The Industrial Empire

A Southern California Valley has ended up as an industry center, leaving residents to suffer the consequences.

Southern California is home to 10 counties, with the Inland Empire covering two of its largest: San Bernardino and Riverside counties. 

The region first became popular in the 1880s due to the construction of the railroad. Moreover, the county gained its recognition from its fertile land, which was prioritized for agriculture. 

Vineyards and orange groves soon became industrial complexes with the logistics industry first being introduced in the city of Mira Loma during the 1980s. The industry is led by consumer practices, and prioritizes production usually constructed in the form of warehouses. The mixture of cheap land and a high demand for consumer goods made the Inland Empire a breeding ground for industry and the construction of major warehouses. 

Ranked third in the U.S. for large warehouse leases, large corporations such as Amazon, UPS, Home Depot, Target, and Lowe’s have taken over the region. 

Developers hired by these corporations have reasoned with communities in the region, explaining that the logistics industry will create new jobs.

Local elected officials such as Andrea De Leon, the executive director for the Fontana Chamber of Commerce, have also argued in favor of corporations, as she stated the following at a public commission hearing: 

“We send 50% of our working population to other counties to find work. Thousands of them by car loads who have to leave our community for work. Keep us home.” 

Although the support of local officials is steadfast, there is outcry from communities in the Inland Empire.

On August 16, during a town hall meeting held by the Planning Commission Council for the city of Fontana, the commission voted on several new construction projects in the city, the most important one being the construction of the West Valley Logistics Center.

The center would consist of over 3.4 million square feet of land dedicated for industrial usage. Six warehouses are set to be built in this project. 

The logistics center is planned to be built at the heart of Bloomington (San Bernardino County), with construction being just a street over from residential communities. 

In the meeting, the majority of council members asked questions about transportation issues relating to streets and freeway usage. In response, IDI Developer Steve Hoilest, promised to dedicate funding into city streets around the project, as an additional 794 trucks will be added onto Bloomington roads daily. 

The legalities surrounding this project arose at the end of the council hearing. Gary Grossion, the vice chair of the Bloomington Municipal Advisor Council, referred to the Environmental Justice Committee lawsuit and the San Bernardino County Lawsuit against the first proposal of this same project in 2019. 

“I’m not sure how you’re going to get around this project when it was already in a legal settlement,” Grossion said. 

Matthew Gordon, a commissioner on the council, was the only member to bring forth environmental concerns. In response, the developer stated that air pollutants will be centered at truck loading dock zones which are at a supposed safe distance from surrounding neighborhoods. 

The developer was given an unlimited amount of time to reason with the council. Citizens of the community were given three minutes. 

Over 12 public statements were made by members of the community, expressing their concerns with the project. 

Jasmine Cunningham, the treasurer for the South Fontana Concern Coalition and a resident in close proximity of an existing warehouse, shared how her kids get nose bleeds from playing outside past 30 minutes. 

Sam Amadas, a community member, made the following statement in response to the developer expressing his plan to construct bike lanes and promote ride sharing apps for workers at the industrial center. 

“No one carpools. It’s 100+ degrees and the air quality is terrible in the city. You’re putting a personal responsibility to mitigate those environmental impacts [onto locals] when those impacts are caused by the trucks and warehouses,” Amadas said. 

The environmental concerns of Inland Empire residents have been ongoing for decades. In 1984, natural water pools in the area, Stringfellow, were used by industries as a toxic dumping ground. Heavy rains caused toxins to wash down into communities below. The coalition of community members which formed in wake of this information created the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) situated in Jurupa Valley.

When asked about public health issues that may develop from industrial development, UC San Diego Professor of Public Health Harvey Checkoway shared the following: 

“High levels [of diesel exhaust exposure] can increase the risks for lung cancer and cause non-cancer and respiratory effects [asthma, chronic bronchitis, cough, and shortness of breath],” Checkoway said.

Project ENRRICH, a study conducted by scientists at Loma Linda university, found that residents on San Bernardino’s west side exposed to high levels of diesel pollution have, in fact, developed an abundance of health issues such as asthma, sputum, and consistent coughing. 

Alicia Aguayo, the communications manager for the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice (PC4EJ), refers to this as the “west side cancer clusters.” In an interview with Ms. Aguayo, she explained how San Bernardino residents are exposed to these emissions on a daily basis. This has caused respiratory issues to become common on the west side of San Bernardino. 

Furthermore, UCSD Professor of Urban Studies Leslie R. Lewis stated that dedicating vast areas of land for industrial purposes creates “missed opportunity” costs. In other words, they are costs in the form of missed opportunities for communal unity and benefit. She referred to them as “ugly” since they fail to offer community amenities and instead displace communal unity. 

Lewis also shared the environmental impacts of mass warehouse construction. The heat island effect, driven by open concrete fields, is contributing to the already increasing temperatures in valley communities. Moreover, emissions from industrial transportation have pushed the Inland Empire to have the worst smog in the United States

In an interview with CCAEJ, organizer Joaquin Castellejos provided this statement when asked why large corporations have set their eyes onto the Inland Empire. 

“They see us for our labor. They’re pushing college graduates out of the area. Everyone who lives in the area is becoming dependent on the warehouses to live. People need to survive.” 

In the interview, Joaquin further mentioned how corporations, such as Amazon, have launched logistic pathway programs in high schools throughout the Inland Empire. 

These programs are implemented in schools within the region to teach students warehousing skills while they’re in high school so they are prepared to work in the industry once they graduate. 

In San Bernardino, Cajon High School was the first to accept the offer from Amazon. Joaquin says the mass construction of warehouses have shifted the job demographics of residents in the Inland Empire. 

“They put it in your face. That’s all you see. It’s either construction or warehouses,” Joaquin said. 

In addition to the Inland Empire holding a large working class, the area holds access to California’s largest freeways including the 10, 60, and 15. Joaquin would describe the region in the eyes of developers as the Inland Port being similar to the LA Ports in terms of commercial importance. 

The industrialization of the valley stems from American consumer practices. UCSD Professor of Urban Studies Leslie R. Lewis mentioned how “big box” buildings are meant to serve the “at your doorstep” lifestyle: a lifestyle popularized by consumerism that focuses on the consumer’s demand for online order and delivery. 

Although the construction of major warehouses are continuing to be approved, Joaquin described a lighter note of the situation in this statement. 

“The Inland Empire is at a critical point in its history right now. I see people standing up for themselves. Community power. There might be a lot of money and opposition against us, but when the community comes together, there’s nothing that can stop us,” Joaquin said. 

Community members have been showing up to commission hearings. Although those commissions tend to ignore the public outcry, the amount of residents who are aware of the issue is growing, according to Joaquin. 

Alicia Aguayo, PC4EJ communications manager, described the increasing community activism due to the sharing of information and understanding of communal empowerment. 

Aguayo said that he sees hope in the future of the valley, mentioning people like Ben Reynoso, an activist slowly moving towards positions of power. Reynoso was a part of the PC4EJ coalition before, ran for office and was elected as a representative on the San Bernardino City Council, where he continues to be extremely critical about warehouse construction. 

Concluding the interview, Alicia Aguayo gives this advice for residents in the Inland Empire and civilians who are suffering similar industrial consequences in other cities. 

“Get involved with your community,” Aguayo said. “Continue to share your stories. Go to community events when you can. It’s a part of building a fight for a better future.” 

Image Courtesy by Kehn Hermano

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