When will Inland Empire residents get a government that represents them?

Gabriela Mendez is a Riverside resident who has been active as a community organizer since 2019. She believes in accessing social change through community empowerment. As a CCAEJ representative, Gaby aspires to contribute to an intersectional social and environmental justice movement by supporting communities of color and beyond.

By Gabriela Mendez

Last week, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission was flooded with comments from voters of all ages, political stripe, religion and creed all calling in to beg the Planning Commission to oppose a truck stop in Bloomington. Further, over 126 comment letters were provided to the planning commission, of which 125 were in opposition to this project.The Project was approved by a margin of 4-1, showing the degree to which the voices of the communities were marginalized and neglected. 

And the residents of Bloomington are not alone: A couple of weeks ago, community members in Fontana pleaded with the Planning Commission to oppose the Warehouse off Citrus and Slover. One call after another, community members spoke about the impact this would have on the health of their schoolchildren, their homes and what being boxed in by warehouses is already like. The Planning Commission went on to approve the project by a margin of 4-1. 

As the impact of the climate crisis grows clearer with every passing season, it is crucial that our leaders pay attention to the cumulative impacts that pollution and climate change have on frontline communities, many of whom have been living with these impacts for years. Working class communities like Fontana and Bloomington deserve leaders who understand the interconnectedness of public health, environment and economy. 

Bypassing the concerns of impacted residents has a detrimental effect on our community because it undermines any faith in the political process and any belief in local institutions to govern fairly. It creates an environment where political apathy thrives and destroys any faith in the democratic process. How can residents feel confident that these institutions work to serve them when political leaders are constantly ignoring their concerns?  

Consistently residents organize and follow the procedures to give input on issues that impact them and their concerns about the future of their communities, yet to no avail. Their voices are sidelined by political leaders who gaslight, marginalize and sometimes even attack them for voicing their concerns. Many frontline community members are skeptical of even interacting with these leaders because they don’t expect their own voices to be heard.

Tragically, there isn’t a single community in the Inland Valley Region that doesn’t have a similar story about their voices being neglected and not having a voice in the future of their community. Time after time, the morale of residents who play by the rules is eroded and the overall message to citizens is starkly clear: your input is not valuable. 

It’s time for us to ask: why do our political leaders govern with such contempt for the communities they are elected to serve? A few weeks ago, In an almost Freudian slip, Mayor John Valdivia of San Bernardino referred to another ward as a “trash dump,” during a City Council meeting and since has refused to apologize. The open contempt shown by Mayor Valdivia makes us question how many other commissioners and council members have the same attitude toward the Inland Valley region. It perhaps even sheds light on why so many of them are not concerned about the blistering heat and dried up water sources

This appeal is about more than just listening to the frontline community and taking into account their views. It is about how we, as a community, will approach the climate crisis that is only ramping up. As the nation gears up for another devastating heat wave and scorching triple-digit weather, will we create collective solutions taking into account the needs of our most vulnerable? Will our leadership take seriously the aim of building climate resilience into the fabric of our community? Or will they continue to privilege the bottom line of wealthy industries and donors at the expense of residents? These questions are the clearest political questions that across the board are coming into the foreground. 

*Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IECN.