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Leaked Memo Describes Amazon's Plans For Beating Expected Push Against SoCal Industrial Development

Amazon is pushing back against efforts to curb industrial development in Southern California as it looks to 2024, according to a company memo leaked on X, formerly Twitter. 

The leaked memo outlines the company’s plans for community engagement next year in Southern California, especially in the Inland Empire, where Amazon has both a growing warehouse portfolio and concerns about its public perception and the environmental impacts of the warehouse industry as a whole, The Press-Enterprise reported.

The memo pointed out specific bills in the California Legislature and called out their sponsors, including Assembly Members Eloise Gómez Reyes and James Ramos.

The SoCal market is a crucial one for Amazon.

One stated goal for 2024 was to “earn trust with third party partners to combat Warehouse Moratorium Legislation AB 1000 (Reyes) and AB 1478 (Ramos) – bills that will continue to threaten the region's economy, and Amazon's interests,” the memo’s anonymous author wrote, noting later that the measures would “effectively forestall future development of warehouses.” 

“I wear it as a badge of honor for being recognized for standing up for both environmental justice and workers,” Reyes, whose name was mentioned a few times throughout the document, said in a statement.  

Both Assembly Bill 1000 and AB 1478 drew opposition from commercial real estate industry groups such as NAIOP SoCal and failed to make it through the Assembly in 2023, but the memo later says that “these bills and similar will continue to emerge statewide and locally.”

That prediction is already proving true. On Tuesday, Ramos, the author of AB 1478, announced updates to his bill, which he will bring back to the legislature in 2024. 

Amazon is no stranger to flexing its lobbying might to stop legislation it deems potentially harmful. A 2021 Reuters report detailed how the company killed efforts to regulate its use of customer information in two dozen states.

The undated California memo, which came to light earlier this week, also refers to having “cultivated” the mayor of Perris and alludes to the withdrawal of a planned donation to a local Chicano art museum because of an art display viewed as critical of Amazon.

It calls Perris Mayor Marty Vargas “an influential elected leader that we have cultivated through PPE donations to support the region, touring him and his team, and ongoing engagement.”

Vargas told the LA Times he “vehemently oppose[s] claims that I have been ‘cultivated’ by Amazon” and that his relationship with Amazon “is no different than any other business within the City of Perris.”

The document details how Amazon dodged a bullet when a 2023 warehouse tax in Perris failed, but it warns that “similar efforts are likely across the region as municipalities struggle to adapt to the post-Covid stimulus economy.”

The document also highlights community engagement efforts in cities where Amazon facilities are under construction or in the entitlement phase, noting when opposition to those facilities is anticipated, and plans to increase visibility in communities in the Inland Empire through sizable charitable donations and generating positive “mentions” in the media. 

However, the memo also mentions Amazon's plans to call off a donation to the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum because of a mural depicting an Amazon warehouse in flames. 

“Toni Sanchez’s print has a stylized Amazon warehouse in flames depicted in triplicate,” a March interview with the artist in The Press-Enterprise reported. “Around each picture is the same message, also in triplicate. ‘Burn Them All Down.’”

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, chief officer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, shared the memo after receiving it from an anonymous source, calling it “an interesting read about how they plan to use $$ to non-profits in communities of color to fight legislation that limits environmental affects of warehouses & labor organizing.”

Amazon spokesperson Jennifer Flagg didn't deny the authenticity of the memo but did challenge Gonzalez Fletcher’s framing of it and existing coverage of its contents by outlets such as Vice and The Press-Enterprise, calling it “a blatant mischaracterization of Amazon’s work.” 

“Amazon is proud to be engaged philanthropically in communities across the country,” Flagg said in a statement emailed to Bisnow. “Through employee volunteerism or our charitable donations, it is always Amazon's intention to help support the communities where we work in a way that is most responsive to the needs of that community.” 

The SoCal region is a critical market for Amazon. 

“Southern California has the largest concentration of [fulfillment centers] in the country, Amazon's second largest Air hub in San Bernardino, and 40% of Amazon's global goods pass through the twin ports of LA and Long Beach on their way to the Inland Empire,” the memo says.  

Amazon is building a more than 4M SF warehouse in Ontario, and the memo details a variety of projects in progress throughout the region.