On May 9, 2023, Rialto residents and Inland Empire environmental activists gathered at the Rialto City Council Meeting to advocate against the continuing development of warehouses within their community, demanding a reconsideration of the vote their City Council made to approve the Pepper Avenue Specific Plan on April 25, 2023. The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) said in a press release that the community will protest and cease business as usual until this matter is addressed.
Environmental groups cited that the ongoing development is a leading contributor to the “erasure of community commercial, housing and open space zoning.” Therefore, the community is demanding a reconsideration of the vote that approved more development, and will protest and stop “business as usual” from taking place until this matter is addressed.
Advocates who attended the weekly meeting urged council members to reconsider their approval of the Pepper Avenue Specific Plan and expressed their frustration regarding their elected officials not prioritizing community health and safety over economic benefit.
During the public comment period, Michelle Sanchez, a Rialto community member, recited what she called the mission statement on each City Council meeting’s agenda.
“You disregarded your first thing here that says Rialto will be a family first community. I don’t see how you can say you care about kids and just completely pollute the area of the city,” said Sanchez. Sanchez recently spent time at Rialto’s Frisbie Park where she encountered not only many Rialto residents, but also families from the city of San Bernardino. She explored the idea of what another kind of development would look like for the community. “If we had a nice retail shopping center they’d probably use that as well.”
‘Rialto should attract high quality development and improve its physical environment,’” Sanchez quoted, further reading the agenda’s mission statement. “I don’t see a warehouse improving the physical environment of Rialto in any way, shape or form.”
Elizabeth Sena, a resident of Fontana and Operations Manager of CCAEJ, showed up in solidarity with the community of Rialto and shared that the decisions made in Rialto affect neighboring communities like her own.
“Two weeks ago I watched this reckless voting happen on this project and I was extremely disappointed,” Sena declared.
Shortly after the meeting, Sena traveled to Sacramento to support AB 1000, known as the Good Neighbor Policy. Introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-Colton), AB 100 would “prohibit local governments from approving a warehouse or logistics facility of 100,000 or more square feet within 1,000 feet of a sensitive receptor.”
In Sacramento, Assemblymembers told Sena that decisions around warehousing were primarily at the hands of local governments.
“I hope that based on your reckless decision to vote on this ridiculous project that the residents of Rialto take [that] into account for the next election process,” Sena said. She added that she was baffled by the prayer these meetings open with and how the sentiment does not align with the decisions made by the council.
Along with Sanchez, other voices present at the meeting echoed the need for a collective effort from community members and activists to study and raise awareness around the health risks associated with environmental justice violations. Attendees called for “improvements and greater investment in community health, safety, small business initiatives to protect people from air pollution, loss of green spaces, and small business gentrification against vulnerable small businesses.”
CCAEJ demanded that local authorities take action to address the impact of the environmental injustices that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.