By Mark Gutglueck
Over the objections of two members of the California legislature and dozens of residents who were speaking that day, more than two dozen residents who inveighed against the project in person five weeks previously and hundreds of others who had affixed their signatures to petitions of opposition, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-to-1 to allow residential property in the unincorporated county area of Bloomington adjoining a school and other residences to be rezoned for light industrial use so it can host a 344,000-square foot warehouse.
The zone change was one component of a land use designation readjustment that further included an amendment to the county’s general plan, the granting of a conditional use permit, the certification of a final environmental impact report which enumerated negative consequences for nearby residents and students attending an adjacent high school along with a declaration by the board of supervisors that a set of considerations existed which overrode the negative consequences of the warehouse’s development and therefore justified granting the proponent permission to proceed with the project.
County officials are hoping the vote will bring to an end the four-year controversy that has pitted them and the project applicant on one side and a significant cross section of Bloomington residents and a burgeoning network of activists and environmentalists on the other. But there remains yet the possibility that a lawsuit will be filed on behalf of the unincorporated county area’s residents to prevent J.M. Realty Group, Inc. from proceeding with constructing the warehouse.
The reason for the bitter and deep resistance to the project is that the county’s granting of the zone change conversion of the property in question from residential to industrial has the potential of being a tipping point that will lead to the eventual wholesale conversion of what was once a predominantly rural and low density residential community into an industrial district.
The continuation of Bloomington’s existence as a primarily agricultural/residential zone has long been threatened by the three major transportation arterials that cross it east-west: the Santa Fe Railway line, the I-10 Freeway and Valley Boulevard. Over the last half century, what was once a largely rustic area has haphazardly absorbed what is now a jumble of commercial uses along the freeway and Valley Boulevard, many of them transportation related. South of the freeway, a hodgepodge of light and medium industrial uses, adjuncts to the rail line, have come to dot the landscape along two other east-west roads, Slover Avenue and Jurupa Avenue. And while the area yet remains laden with a substantial number of homes, some older, some modest, a few upscale and some modern and attractive tract homes that embody the advantage of being on quarter acre lots, there are only scattered remnants of the area’s agricultural past as most farms and ranches have gradually given way to conversion to industrial use in recent decades. The county supervisor long overseeing the area, Josie Gonzales, is being advised with regard to Bloomington primarily by members of the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Commission, a panel which is far more sympathetic toward the goal of achieving “economic development” of the area and making infrastructure improvements than in preserving the district as a blue collar bedroom community. Gonzales herself had previously demonstrated that she is inclined to welcome virtually any type of investment in the area, such that she perceives the status quo of allowing Bloomington’s neighborhoods to remain residential in orientation to be unacceptable if that means no further non-residential development will take place. Given the county’s governmental ethos, in which each county district represented by a single county supervisor exists as something of a political fiefdom where the wishes of that particular supervisor are respected and adhered to by the remaining supervisors in return for and out of an expectation that similar accommodation will be extended for each of them in their own districts, going into the meeting there was little prospect that the Bloomington residents who were hoping to preserve the primarily residential nature of their community would prevail. Moreover, a previous hearing relating to the warehouse project had been held by the board on August 21, during which a strong showing of Bloomington residents had provided input at that time. By virtue of a stratagem put forward by Principal County Counsel Bart Brizee, those who had weighed in at the August 21 meeting were prohibited from participating in the public comment portion of the September 25 meeting. In an effort to offset that disadvantage, the project opponents sought to marshal a showing of further protest by having many among their ranks who had not come forward earlier give discourse to their sentiments on Tuesday. In addition, the opponents brought in two of the heaviest guns they could muster, California State Senator Connie Leyva and Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez-Reyes, the representatives in the statehouse in Sacramento of the legislative districts that include Bloomington.
