Environmental racism is when pollution and industrial uses are sited near communities of color. This can look like power plants near residential zones, railroads, and freeways bisecting working-class communities. Here in the Inland Empire (IE), this can look like warehouses near schools and homes.
Rialto and other cities in the Inland Empire, such as Fontana, Jurupa Hills, Perris, and Riverside, are surrounded by warehouses. Not only surrounded but suffocated.
Now, why is there such a large amount of warehouses being built in the IE? Warehouse developers tend to look for areas with low rent and favorable local policies, and the IE has both. The Inland Empire is also unique because it is relatively near to the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, with large areas of open space that is becoming rarer and rarer in California.
The warehouses, with them, bring immense truck traffic and emissions. Here in the IE, as of 2020, Amazon had 26 warehouses/fulfillment centers responsible for 21,500 daily and eight MILLION annual truckloads traveling from the LA ports into the Inland regions. However, these statistics have only increased since then, and the health ramifications are grave. According to the Community Action & Environment Justice Center, "These diesel fuel trucks are responsible for multiple types of emissions including carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, smog, and particulate matter. These polluters have devastating health consequences including lung disease, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and even premature death."
I vividly recall my fifth-grade teacher asking who had asthma, bronchitis, or any other respiratory disease. Eighty percent of the class raised their hand. We were not allowed out for recess some days in elementary school due to the horrible air pollution. The weather app has stated "Extremely unhealthy air quality" for weeks of the summer months in recent years. Yet, it seems as if these red flags are not enough to stop further developments.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge of online shopping has resulted in Amazon developing a regional air hub in the San Bernardino Airport, operating with at least 26 daily flights. In an already congested region, we will be suffocated with more truck traffic, carbon emissions, and warehouses.
The local government over the past decade has allowed developers to come and take over large tracts with limited restrictions because they remained fixated on the economic benefits of increased warehouses, which included an increase in the number of jobs. However, it is unjust that we need to sacrifice our environment, health, and lungs as Rialto citizens for jobs.
The warehouses have now displaced families throughout the IE, especially in Fontana, and warehouses are in dangerous proximity to schools.
For example, there are more than 20 warehouses that sit a mile away from Jurupa Hills High School, and there are plans to build more. A narrow road only separates one warehouse that was approved to build right next door. The area could have been a shopping center where the students go for food after school. The site could have been a park—anything but another warehouse.
As a community, we need to come together and urge our representatives to take action. We need to demand more restrictive warehouse building guidelines and pressure companies like Amazon to adopt zero-emission trucks, develop more green spaces, and hold them economically accountable for their irresponsible actions. The Inland Empire is notorious for its strong wind. Investment in windmills could be a significant step in decreasing emissions.
The Rialto High School Wilderness club will be teaming up with the Community Action & Environment Justice center (CCAEJ) to learn how young adults can get involved in environmental advocacy.
We need to take action now to ensure a healthy, sustainable future.