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Region In Crisis:

The Rationale for a Public Health State of Emergency in the Inland Empire
Executive Summary

In California’s Inland Empire (IE), warehouse growth is one of the most critical environmental justice issues of our time. The rise of e-commerce and associated warehouse expansion since the COVID-19 pandemic have brought decreased air quality and health inequities into sharp focus. These air quality inequities have continued to challenge our most vulnerable residents as we now face the latest health crisis, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The distinctive bowl-shape of Inland geographies captures pollutants, leading to cardiac, respiratory, and reproductive health impacts as well as cancers. Over the past 22 years, state and federal air quality regulations have progressed with reducing large particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions. However, with the recent exponential increase in warehouses in the Inland Empire, decades of effort are becoming undermined as greenhouse gases (GHG) climb, and NOx, particulate matter (PM), and ozone continue to disproportionately impact certain communities. In addition, documents prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) have not sufficiently reported the extreme cumulative impacts that project development will have on the health of residents. As a result, decision makers have not accounted for the holistic and long-lasting effects these projects have on the health of community residents. Environmental injustices—impacts that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities—have been ignored. This has resulted in exponential growth of warehouse infrastructure and related health problems that impact communities, workers, children, and the elderly, leading to a public health crisis in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Due to the unchecked escalation of warehouse growth within the Inland Empire:

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  • Over 300 warehouses are 1000 feet or less from 139 Inland Empire schools; over 600 warehouses surround these same schools at 1500 feet.

  • Unhealthy air quality days in SB County rose from 14.8% in 2019 to 19.7% in 2020.

  • 20,000 children have missed 11 or more days of school in SB and Riverside Counties within the last 12 months.

  • In 2010, 337,445 of Inland Empire residents lived within ¼ mile of a warehouse; by 2022 this number grew by 30,000 to 367,584 individuals, roughly 60% of whom are Latino. Some census tracts within SB County have close to a 20% asthma rate; in Riverside County, some census tracts have over a 15% asthma rate

  • The Inland Empire has the highest concentrations of ozone in the country according to the American Lung Association5 and CalEnviroScreen 4.0’s most recent report.

  • Diesel exhaust is responsible for about 70 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution; cancer risk is in the 95th percentile near the Ontario warehouse gigacluster– equaling 624 people per million, which is 95% higher than the rest of the basin

These are signs of an escalating health crisis. In addition to the above, Inland populations suffered COVID-19 infection and mortality at higher rates, because people’s immune systems were weakened due to chronic pollution exposure. Inland populations, especially children, are also experiencing RSV hospitalizations at an increased rate for the same reason. Warehouse jobs include temporary labor within the logistics sector as well as trade union workers involved in warehouse and infrastructure construction. Though they have different challenges, all workers, including unionized trade workers, are exposed to airborne pollutants from poor air quality with both short term and long-term health consequences. Construction periods often last for years to contribute to the infrastructure of the global supply chain. The global supply chain often starts with transpacific shipments, container sorting at the ports, storage of good in the Inland Empire, and the movement of goods from the IE throughout the rest of the country. Government and corporate leadership, the public, economists, and public health advisors must consider the health and welfare of the current workforce, and the viability of the future work force. This report outlines the impact poor air quality has on the current workforce, the future work force, and their families who breath the air of the IE. The risks outlined will include high rates of respiratory illness, high or unaffordable health costs associated with labor practices, and high worker turnover due to acute and chronic health risks. The health risks to the people of the IE also threaten the nation’s supply chain reliability and are a leading indicator to health impacts at a national level.

Warehouses constitute a regulatory gray area. A regional moratorium–or temporary halt in warehouse construction–is required to address the gaps in current legislation and statutes that allow for continued building of warehouses despite significant health impacts that are currently deemed unavoidable. Without such a pause, the health, efficiency, and viability of the IE’s workforce is threatened; therefore, the nation’s supply chain is at risk.

This working paper provides a rationale for the following interventions within the shorter summary letter addressed to Governor Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and California Department of Education Superintendent Tony Thurmond:


Declare a regional warehouse moratorium of one to two years that allows time to implement policy changes.

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Identify communities of high exposure from warehouse and/or industrial land uses; create higher standards supported by the state for project approval in high exposure, environmental justice, and disadvantaged communities.