Leyva, who was president of California Labor Federation for two decades before going into politics to become today the office holder in California’s 20th Senate District, noted the presence of a bevy of orange shirt clad construction union members within the meeting chambers and that most of them were there in support of the project because the construction phase of the warehouse building will be a source of jobs for those in the construction industry. While commending those union members for their participation in the process, Leyva said, somewhat wistfully, “I wish we were on same side of this issue. I would argue that we just don’t need this piece of property to be rezoned from residential to commercial. Four years ago, when I was elected, I went on something we lovingly called the toxic tour. I went from one end of my district – I started in Pomona and we traversed through the district and ended up in San Bernardino. What I learned on that toxic tour is that we do bad things to people who don’t have a voice. We do bad things to people who cannot always stand up for themselves. One of those places we stopped along the way was this piece of land on Slover. I said, ‘I don’t see any toxicity here. What’s going on?’ Well, then I was quickly informed that there was a movement to try and rezone this piece of property and build a warehouse there, which of course is problematic for the residents who live there and problematic for anyone who lives in the area.”
Leyva continued, “Warehouses don’t themselves pollute. We all know that. It’s the trucks, the hundreds and hundreds of trucks that come in and out that pollute. Many of you might have grown up here like I did. We moved to Chino when I was three years old in 1970 and we couldn’t see the mountains many days. We had smog alerts. Your chest hurt. Well, now we see the mountains far more than we ever have before, and that’s because we’ve done a better job with regulations. What we also know is we see the mountains more but the particulates are smaller, so the Inland Empire still suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the country. Again, it is not the warehouses. It is the trucks that come in and out. I have had a hard time trying to figure out how this particular project will benefit the community.”
In a personal plea to the board members, Leyva said, “I, like all of you, took an oath to take care of all of the workers and all of the residents that you represent. I don’t see how this helps the residents who will live right behind this project. I don’t see how it helps the school children that will be within a thousand feet. Rezoning this property helps one person. It helps the developer. You might get some nice new sidewalks out of it. We might get a couple bushes, so it looks a little prettier. But who does this project really help? And why does it have to be built here? You have been working on this for three years and it is as if this is the only piece of property left in Bloomington, and there’s no place else to build this warehouse. There are plenty of other places that we could build this warehouse and build it with the project labor agreement so that my brothers and sisters in the labor movement will be able to do their job and continue their careers.”
Leyva then indicated that she understood that Josie Gonzales was backing the developer, but appealed to her colleagues to stand with Bloomington’s residents against the project. “I have spoken with Supervisor Gonzales,” Leyva said. “I know that you will be supporting the project. So, I’m asking that each and every one of the others of you – Mr. Ramos, Mr. Lovingood, Mr. Hagman and Mrs. Rutherford – to please vote no today on rezoning this piece of property from residential to commercial because I don’t see where it benefits the people that I took an oath to represent.”
47th District Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez-Reyes referenced the strong opposition of her constituents “to the Slover distribution project which is being proposed to be built right in their back yards. I have been presented with petitions signed by hundreds of community members objecting to the project. They tell me they bought their home for themselves and their families knowing the property behind their backyard was zoned residential, not industrial, not commercial. They, like the rest of us, want to be sure they do the best they can for the future of their family. Imagine their concern when they found out the owner of the property was now attempting to put a 344,000 square foot warehouse, the size of six football fields, less than 100 feet behind their backyard. Initially, they thought it’s not a big deal. They can’t put a warehouse there. But then they realized their voices were not being heard and that it now is going to be a possibility. The residents tell me that it is now clear the developers’ discussions have been with the elected officials rather than with the residents. As a constituent, I am deeply concerned about another warehouse that will necessarily add to the already overburdened diesel traffic in our communities. I’m concerned that residents bought their homes knowing that they were going to be next to a lot zoned residential, which is now being proposed for a change to industrial. It is clear in this instance that the property was purchased with clear knowledge that it was residential. There were no promises made that a warehouse could be built there. The owners have a desire to build something that is not allowed under the present zoning. It is now up to you to decide if this particular owner’s desires are more important to you than the desires of the residents. An aye vote for this project will set a precedent in the region which says it is okay for policy makers to disregard the voice of their constituents, that the only people who have a voice in policy in our community are those who have the resources to influence policy. Democracy is so much more than that. We must begin today to renew our pledge to our communities so they know their voice matters. I urge each one of you – Supervisor Gonzales, Supervisor Ramos, Chair Lovingood, Supervisor Hagman, Supervisor Rutherford – to respect the voice of the people you were elected to represent. On behalf of the community of Bloomington, which I also represent, I am urging a no vote on the rezoning proposal.”
