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Will Flying J truck stop approved for Jurupa Valley be good or bad for residents’ health?

Jurupa Valley High School student Dania De Ramon asks the Jurupa Valley City Council not to approve a Pilot Flying J truck stop near the school. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Victoria, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice)

This article was first published December 28, 2018 on the Press Enterprise.

By Ryan Hagen

A Pilot Flying J Travel Center will be built less than a mile from a Mira Loma neighborhood and Jurupa Valley High School despite concerns over pollution from diesel emissions that the city says will be “significant.”

The 12-acre project could mean less pollution, said Councilman Brian Berkson, who asked the council to review the proposal after the Planning Commission approved it.

“There is an abundance of semi-trucks traveling in and through our city and illegally parking for hours while idling, expelling harmful diesel particulates,” Berkson wrote in an email. “I believe the truck stop will benefit the community in a number of ways. One in particular is that the Flying J will have electrical plug-ins for the parked trucks eliminating the need for trucks that are illegally parked and idling all night long and expelling harmful diesel particulates into the air.”

The council’s 3-1-1 vote — with Councilwoman Lorena Barajas voting no and her second cousin, Councilman Chris Barajas, recusing himself — on Dec. 20 will require the truck stop to have a security guard 24 hours a day to monitor the parking lot at least twice per hour to ensure trucks don’t idle more than five minutes.

Berkson, who was chosen at the same meeting to become mayor starting Jan. 1, said he hadn’t made up his mind about the project when he asked the council to consider it. Given the importance of it and the community attention, he thought the project deserved the council’s attention, he said.

The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice also appealed the Planning Commission’s approval, and many of its members said during the three-hour meeting that they opposed it.

They pointed to high levels of pollution already in the Mira Loma area and to city analysts’ conclusion that building the truck stop would unavoidably lead to nitrogen oxide at levels that the South Coast Air Quality Management District considers “significant.” Those pollutants, which come from diesel emissions, can cause lung cancer.

“This is a community where children are struggling to develop lungs, elders are receiving lung transplants, and students and families are being delayed by horrendous traffic congestion,” said Graciela Larios, the Riverside County Organizer for the environmental group, in a statement. “The community will now suffer more as a result of this bad decision and (council members) have no one to blame but themselves.”

Jurupa Unified School District board members unanimously oppose the project, which they say could harm schoolchildren’s health.

Mayor Micheal Goodland said trucks are now federally mandated to cause less pollution than they once did.

“I’ve lived in Mira Loma for 40 years, and I can guarantee the air is so much cleaner now than it was 25, 30 years ago maybe, because of those regulations,” Goodland said. “The trucks didn’t go away … The trucks aren’t going to go away.”

The council approved fuel dispensers for 12 diesel trucks and eight passenger vehicles, a convenience store that wouldn’t sell alcohol, a drive-thru fast food restaurant and 195 parking spots. That will help remove trucks that clog area streets now, Goodland said.

The city also projects the truck stop will bring 79 full-time jobs, a total economic benefit to the region of nearly $2.5 billion and more than $17 million in revenue for the city in its first 20 years.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that council members Chris Barajas and Lorena Barajas are second cousins.

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