Industries hungry for warehouses have rapidly transformed Bloomington from an agricultural rancho to a concrete jungle.
Over the past decade, warehouse development has become a prevalent issue in the Inland Empire, especially in San Bernardino County, but has continually been supported by local government leaders.
Unincorporated Bloomington, in particular, has become a battleground between the community and industrial giants. The area was once majorly rural, where many families owned small farms. This was until the early 2000s when E-Commerce expanded significantly and warehouse expansions occurred in any space of cheap land.
In early 2022, a new logistics proposal titled "Bloomington Business Park Specific Plan Site" was proposed by Tim Howard of Howard Industries. The plan includes three warehouses totaling 2.1 million square feet each and one 289-stall truck and trailer parking lot. However, there are hundreds of homes and three schools near the site including Zimmerman Elementary School.
Howard has also expressed interest in buying Zimmerman Elementary School if the initial plan is successful. On June 30, 2022, The Colton Joint Unified School District held a meeting behind closed doors regarding the sale of Zimmerman Elementary School in return for new land and $44.5 million to construct a new school on land already owned by Howard Industries.
Ultimately, the decision was up to the Board of San Bernardino County Supervisors, composed of Supervisor Joe Baca Jr., Janice Rutherford, Dawn Rowe, Curt Hagman, and Paul Cook.
The final decisive meeting was held on November 15 at 10 am despite a petition organized by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ). The organization called for a later meeting time because many citizens of Bloomington are working-class people and would be unable to show up for public comments at 10 am.
In the board meeting, a San Bernardino public land use service representative, Heidi Duvron, presented the plan and states, "Numerous additional public benefits outweigh unavoidable adverse environmental effects." A significant benefit Duvron emphasizes would be the "One time 10.7 million dollars fee and an annual fee of approximately 1.8 million dollars which provides funding to numerous programs specific to the community of Bloomington."
About fifteen citizens wore lime green T-Shirts with "Invest in Bloomington" written on them and spoke about supporting the plan with the hope of Bloomington becoming an official city. Additional excitement revolved around greater job opportunities, infrastructure, and a new school. Theresa Soto comments, "We are excited for the opportunity this new unprecedented investment will bring for our kids, families, and community."
On the other hand, other citizens spoke about the undeniable health and environmental impacts with #BloomingtonIsNotForSale posters behind them.
Maria Perez exclaims, "Please protect our city! We pay taxes that should go into paying for sidewalks and infrastructure; it should not be left up to private companies. We do not need more warehouses for jobs. All warehouses have signs saying that 'we are hiring.' This is corruption!"
Joaquin Castillejos is a CCAEJ organizer and remarks, "We are seeing truck terminals and truck stops where there should be grocery stores, community centers, more parks, and more schools."
After an hour of public comments, Supervisor Baca declares, "The reality is not everyone is going to be happy. Not everyone is going to like the outcome potentially." He then called Howard to the stand. Howard quickly asserts, "We have 100% concurrence [from the residents that would be displaced] for everything we need to build at this time."
Shortly after, the project passed unanimously. Constituents in the audience began to chant, "Shame on you, shame on you." Chairman Hagman asked for them to be escorted out.
Questions have been raised about how much this decision was made for the community. CCAEJ has expressed disappointment with Baca's decision especially after accepting $4,900 from Tim Howard for his County Supervisor campaign.
Since the decision has been made, and as of January 2023, construction is halted by a Title 6 class action lawsuit that EarthJustice, on behalf of CCAEJ, filed against Howard Industries. The suit is based on the development not complying with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). However, in the past, CEQA lawsuits have only ended with band-aid solutions such as planting trees or building a larger wall around the development.
Castillejos adds, "The only real option is to continue putting pressure on the county and regional government. Hopefully, with the pressure, there can be some pushback, and we can help stop this from developing."
CCAEJ Organizer Gabby Mendez emphasizes, "One of the quickest turnarounds is getting people in office that are residents that understand the issues in the community.”