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AIR QUALITY: Warehouse plan closely watched

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AIR QUALITY: Warehouse plan closely watched

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Moreno Valley, city staff members are processing plans by a local developer to build a warehousing hub covering the equivalent of 700 football fields. Its a testing ground in the struggle to balance the need for jobs and the imperative for clean air.

This report was produced in part with a grant from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health Journalism Fund, awarded by The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Other portions of this story:

AIR POLLUTION: Battle still on for clean air

POLLUTION: Microscopic particles can cause internal havoc

CLEAN AIR: Reducing air pollution extends lives

HEALTH: Children are more vulnerable to air pollution effects

CLEAN AIR: A promise still elusive for Inland region

TRUCKING: A job opportunity for former dairyman

Karen Jakpor, a physician and asthma sufferer, has opposed the proposed World Logistics Center mega-warehouse complex sought for Moreno Valley. Jakpor's asthma forced her to give up her practice as an obstetrician and gives her trouble walking up stairs and performing other basic physical tasks. STAN LIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
The Press-Enterprise
Saturday, September 7, 2013

Moreno Valley, a city embroiled in scandals that last month saw one City Council member resign after his arrest on fraud charges, also is a testing ground in the struggle to balance the need for jobs and the imperative for clean air.

City staff members are processing plans by a local developer to build a warehousing hub covering the equivalent of 700 football fields. A hearing and City Council vote are expected before the end of the year, but residents already have taken verbal shots at the project during public meetings. At the same time, the remaining four council members face a federal political corruption probe and citizen-backed recall efforts.

Moreno Valley leaders have promoted the World Logistics Center as an economic savior for the job- and revenue-strapped city, where the unemployment rate is 12.9 percent. The Inland region’s rate is 11 percent.

City-hired economists say the warehouse complex could put more than 20,000 people to work and pump as much $2.6 billion a year into the city’s economy.

But the center would be a major polluter, attracting, by one estimate, as many as 29,000 diesel truck trips a day. Air quality regulators say emissions would be comparable to the pollution from an oil refinery. Moreno Valley doesn’t have its own air monitoring station, but it is bordered by three areas — Riverside, Perris and Redlands — that have unhealthful air quality on dozens of days each year.

People living as far as 20 miles away would face an increased cancer risk because of the additional truck traffic along Highway 60 in Jurupa Valley, Riverside and Moreno Valley, according to projections in the city’s environment analysis of the project.

Amanda Markel, 28, who was born and raised in Moreno Valley, said she blames the current pollution for the asthma that has stricken three of her four children, ages 8 months to 8 years. The condition does not run in her family, she said.

Kailyn LaSalle, 14, of Moreno Valley, has been suffering from asthma all her life and takes medication daily to help control her breathing. She has been hospitalized about 20 times, including six stays in intensive care. Her last Christmas was spent in the hospital.

It’s nearly impossible to know what caused the children’s asthma, but research has found that air pollution increases the risk of a child developing asthma and also triggers asthma episodes.

Markel held her baby son, Sawyer, at a picnic table in a park near their home on a recent weekday. Two-year-old daughter Audrey fidgeted at her side. It was good day to be out, one of the few mid-August days when ozone pollution didn’t exceed the federal health standard.

Sawyer was hospitalized in earlier this year for pneumonia, she said, and every day she uses a clear plastic mask attached to a machine called a nebulizer to give Sawyer breathing medication.

“There are days when I am driving, and I can’t believe this layer of filth that we are breathing in constantly,” she said.

She and her husband, an accountant for Southern California Edison, have discussed moving to Northern California, she said. “Redding, California, is beautiful and there is no pollution.”

Redlands economist John Husing, a consultant for government agencies and developers, wrote one of two economic reports for city that said the warehousing center would create tens of thousands of jobs.

He contends that building warehouses should be a higher priority than curbing air pollution because they provide good jobs needed by people who don’t have college educations. The benefits of putting people to work, allowing them to afford better health care and improve their standard of living in other ways, play a far bigger role in improving overall public health than reducing air pollution does, he says.

Husing’s position is that warehouse opposition and air pollution cleanup demands are threatening a business sector that has created more than 5,000 jobs in the Inland area since beginning of 2012. The logistics positions were added in what the state categorizes as warehousing, transportation and wholesale trade sectors.

There are definitely more warehouses on the way, and not only in Moreno Valley. About 112 million square feet of warehouse space has been proposed since 2010, and almost all of it — 97 percent — is in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to one analysis.

“A lot of people don’t want to hear this, but logistics to the Inland Empire is what tech is to the Silicon Valley,” Husing said. “Kill this sector and you are saying to the poor: ‘Stay there.’ The only thing that will be left for them will be flipping burgers and janitorial work.”

Former Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge disagrees.

