What now stands as the San Bernardino International Airport was once the Norton Air Force Base. As a sprawling military facility employing scores of people from the surrounding communities, it represented the region’s pathway to economic sanctity through industrialization. It has been more than 25 years since the Norton Air Force Base of San Bernardino closed. At the time of its closure in 1994, the base had employed 12,000 people both in civilian and military roles and had contributed almost $2 billion annually to the local region’s economy. With the loss of jobs and revenue during the base’s closure, the region was hit hard with unemployment and anxieties over how to renovate the facility into something that could lift the community back up into economic mobility. The solution that came to the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, or the SBIAA was to build logistics centers on site that could provide basic warehousing and trucking jobs. This was done through a partnership with Hillwood Enterprises in 2001, when they first entered into an industrial development agreement with the San Bernardino International Airport Authority (source). This entailed the building of warehouses on the base and began with its first tenant, Mattel in 2003 (source). Fast forward to January of 2017 and the Airport Authority board has chosen to transform a 2,000,000 square feet piece of land attached to the airport into a development project exclusively in the hands of that same company, Hillwood. The details of this plan will involve a 35 year ground lease with a tenant entirely up to Hillwood’s choosing.
In July of 2018, the SBIAA had posted a notice of review for the project which names it the Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center. In October of the same year, the SBIAA approved Eastgate’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The 2,692 page report states that the timeline for the project has been accelerated in order to meet the demands of the prospective tenant and can be read here. This would involve the Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center being up and running as soon as October of this year. The report’s findings also show that, within the next couple of years, the project would add 26 daily airplane trips and 1,500 additional truck trips per day and have considerable negative effects on the surrounding environment, especially concerning the levels of ozone pollutants the facility would emit in its operation. Seeing that San Bernardino County already ranks as one of the highest ozone polluted counties in the nation, these added trips, with expectancy to grow past these numbers, is troubling. Along with these figures are claims made by the SBIAA, specifically, the executive director Michael Burrows, that the facility would generate 3,800 new jobs (source). This figure is disputed in a Traffic Analysis Report made for the SBIAA and Hillwood in July of 2018 that says the number of available jobs will be closer to 1,726.
These figures have led us to believe that Hillwood and the SBIAA have not been transparent about the goals and actual outcomes of the project because they would not directly or indirectly benefit the San Bernardino and surrounding communities. Understanding the threat that this poses, there has been a growing movement of coordinated community and organization action in order to put checks on this project and its potential impacts. Joining together to form the Inland Coalition as part of the San Bernardino Airport Communities are different organizations across the region who work toward expanding social, economic, political, and environmental rights for all people living here. These groups include the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign, Worksafe, Teamsters Local 1932, IE United, Inland Empire Labor Council, SEIU Local 2015, and the Warehouse Workers Resource Center. On April 17th of this year, the Inland Coalition held their first town hall meeting in order to gather community members and allow them to address their grievances concerning the Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center project. The town hall saw more than 300 people in attendance as people used the space to express their frustrations of being left out of the process that the SBIAA took as they sought to instill what they see would bring a rebirth of the city (article).
Community members attend a town hall meeting on 4/17/19 to discuss the Eastgate project.
Many community members rejected this sentiment based on what they’ve seen Hillwood already provide the community with– warehouse jobs that do not provide a living wage or a satisfactory quality of life. A second meeting with community members on June 13th was structured around leadership workshops which encouraged people to develop their organizing skills. A question that was posed during one of the exercises asked community members what they would want to see in an agreement between the community and the developer of the Eastgate project– what kind of provisions would make them most comfortable with a project of this size and influence.
Community members workshop ideas of what they would include in a CBA on 6/13/19.
Community members were also asked to roleplay the conversations they would have with neighbors, friends, or family members in order to get the word out about the project. This helped to put participants in a mindset where it is up to them to raise awareness and pool participation from the people in the community around them. This was followed by an Airport Authority meeting at the San Bernardino International Airport on June 26th in which its board members, including the mayor of San Bernardino, John Valdivia, listened to community members speak with displays of apathy. During this meeting, different community members spoke about the concerns they have with the amounts of pollutants the facility is projected to bring. Some speakers reflected on how the region has changed since the closure of Norton Air Force Base and how the city, it’s resources, and the landscape has deteriorated since then. A few members of the community urged the board members to consider the proposed community benefits agreement.
Board members of the Airport Authority listen to community members on 6/26/19.
At the heart of the Inland Coalition’s platform is the community benefits agreement, sometimes also called a community workforce agreement. These agreements have been used as tools to negotiate for better outcomes in communities faced with the development of their land by corporations. Community benefit agreements involve an agreement between a developer and community coalition that makes clear the needs of the community and delineates ways for these objectives to be achieved so that they become enforceable by law within the two parties’ agreement (Partnership for Working Families). They usually revolve around the mitigation of harmful environmental and economic impacts so that the agreement can work toward providing the community with better quality jobs, protections against environmental decay, and more power in the processes of decision making by making clear these demands and holding corporations and city officials accountable to the communities of the region. One example where CBA’s have been successful in achieving better conditions for communities is the Oakland Air Base campaign in 2012. In this case, 30 organizations of different backgrounds and fields joined together to form Revive Oakland! (source). Within this community benefits agreement, the coalition demanded that all workers receive a livable wage, 50% of jobs be sourced from right there in Oakland with formerly incarcerated people being eligible, and the restriction of the use of temporary staffing agencies. Through their unity and the insistence on these objectives, Revive Oakland! was successful in securing these objectives and worked toward building a more equitable system of work and living.
As we move forward our work on the Eastgate project, we continue to call attention to the developer, Hillwood, the public officials charged with advancing the project, and all of the dangerous and unfair conditions that arise from unchecked corporate development like this. This has involved our coalition in different meetings, both with each other and with the Airport Authority and the developer. Within these meetings, we have put the needs of the community at the center through continued discussion on the implementation of the community benefits agreement. As our coalition works with each other to face these challenges, we continue our work to create a higher, overall standard for working conditions, one that will provide a better quality of life and income for people. Even though we are focusing in on San Bernardino for the Eastgate project, our hope and goals are to be constantly expanding the work and setting the standard, across the nation, for how developers should expect to interact with communities when looking to build within their spaces. In our Community Benefits Agreement, we are demanding jobs be sourced from the local area and ensure a living wage and protections for workers, a healthy and safe environment, responsible stewardship of taxpayer money, protections for vulnerable populations such as immigrants, people of color, youth, people of the LGBTQIA+ community, those who were formerly incarcerated, and finally, all other benefits which have arisen from directly impacted community needs. Through all of these objectives, we hope to forge a better environment and working landscape for the people of San Bernardino and nearby communities.