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After warehouse boom in South Fresno, research finds few nearby residents got jobs

A Fresno sign on Van Ness Avenue.
Joe Moore
A Fresno sign on Van Ness Avenue.

FRESNO, Calif. — Despite warehouses moving into their community, fewer Southwest Fresno residents who live in the same neighborhood are employed by those warehouses compared to residents living in other parts of the city.

The finding was made public in a new study by Fresno State’s Central Valley Health Policy Institute and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. It analyzed data between 2015 and 2020 and found little job growth for adjacent neighborhoods after major brands like Ulta and Amazon built warehouses in 2018.

In fact, the research found, neighborhoods near the Ulta distribution center saw an 8% decline in employment since then, compared to a 12% decline in employment for neighborhoods around the Amazon warehouse.

Jobs in e-commerce warehouses like Amazon were touted by the city as providing more pay and benefits. But they have also been documented to contribute to worker injuries given their work styles, where workers conduct repetitive motions and operate heavy machinery.

The Fresno State study came as a separate one produced in April by UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center is set to be presented to the Fresno City Council this month.

Pollution another concern in Southwest Fresno

The UC Merced study recommended the city create a new truck route designed to keep traffic away from neighborhoods and the Fresno State study recommends the city require polluting facilities housed near neighborhoods to reduce toxic emissions.

Residents in neighborhoods with large distribution centers endure higher levels of diesel particulate matter pollution, and barriers to transportation like costs and time compared to residents in other parts of the city.

The report also touched on life expectancy among Southwest Fresno residents, stating they had an equal or lower life expectancy than 87% of other census tracts.

Southwest Fresno is also one of the state’s most polluted regions, and has been for decades. For this reason, residents have long pushed the city to rethink where it places jobs that may contribute to pollution.

“For decades, south Fresno communities have been treated as a dumping ground for discriminatory patterns and practices of industrial pollution disguised as economic growth,” Ivanka Saunders, a policy manager with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said in a statement.

The UC Merced study found Southwest Fresno residents are exposed to twice the amount of diesel fumes from nearby traffic.

Researchers found large numbers of asthma and adverse pregnancy outcomes among residents living within 800 feet of truck routes. South Fresno saw a 44% increase in infant mortality risk and 11% increase in pre-mature births, and 23% increase in death before a baby’s first birthday from 2009 through 2019 and 2011 through 2020.

Among recommendations from UC Merced researchers is that the city build buffer zones — like trees between polluting industries and homes — in South Fresno communities to mitigate pollution.

But Fresno City Council member Miguel Arias, who oversees the southwest Fresno district, said the council isn’t likely to approve such a recommendation.

“In my view, it’s not practical,” Arias said. “It is ideal if you're doing development from the ground up… If you're building a new suburb from the get-go, you’re master planning, so you create these freeways and surround them with green buffers.”

Researchers see opportunity to improve workforce

Among social challenges highlighted by the studies, education is also a point of concern when it comes to addressing workforce disparities. The studies recommended more investment in higher education for residents living in Southwest Fresno.

Only 28% of those who live in Southwest Fresno have attended some college or obtained an associate degree, according to latest U.S. Census. Far fewer – 11% – have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. Those rates are lower than the city of Fresno as a whole, where 33% of residents attended some college or have an associate degree, and 22% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Arias said education investments are being made, such as the construction of a community college campus and several parks in the area.

“We've made significant progress by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the last five years in West Fresno while not adding any new industrial uses in that area,” Arias said. “But yet we have a long way to go.”

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.