The Inland Empire:
Community vs Capital
By Daniel Reyes, Digital Organizer
Nestled in the heart of Southern California—with a population and size that rivals some states—sits the Inland Empire (IE). With a culture rooted in decades of immigration and cemented by values that shaped previous generations, the IE has historically been known for its agricultural background and seen as a haven for families who could not afford to live in the Los Angeles and Orange County area. Unfortunately, the past 15 years have seen its priorities, identity, and landscape shift drastically.
No longer a hub for agriculturally-based business, the Great Recession emboldened inept leadership to pass favorable policy and shortsighted land designations, giving corporations carte blanche to change our landscape and cultures. Then-Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom himself repeated the common perception of the IE when boasting about its “growth” in a 2017 interview, saying, “It’s about logistics, warehousing, and transportation.” He failed to mention the periodic displacement of predominantly underrepresented and immigrant families, the closure of long-standing businesses, farms, and schools, the deterioration of our roads and highways, the decline of air quality, and the destruction of our natural environment to accommodate all that infrastructure. Whether overpromising and under-delivering or flat-out fabrications, the individuals who have felt the brunt of the logistics boom are the families and people that call the IE home. This includes nearly 1 million immigrants, according to the 2018 report, State of Immigrants in the Inland Empire.
Truly the undervalued backbone of the Inland Empire, immigrants staff our hospitals, educate our students, strengthen our infrastructure, feed our families, clothe our children, repair our vehicles, build our homes, and much more. They each have their successes, goals, and stories. Unlike their fellow Californians in neighboring counties and communities, they also face a struggle that is only exasperated by the environmental injustices that have been allowed—even championed—to plague the region. You don’t have to look further than the MULTIPLE Inland Empire Superfund sites.
Superfund sites are heavily polluted locations in the United States that require millions of dollars and years to clean up hazardous toxic contaminants that seep into the soil and groundwater and pollute the air. Riverside County residents were subjected to the Stringfellow Acid Pits, Alark Hard Chrome plating operation, and the March Air Force Base. San Bernardino County has the George Air Force Base, the Newmark Groundwater contamination site, the Norton Air Force Base, Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base, and the Rialto RFF site. All were developed and allowed to fester in their communities, forcing families to leave their homes, schools to shut down, local businesses to collapse, and wildlife to flee.
In 2022, the American Lung Association (ALA) ONCE AGAIN graded Riverside and San Bernardino counties as first and second for worst ozone and particle pollution. In conducting their rankings, the ALA checks for unhealthy ozone levels, plus annual and 24-hour particulate matter levels in cities and counties. Increased levels can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, birth complications, asthma flare-ups, and heart disease, to name a few. They found that “some 72 million people of color live in counties that received at least one failing grade for ozone and/or particle pollution. Over 14 million people of color live in counties that received failing grades on all three measures, including nearly 10 million Hispanics.” (ALA. 2022. P 18,19). This reaffirms that some communities are targeted for pillaging and then are forgotten, while others are appropriately invested in and allowed to thrive.
Warehouses surround homes. Streets are flooded with diesel and smog blankets over our communities; it’s abundantly clear that our quality of life is for sale. The only question is, what can we do about it? How can we protect our environment and immigrant communities?
First, if you’re in a position to participate in local elections, YOU MUST. This means routinely participating in our local elections. We need leaders that empathize and prioritize people, not profit. We need leaders that have real answers to address our local needs, not career politicians who use local government as stepping stones for bigger office positions.
Secondly, We MUST take active roles in the decision-making processes and challenge the approval of egregious projects, appointments of developer-friendly officials, and decisions to rezone land designations at our city halls. Developers and local elected leaders count on our lack of participation, the inaccessibility to information, the unfamiliarity of processes, and TRUST of individuals to streamline these developments. They must know we’re listening and don’t want bad projects polluting our neighborhoods and devaluing our communities. Coming together to demand a healthy and representative community is the only way to achieve accurate equity.
It’s time to prioritize community over the capital.