Living Among Warehouses, Community Fights to Breathe


Published in Next City, January 13 2017
Photograph by Tommy Rocha

When Tommy Rocha bought his dream house in Bloomington, a small unincorporated area in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, he loved the wide open scenery he could see from his backyard. Diesel trucks had invaded his old neighborhood in Rialto as the distribution warehouses that fuel America’s online shopping addiction encroached on the cheap land there. But in Bloomington, drinking coffee outdoors on the mornings he wasn’t working at an aerospace manufacturing warehouse down in Riverside, Rocha could see clear from Mt. Baldy to Big Bear, with snowcapped mountains strung out in between.

“Now I see a mountain on the left, a mountain on the right and two giant warehouses in the middle,” he says. Though the land behind Rocha’s house was zoned residential when he bought it, four years later, warehouses sprung up there too. Now some of his neighbors complain they can’t even watch TV because of the trucks rattling by all hours of the day.

And the residents of this largely working-class, Latino area worry about the effect of that traffic on their health. “They want to know why their kids all have asthma,” says Rocha.

It’s no secret that Southern California has some of the worst air pollution in the United States. About 1,341 people in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale area are estimated to die each year because of pollution levels. The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area, where Rocha lives, ranks second — with 808 estimated air quality-related deaths per year. About 40 percent of all U.S. goods pass through the region.

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