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Climate and Environment

How Inland Empire Cities Are Pushing Warehouses To Be Cleaner And Greener

 A view from above shows tract homes in Fontana, California, in the foreground and rows of white warehouse behind them.
A 2018 photo shows homes in Fontana set next to white warehouses. Community activists are pushing limits and environmental requirements for warehouses.
(Andrew Cullen
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The health and quality-of-life burdens that come with living near giant warehouses are well-documented — there’s the noise, the respiratory problems like asthma, traffic, heat islands and so on.

Now state and some local governments, government agencies and residents are pushing back, finding ways to make the logistics industry cleaner and greener.

In San Bernardino, City Councilman Benjamin Reynoso is calling for a moratorium on all new warehouses.

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He wants studies of existing warehouses to find out if they’re meeting the standards agreed to when they were built, and whether they’re causing harm to nearby residents.

How Inland Empire Cities Are Pushing Warehouses To Be Cleaner And Greener

At some point, he wants to see the older warehouses converted to less-polluting technologies or taken out of warehouse use altogether.

“My goal is and dream is to retrofit and make the ideal type of electric 100% sustainable logistics facility warehousing,” Reynoso said.

Those retrofits would include warehouses run completely on solar power, skylights and windows for natural light during the daytime, and electric truck fleets.

Electric truck
This 100 % electric truck is part of the DHL fleet of clean vehicles at a warehouse in Ontario.
(Courtesy of Volvo)

He also wants improvements to workers’ conditions, like plenty of restrooms near workers’ stations so they actually have time during their breaks to use them, the right for workers to collectively bargain for pay and work conditions, and better incentives to stay and grow in logistics jobs.

Solar panel at warehouse
Warehouse solar panels atop a modern warehouse in Ontario.
(Courtesy of Volvo)

Connecting The Dots

Reynoso is a recently-elected councilman who also works as a community organizer with Inland Congregations United for Change, a longtime participant in local environmental justice campaigns.

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The strategy is to get ahead of the narrative, and to educate people on the impacts who don't know about it.” Reynoso said.

He wants local residents to understand the link between the logistics industry and pollution, and reach the people who “aren't connecting the filthy sky, when you can't see the mountain, to the diesel truck that just rolled past your house.”

Other cities are also pushing to make their warehouses less polluting, like Riverside. Its city council imposed a moratorium late last year on new warehouses for a section of town called Northside. When the moratorium was lifted, higher standards were imposed on future warehouses in that area.

Quality Of Life Improvements

Meanwhile, some developers are hoping to pre-empt criticism of their warehouses by adding amenities they say will improve the quality-of-life of the residents around them.

Juliann Emmons Allison, a UC Riverside professor who studies the harms from warehouses, said some have installed air filtration systems in nearby homes like in Mira Loma, in San Bernardino County, where some of the earliest warehouse projects were built.

Other warehouse complexes are being designed with walking and bike trails around them to make them more of a local asset.

In the Riverside County city of Eastvale, one 200-acre warehouse complex is located alongside an outdoor shopping mall with a Costco store and strip-mall eateries. So it’s not just a truck magnet, it’s a shopping attraction as well (although the extra traffic magnifies vehicle emissions).

New Roads, Better Wages

Some developers tout community benefits agreements which are put into place before warehouses open.

Tim Howard, managing partner of Howard Investment Partners, is developing a massive tract of land in Bloomington. He says his warehouse project will come with a community benefits agreement worth nearly $20 million.

It includes fees to support things like local schools, new sewer construction, and new roads with curbs, gutters and sidewalks.

He also says the jobs in his buildings will pay about $54,000, which is about $10 more than the average hourly wage paid in the region’s warehouses.

In another type of offering, Amazon collaborated with Crossover Health to open neighborhood clinics for its workers in San Bernardino, Moreno Valley and Eastvale.

AQMD Considers New Warehouse Rules

Another way the warehouse industry is being pushed to clean up its act is through new air quality rules coming from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

That effort is regional, covering the entire AQMD air basin, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties and portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The agency plans to require operators of every warehouse larger than 100,000 square feet — of which there are nearly 3,400 — to amass a certain number of points for environmentally friendly actions that exceed legal requirements. Rather than do the work to build points, a more passive warehouse operator could instead choose to pay a fee.

But the size of that fee will depend on how strict the new rules are, and the AQMD governing board is set to vote on the new points and fee system on May 7.

State Laws

Finally, state limits are coming to control emissions from trucks. A state law passed last year will require increasing percentages of cargo vehicles sold in California to be zero emission vehicles. By 2035, 40% of big rig trucks and 55% of delivery vans and large pickups sold in California will have to be zero emissions, powered by electricity or hydrogen.

Where rezoning applications convert housing land for other uses, SB 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, requires other land to be zoned for housing. In the case of the Bloomington warehouse project, which would rezone more than 100 residential parcels to industrial uses, the developer has designated space within his project boundaries for several hundred single- and multi-family dwelling units to be built. The homes would be north of the freeway dividing the project boundaries.