic and air pollution. “So then what I started doing in this article, is I started collecting of the different facts, different statistics, different studies of warehouses through the Inland Empire,” said Santana.

After reading Santana’s article, the city council was quick in its rebuttal. "When I read that in the paper, I felt that he would be biased for us to have growth," said Banning Mayor Pro Tem Colleen Wallace. She and Mayor Kyle Pingree requested the council consider removing Santana from the planning commission.

“Cause there’s no one knocking down our doors to come for business because they don’t see nothing. We won’t get an IBM or an Apple company or grocery store until people see that Banning is trying to bring businesses here and open up for growth,” said Wallace.

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City of Banning
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www.banning.ca.us
Banning Mayor Pro Tem Colleen Wallace speaking during the Feb. 8 Banning City Council session.

The city council held a hearing on Feb. 8 to discuss his removal and voted 4-1 to remove him from the commission. Councilmember David Happe was the only dissenting vote.

The council argued that because Santana wrote the article, he had made a pre-judgment on all future warehouse developments and that his opinion piece would open up the city to potential lawsuits. “Mr. Santana has revealed his bias towards logistics projects with his published comments creating legal liabilities for the city,” said Councilmember Mary Hamlin during the Feb. 8 hearing.

John Brown is a long-time former city attorney and currently serves Of Counsel for Best Best & Krieger LLP in Ontario and says he doesn’t buy the argument they’re making. “But to the extent that they hide behind the threat of litigation, to muzzle any community conversation about logistics is misguided,” said Brown.

He says it’s extremely common in California for appointed officials to make public comments about matters of importance to the community. "It is always easy, cowardly, seldom successful, for an elected official to throw out willy nilly fear of a lawsuit," said Brown.

For his part, former commissioner Marco Santana says he would write the article again because he wants what’s best for Banning and will fight for it whether or not he’s on the planning commission.