Of significance was that the meeting was heavily attended by union members, the majority of whom appeared to be in favor of the approval of the zone change and the permitting of the project. Union support of the project was not universal, however. While some union members and union officials representing construction workers expressed support for the project and noted that the project proponent had committed to using union workers in the construction phase of the undertaking, others expressed opposition to the project in that there was no commitment to ensure that the warehouse workers will be unionized.
Jason Geiger of the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund was one of the latter. He said that the developers had “pledged to hire local labor and skilled labor” to construct the building but had refused to ensure that those who are employed in the facility after it is up and running will be organized. “San Bernardino County deserves to have developers who commit to the county for all work, not just one project,” Geiger said.
Darlene Scalf of Fontana, a retired teacher, said “There’s not a single person in Fontana or Bloomington that wants to live next to a warehouse. There’s not a single person in either one of those communities who wants their children to go to school with a warehouse directly across the street.”
Angelo Logan told the board, “Warehouses attract diesel pollution from trucks Many studies have identified diesel exhaust as a carcinogen, meaning there is a direct correlation between lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses and diesel exhaust. The State of California Air Resources Board has issued a land use guidance document that indicates you should not develop projects like warehouses in close proximity to residents and sensitive receptors.” Logan said the project “will cause detrimental harm to the public’s health. Warehouse jobs are typically temporary and low quality.”
Joan Kayano said students and parents of students at the nearby Bloomington High School campus “do not support” the project. “99 percent of parents and students did not know this was going there,” Kayano said. “Where is the engagement of your community? I am asking your to protect the children from getting sick from diesel pollution.”
Teresa Garcia, who identified herself as a retired county employee, said she had concerns about “traffic and pollution. This will bring a lot of traffic, more pollution and a lot of safety concerns for all of the children.”
Esperanza Razo of Fontana said the project would “create more problems for” asthmatics.
Samuel Rodriguez, a former Amazon warehouse employee, told the board, “I have seen firsthand how the logistics industry does not provide sustainable jobs for the people here in the Inland Empire. The average wage of a warehouse worker is $14,000 per year. To continue the expansion of warehouses here in our valley will only harm our community more, especially those projects proposed to be built next to homes and schools.”
Anthony Victoria, of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, said the approval of the project would result in “poor quality jobs” and that the rush to approve the project was a demonstration of “poor leadership. The people of Bloomington have been clear that they don’t want this warehouse.”
Manuel Elizondo, one of only a few union member members to speak, said he supported the project because it would “provide members of our union work. I support projects like this that provide hardworking members of our community a chance to work on a well-paying job while also providing much needed infrastructure improvement for the rest of the community.”
Another union member, Jose Milena of Fontana, told the board of supervisors, “This project will provide me with much needed work.”
Anna Sanchez, who is currently residing in Fontana, said “This project should not be allowed in a residential neighborhood. The environmental impact report has many flaws and has been emphasized by the [project supporters]. These flaws make the environmental impact report inadequate for the California Environmental Quality Act. Your overriding considerations are not supported by substantial evidence on the record. The majority of your overriding considerations stem from your economic report for this project, the same economic report that has been highlighted by Dr. [Eric] Nilsson [a professor of economics at Cal State San Bernardino] as miscalculating jobs, economic output and earnings for this project. Based on Dr. Nilsson’s calculations, the jobs created is substantially less than 290. It will be 12 jobs. Estimated revenue earnings are not $35.2 million, but $1.3 million. And economic output is not $58 million but $2.1 million.”
Silvia Carrillo of Rialto, representing the Warehouse Workers Resource Center, said, “The warehouse jobs are not good jobs here in the region.”