“We don’t have to give up on air quality to have economic development that meets the needs of our region,” said Loveridge, who now directs UC Riverside’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development.

Forty years of remarkable air pollution reductions shows Southern California can grow its economy and clean up its air basin, he said.

“We need a vision built on the assets of this region, and I don’t see it as sea of warehouses,” said Loveridge, who served more than a decade on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Loveridge said he is not convinced that warehouses will go very far toward reducing poverty. Much of the warehouse work is temporary and pays minimum wage, and thus is “no better than fast food,” he said.

Wrightwood resident B.J. Patterson, CEO and president of Pacific Mountain Logistics, said he worked his way up to be top manager of about 405,000 square feet of warehouses in eastern Ontario that employ about 45 people. He started as a temporary beginning laborer or “lumper” after he served in Desert Storm.

Patterson said he knows of several managers who were laborers, often in non-air-conditioned spaces, and now make more than six figures.

“You start off at minimum wage and work your way up from there,” Patterson said.

One of his workers is Kevin Herrera, 19, who started at $8 an hour shortly after he graduated from high school last year. He now earns $11 an hour as a forklift operator. Herrera said plans to leave the job to enroll in college.

In Moreno Valley, Clarence Varnado, 29, said he is looking for a warehouse job and would welcome a local opportunity. He was hunched over a computer at the city’s Employment Resource Center, reviewing job listings.

The single father of a 4-year-old boy, Varnado moved to Moreno Valley five months ago to care for his ailing mother, he said.

Although he has three years of experience working at Walmart warehouses in Louisiana, so far only warehouse operators in the Los Angeles area have shown an interest in him, he said. “It’s too far to commute each day.”

A new warehouse complex in Moreno Valley would be good news for him, he said. “I’d be elated, to say the least.”


In the coming months, the Moreno Valley City Council will decide whether to embrace or reject the World Logistics Center proposed by the Highland Fairview Co.

Many residents have raised serious questions about city leaders’ objectivity. Even before the environmental, health and traffic consequences of thousands of truck trips a day were evaluated, city leaders had launched a public relations campaign promoting the project, at taxpayers’ expense.

The city posted on YouTube two professionally produced videos, complete with background music, that trumpet the logistics center’s economic benefits. In the first video released last year, a narrator says: “Developer Highland Fairview is responding to the city’s bold vision for global connectivity and economic development with a state-of-the-art, next-generation logistics center.”

Truck traffic and air pollution that would result from the center were not mentioned.

In an Aug. 22 speech, Mayor Tom Owings said city has “business-ready land” and described the logistics and health industries as “Moreno Valley’s best fit” for economic development to offset its high unemployment rate.

“We won’t be satisfied until every one of the 10,600 unemployed residents of Moreno Valley has a job,” Owings said in his state-of-the city address.

Highland Fairview has positioned itself to develop a medical complex in the city, as well as the warehousing hub.

City officials also placed a newspaper advertisement that said they were “collaborating” with Highland Fairview to build the 200-acre medical campus. Earlier this year, the city filed a lawsuit in an attempt to shoot down a competing medical development pursued by March Joint Powers Authority on property three miles from the Highland Fairview site.

Some citizens have spoken in support of the World Logistics Center, but most who come to City Council meetings have been opposed. In August, a rally outside City Hall during a council meeting drew about 200 people protesting the project and perceived corruption in city government.

Karen Jakpor, a physician and asthma sufferer, is a leader among those opposing the World Logistics warehouse complex. She is concerned that council members may be swayed by tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations.

Dr. Karen Jakpor is a Riverside physician who opposes the logistics center. She and her college-student daughter, Otana, have given public presentations that quantify the anticipated traffic and air pollution, and the health problems associated with it.

She is concerned that council members may be swayed by the tens thousands of dollars in campaign donations made by the project’s developer, or companies and individuals closely associated with it.

Jakpor said she worries that foul play could jeopardize any objective consideration of air pollution and health fallout from the World Logistics Center.

In April, the FBI, IRS and district attorney’s investigators served search warrants at the homes of all five council members, the Highland Fairview offices and the home a real estate broker associated with the developer. Authorities said it was part of an ongoing political corruption probe.

Since then, Councilman Marcelo Co was arrested on fraud charges in a separate case in which he is accused of pocketing $15,000 in state aid that was supposed to be used to care for his ailing mother. He resigned from the council shortly after his arrest. His criminal case is pending.

No charges have been filed against the remaining four council members or others targeted in the searches.

Jakpor said her activism is motivated by her own severe asthma, a chronic illness that has put her in the hospital dozens of times. She has lost count, she said.

Robbed of breath, she had to give up her practice as an obstetrician and has trouble walking up stairs and performing other basic physical tasks. During an interview, she had to pause periodically to catch her breath.

“I don’t want others to suffer as I have,” she said.

