Monday, October 14, 2013

How two cities are addressing Inland Empire logistics growth

Photo: © Wikimedia/Raunet CC-BY-SA
For the past few years, the Inland Empire has been experiencing an economic boom in the logistics sector, providing thousands of private sector entry-level and independent trucking jobs. As this blog has been mentioning, the Inland Empire could very well use these jobs but without the pollution and clogged highways. Inland Southern California Economist John Husing stated in the Press Enterprise, "A lot of people don't want to hear this, but logistics to the Inland Empire is what tech is to the Silicon Valley. Kill this sector and you are saying to the poor: 'Stay there.'" Husing has a valid thesis. Our position has been "don't throw out the baby with the bathwater." The baby being the jobs that Husing strongly supports, the bathwater being unhealthful air quality and traffic congestion opposed by The Transit Coalition and concerned residents.

Husing also wrote this op-ed which was published by the PE. A number of the published statements are certainly questionable and debatable, but his thesis of offering a chance for the poor to enter into the marketplace of America absolutely cannot be ignored. Restorative economic justice in poor neighborhoods complete with jobs and the opportunity to advance in the marketplace must be a part of smart development growth. Logistics jobs can provide some of that justice.

Regarding the growing logistics industry, there has also been some local belly-aching that the region could use additional skilled-based jobs that may not be offered in logistics; that's very true and local jurisdictions should encourage such development. A robust medical campus is proposed in Moreno Valley near the busy Riverside County Regional Medical Center. However, with the presence of additional entry-level jobs offered in logistics, workers looking to gain workplace experience have more choices than working at a fast food restaurant or the neighborhood Wal-Mart. In a robust economy as experience is gained and new skills are learned, workers can apply for better positions or advance through the company. As employers need more entry-level workers, the value of the wage dollar and salaries go up since workers have more choices of where to work and the job-to-worker ratio leans toward jobs. Those are all good. We would like to see our Riverside Transit Agency buses, Metrolink trains, park & ride lots and carpool lanes used by a productive labor workforce. That supplies the tax funds which pays for public transportation and its infrastructure.

On the other side, there have been some very valid and sound concerns combined with some unanswered questions regarding the proposed World Logistics Center in eastern Moreno Valley in which we and many local residents in the City of Moreno Valley are seriously questioning and objecting. Likewise, folks in Jurupa Valley have noticed more trucks rolling though town and have brought this matter to their City Council. How are these local governments checking the economic boom in Inland Empire logistics? There's a stark contrast between the two.

Jurupa Valley - Productive and robust debate

In the "community of communities," the Jurupa Valley City Council on October 3 heard several valid arguments and points from both sides regarding an issue of the growing number of trucks on local roads. Locals want overnight noise, truck traffic and pollution under control. The industry and independent tuck drivers don't want be driven out of business. The debate taking place in the court of public opinion is robust and productive. Council members on October 3 also engaged in public debate among themselves, disagreeing on some solutions. It's quite clear that both sides will need to form some sort of compromise. Jurupa Valley certainly should be free from traffic congestion, pollution and loud noise in the middle of the night while the growing sector provides the tax revenue and job opportunities to its residents.

Robust debate is good and necessary for smart economic growth and we understand that no solution will be picture perfect. There will always be ways to improve on developing smart economic growth policies that are good for both the economy and the environment. The situation taking place in Jurupa Valley is a prime example of good and productive public debate.

Moreno Valley - Stonewalling the concerns of residents

In the city "where dreams soar," the Moreno Valley City Council appears to care less about the valid concerns and questions by residents. Logistics is on the rise and Moreno Valley certainly can use the added jobs; no question. However, the runaway growth as demonstrated with the World Logistics Center is falling into urban sprawl where such unchecked growth can overwhelm public infrastructure and the transportation system, causing traffic congestion and pollution. That's where we must draw the line.

For WLC to work as proposed, designated truck routes away from neighborhoods and schools would need to be established, likely along the freeways. Trucks on the surface streets must be restricted to local deliveries only; that includes Alessandro and Perris Boulevards. New trucks will need to use clean technology to prevent Moreno Valley's air quality from worsening. With the lack of a rail line in the area, the 60 Freeway through the Badlands would have to be expanded with truck climbing lanes so that traffic bottlenecks do not form on either side. If no rail alternative is built, the freeway corridor may even have to be doubled in size to sustain WLC operations. And all of this must be done without disrupting the Badlands ecosystem. The Gilman Springs Road corridor may also need be upgraded. In addition, residents living around the affected WLC area will need to approve of it and the representing governing body must reflect their values.

Without implementing these solutions, the WLC will be urban sprawl which deserves to be opposed. To be fair, the trucking industry has begun to work on cleaning up their trucks by using alternative fuels and the WLC buildings are proposed to be eco-friendly. However, many of these points mentioned are not being addressed. Many trucks still run on dirty diesel fuel. Traffic through the Badlands hills is already approaching capacity, more than 16% of the total traffic is logistics movement and there are no truck capacity improvement proposals except for plans to add truck climbing lanes. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

Also, according the Press Enterprise, the proposed truck lanes is a safety improvement project. Riverside County Transportation Commission officials said the truck lane project has nothing to do with WLC plans. A specific transportation analyses for WLC needs to be brought into the public square of debate. Right now, Moreno Valley officials are not holding the developer accountable regarding the undesirable characteristics of urban sprawl. That's why both The Transit Coalition and residents have risen up to question WLC.

Unlike Jurupa Valley where the City Council has engaged in productive, robust debate, the Moreno Valley City Council is stonewalling their residents and pandering to the will of logistics developers. The fact that the federal government is conducting a criminal investigation on these individuals and the developer makes their case even weaker. The city's ill-advised decision of quickly appointing Yxstian Gutierrez to the City Council to replace Marcelo Co with no public screening process or election is a disgrace to democracy and worsens government trust and further weakens WLC support. In the 1970's the country was outraged when President Richard Nixon stonewalled the public with the Watergate scandal. The WLC debate not about ideology versus ideology. It's not NIMBY opposition. There are legit concerns on traffic congestion and pollution that need to be addressed. The Moreno Valley City Council should not be stonewalling or ignoring the concerns of their people.

The jobs and the new labor workforces generated by logistics deserve not to be mired in traffic congestion on the way to work or breathing dirty air. That's why we have land use controls. That's why economic growth cannot go unchecked.

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