Inland Empire has clashing perspectives on air quality control

Living behind Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s railyard in San Bernardino for 22 years has taken a toll on Olga Medina. Her health hardships, however, have motivated her to demand action from air regulators.

Medina, a homeowner and mother of three, claims the diesel emissions coming from the railyard have contributed to the decline in health of people in the neighborhood. Nose bleeds and sinus infections are common indicators of respiratory failure, she said.

“It’s an unfortunate, but normal circumstance residents now face,” Medina expressed.

She believes the continuing growth in truck traffic along the 5th Street and Rialto Avenue corridors–movement caused by the Inland region’s investment in logistics–will only contribute to the congestion of air pollutants.

“Before there wasn’t this big influx of goods movement in our neighborhood. Now it’s an everyday occurrence,” Medina said. “Something needs to be done to clean this up. It’s not our fault polluters don’t know how to comply with the rules.”

Medina was among the hundreds of residents who expressed their grievances to the South Coast Air Quality Management District earlier this month regarding indirect sources–warehouses or other structures that attract mobile pollutants.

Southern California’s air regulation agency decided to postpone its vote to approve the 15-year plan in order to reconsider providing incentives to port, warehouse, and railroad operators. The SCAQMD is scheduled to approve its long term Air Quality Management Plan on March 3.

The plan’s original focus revolved around the proposal of providing over a billion dollars in incentives to help industry adopt practices to reduce emission output and switch to cleaner technology (i.e. electric trucks and solar panel installations inside warehouses).

While environmental rights organizations argue that indirect sources have terrible impacts to human health, business advocates believe curbing incentives and enacting more regulation on rail yard and warehouse operators may contribute to economic decline.

There is a faction under pressure from environmental groups that wants to slow down the economic sector in our region,” said local economist John Husing of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership. “This will have a devastating effect.”

Husing published a report last year on the region’s economic growth since the recession in 2008. According to the report, logistics or goods movement accounts for approximately 23 percent of job growth in the Inland Empire. About 11,000 logistical jobs are expected to be created this year.

“The logistics industry is an important source of growth for the Inland Empire,” said Husing. “We have experienced a great turnaround since the recession.”

Evan Gillespie, a director with the Sierra Club, believes industry has the capability to find innovative ways to adopt cleaner practices without any economic decline. Further neglect, he said, will only contribute to further health impacts on vulnerable populations.

“The logistics industry is booming [in the Inland Empire],” said Gillespie. “If we don’t get a handle on the pollution emanating from those facilities, the health impacts on the community will go up in upcoming years. There’s a real urgency to get this right and move on regulating warehouses.”

Kareem Gongora, who previously sat on the City of Fontana’s Planning Commission, said he opposed an upcoming development project on the city’s northwest end because it exceeded “thresholds” put in place by the region’s air regulatory board.

Gongora, a father of three children, cited concerns of traffic congestion along the 15 and 210 freeways, which would add to the region’s pollution woes.

“They didn’t plan for this properly,” Gongora said about Fontana’s Westgate Specific Plan. “You could avoid the construction of a warehouse entirely.”

In addition, Gongora cited a 2015 UC Riverside study to adamantly back community concerns regarding warehouse employment. The report–conducted by the university’s Labor Studies program and School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development–found that a large number of blue-collar warehouse positions are filled through temporary staffing agencies, thus enabling warehouse companies to pay these workers less and opt out of providing health care coverage.

The study also found that warehouse jobs typically pay less than the living wage, contributing to poverty rates in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The region’s long term perspective, he said, should focus on giving residents quality jobs and improving their living conditions.

“We should look at bringing higher quality jobs,” Gongora said. “It’s not a diverse economy. It’s honed in on certain industries and that’s what we bank on. We really harp on car dealership sales tax and we think Wal-Mart provides sales tax galore. I don’t think it’s a good model. We’re setting ourselves up for failure.”


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