Jakpor said she just can’t move away because of her family’s ties to school, church and jobs in the region. Her husband, Riase Jakpor, is a professor San Bernardino Valley College.

Kevin Herrera uses a forklift to move merchandise at Pacific Mountain Logistics in Ontario. Warehouses have proliferated in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Kevin Herrera uses a forklift to move merchandise at Pacific Mountain Logistics in Ontario. Warehouses have proliferated in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties.


The World Logistics Center is part of a larger push for warehouse development growing out of post-recession increase in the volume of cargo arriving at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The amount cargo processed at ports is now approaching the pre-recession levels of more than 15 million 20-foot container units annually, and the number is projected to double within 15 years, according to the ports.

Husing and logistics industry leaders say the demand from online retailers for customer order fulfillment centers will further increase the potential for warehousing. opened such a center in San Bernardino last year, creating 700 jobs.

The logistics center in Moreno Valley would account for more than a third of the 112 million square feet of warehouse space proposed in the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s jurisdiction since 2010.

In the past, warehouse development resulted in increased cancer in the Inland area, according an air district analysis published in 2008.

Between 1998 and 2005, the northwest Riverside County community of Mira Loma saw many of its dairies leave and warehouses move in. Warehouses also were built along interstates 15 and 215.

In that time, Riverside County’s cancer risk from diesel soot and other toxic air pollutants increased 2 percent, while overall cancer risks in Southern California air pollution dropped by 8 percent, according to the air district report.

Air quality regulators attributed the Riverside County increase to higher volumes of truck traffic serving the warehouses.

Critics of the World Logistics Center say the city hasn’t disclosed all of the air pollution consequences of the warehouse complex and has not detailed any of the costs to the community associated with health care and making the city a less desirable place to live.

Questions also have been raised about the center’s location in eastern Moreno Valley, where residential development had once been planned.

Regional transportation planners have envisioned warehouses concentrated along Interstate 710 in Los Angeles County, west on Highway 60 and north on Interstate 15 and along parts of I-215.

In an interview last year, Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, said the Moreno Valley stretch of Highway 60 doesn't have the capacity to handle traffic from the World Logistics Center.


Just how many truck trips the World Logistics Center would generate depends on who is offering the estimate.

Moreno Valley’s draft environmental impact report predicts 14,600 trips. A critique of the report by the South Coast air district said the number was low and could be as high as 29,000 trips a day.

An estimate of trips based on the square footage of a warehouse — a formula recommended for planning purposes by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, a nonprofit professional group based in Washington, D.C., that is endorsed by business groups — would put the number at 26,620 trips a day.

Iddo Benzeevi, president and CEO of Highland Fairview, said in April that environmental study estimates are based on worst-case scenarios. He said his 1.8 million-square-foot Skechers building, which opened in eastern Moreno Valley in 2011, has produced only a small fraction of the truck traffic anticipated in the environmental reviews.

Skechers officials did not respond to calls and an email seeking information about the number of trucks the serve its Moreno Valley warehouse.


The city’s draft environment study of the much larger logistics center doesn’t delve into many of the potential health effects reflected in hundreds of scientific studies.

The report describes a significant cancer risk from diesel soot to people living near Highway 60 from the eastern side of Moreno Valley, where the logistics center would be built, and west through Riverside and the Jurupa Valley to Interstate 15.

But cancer is just one of several health risks associated with diesel pollution

A well-documented short-term health effect of diesel exposure is lung inflammation that can trigger and increase the severity of asthma attacks.

Other immediate health effects of exposure to diesel exhaust include coughs, headaches, lightheadedness and nausea. In studies with human volunteers, people who had allergies became more sensitive to their allergens, such as dust and pollen, after exposure, according to a California Air Resource Board fact sheet.

Of more concern, short-term term exposure to fine-particle pollution can trigger heart attacks, according to a 2010 review of scientific literature by the American Heart Association. Diesel soot is one of the more toxic components of fine-particle pollution.

The proposed World Logistics Center seeks this wheat field in Moreno Valley. The city's environmental report on the center cites a 1998 state report that said not enough data existed from health studies to calculate the short-term health effects of diesel pollution.

The city’s environmental report on the World Logistics Center cited a 1998 state report that said not enough data existed from health studies to calculate the short-term health effects of diesel pollution. And, because the health risks can’t be quantified, they should be deemed “less than significant,” the report said, “and no mitigation is required.” It was prepared by LSA Associates of Riverside.

Melanie Turner, a California Air Resources Board spokeswoman, said the 1998 report — “Identifying Particulate Emissions from Diesel-Fueled Engines as a Toxic Air Contaminant” — was not meant to guide the preparation of such environmental studies.

“Since 1998, there’s been a vast amount of literature on the adverse health effects of exposure” to particle pollution and diesel soot, Turner wrote in an email.

