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Should logistics warehouses and schools be neighbors?

Diesel smoke spews from a truck as morning commuters travel the 210 freeway near Pasadena in Los Angeles County. A federal judge has dismissed a trucking association's lawsuit against new rules intended to reduce truck and bus pollution in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images
Parents in Bloomington, a community in San Bernardino County, are trying to stop a logistics warehouse from being built near their children's elementary school. They say truck traffic in and out of the warehouse will pose health hazards to their kids.

How close is too close? That's a question being asked in the Inland Empire community of Bloomington after parents learned that a 34-acre logistics warehouse will soon be built within eyeshot of their children's elementary school.

The warehouse was approved last spring by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission and by the Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote. The warehouse will be built 260 feet from Walter Zimmerman Elementary School, according to an Environmental Impact Report submitted by the project's developer, Western Realco.

That report found that the warehouse did not exceed the South Coast Air Quality Management District's threshold for significant pollution, though parents from Zimmerman Elementary disagree. They say they're rightly concerned that the flow of heavy truck traffic to and from the future warehouse will bring dangerous fumes and air pollution to the elementary school.

Numerous health studies show that children who live close to heavy traffic and are exposed to particulates from heavy trucks have higher incidences of health problems, including asthma.

"We’re all aware that these diesel fumes are toxic. You know, say they have a headache, nausea, eye irritation, throat irritation. That’s going to impact their school day," said Patty Magallanes, whose son Christopher is a fifth grader at the school. "My other concern is longterm exposure to these fumes causes cancer."

Bloomington is a community in an unincorporated part of San Bernardino County. Over the past decade, much of San Bernardino and Riverside counties have seen a steady influx of logistics warehouses. Heavy trucks are commonplace, as they shuttle goods to and from the warehouses. Air pollution in this part of Southern California is among the worst in the state.

"These trucks idle," said Ericka Flores,  a community organizer with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice who has helped inform parents. "You don't have an air quality policeman or women regulating these trucks. They get to do whatever they want, and they know it. And that's our concern that you're going to have a truck idling when the kids are getting out. That's already bad enough, having a warehouse so close to them."

For years, warehouses have faced little opposition from elected leaders. Local officials typically greenlight the projects, heralding the logistics industry as a vital driver of the economy that employs tens of thousands of local blue-collar workers. When residents have spoken out against the projects, they've had little success in stopping them.

Flores said residents in Bloomington are mobilizing because they see warehouses inching ever closer to their children. Another warehouse project has already been proposed on a plot of land near Bloomington High School, she said. 

"They are afraid that this will be the new trend," said Flores. "Next to schools and next to homes. The homes have been going on for a long time, but to schools? This is a whole new level of disrespect." 

Magallanes is a member of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Zimmerman. She told KPCC none of the parents she's spoken with were aware of the proposed warehouse near the school.

However, in an emailed statement, David Wert, public information officer for San Bernardino County's Administrative Office, said the county had notified the school district and all of the residents and property owners near the project site.

"The school district initially raised some concerns about the project but eventually withdrew its objections," he said.

Wert said the county held community meetings where Bloomington residents "overwhelmingly voiced more concern about the pollution coming from the many unpermitted trucking operations located within their neighborhoods and near schools than the warehouse project, which includes mitigation measures specifically designed to reduce impacts."

Still, Magallanes and dozens of other parents are headed to the Colton School Board Thursday to ask it to formally oppose the project and any future proposals to build warehouses near the local schools.

Flores said it's unlikely that the parents will be able to stop the warehouse from being built near Zimmerman since it's already been approved, but she believes school board support could stop future warehouses from being built near schools.

The school board "doesn't have any jurisdiction over what the county does or does not do, but they can give us a resolution letter that will have influence and will be a tool for the parents to say, 'You know what, the school board stands with us, they have our back,'" she said.