INLAND VALLEY: The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ)


California’s Inland Valley was once a thriving agricultural center that specialized in citrus, dairy, and winemaking. Over the past two decades, however, this region has transformed into a major logistics center distribution hub filled with miles of warehouses. This shift is due to the fact that about 52 percent of Southern California’s freight network is now located in this area that encompasses both Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The Inland Valley is now home to three air cargo terminals and a network of major commercial routes that connect to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. These two ports handle one-quarter of all imports coming into the U.S. each year, 40 percent of which is transported through the Inland Valley on diesel trucks.

Due to a long history of poor land use planning, trucks often crowd residential streets and prevent local residents from using their backyards due to the overwhelming noise, pollution, and fumes. As a result of this concentration of freight and industrial-related pollution, the Inland Valley is notorious for having some of the highest rates of asthma, coronary heart disease, and diabetes in the state, if not the nation. San Bernardino’s West Side has the highest cancer risk of any rail yard in the state, while the city as a whole contains some of the worst air pollution in the U.S. The Mira Loma Village community in Jurupa Valley leads the nation with its high levels of particulate pollution, resulting in the weakest lung capacity and the slowest lung growth of children ages 0-18 according to one Southern California study.

In response to these challenges, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) has been organizing with local residents to implement community-led Green Zones solutions for the Inland Valley. CCAEJ’s Green Zones strategies have focused on improving air quality by advocating for comprehensive and accelerated air quality regulation on both mobile sources (such as heavy-duty diesel trucks) and indirect sources of pollution (such as warehouses and rail yards), while also securing comprehensive investments for EJ communities.

An EJ Element for Jurupa Valley
In 2013, CCAEJ successfully won a settlement that required the city of Jurupa Valley to create and adopt an Environmental Justice element for the city’s General Plan. Created in partnership with local residents and various stakeholders, the Jurupa Valley Environmental Justice Element (JVEJE) presents goals and policies that protect public health and promote environmental and social equity for residents.

To develop the element, CCAEJ worked with city planners and a consultant to lead a community engagement strategy that provided affected residents with opportunities to identify EJ problems and priorities for their neighborhoods. One of the group’s first efforts was to track the high rates of truck traffic in their neighborhoods. The study found that more than 800 diesel trucks per hour were passing by one residential area. Through resident participation and discussion, the city is working to develop a new truck route that will direct traffic away from homes. The group is also working to find solutions that protect people from poor air quality, including setting new homes farther back from freeways, installing vegetative barriers, and installing high-performance air filtration units in every home.

Regional Coalition Building
To address Jurupa Valley’s poor air quality issues, CCAEJ has been working with a developer, the city, state legislators, and the California attorney general’s office to form an interagency collaboration. The group aims to create strategies that can mitigate the severe air pollution affecting residents living close to an industrial park. As a result of their work, the group has been able to secure funding for a draft environmental impact report that will advance plans for a restricted truck route along Etiwanda Avenue. Freight trucks currently drive down Etiwanda at all hours of the day, passing by more than 100 homes in the Mira Loma neighborhood.

In San Bernardino, CCAEJ worked with Loma Linda University to create a comprehensive study that examines the health impacts of rail yards. The study is based on interviews with more than 1,000 residents and 750 elementary school students. As a result of this research, West Side San Bernardino now has a free mobile health clinic for county residents and a breathmobile that assesses children’s lung functions.

In addition, CCAEJ has recently served as an anchor organization for the Inland Coalition for Equity and Prosperity. The coalition aims to address the Inland Valley’s surge in warehouse development through a comprehensive lens that addresses air quality, land use, safe routes to school, warehouse worker justice, and public health.

Removing Toxic Tanks
In 2017, CCAEJ and the West Side community of San Bernardino celebrated their successful and long-fought campaign to remove dangerous storage tanks containing more than 60,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas located right next to homes and an elementary school. This hard-won victory came after more than two decades of organizing against Omnitrans, a major transit operator for San Bernardino County For more than 20 years, recurring gas leaks became a massive public health threat to a nearby elementary school, a community center, and many homes.

Transformative Climate Communities: Ontario Connects
In 2018, a coalition of Inland Valley stakeholders including CCAEJ supported a winning TCC grant proposal for the city of Ontario. The $35 million grant will fund groundbreaking projects and improvements for the city’s EJ communities that endure some of the worst air pollution and socioeconomic challenges in the state. Ontario Connects will create a mobility hub, affordable housing, job training and workforce development, energy efficiency upgrades, electric buses, active transportation infrastructure, food security projects, and urban greening projects throughout the city.

CCAEJ’s long-standing work to create stronger regulations, multi-sector partnerships, and community-serving plans is a comprehensive model for environmental justice and people-driven policymaking. By working alongside community residents, CCAEJ is moving the Inland Valley toward a thriving Green Zone.

The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice works in the Inland Valley of California, primarily Riverside and San Bernardino counties. We believe that by exploring the interconnections among issues and seeking common ground for cooperative actions, we enhance the ability to create fundamental change. Our mission is bringing people together to improve our social and natural environment in order to create safe, toxic-free places to live, work, learn, and play.