San Bernardino County has targeted majority Latino community for warehouse development, complaint alleges

BLOOMINGTON, CA MAY 16, 2024 - In unincorporated Bloomington, more than 100 homes being razed for more Inland Empire warehouses. Developer Howard Industrial Partners is building a 213-acre warehouse project near homes and schools. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The unincorporated community of Bloomington is transforming as developers look to raze neighborhoods near the 10 Freeway to create a logistics corridor dedicated to online shopping needs. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Two environmental groups are alleging that San Bernardino County officials violated federal anti-discrimination laws by approving a disproportionate number of warehouses and logistics centers in a majority Latino community.

The developments expose residents of Bloomington, an unincorporated community with deep equestrian traditions, to air pollution and contribute to housing instability and inequity, the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice said on behalf of San Bernardino-based The People’s Collective for Environmental Justice in a complaint filed with the federal government last week.

The complaint asks federal agencies to investigate the claims and meanwhile put warehouse development in Bloomington on hold.

Homes located in Bloomington's redevelopment area continue to be leveled to make way for a planned warehouse complex.
As homes are demolished in rural Bloomington to make way for a warehousing project, the neighbors who remain look out at rubble. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A spokesperson for San Bernardino County declined to comment on the complaint.

Bloomington recently made headlines because a developer is demolishing 117 homes and ranches to build an industrial park. The community of 23,000 people is rapidly transforming as developers convert areas around the 10 Freeway into a logistics corridor connecting goods shipped into Southern California ports with online shoppers across the nation. Proponents of the developments say they bring jobs and major infrastructure improvements.

Read more: 'Who's going to live here?' What happens when an e-commerce warehouse takes out your neighborhood

The complaint says that other unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County haven’t experienced the same rapid industrialization, even though they have similar characteristics, including access to major freeways, flat topography and historically rural land uses.

Bloomington, which straddles the 10 Freeway, has 15 warehouses and five more that have been approved, according to Warehouse CITY, a tracking tool from Radical Research and the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College.

Mentone, about three miles from the 10, has three warehouses. The desert communities of Phelan and Piñon Hills, near State Route 138, and Oak Hills, near Interstate 15, have five among them.

Joaquin Castillejos is organizing coordinator at the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
Joaquin Castillejos, with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, advocates for residents whose neighborhoods are targeted for warehouse projects. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Bloomington is nearly 90% Latino, and Mentone is 42% Latino. The Latino populations of the three desert communities range from 44% to 56%.

“In our analysis, it was clear that there was a systematic targeting of Bloomington for warehouse development in a way that wasn’t occurring in other unincorporated parts of the county that have much fewer people of color, Latinos specifically,” said Katrina Tomas, associate attorney for Earthjustice.

County leaders and developers see Bloomington residents — many of whom are immigrants and more than two-thirds of whom speak a language other than English at home — as “less willing to fight,” said Alicia Aguayo, communications manager for The People’s Collective for Environmental Justice. She pointed to the lack of quality translation at public meetings.

“We don't believe that warehouses should be in those communities either, but it is clear that Bloomington is disproportionately targeted because a majority of people of color live in Bloomington compared to the others,” Aguayo said in a statement.

Read more: One of Earth's oldest known plants takes center stage in California development battle

Gary Grossich, a member of Bloomington’s Municipal Advisory Council, disagrees with the analysis. In the past, he says, he has supported planned warehouse development along designated truck routes when he believes it will provide the infrastructure, jobs and revenue for Bloomington to eventually incorporate as a city.

Bloomington is being targeted not because of its racial makeup but because it is closer to the ports and the Union Pacific railroad tracks than some other communities, Grossich said. He added that industrial development in Bloomington is “minimal” compared with surrounding cities such as Fontana, Rialto and Jurupa Valley.

“For some reason, the environmental justice community wants to single out Bloomington as ground zero for warehouse development,” he said, “and in my opinion, that’s not really the case.”

Esmeralda Tabares, left, is a member of the group Concerned Neighbors of Bloomington.
Esmeralda Tabares, left, of the group Concerned Neighbors of Bloomington, says the growth of warehouses in Bloomington is changing the community's culture and lifestyle. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The complaint, filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, cites the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors’ January approval of a 260,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution building as the “latest example” of singling out Bloomington for development. Title VI prohibits racial discrimination by agencies such as the county as a condition of receiving federal money.

Developed by Duke Realty, the project will require the demolition of two single-family homes, decreasing the already limited affordable housing in the community, the complaint alleges. It will also be located 330 feet from Bloomington High School. The Colton Joint Unified School District in February filed a lawsuit alleging that the county failed to conduct a sufficient environmental review and is asking the court to halt the project.

This article is part of The Times’ equity reporting initiative, funded by the James Irvine Foundation, exploring the challenges facing low-income workers and the efforts being made to address California’s economic divide.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.