California’s warehouse boom forced one Inland Empire town to embrace a future that risks its past

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Bloomington seems like an improbable place to host a clash between past and future. But in this unincorporated town about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, a working-class, mostly Latino community is confronting exactly that: Will it be a slice of desert, a home of horses and nurseries, or will it become a logistics hub, home to Amazon, FedEx and all that goes with it?

It’s suburban but also rural, and filled with families. As I drove through one neighborhood on a recent morning, there were signs for local businesses, nurseries and car repair shops amid rows of homes. Children played during recess at one school.

Then I hit Jurupa Avenue.

This is the heart of the Bloomington Business Park Specific Plan, San Bernardino County’s vision of what Bloomington can potentially become. The document styles itself “an action-oriented plan” that lays out the development of 213 acres for “an employment and logistics center.” The plan examines traffic, water use and air quality, but what it boils down to is warehouses – massive facilities with a total footprint of some 2 million square feet.

This is an ever-familiar reality in the Inland Empire, where a boom of warehouse construction has transformed vast swaths of this vast area. That has brought jobs, yes, but also traffic, pollution and concerns that the lack of regional coordination has oversaturated its cities with huge facilities, leaving it overly reliant on logistics for its future. 

In Bloomington, the goal of the business park is to “provide economic opportunities and job growth within the Bloomington community,” the site plan states, “by enhancing the community’s available range of industrial and business park employment generating uses.”

That sounds good, but the idea was divisive, requiring the rezoning of residential land for industrial use. It pitted residents who liked Bloomington’s suburban feel against those who welcomed a bigger place in a logistics sector that has become so central to California’s Inland Empire. Some residents protested, others put their homes up for sale. When the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors eventually settled the matter in late 2022, it unanimously approved the development plan.

“It’s always a tough call, whenever we have development come through this county,” Supervisor Curt Hagman said at the time, the San Bernardino Sun reported. “We have to look at each project individually, the pros and cons. … There’s lots of improvements, both for the region and for Bloomington with this project.”

Students at Rialto High School were less convinced. The headline in their campus paper read: “Bloomington, going once? Going twice? Sold.”

The project is now underway, the result of market forces – often more powerful than politics – that are, for the moment, slowing down the pace of warehouse development and reminding their boosters in the region that they have hooked much of their fate to a fickle industry.

But the land in Bloomington is getting ready for its future, one of jobs and trucks and traffic, serving the commerce interests of the nation – the world, really, as global markets stretch from Chinese factories to American consumers.

That comes at a cost to local life in Bloomington and countless places like it.

It’s not all bad. The promise of jobs is real: Already, the logistics industry is Bloomington’s largest source of employment and income. It will be more so as these warehouses are built, and they will bring economic activity to an area that warrants investment.

When I was visiting Bloomington, I pulled up to a stretch of Cactus Avenue that was flanked by a FedEx facility on one side and an Amazon fulfillment center on the other. They are big, clean buildings, well-kept and, on this morning, bustling with employees.

At the Amazon center, cheerful banners proclaiming Women’s History Month and the “Summer of Safety” greeted workers as they arrived. A conveyor belt hummed overhead, its steady clatter a reminder of the huge flow of goods that passes through here daily. 

I pulled over for a few minutes about a half-mile north of the FedEx center and started counting trucks. Over a five-minute span, 18 FedEx vehicles passed by, trundling through a residential neighborhood for points beyond. 

And that’s just quality of life. Going, too, are this area’s links to its past, a fading memory of Mexican ranchos and horse country.

Aryana Noroozi has documented this complicated story, its powerfully competing forces and the quiet tug of history. Her photojournalism in Riverside-based Black Voice News captured the tension between those who value this area for its equestrian centers and ranch homes and those who imagine it in terms of its commercial and employment potential. 

Some residents protested the proposed warehouses fiercely, while others looked at them as a chance to cash out.

Since the project was approved, homes have been bulldozed and land cleared. Dust now swirls where families were raised. And some homeowners pocketed good prices for their land, using the money to launch new lives elsewhere.

“When it comes to development,” Noroozi wrote, “a look at Bloomington brings the idea of what’s at stake front and center. The narratives of the community, its land and history beg questions of what is to be lost and gained as warehousing continues to expand.” 

Her photo essay captured 18 months of work, she told me in an interview. Even at the end of all that, Noroozi remains torn by the competition between the past and alternative conceptions of the future that Bloomington has faced.

“My heart is with the community,” she said. “But I listened to a lot of people … There isn’t an easy answer.”

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