Battles erupt over warehouse jobs as the Legislature moves to curb subsidies - LA Times by Margot Roosevelt
A spectacular boom in warehouses and distribution centers moving in over the last decade helped lift the vast Inland Empire region out of the Great Recession, bringing an estimated 84,000 jobs, nearly a quarter of the region’s added employment. Amazon built 14 giant fulfillment centers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, becoming the area’s largest employer.
But massive industrial investments, while creating the nation’s largest logistics cluster, have come at a price. Cities often grant tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, choice locations and other incentives to major retailers without ironclad contracts to guarantee jobs or benefits. Physicians label warehouse areas “diesel death zones” for the elevated cancer and asthma risks from truck and rail traffic funneling in goods from the giant ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“Local governments compete to bring in logistics centers,” said Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), who says companies like Amazon benefit from the bidding wars. “The promised number of jobs often doesn’t materialize. And many of the jobs are temporary or seasonal. They come with poor benefits and are at risk of becoming automated.”
A Medina-authored bill that passed the Assembly this month and is pending before the Senate would break through the secrecy that routinely cloaks economic development agreements. Under the measure, when warehouses are granted subsidies of $100,000 or more, local government agencies would be required to publicly reveal the number, wages and kinds of jobs promised — whether full-time, part-time or temporary — along with plans for automation, all information that companies now see as proprietary.
The legislation, AB 485, would mandate annual public hearings and reports on the incentive deals, projected tax revenue and progress in meeting job commitments. Local governments would have to publicize measures to claw back money from businesses if goals are not met.