‘We are not for sale’

The Environmental Justice for All Act could give communities more agency to stop mega warehouse projects.

 

A warehouse near a playground at a residential home in Bloomington, California. “Our local agencies are simply rubber-stamping warehouses and freight development. We should be able to look to the federal government and get a standard that prioritizes the safety and health of environmental justice communities,” said a local policy analyst.
Anthony Victoria

On July 6, the Colton Joint Unified School District announced an agreement to relocate an elementary school to accommodate a 2.7 million-square-foot warehouse in the arid, horse-loving community of Bloomington, California. Here, warehouses and residential homes are intermixed.

Just a few blocks north of the site of that proposed warehouse, volunteers and residents affiliated with the community group Concerned Neighbors of Bloomington hosted an art fair on a recent scorching Sunday in July. Several men and children on horseback rode along the busy Santa Ana Avenue intersection in a display of traditional Mexican charro culture.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., along with a small delegation from the House Committee on Natural Resources, had come by during a tour of communities across the country dealing with environmental justice issues. They visited various vendors booths, where artists promoted surveys conducted by a local activist group to gather input on community health concerns. Some of the artists showed photographs of the ranch-style homes they are fighting to protect. Going from booth to booth, Grijalva heard from residents who argued they have no control over gigantic warehouses being built right next to their homes.

Grijalva was there to promote his proposed bill, the Environmental Justice for All Act. Bloomington residents hope that the act can serve as a policy tool to provide greater accountability and better oversight for future industrial projects. Local and state policies have done little to rein in development, said Ana Carlos, an organizer with the Concerned Neighbors of Bloomington.

Before the start of the event, Carlos shared her frustrations with me. At every hour, diesel trucks drive right by our homes,she said. It concerns me because my children are at risk every time they walk home from school.Carlos teaches at an elementary school in neighboring Fontana and has three children who attend Colton Joint Unified district schools, all within a mile of the warehouses. A lot of times at the local level, theyll try to slide these projects under our noses. There are no local laws to help us, so we definitely need something to protect us at the federal level. 

During a tour to promote his proposed bill, the Environmental Justice for All Act, Rep. Raúl Grijalva speaks with Ana Carlos, a Bloomington resident.
Anthony Victoria

Grijalvas Environmental Justice for All Act aims, in part, to affect change through amending two landmark laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Environmental Policy Act. The amendments to the Civil Rights Act would prohibit disparate impact discrimination” — decisions that are intended to be neutral and unbiased but have disproportionate impacts on communities of color — and allow affected parties to take legal action in these cases. Currently, U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Alexander v. Sandoval only protects the right of individuals to sue federal agencies when intentional discrimination is involved. Grijalva argues that this makes it harder for communities to prove discriminatory intent in development decisions. If passed, the act would improve the NEPA process by requiring public notices about proposed projects to be disseminated at least 30 days before hearings or comment periods begin. It would also mandate that federal agencies provide adequate translation for non-English speaking communities. And it would require federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements that lay out the cumulative impacts of any proposed development on the areas existing and historic environmental health hazards.

There are no local laws to help us, so we definitely need something to protect us at the federal level. 

Earlier during Grijalvas tour, he and his Natural Resources Committee colleague Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., met with members of the San Bernardino Airport Communities Coalition, a group composed of environmental justice, labor, nonprofit organizations and residents who want better jobs and clean air for future warehouse projects at the nearby airport. They visited a former Air Force base that is now a logistics hub for Amazon, FedEx and UPS. In the blistering morning heat, San Bernardino residents, labor union organizers and environmental justice advocates urged Grijalva and Stansbury step out of their vehicles to get a good look at Amazons Eastgate Air Cargo facility. 

There is no better time than now to codify and strengthen environmental laws like NEPA,said Andrea Vidaurre, a policy analyst with the Peoples Collective for Environmental Justice, a local group. Right now, NEPA just feels like a streamlined review and thats a problem. Our local agencies are simply rubber-stamping warehouses and freight development. We should be able to look to the federal government and get a standard that prioritizes the safety and health of environmental justice communities.

Grijalva agreed, and added later that the gutting of the Clean Air Act by the Supreme Court in late June has only made passing the bill more urgent. The ability to say no” (to harmful projects) must be present,he told me, sitting in the shade as he drank a small coffee.

Later in the afternoon, back at the art fair in Bloomington, residents and activists collected merchandise from a local printmaker emblazoned with the slogan, Bloomington No Se Vende,” or Bloomington is not for sale.Macedonio Gonzalez, 65, watched children performing lasso tricks and told me he that he would never sell his land to warehouse developers. Developers say that selling to them is the best option,Gonzalez said, speaking in his native Spanish. For me, the best option would be for them to stop building so many warehouses.

No queremos deshacernos de esta propiedad. No importa que traigan mucho dinero.” We dont want to sell. Not everything is about money.  

Anthony Victoria is an environmental justice and health journalist based in Riverside, California. Follow him on Twitter @eyeofthebarrio.

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