Education

Parents say they were kept out of the loop on warehouse plan

Parents in the San Bernardino County community of Bloomington are worried that a recently approved logistics warehouse near their children's school will bring harmful fumes to the area.
Parents in the San Bernardino County community of Bloomington are worried that a recently approved logistics warehouse near their children's school will bring harmful fumes to the area.
David McNew/Getty Images

Parents at Zimmerman Elementary School say they were blindsided by the news that a nearly 700,000 square foot logistics warehouse would soon be built just 70 feet from their children's school in Bloomington, but the county says their complaints come too late.

What really stings: their local school district was notified about the project back in the spring of 2016. They are still trying to figure out why news of the proposed warehouse didn't trickle down to them.

Bloomington is a small community in San Bernardino County, which has become a haven for logistics warehouses over the past decade. While some locals herald the warehouses for bringing jobs and tax revenue to the economically challenged region, others bemoan the air pollution that comes from the steady stream of heavy trucks servicing the industrial sites.

Zimmerman parents dismissed an environmental impact report on the proposed warehouse, which found it posed no significant environmental threat. They believe the warehouse will endanger their children, and that they deserved the chance to fight the project before it was approved.

"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 long-term exposure to these fumes causes cancer."

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors greenlighted the warehouse project on May 2, in a 3 to 2 vote. A county spokesman said the county has no plans to reverse the decision.

"There is no avenue by which the county could rescind or reconsider its approval of the project. Approval by the Board of Supervisors is final step in a long line of public steps," said David Wert, public information officer for the county's Chief Administrative Office.

Wert sent KPCC a copy of the letter the county sent to the Colton Joint Unified School District  in March 2016 about the proposed warehouse. It's unclear why that notification did not reach Zimmerman parents at any time over the past 16 months.

Randall Ceniceros, a school board trustee who represents the Bloomington area told KPCC he, too, had not been informed about the proposed warehouse until April 2017, a few days before county supervisors approved the project. 

KPCC sent numerous emails to the school district asking why Zimmerman parents and Ceniceros had not been informed about the warehouse. A spokeswoman promised a reply by next week. A call to Zimmerman's principal was not returned.

Ceniceros initially defended the district's actions, and said it was primarily the county's job to put parents in the loop.

"The county could do a better job as far as reaching out," he said. "They could've used the (Zimmerman) school site as a meeting place."

Supervisor Josie Gonzales represents Bloomington and voted in favor of the warehouse project. Her spokesman Hezekiah Herrera said the county worked with the local Municipal Advisory Council to get feedback from residents in the months before the approval.

"Residents communicated their desire for a higher quality of life brought about through investment in the community," he said. "Currently, the community does not generate the revenue to support the basic services that it so desperately needs. The funds generated by the development will help pay for these services."

It's unclear if any Zimmerman parents are active on the Municipal Advisory Council. Wert said the county also sent notification letters to 196 residents living within 700 feet from the proposed warehouse, as is required by law.

Parents and community activists spoke at the school district's board meeting Thursday when they urged the board to advocate on their behalf to stop the warehouse project and others.

Ericka Flores, a community organizer with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, asked the board to draft a resolution opposing any future warehouses planned near area schools. She noted that other warehouse projects are already being planned near schools and parks.

"They can give us a resolution letter that will have influence," Flores said. "For the parents to say, you know what, the school board stands up for us, they have our back, and I think that's going to allow us to have transparency with this board."

Ceniceros told KPCC the school board has agreed to draft such a resolution. He said he hoped it will discourage county officials from greenlighting warehouses near schools in the future. 

He said he would prefer the warehouse project near Zimmerman to not go forward, but he was unsure what legal grounds the district could pursue to stop it.