Menifee sues Perris for barring trucks on Ethanac Road

A major road that divides Menifee and Perris is at the center of a lawsuit involving the two cities.

Ethanac Road runs in southwest Riverside County between the 15 and 215 freeways. But there’s a disagreement between the cities over whether the road should be used by trucks that feed businesses and boost the local economy or as a quieter road for neighbors and businesses.

Menifee officials said truck traffic is needed on Ethanac, which they see as an “economic corridor” to serve planned warehouses in the city that will create jobs and provide a financial shot in the arm. Perris leaders say the trucks will bring pollution and noise, affecting concerned neighbors on its side.

Menifee sued Perris, its neighbor to the south in mid-July for what Menifee officials are calling Perris’ “unlawful designation” to remove Ethanac Road’s status as a designated truck route “without proper public notice … or consideration of regional welfare,” a Monday, Aug. 1, Menifee news release states.

Semi trucks drive west on Ethanac Road, near its intersection with Murrieta Road in Perris and Menifee, on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

A big rig drives east on Ethanac Road as it passes a “Welcome to Menifee” sign near Goetz Road in Menifee on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Menifee Planning Manager Orlando Hernandez and Nick Fidler, public works director/city engineer, are seen Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the intersection of Ethanac and Murrieta roads Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Menifee Planning Manager Orlando Hernandez and Nick Fidler, public works director/city engineer, stand in front of the intersection of Ethanac and Murrieta roads Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

A big rig moves through the intersection of Ethanac and Murrieta roads in Perris and Menifee on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Menifee Public Works Director/City Engineer Nick Fidler, left, and Planning Manager Orlando Hernandez stand in a field set for development south of the intersection of Ethanac and Murrieta roads Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Menifee Planning Manager Orlando Hernandez, left, and Public Works Director/City Engineer Nick Fidler stand Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at Murrieta Road, south of Ethanac Road. Menifee is suing Perris over a dispute centered on whether trucks should be allowed on Ethanac Road. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

A semi truck drives west on Ethanac Road, west of Murrieta Road, in Perris on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Menifee’s Planning Manager Orlando Hernandez, left, and Public Works Director/City Engineer Nick Fidler stand at the corner of Ethanac and Murrieta roads Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ethanac Road, which is a border between Menifee and Perris, is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Menifee against its neighbor. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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The news release states that, by barring trucks on the street, Perris “violated” the California Environmental Quality Act and other state laws by “passing an ordinance for a highway that is not under the exclusive jurisdiction of the local authority enacting that ordinance,” among other reasons.

Both cities share jurisdiction over Ethanac Road, which was classified as a truck route in the general plans of both cities. But Perris “de-designated” the roadway as a truck route in July, Menifee spokesperson Philip Southard said.

The stretch of Ethanac Road between Goetz and Barnett roads, where the truck route was removed, is about 1.75 miles long, Southard said.

Ethanac Road was named after Riverside farmer Ethan Allen Chase, who purchased land to build an alfalfa colony in the Perris Valley in 1898. It serves as the northern gateway to Menifee and bisects the border between the two cities, with Perris to the north and Menifee to the south.

While Perris’ decision does not change Menifee’s general plan, it would eliminate truck traffic on Perris’ side of the road.

Southard said his city’s responsibility to residents is to protect the general plan, which remains unchanged.

“The general plan envisions economic development along Ethanac Road where the two cities meet,” Southard said. “Making it illegal for trucks to access this regional roadway system — of which Ethanac Road is a critical component — could be crippling to that economic development corridor.”

Menifee filed the suit in Riverside County Superior Court on July 14, with the goal of ensuring that Ethanac “remain a truck route,” Southard said. Menifee is not seeking financial damages from Perris.

Perris spokesperson Stephen Hale said the city is “preparing a response to the lawsuit.”

In August 2021, Perris was notified of several proposed warehouse projects in Menifee on the southern part of Ethanac Road, which would total more than 3 million square feet, Hale said. Perris officials expressed concerns and asked Menifee officials “to explore alternate truck routes” that wouldn’t impact neighbors, Hale said.

“Perris staff has been meeting with Menifee for about a year in hopes of trying to resolve this issue by asking Menifee to explore other truck routes that would not impact traffic and safety for a large residential established community on the north side of Ethanac Road,” Hale said.

Earlier this year, Perris approved updates to its designated truck routes in the northern part of town — which excludes Perris Boulevard and Ramona Expressway, which both are not truck routes — according to city council and planning commission meetings from June, when Ethanac Road changes were discussed.

In June, Perris officials recommended the removal of Ethanac Road as a truck route to protect its residents from poor air quality, noise and traffic on busy road corridors.

Menifee “could reroute truck traffic to the 215 Freeway via Barnett Avenue instead of Ethanac Road,” senior planner Nathan Perez told the Perris City Council at a June 14 meeting.

The north side of Ethanac “has been zoned for residences since 1990, or even before that,” Perez said.

A zone change was approved June 14.

In 2018, Perris widened Ethanac from a two-lane to a four-lane roadway.

Aside from Perris and Menifee, other cities and agencies, including the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the city of Lake Elsinore share jurisdiction over the road, Southard said.

Menifee considers Ethanac as an economic corridor in its general plan that is meant for residential, commercial and industrial uses and transporting goods, Southard said. It has six to eight lanes with traffic primarily from cars, and has businesses and neighborhoods.

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“Rather than complete a full environmental impact report and take the time to conduct a thorough analysis, Perris rushed through a negative declaration – which as a matter of law takes the position that there are no impacts, and so no comprehensive study and no mitigation is required,” Southard said.

“Perris’ position will result in the re-routing of a huge number of truck trips to other places. If Perris thinks truck trips along Ethanac Road will cause air, noise, and traffic impacts, why does it not believe the same will happen in the areas to which the truck trips will be re-routed?”

Menifee City Manager Armando Villa said in the release that he hopes the dispute can be resolved. 

“Ethanac Road is a key roadway for Menifee, and the action taken by the City of Perris to eliminate trucks from this vital corridor will cause irreparable harm to the future growth and economic development of our city,” Villa said.