Stephanie Montes, a Bloomington resident, called placing a warehouse into a residential zone “irresponsible. The accumulation of diesel exhaust near our homes and schools [will] expose our children and residents to heavy pollution.”
Melvin Martinez from Riverside said the first impression of Bloomington and San Bernardino County in general was of a “low standard community.” He said the political leadership should return to the concept of developing Bloomington with “agriculture produce markets” and pursue “other infrastructure projects other than these warehouses We don’t need kids living in hazardous, unsafe and unhealthy environments,” he said.
Marilyn Bundage, who lives on Octillo Street proximate to the planned warehouse, said, “When we bought our home the real estate agent told us the vacant lot was to be used for a residential area and later on some houses would be built, not a warehouse. Right now it’s a residential area. My neighbors, my family and I strongly oppose the rezoning because the vacant lot is so close to Bloomington High School. We do not want any more heavy and congested traffic.”
David Angel said, “I know that more warehouses is not the way to move the Inland Empire forward I worked in a warehouse in Mira Loma as a temporary worker. It was a low paying and unfulfilling job.”
Jennifer Arlington of Bloomington said, “We are comprised of working class families who are trying to make it. We are a rural and economically challenged community with children and the elderly living below the poverty line. Just because we are poor people, it doesn’t mean we don’t count. As a registered nurse, I come to the board to talk about what I see in two local emergency rooms. I have seen firsthand what pollution does to infants, children, adults who live in this community. This pollution is deadly to infants, children, adults and deadly to asthmatics and those with heart conditions and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
Noble Stephenson said, “I am not a fan of Asthma. If you were to vote in favor of this project, countless children will develop asthma.”
Vincent Razo, a student at UCR and Grand Terrace resident, said, “This project is against the best interest of the people of Bloomington and the surrounding area. I firmly believe that it’s important for struggling communities to invest in job opportunities and economic development, but not at the expense of the health of students at our high schools.”
Lennin Kuri said “I hope when you vote today you will picture the hundreds of children who will be affected by the pollution tied to diesel trucks from warehouses. We need sustainable forms of employment, not ones that exploit and often underpay their workers.”
Larry Saldana, a 40-year resident of Bloomington, said of the board of supervisors, “You all have made very poor decisions affecting Bloomington. You moved the railroad property over there from Colton to Bloomington, didn’t put any pedestrian access over the bridge; people on the north can’t walk to the south and vice versa.” He charged the board of supervisors with having already allowed someone to “put a warehouse next to the Bloomington Head Start. You folks plan poorly,” he said.
Darrell Peeden said, “We have incredible job growth, but our per capita income is completely going down the drain. We are getting poorer. 97 percent of all of the warehouses in Southern California are located in the Inland Empire. This has been going on for three decades. I think it’s time to change what we are doing. Do we not understand the data? Do we not understand what warehouses mean? It is one job for 10,000 square feet. We have horrible job density in this region. We need higher job density.”
Roxanne Bazo told the board, “My husband is a truck driver and I used to go with him when he was working as a truck driver, as a team. In that, I have seen warehouses behind the scene. I’m asking you guys: have you gone in unannounced to these warehouses? Have you gone in and experienced what the drivers do? The products, they are changed every couple of months. Are you aware that 1,100 pounds of batteries that go inside of a flashlight is considered toxic? Have you ever experienced a tractor backing up into a trailer hook up, their dispatcher yelling at them, and they forgetting they have hooked up and checked their trailer, when all of a sudden – bam! – that trailer has nosedived because they forgot to hook up and all that product inside careens either outside of it, smashed inside of it, pulled particles. All kinds of toxic stuff is kept inside those trailers. I found out not long ago that it is the marshal’s department who is supposed to be taking care and watching what goes inside of warehouses, but their funding was dropped to the very minimum. So for them to watch what is inside of those warehouses [is unlikely]. We chose to live in areas that were residential. Where did you choose to live yourself? We didn’t choose to live by these warehouses. You changed the zoning where I live.
