When Victoria Padilla steps outside her childhood home in Bloomington, she inhales some of the unhealthiest air in the nation. It’s why, despite an aversion for public speaking, she needed little convincing from her neighbor to appear at a planning commission meeting two years ago. But after testifying alongside dozens of upset residents, the commission eventually approved the West Valley Logistics Center — six to seven warehouses totaling 3.4 million square feet, roughly 59 football fields.
Today, a blue tarp fence sections off more than 200 acres of land down the street from her home, signaling the project’s arrival. The warehouse complex will be nestled at the base of a hill just 200 feet from homes in Bloomington, an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County. It will rise on what was for many years an unofficial recreational area for the neighborhood where Padilla and her friends rode their bikes.
It wasn’t the first warehouse, and it won’t be the last.
Driven by skyrocketing ecommerce, the Inland Empire’s warehouse boom has created an insatiable appetite for land, encroaching on established low-income neighborhoods such as Padilla’s, clogging roads and spewing air pollution. But while the warehouses once went up on undeveloped tracts of land, recent proposals have called for rezoning residential land for industrial use, instilling fear among residents that their communities are being razed right before their eyes in the name of economic development. In one case, the county is planning to “upzone” entire blocks of Bloomington, leaving nothing but a business park between a middle school and an elementary school.
Environmental activists, who have at best slowed the pace of construction, vow to keep fighting despite fierce political and economic headwinds.
“We cannot normalize or naturalize what’s happening,” said Andrea Vidaurre, a former member of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, which has opposed local logistics projects. “This stuff isn’t happening anywhere else in the country.