John Terell, Moreno Valley’s planning official, said several people who submitted letters to the city raised concerns about the how study didn’t delve into health effects other than cancer. Those and other concerns about the report will be addressed in a final version expect to made public in October, he said.


Moreno Valley city officials commissioned two economic analyses of the project, one by Husing and the second by Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics. Both focused on economic benefits and did not examine potential costs.

A more balanced analysis should also look at the costs of increased traffic congestion, health care, and how such projects could reduce real estate values as people seek healthier and less congested places to live, said Jon Haveman, an economist for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Jordan G. Levine is the author of the Beacon analysis, which concluded that the World Logistics Center would bring in some $2.4 billion annually.

He said in an email that his analysis focused on “jobs, economic output, and state and local tax revenues” because his firm was asked by the city to estimate those benefits.

“It is up to the community and policymakers to weigh these and other benefits against the costs of such a project –– health, environmental, and otherwise,” Levine said.

Some economists have calculated health-care costs for pollution-related asthma.

A recent study found that a childhood asthma case in Riverside costs on average $4,000 a year.

Sylvia Brandt, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, followed up on an analysis by University of Southern California medical school researchers who estimated that 700 Riverside children have asthma because of their exposure to traffic pollution.

Brandt’s analysis took into account the billings for medication, emergency rooms visits and hospitalizations, as well as indirect costs such as the lost work time for parents who had to stay home with ailing children or take them to medical appointments.

In Riverside, the cost of childhood asthma related to freeway air pollution added up to about $2.8 million year, according to Brandt’s study, which was published last year in the European Respiratory Journal.

Brandt said her focus was narrow, quantifying just one cost faced by certain families living near freeways.

“Asthma is a life-long cost,” Brandt said by telephone. “It is a real burden we are putting on these children.”


Amanda Markel, the Moreno Valley mother of three asthmatic children, said the toll is not just financial.

She described how last spring her baby, Sawyer, then 4 months old, had coughing fits and great difficulty breathing. He became lethargic, “like a rag doll,” she said.

She took him to a Kaiser Permanente urgent care, where his severe coughing resumed as she sat with him in the waiting room.

“He was starting to turn colors,” she said.

“Other people in the waiting room were getting worried for me,” Markel said. “One woman was like, ‘Pound on their door!’ and so I was banging on the door and no one was coming. And she went running down the hallway to find a nurse …

“When they finally got him hooked up to the machines, it was a relief. He was able to breathe, finally.”

Her asthmatic baby was diagnosed with pneumonia, and Markel spent the next two days with him in the hospital. She said asthmatic children are more likely to see cold-like symptoms escalate to pneumonia.

Amanda Markel, 28, gives her 8-month-old son, Sawyer, a breathing treatment at their home in Moreno Valley. Out of her four children, three suffer from asthma, which she blames on current pollution levels. Sawyer was hospitalized earlier this year for pneumonia, his mother said.

These days, she regularly uses a nebulizer to treat Sawyer’s and Audrey’s asthma.

On the south side of Moreno Valley, Tiffany LaSalle, an emergency room technician, lives just north of the city’s emerging warehousing district southeast of March Air Reserve Base.

LaSalle said she struggles to control and clean up dust that gets kicked up by nearby truck traffic and warehouse construction two blocks from her home.

The dust aggravates her daughter Kailyn’s severe asthma. Kailyn, 14, has been hospitalized about 20 times, including six stays in intensive care. Her last Christmas was spent at Riverside County Regional Medical Center.

She said her daughter’s hospital bills have been as high as $50,000, but they are covered through the federal Supplemental Security Income program because Kailyn’s asthma is so severe she is considered disabled.

An asthma attack starts with a dizzy feeling, Kailyn said. “You feel like a fish out of water. I am just fading away. I can’t have any air. I can’t breathe. … And it just scares me too much.”

Tears rolled down her mother’s cheeks. “It sucks that as her mother I can’t do anything to take it away to make her feel better,” she said.

LaSalle added that she is reconsidering her decision five years ago to move to Moreno Valley, but doing so would be financially difficult.

“I specifically moved away from LA County to get away from pollution. And I came here, and I feel I am being forced out again,” LaSalle said.

Kailyn LaSalle, 14, has been suffering from asthma all her life and takes medication daily to help her breathing.

Loveridge, the former Riverside mayor, said he recently spent several hours driving around Moreno Valley to get a better idea of the large areas now slated for warehouse development.

The region is at a crossroads, he said. “It is a question of what we want to be as a region when we grow up. Do we want to be warehouses?”

The small city of Beaumont recently said no.

In July, the City Council vote 4-0 to reject a 5 million-square-foot warehouse project after 22 residents told council members they didn’t want the traffic and pollution and aesthetic changes it would bring.

This story originally ran in the Press-Enterprise on September 7, 2013.