Eduardo Galuan said, “I’m here speaking as a Bloomington resident with 15 years of experience in the warehousing industry. I’m usually on the side of my fellow blue collar workers, but we don’t see this project in the same light. Yes, it will bring great jobs, but only for two or three months while the project is built. Once the project is there, the jobs that are inside the warehouses are usually temporary jobs that really no family can sustain themselves on. This project, once it is built, it will not bring these jobs that are promised. This is just the beginning. They are going to encroach into our community. This is the first project of rezoning and there are already other companies buying out our neighbors’ properties. Once this project gets approved, it is going to go deeper and deeper and deeper into Bloomington. This is something we have to stop right now before it’s too late.”
Joseph Chastine said, “Economists have estimated that over 50 percent of the Inland Empire’s jobs will be taken from us from automation due to the sheer number of warehouse jobs that have been created in the Inland Empire. I personally have worked in a warehouse as a security guard and even security guard jobs are being replaced by robots in these warehouses. This is a major problem. When I worked as a security guard in a warehouse I personally saw these warehouse workers work for 16 hours a day straight sometimes, not being able to see their families, having to work for all of these hours in a row just to make ends meet. It is very hard to sustain yourself on these jobs. They are extremely low paying. They are extremely hard work.”
Horacio Moreno of Rialto said he supported the project. “This is a job that will keep us close to home and [we will] spend less time on the freeway,” he said.
Joel Velasquez, representing Local Labor Union 783, said the developer “will use 100 percent union labor on this project.”
Celeste Doyle, who was not in the board chambers in San Bernardino on Tuesday, addressed the board remotely by videoconferencing from the county facility in Joshua Tree. “This sounds way too much like what we in Joshua Tree have suffered at your hands,” she told the board of supervisors. “You approved years ago a conditional use permit for a bad project in a bad location. You ignored serious community concerns. You approved a conditional use permit for a project in Joshua Tree, refusing to conduct a traffic study. You dismissed community concerns about other impacts. You declared our community land use plan unenforceable and refused to address it. You have, in my opinion, a skewed and myopic view of what will benefit the people of your county. I think you really don’t care. By the way: spot zoning is illegal under state law. I want to support everyone who has made statements objecting to this project.”
The county’s chief planning official, Terry Rahhal, acknowledged that for the hearing on the project held August 21, inadequate notice had been provided to the public. According to Rahhal, for the Tuesday September 24 meeting “The noticing error was corrected.”
In August, the City of Rialto had filed objections to the project. Rahhal said that within the last fortnight Rialto had withdrawn those objections to the project.
Rahhal told the board that the county had received a letter from attorney Abigail Smith on behalf of the Sierra Club in which she took issue with “land use consistency and a potential conflict with the Bloomington Community Plan by approving a land use change on that particular site.” Rahhal told the board that Christine Donahue of the firm Michael Baker International, which serves as the county’s consultant with regard to the more tortuous of issues relating to development proposals in the county’s jurisdiction, had drafted an overview response to Smith’s letter. Rahhal offered a defense to the suggestions that the county was engaging in spot zoning by altering the long-in-existence zoning designation on the property to allow J.M. Realty Group to meet its development objective.
“Land use was addressed in the draft environmental impact report, including consistency with the Bloomington Community Plan,” Rahhal said. “In the Bloomington Community Plan, it calls out typical uses that are located within the community and identifies opportunities, and specifically an opportunity area between Slover Avenue and the I-10 as a perfect corridor for industrial development, and that generally industrial uses should be located in that corridor. It did not specifically prohibit any industrial uses on the south side of Slover, and one way that is evident is there was already industrial zoning on the south side of Slover, including directly across Laurel Avenue from the project site.”
A conceptual reduction that was recurrent throughout the hearing was that relating to both the support and nonsupport of the project by unions and individuals affiliated with unions. Those in favor of the project or recommending allowing the zone change to occur followed by the completion of the project consistently blurred the distinction between the union representing the construction workers and any possible unions that would represent the laborers at the warehouse once it is established. Those engaging in this reduction, which implied that the project had across-the-board union support, included both Gonzales and Rahhal. In general, the construction workers’ unions, which have extracted from the developer an assurance that union laborers receiving union scale wages would be employed during the construction phase of the project, advocated on behalf of the zone change and the project. Simultaneously, others were noting that no assurances had been made that the operators of the warehouse would employ unionized workers.
