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In the shadow of Amazon, resistance takes root in San Bernardino

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When Jorge Osvaldo Heredia moved to the Southern California city of San Bernardino in 2005, the logistics and warehouse industry was already encroaching on the neighborhood where he now lives. Over the span of 15 years, he’s watched with dismay as massive warehouses have overtaken the area, leading to more truck traffic and ozone pollution. That pollution weighs most heavily on residents of Heredia’s working-class, predominantly Latino neighborhood near the San Bernardino International Airport.

“Most days the air is horrible, especially during the summer months where everything is just a hot blanket of smog,” Heredia told Grist. During that same 15-year period, the city of more than 215,000 people was battered by economic downturns, a bankruptcy, and high levels of poverty and violence. Today, the city sits at a crossroads, both geographically and metaphorically. In the hardest-hit areas, ghosts of the past linger along the city’s thoroughfares in the form of empty storefronts, fading budget motels, and blighted public spaces. The unrelenting march of time has also taken its toll on residential neighborhoods where, in the stark daylight, even the festive holiday lights decorating people’s homes last month did little to mask the peeling paint, frayed edges, and parched lawns that hard times have brought.

Community Garden volunteer and San Bernardino resident Jorge Osvaldo Heredia takes a break from clearing a field of weeds and debris to make way for another vegetable garden plot for a San Bernardino family. As word spreads through the community more families are coming forward to join in planting and beautifying their assigned plot.
Jorge Osvaldo Heredia takes a break from clearing a field of weeds and debris to make way for a community garden plot for a family in San Bernardino, Calif. Daniel A. Anderson

By contrast, the warehouses, painted in neutral beiges and whites and bathed in winter’s sunlight, gleam pristinely against the backdrop of the San Bernardino mountains. They buzz with activity as heavy-duty trucks and commercial trailers rumble in and out of their gates. “This whole region has been taken over by warehouses,” said Heredia. “It’s really reaching that apex point where you can’t avoid the warehouses, you can’t avoid the trucks.”

In large part due to the consumer goods that flow from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Inland Empire region of Southern California, which encompasses San Bernardino and Riverside counties, has emerged as one the largest warehousing hubs in the world over the past few decades, due largely to the growth of e-commerce. “The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne]the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire,” said Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology who co-edited the recently published book The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy.

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