By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
September 9, 2011

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Thursday ventured into a community known as a “diesel death zone” for its heavy truck pollution and announced her intention to join a lawsuit challenging a massive warehouse project to be built nearby.

Harris’ visit to smoggy Mira Loma, where thousands of trucks from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach come to off-load cargo, underlines an aggressive stance on environmental justice issues by the state’s highest law enforcement official.

On Wednesday, she proposed a $24.5-million settlement with Chevron to resolve allegations that the company failed to properly inspect and maintain underground storage tanks at 650 gas stations statewide. A month ago, Harris announced a settlement with cargo terminals at the ports requiring that they warn thousands of neighboring residents of the dangers posed by high levels of diesel emissions.

The Mira Loma project, in Riverside County, calls for 24 warehouse and industrial buildings totaling 1.4-million square feet near the 60 Freeway and Etiwanda Avenue in the city of Jurupa Valley. It would result in an estimated 1,500 additional daily diesel truck trips in the vicinity of 101 modest stucco homes where particulate pollutant levels are among the worst in the nation, according to environmental impact documents.

A USC study of 12 Central and Southern California communities found that Mira Loma children had the slowest lung growth and weakest lung capacity compared with similar areas — a handicap likely to affect them for life.

“This intervention is about giving voice to a community that has been voiceless for a long time, and maintaining the health of its residents,” Harris said in an interview. “This is not about stopping the project. It is simply about mitigating the harm to the people who will be impacted.”

Harris filed a motion in Riverside County Superior Court to join a lawsuit brought by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice against the county and project developers that alleges the county failed to adequately analyze and mitigate the project’s impacts on Mira Loma. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Riverside County Counsel Pamela Walls declined to comment pending a review of the lawsuit, but said the parties “could be expected to oppose the attorney general’s intervention.”

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