Airport expansion must guarantee clearly-defined community benefits
This article was first published August 15, 2019 on the San Bernardino Sun
Tom Dolan, Allen Hernandez and Ricardo Cisneros
A man holds a sign concerning the Eastgate project during a public hearing on the Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center at Norton Regional Event Center in San Bernardino, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. The project is destined for San Bernardino International Airport. (Photo by John Valenzuela, Contributing Photographer)
Hundreds of residents attended a public hearing regarding the proposed Eastgate development at San Bernardino International Airport last week and a final decision on Eastgate is coming soon.
Eastgate would essentially surmount to a massive expansion of Airport cargo and logistics operations — adding 24 daily around-the-clock air cargo flights to our community, a “projected” nearly 4,000 mostly poverty level warehouse jobs, more diesel trucks and increased air pollution.
How could such a project benefit our San Bernardino community?
The majority of speakers at last week’s public hearing proposed an answer — a Community Benefits Agreement with legally enforceable, clearly-defined guarantees and benefits. Community Benefits Agreements for developments such as Eastgate can provide good living wage jobs with benefits that go first to local residents, as well as mitigation benefits to protect us from the worst effects of increased air pollution, such as air filtration retrofits for residents and schools.
According to Eastgate’s developer, the Texas-based Hillwood Investment Properties, the promised 4,000 jobs are a saving grace for the San Bernardino economy. But has it really worked out for our economy and our communities to give Hillwood the exclusive right to develop over 14,000 acres of former Norton Air Force Base property around the airport?
Norton was a huge asset to our communities. Instead of prioritizing working people and breathable air when it came to base reuse, leaders in our region gave it up for nothing.
The jobs that have been gained by Hillwood’s developments are found today in the Hillwood warehouse facilities leased by large corporations like Amazon, Pep-Boys, Mattel, Kohls, and dozens more.
The warehouse jobs in San Bernardino almost all come with wages that are too low to live on and without health care, retirement benefits, a career path or even a permanent job. Warehouse jobs are often subcontracted to temporary agencies who take a further cut of the worker’s already low wages.
While the terms of the exclusive agreement were extremely profitable for Hillwood, it is clear that working people in San Bernardino are in crisis. San Bernardino County has the worst air pollution in the country which exacerbates lung diseases, asthma and diabetes and contributes to premature deaths, particularly for children. The Eastgate Environmental Assessment already shows that the project’s smog emissions are 18 times above what is considered significant.
Our communities made Hillwood, an already obscenely rich company much, much richer without much of a say or benefit in return. Now Hillwood rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars without any obligation to do what it can to help create good jobs in our region, and no incentive to mitigate air quality impacts.
Elected leaders failed us by not attaching enforceable guarantees and accountability to its original deals with Hillwood. Fortunately, residents, community organizations, churches, and labor unions are coming together to organize under the banner “SB Airport Communities” to help put working people first again.
It’s time that Hillwood agrees to a Community Benefits Agreement.
When implemented in past years at the Oakland Army Base, the Staples Center, the Nashville Soccer Stadium and dozens of other projects, Community Benefits Agreements have ensured the creation of good living wage jobs and benefits that go first to local residents.
What was accomplished in those places can be accomplished here in San Bernardino. We can guarantee good jobs during construction and after construction. We can guarantee the best possible protection against air quality, noise, and road impacts. An expansion of the airport without these guarantees will only put us farther along our region’s race to the bottom.
Tom Dolan is executive director of Inland Congregations United for Change. Allen Hernandez is executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. Ricardo Cisneros is executive secretary-treasurer for the Inland Empire Labor Council.