Frustrating some locals and environmentalists, Ontario city council votes to allow warehouses on historic farmland

People stand in a room holding signs that read "Say No to Warehouses".
Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy has been actively opposing the warehouse development. (Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

On March 1, Ontario’s city council voted to allow the repurposing of some of the farmland in south Ontario to build some of the city’s largest warehouse complexes. The decision — which is not the first of its kind — was met with backlash by some Ontarians and environmental groups, including Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability.

The vote approved the creation of the South Ontario Logistics Center, a 219-acre business park that would feature several large warehouses and manufacturing facilities. The center would be developed by REDA in Ontario Ranch, an area that has been historically used for dairy or cattle farming and that was part of the former San Bernardino Agricultural preserve. 

The 8,200 acres that make up Ontario Ranch have been recently sought by other prominent developing groups. Last December, Dermody Properties purchased 54.4 acres of land, which previously served as dairy farms. It intends to build a 1 million square-foot logistics center, to be called Logisticenter.

The council’s decision to approve the South Ontario Logistics Center was a divisive topic among Ontario’s community. According to the Daily Bulletin, its public hearing was one of the largest in the chambers in recent years; more than 1,147 comments on the issue as well as a petition opposing the project with more than 1,000 signatures were submitted to the city council.

A diverse group of Ontario residents, labor union members, farmers and environmental groups congregated at the March 1 meeting in Ontario’s City Hall and testified about their frustrations or hopes regarding the city’s plans. More than 20 Pitzer community members were in attendance.

Supporters of the plan, which included local carpenter, welding and plumber’s union members, said they looked forward to the kind of job opportunities that the project would bring. Some expressed a desire to be able to work closer to their families, which would allow them to be more involved in their children’s lives.

Jimmy Elrod, who represented the local carpenters’ union, stated that the project would support Ontario’s community by providing citizens with more local job opportunities. 

“The amount of good paying jobs that would be created as a result would benefit the local workforce [and] the community as a whole,” Elrod said at the hearing. “It helps build that much needed community wealth.”

But there was strong opposition to the project from those concerned with the environmental ramifications that the project would bring in the future, such as worsening droughts, food insecurity and bad air quality. 

Presenting her message in Spanish, Tongan and English, one community member argued that the jobs brought by the project wouldn’t truly uplift people economically.

“These warehouses could be an opportunity for jobs, but these jobs are not capable of providing healthy sustainable wages,” she said. “[They] can’t provide a high quality of life.”

Susan Phillips, a professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer and the director of the Redford Conservancy, which advocates for socio-ecological justice in surrounding communities, urged the council to consider the long term effects of building warehouses on the community’s well being, especially in regards to climate change.

A person holds a sign that reads "Stop Warehouse Wapner".
Pitzer students joined local environmental groups and residents in protesting the decision to build a new warehouse complex on historic farmland. (Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

“We have to plan ahead, not just for the next five years, not just for the next eight years that you guys are going to spend constructing that [warehouse park],” Phillips told the council. “We have to plan for the far future.”

Randy Bekendam, founder of local Ontario farm Amy’s Farm and a member of the Southern California Agricultural Land Foundation said that repurposing the land would eventually lead to food insecurity and that it was important to ensure food for Ontarians was grown locally and sustainably.

Callie O’Neal PZ ’25 also spoke at the hearing, where she proposed implementing agrovoltaic farming technologies in the disputed farmland. These new technologies would create climate resilience while simultaneously promoting economic development, she explained.

O’Neal later told TSL that her comments on the hearing were a result of knowledge gained from previous on-campus projects at Claremont McKenna College’s Roberts Environmental Center with Phillips, where she has analyzed the impact of warehouse air pollution on local communities.

After hearing 27 testimonials, 12 in favor of and 15 against the project, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon said that he would move on to vote in favor of the warehouses. The four other participating city council members voted the same way, stating that citizens had the right to sell and buy their land however they wanted to.

When the council members announced their decision and submitted their votes, audience members opposing the project began to lift their signs and chant, urging council members to shut down the warehouse plan. 

Leon called a recess and council members left the dais as audience members continued to voice their displeasure. The council members eventually returned to adjourn the meeting and police officers escorted the remaining community members outside of the building.

Some members of the different environmental groups and communities who opposed the project lingered outside after the meeting ended, exchanging ideas and talking about next steps they could take. Although many expected the city council to vote in favor of the warehouses, Adam Levine, a Robert Redford Conservancy research fellow, expressed frustration with the outcome.

“It’s a terrible decision,” Levine said. “It’s going to harm residents, it’s going to harm the environment. It’s going to destroy irreplaceable habitats, eliminate all the capacity that still exists to grow food locally to improve food security, to sequester carbon and help address the climate change issue. But their choice is to continue down the road to climate catastrophe.”

“Their choice is to continue down the road to climate catastrophe.”

Adam Levine

The Inland Empire has recently become a more sought out region for warehouses due to its proximity to freeways and Ontario International Airport. Neighboring cities such as San Bernardino and Rialto have seen similar surges in the amount of warehouses built. 

Some residents from these places have found the warehouses to be detrimental to their communities’ wellbeing and want to ensure nearby communities don’t suffer the same fate.

One study found that students who attended an elementary school 500 meters downwind of the San Bernardino Railyard, a major source of diesel emissions, had a 59 percent increase in reduced expiratory flow, an indication of poor lung health, in comparison with children from an elementary school seven miles west of the same railyard, according to a 2020 article in the Sierra Club’s magazine.

The American Lung Association gave San Bernardino county an F rating for clean air. The metropolitan area of Los Angeles-Long Beach was the number one most ozone-polluted city in the country in 2019. Elevated ozone exposure has been linked to premature death, with research suggesting this risk is present even when levels are below current national standards.

Rialto community organizer Ana González urged Ontarians to use the upcoming election on Nov. 8 to vote for city council members who will oppose the development of more warehouses. 

The developers are not our friends. They’re here to exploit the people and make tons of profits.”

Ana González

“My son is developing asthma because of the environmental impacts in my community,” González told the other protestors.The developers are not our friends. They’re here to exploit the people and make tons of profits … Not one of [the council members] stood up for the community and that should tell everyone something. They need to be voted out.”

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