State grant will help Ontario upgrade its downtown

By on February 12, 2018

The $35 million from the California Strategic Growth Council won’t work miracles, but it will bring much-needed transportation improvements, officials say.

Ontario’s efforts to turn its downtown into an urban village recently got a boost from the state of California.

The California Strategic Growth Council, a state agency, on Jan. 29 approved a $35 million grant that the city will spend upgrading the area around Holt Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, according to city officials.

The grant, which the city council began pursuing in late 2016, was one of three the council gave out during the first year of its Transformative Climate Communities program. Fresno and Los Angeles were the other recipients, receiving $70 million and $35 million, respectively.

The money will come from state cap-and-trade funds, said David Sheasby, Ontario’s government affairs director.

Ontario will have three years to complete the projects, which are a combination of transportation and housing initiatives. All are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a major goal of state environmental officials, while making downtown Ontario a better place to live and work.

After the three-year deadline, Ontario officials will spend five years reporting to the council, informing it how the projects are improving the quality of life, and the work environment, downtown.

“The goal isn’t just to improve downtown, but to prime the pump for future development,” Sheasby said. “That’s what the grants are aimed at, and that’s why this has the potential to really transform downtown.”

One project will be upgrading the Omnitrans bus lines that run between Upland and Chino along Euclid Avenue. Two buses will be added, which will reduce the wait time at stops along the route.

Shorter wait times should encourage more people to use the bus, Sheasby said.

Other downtown improvements the city plans to help fund with the TCC grants  include:

  • Development of a 101-unit affordable housing project on Holt Avenue immediately west of Grove Avenue. That $19 million project will be undertaken with National Community Renaissance, a non-profit in Rancho Cucamonga that helps develop affordable  communities;
  • Construction of multiple transportation access points, known as a mobility hub, and five bus shelters;
  • Establishing Ontario Carbon Farm, in which community members will remove green waste from local restaurants and convert it to compost;
  • Planting 365 trees to create a “canopy effect” downtown;
  • Setting up an incubator program for small businesses;
  • Installing rooftop solar panels on 100 single and multifamily homes.

Besides the longterm environmental benefits, Ontario officials hope the downtown improvements will attract more commercial development to the area.

Specifically, they hope it speeds up planned improvements along the West Valley Connector, a 20-mile route that runs from Pomona to Fontana along Holt Avenue. Those improvements, which are expected to cost about $220 million, will include constructing center lane stations and adding 60-foot buses to accommodate more passengers.

“I think we got the grant because it will get us started,” said Sheasby, who is part of the team that will oversee development of the projects. “It will point us in the right direction, especially with the West Valley Corridor upgrades. That could help get more development into the area, which is what the TCC grants are about.”

The grants will have a major impact because they will complete specific projects, said John Andrews, Ontario’s economic development director.

“This is not a blanket project that is going to be spent all over,” Andrews said. “It’s going to do fantastic things for the city, not just downtown but everywhere.”

Ontario’s downtown improvement plans could serve as a model for other cities, said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments.

“We have a long way to go to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but this is a good start,” Ikhrata said. “It’s a good program and a step in the right direction. If they do it right it will improve transportation in downtown Ontario and help the environment. That’s a win-win for everyone.”

San Bernardino County has not received cap-and-trade funding – in which governing agencies provide economic incentives to businesses to get them to reduce pollutants – from the state since it began distributing those funds to counties three years ago, Ikhrata said.

“We’ve pointed that out many times to the leadership in the Senate and the Assembly,” said Ikhrata, who specializes in transportation planning. “We just hope the county gets its share in the future.”

The TCC grants are part of California Climate Investments, which seeks to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in stages.

Using California’s 1990 level of greenhouse gas emissions as a benchmark, officials hope to reach 40 percent of that by 2030, then 80 percent by 2050.

The first TCC grants will pay for 45 projects in the three cities, reducing an estimated 117,412 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the same as removing 25,142 cars off the road for one year, according to the council.