Following a nine-month process that included outreach and internal investigations, the Cypress city council voted 4-1 this past week to approve an environmental impact review and award to representatives of Amazon a conditional use permit to operate a “last mile” facility.
Saying Amazon brings with them “lots of opportunity,” Mayor Ron Johnson made the motion to approve the project and it passed 4-1 with only Mayor Pro-Tem Mariellen Yarc voting against.
The action clears the way for Amazon to complete the process of permitting the ‘last-mile’ distribution center. Once operational, it will process packages daily, load them onto local delivery trucks for “last mile” delivery.
Mitsubishi Motors of America had occupied the site since 1983. They announced in 2019 that they were moving their corporate operations to Franklin, Tenn., leaving the site vacant.
Although Amazon plans on utilizing the former Mitsubishi warehouse, the gleaming office building out front “shall remain in place solely for aesthetic purposes to screen the project site,” according to the staff report.
Amazon’s permit does not allow it to occupy the building without further council approval, but they are required to maintain it.
Approximately 70,000 square feet of research space and 4,000 square feet of mezzanine warehouse space “will be demolished” as Amazon plans another warehouse and a host of other improvements on the site (see related story).
Following Mitsubishi’s departure, Duke Realty, of Irvine began marketing the 22.3-acre site on Katella Ave. Duke had initially filed the application for a conditional use permit on Amazon’s behalf back in March. Since then, Amazon and Duke have held numerous forums and outreach sessions to answer citizen questions.
Melissa Watkins, an outreach coordinator, said Amazon will have dedicated email addresses for citizen concerns going forward.
Even activists like Brittany Cook, often skeptical of the council, and who said she still doesn’t know “if I’m for or against” this project, complimented the city for the vast amount of due diligence. “Concerns are being addressed,” she said. “The city is doing a really good job.”
During the public hearing before the vote, citizens lined up (via Zoom) to comment on the project. Not all were in favor, but most were.
Will Sheer, who will become Amazon’s station chief in Cypress, explained the daily routine to the council and the public. As a former UPS driver who knows Cypress well, he promised an open door to the community.
Twenty-year Cypress resident Thomas Curtin said he opposed the project “for a number of reasons.” He said the union construction jobs “will only last a month” and “we have to live with the project for many years.”
Amazon, who contracts out deliveries to independent drivers, “has a history of dismissing themselves from “responsibility” when accidents or mishaps occur. “They’re rather short sighted,” he said.
George Pardon, Director of Citizens for the Responsible Development of Cypress, himself sometimes critical, this time had only positive things to say about the Amazon proposal.
After asking numerous questions, Pardon said he had received inciteful answers. “More and more,” said Pardon, “as e-commerce grows, they should be a part of the business mix in Cypress.”
Shelia Lewis, a 6-year resident of Cypress, who lives behind the project said she had concern for wildlife and other questions. “I am not a supporter of the project,” she said.
Vanessa Burtle, a small business owner, said she fully supported the project. “They (Amazon) could be excellent partners within our city,” she said, especially with “job creation.”
Several labor union members from outside of Cypress also testified on behalf the project, saying the project would create many well-paying construction jobs.
Walter Comeaux, who supports the project and lives near to it, was unsuccessful in petitioning the council to force Amazon to construct a literal noise barrier rather than a planned natural berm barrier.
Ron Noda, Acting Deputy City Manager from Los Alamitos, did ask Amazon and Duke to sit down with city planning officials to resolve an unspecified issue that is of concern.
After several more speakers, the mayor closed the public hearing and offered the motion of approve.
“I’m old fashioned,” said Yarc, speaking for herself and of her concern for area residents. “I don’t want or think we deserve this business in their backyard.”
“I know the world is changing,” she said, “but I don’t have to like it.”
Yarc said could not cast her “one last voting opportunity” for a project she did not believe in. “I don’t think it’s right for Cypress.”
Council member Stacy Berry, who had earlier expressed concerns about the project, said “this is a great opportunity for the city. Virtual shopping is the wave of the future,” said
Berry, adding that Amazon has answered concerns raised by residents.
Having so much “high tech” and a “global brand” in town would ultimately be good business, she said. Berry also thanked citizens for their “thoughtful” civic engagement during the process.
“Amazon has agreed to 130 conditions on this project,” said Council member Paulo Morales. He said the new employment opportunities would be “great for career-oriented college students” and others. Morales said he remembers when similar concerns about property value depreciation were expressed about a major business locating in Cypress. Homes near it today are worth at least $800,000 to $1 million, he said.
The strongest argument opponents have used against the project is the lack of benefits from the project, since Amazon will not sell goods at the site, thus no sales tax will be generated.
While Amazon’s trucks will generate an additional $100,000 to the city budget annually, the fact that the permit also requires Amazon to be all electric by 2025 negates such a benefit.
Council member Jon Peat went through a number of the ‘concessions’ to demonstrate how Amazon is committed to becoming a good corporate neighbor. For instance, Peat asked Amazon’s representatives to confirm that no forklifts will be used on site, no backup beepers can be used, no horns, etc.
Peat seconded Mayor Johnson’s motion and the Council voted to approve the Amazon proposal 4-1.