Fontana Groups Fight Warehousing for Environmental Justice
By Dianne Anderson
Warehouses are once again under scrutiny by the state of California and the community.
Wherever warehouses thrive comes the nonstop rumble and roll of trucks and pollution.
Last week, over 40 spoke out to uphold the community’s appeal against another warehouse going up behind Poplar Elementary School. The protest was hosted by South Fontana Concerned Citizens Coalition at Fontana City Hall.
“As soon as the public comments were over, city council didn’t even acknowledge the community’s comments, they just motioned to approve the project and it was a vote 4-1 for the project. It went through,” said Ana Gonzalez, Interim Executive Director for Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
CCAEJ is working with the community to address the proliferation of Inland Empire warehousing, both big and small, focused on three cities, including Fontana, Bloomington and Moreno Valley.
In a similar project, CCAEJ along with over 80 people in the community turned out to comment against a warehouse planned next to Jurupa Hills High School, which she said the city also approved without considering community opposition.
She said CCAEJ alerted California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who has sued the city in favor of the community opposing the 205,000 square foot Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project.
In a statement, Bonta challenged the city’s limited environmental review, and the failure to mitigate that project’s environmental impact.
“Fontana residents shouldn’t have to choose between economic development and clean air. They deserve both. Unfortunately, the City of Fontana cut corners when it approved the Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project. We’re going to court today to compel the City to go back and take a hard look at the environmental impacts of this project – and do all it can to mitigate the potential harms to local residents and workers – before moving forward,” Bonta said in a statement.
Even with that state lawsuit in motion, she was surprised to see a recent Fontana bulletin stating that City Council has set a goal to become the most environmentally forward-thinking city in California.
This time around, CCAEJ and the community hope for a similar push to stop the warehouse project on Catawba Ave and Valley Blvd., reportedly over 92,000 square feet of warehouse.
In the past, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process mandated community input to help keep polluters in check. However, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has implemented an EIR exemption if warehouse square footage falls below 100,000 square feet, such as the proposed warehouse behind Poplar Elementary School.
“They keep saying they’re bringing all these awesome jobs, but it’s temporary agency jobs with no benefits and no worker compensation benefits,” she said. “Community members are getting hurt at the job with the pandemic, there’s all these outbreaks of COVID.”
Rushing the process and passing projects with only Negative Mitigated Declarations without an EIR or community input is a bad way to go, she stressed. She says the community also demands that cities request developers provide EIRs, and studies on warehouse pollution health impact.
In the coming weeks, CCAEJ will also push community awareness on the redistricting lines being drawn from the Census data up to the end of the year.
There is a deadline to vote on certain maps, and the community still has time to submit their comments until the end of October.
“Communities and census tracts that have been split are the ones facing all of this environmental justice impact with warehousing – water quality issues, or lack of funding or resources,” she said.
Mitzi Archer, CCAEJ’s first African American Board President, said environmental justice issues remain at the forefront of the fight, and it is the reason for the high rate of respiratory illness and diseases, such as asthma and cancers.
More than any other communities within the Inland Empire, she says Black and Brown communities are hit hardest in areas of health.
“Although we make up just under 10% of the population and our Hispanic or Latinx communities make up almost 55%, we share the common interest of protecting our communities and more specifically our children as they are the next generation,” she said.
Communities of color continue to get bombarded with the influx of traffic, including distribution trucks that are located close to warehouse structures and freeways that lead to them, she said.
“Our communities are also closer to the airports where goods and products are moving in and out multiple times per day, every day,” she said. “This increases the air pollution that we are all breathing in, and we have to be concerned and take action.”
Archer stressed that redistricting is important for the community to secure badly needed resources, and have a greater say on health and safety issues impact on the community.
“In terms of the redistricting, I encourage our community members to follow and participate in the meetings that are being held currently as the lines are in process of being drawn. It is important for the Black community to become more active in civic duties and let our voices be heard. Our children are counting on us to be the change we’ve always wanted to see,” she said.
To get involved with CCAEJ, see https://www.ccaej.org/
To see the Attorney General’s Lawsuit against Fontana, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/Final%20Slover%20and%20Oleander%20CEQA%20Petition%20%28signed%29.pdf
To learn more, see City of Fontana at https://www.fontana.org