  • Mandate a higher-level of community engagement at the beginning stages of any project independent of the developer

  • From a project’s inception, provide external oversight from a DOJ attorney, so that disproportionately impacted communities are represented by legal counsel.

  • Mandate mitigation plans that include quantifiable reductions in GHGs and pollutants, including project reduction and demand-management strategies.

  • Work collaboratively with schools and community groups to establish benchmarks and funding streams for community health in impacted neighborhoods.

  • Mandate up-front mitigation of environmental harms.

  • Strengthen cumulative impact analysis to include all past, present, and future industrial projects within a tiered radius consistent with the scoping plan of the project, including travel routes.

  • Tie warehouse project approval to real-time rather than projected fleet electrification. Consider tiered options such that no further warehouse construction is allowed in the SCAQMD basin until the fleet is 20% electrified, and no further warehouse construction is allowed in environmental justice communities until the fleet is 50% electrified.

  • Mandate that city councils, planning commissions, SCAG board members, and other relevant leaders undergo a training of at least forty hours on 4 environmental justice, community health, and the climate crisis to inform their decision making.


Work collaboratively with the Office of Planning and Research, CARB, and impacted communities to codify best practices resulting from guidance documents and settlements that regulatory bodies, the Attorney General, or other litigants have established for warehouse projects. These should include but not be limited to project and fleet electrification, solar energy generation, siting truck, rail, and airplane routes away from sensitive receptors, mitigation, limiting of vehicle miles traveled, community benefits agreements, and setbacks from sensitive receptors. Authorize the Attorney General to enforce these provisions within the Inland Empire.

  • Mandate consideration of demand-management strategies among the tools to decrease emissions and exposure at state and local levels; align future warehouse expansion rates with population growth as opposed to distant consumer demand.

  • Explore and support project alternatives that would contribute to community health and well-being, economy, and environmental benefit.

  • Provide funding for a long-term cross-sectional health cohort study.


Expand or enforce existing regulations that are inconsistently enforced or unenforced at a local level.

  • Establish an oversight board for the SCAQMD 2305 indirect source rule to monitor compliance.

  • Formalize a state definition of sensitive receptors that protects those under this definition; include penalties for those who violate this protection.

  • Enforce existing state limits for campaign contributions per AB 571, and prohibit developer donations to city councils or other decision-making bodies within three years of pending decisions.

  • Amend SB 352, which requires extra testing of air pollution sources within ¼ mile of any schools to determine whether a new school within 500 feet of a heavily trafficked road or industrial sites will pose a health hazard to students and teachers due to air pollution. Amend to include the inverse: that the same rules apply to warehouse siting in proximity to schools. Extend the distance to 500 meters, which was the distance based on the original USC air pollution/health study.

  • Aligned with the 30x30 plan, earmark state funds to preserve Inland greenspace, biodiversity, habitat, and farmland—all of which are linked to community health, pollution remediation, carbon sequestration, and climate resilience.


The requests above are in accordance with GOV § 65302(h)(1)(A):

(A) Identify objectives and policies to reduce the unique or compounded health risks
in disadvantaged communities by means that include, but are not limited to, the
reduction of pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality, and the
promotion of public facilities, food access, safe and sanitary homes, and physical

Current land use planning processes disempower EJ communities. The input of EJ stakeholders is relegated to consultancy or tokenism, in violation of California EPA environmental justice legislation. Developers are in conversation with city personnel in the beginning stages of projects; these conversations begin collaborations that facilitate project approval sometimes months or years before a project has solicited community input. Because community members or nonprofits only participate in the public planning process that begins much later, they are not part of true decision-making, even though they are the ones whose lives are directly impacted by land use decisions. This is what gives the public the sense that projects have predetermined outcomes.


In EJ communities that are already heavily impacted by pollution and other environmental detriments, we argue that higher levels of community engagement should be mandatory at the beginning stages of any project. The built-in bias toward the development of warehouse projects is yet unmeasured except in the experiences of people and organizations attempting to combat warehouse growth as well as in the massive and growing warehouse footprint in the region. We now have a key opportunity to make the process better by taking a pause to consider the points above and to maximize community involvement in decision making regarding the streets they live on and the air they breathe.

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