The lone member of the board of supervisors that made any acknowledgment of the consideration that the support of the construction workers’ unions was not tantamount to universal union support was Supervisor James Ramos.
Ramos noted that a spokesman for the carpenters union, Jason Geiger, opposed the project on the basis that there was no commitment to employ unionized workers within the warehouse.
“It’s important because it [union support] is put down as one of the significant overriding considerations when we can’t meet some of those criteria that are there,” Ramos said. “We’re being told one thing but yet we have speakers who really oppose what is being told to us.”
Rahhal, departing to some degree from her area of expertise, i.e., land use and planning, responded, “I don’t understand the motive of the speaker who said that,” in reference to Geiger’s opposition to the project approval.
Ramos took one more stab at getting to the bottom of the issue. “When you have one [union] get up and say they are opposed because they haven’t met their criteria and yet we’re being told by the developer that 100 percent, 99 percent, of those jobs will go toward [unionized] labor, then we have another speaker saying carpenters are involved, it’s really confusing as to who is going to get those jobs and who is not,” Ramos said. “And it is one of the significant overriding considerations to be discussed. It’s something I think we need clarity on.”
Ultimately, however, further discussion and the board’s action left open the question as to whether the ultimate operator of the warehouse would be bound to hire unionized workers.
Gonzales in her remarks laid down what she said was the rationale for transitioning land previously zoned for residential use in Bloomington into light industrial or transportation/logistics applications. “We all pretty much know that Slover as it runs east and west is considered an industrial corridor,” Gonzales said, asserting “the fact that it dead ends into Ontario Airport” and “runs along the I-10 corridor, the major goods movement corridor” as proof. She said, “At one time, and perhaps will again, be discussed that even the name of Slover be considered to be changed to Airport Drive.”
Another major consideration, Gonzales said, was the willingness of J.M. Realty Group to invest money and undertake a project in Bloomington. “For the longest number of years I do not recall there being such a strong interest in Bloomington as there is today,” Gonzales said. “I welcome that. It’s about time. The impetus for us looking at the community development plan and looking at land use zoning has been to improve the quality of life, has been to bring about order in a manner when it comes to future development. We can’t do anything about past development, either poor planning or no planning, which in my opinion has been the case. We can however now begin to work toward the new community plan. Within that, does this project bring conformity to what otherwise would continue to be a dysfunctional development use, again looking at the industrial corridor, looking at the strategic geographical location which we cannot change? We are looking to get a more structured development approach.”
In response, Rahhal said, “There are existing conditions of uses that don’t always go easily together, but moving forward the best way is to have the infill development work in between some of these inconsistencies. So when we look at this project site and it is between a very nice housing tract and Slover Avenue, the warehousing, the railroad track being behind that and the freeway, development of this site needs to serve a function that’s in between and that is the way the development plan provides a bit of a buffer.” Rahhal said it would be better to have a warehouse rather than houses fronting on Slover, suggesting that justified making the zone change.
Gonzales took a stab at refuting suggestions that warehouse work was insufficiently remunerative to support a family. Citing the “Inland Empire Quarterly Economic Report from April 2018,” Gonzales said “Mr. John Husing states that the median pay for the logistics job sector is $46,708 per year.” Gonzales said that $40,000 to $60,000 per year was considered a “moderate” wage.
An individual representing the developer, whose name and company Chairman Robert Lovingood did not clearly enunciate but which phonetically approximated “Phil Prasis of Crowell Holdings” told the board that the developer was “following all Cal Green standards” in completing the project. No reference to a Phil Prasis or any similar name nor the company Crowell Holdings was contained in the minutes of the meeting.
Ultimately, on a motion by Gonzales which was seconded by Rutherford, the board voted 4-to-1, with Ramos dissenting, to grant the zone change, amend the county’s general plan, approve a conditional use permit, certify the final environmental impact report and allow the warehouse project to proceed.