By John P. Beall
There’s a lot of talk about the use of grove land in modern-day Redlands. Yes, the city’s jolly little orange-man mascot appears all over public art, packing labels adorn the freeway underpasses (proposed by my brother a decade ago, in fact), children of quarantined households run citrus stands in their front yards, and during the pandemic we see orange hearts and masked citrus signs around town. But in the wake of the recent decision to allow the demolition of the nine acres of orange grove on the J. W. England estate for another tract development, as well as acres of grove land yielding to institutionally-developed industrial real estate and fulfillment centers, this may leave many wondering, “Is there no room for oranges in a modern Redlands?”
When I was growing up, conventional wisdom said that with the loss of labor programs like the Bracero Program, the advent of industrial citrus in places like Florida, and the smaller average size of local fruit meant that “orange groves did not pay.” In fact, certain city officials have even publicly commented along these lines on social media networks, something which one official did acknowledge the city or its officials are not supposed to take a stance on. In reading the most recent city general plan, which calls for zero acres of undeveloped land within city limits within the next 30 years, and given how a larger tax base and more developer fees are to provide the city a way out of its financial straits, it seems the city’s stance is, “Pull ‘em out by the fistful. It’s picking time!”
Here’s why that’s a problem: My high school history teacher, Tom Atchley, tells a story about life in the pre-Environmental Protection Agency Inland Empire where one could walk out the front door and not see the mountains for the entire summer because of smog. Air quality and heat were some of the reasons why Redlanders who could afford it left the area for the summer for Corona del Mar or the mountains. Parenthetically, this indeed means there is a class component to over-exposure to poor air. Air quality is a problem in Southern California in general, and particularly in the Inland Empire, because we are a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, with the mouth of the valley pointed toward the coast. Consequently, when the ocean winds blow inland, this carries smog and air pollution into the valley, where it remains. In an area that rarely gets a snow day, school-aged students remain indoors from physical education, or during fire season remain indoors due to poor air quality conditions. This is why Richard Nixon, controversial as he is, raised on a citrus farm in Yorba Linda back when Orange County actually grew the fruit for which it is named, was oddly enough the president responsible for founding the Environmental Protection Agency on December 2, 1970. Well, chalk one up for the Republicans! Obviously, air quality has improved nationally over the last 50 years the EPA has existed, but the eradication of pollution is not a done deal, least of all in areas prone to the ill-effects of air pollution.
The tides are reversing, and air pollution is getting worse in the Inland Empire. While the forces at play are bigger than just Redlands, it is time policymakers wake up to what their policies mean in the big picture. Changed global supply chains drive increased demand for importation through the Port of Los Angeles. In fact, the Port of Los Angeles is the single busiest port in the Western Hemisphere, clocking in at 9.46 million twenty foot trailers in 2018. That means an average of 25,917 trailers heading through Southern California by semi-truck or flatbed railroad car, all 365 days per year. This is partly because it is the single largest port in the United States for the reception of imports from the Far East, as global supply chains began shifting with federal trade policies in the period between 2002 and 2008. Part of this shift is also driven by the increase in size of the cargo ships. The Port at Los Angeles is one of the few ports on the Pacific seaboard that can receive these “mega-ships,” which are so big that they are unable to fit through the Panama Canal or beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to arrive at port in the Bay Area. This is the force that carries, and will continue to carry, trucks through Redlands on the I-10 whether or not those goods are warehoused in the Inland Empire. However, this is why the Inland Empire is now considered a gateway market for investors in industrial real estate.
Redlands policymakers do play a role in how this market force impacts our community. As Redlands develops more and more fulfillment centers, the warehouses from which products ordered over the internet are shipped, the citizens of Redlands encounter incalculable but real costs. There is increasing demand on our roadways as an increasing tide of trucks enter and leave our area using roads that our local, county, state, and federal tax dollars pay to maintain. There is a commensurate deterioration of our roadways and streets. There is also more demand on our energy grids from large commercial properties. Additionally, the increased traffic and traffic backlogs that trucks create cause an increase in air pollution with more vehicles idling or driving at less-efficient speeds.
We benefit from increased commercial activity. I am certainly not anti-Amazon. That does not mean there are not costs, however, and unfortunately when the trucks leave, we still breathe the air. This has public health impacts; the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency among others both note the increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as asthma in communities with increased exposure to air pollution. Over 23 million Americans and 6 million American children suffer from asthma. Zooming out further, the World Health Organization notes that globally over 4 million people die annually from health conditions related to air pollution, more than any other single cause in their study, including lack of access to clean water, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and even COVID-19. While we all are exposed to poor air quality, those less mobile or less fortunate can often find themselves more exposed than other people to these forces.
I think all of us can agree on the importance of green space in counteracting the deleterious effects of air pollution, and in Redlands we are blessed with an abundance of trees that beautify our city and clean our air. I know this will sound odd, but as someone working in finance, I do this math and research on carbon emissions and offsets often. Here are some interesting facts regarding trees recapturing carbon dioxide:
• According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 60 mature trees, defined as at least ten years old, can remove one metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) on average from the atmosphere per year.
• Also according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average density of an acre of healthy forest is 60 trees per acre, so we can say one acre of mature trees removes one metric ton of CO2 from the air each year.
• Some types of forest are even better at sequestering CO2, like rainforests, which remove on average 2.5 metric tons of CO2 per acre per year.
• Commercial groves and orchards are planted more densely than natural forests. Citrus and avocado groves are planted at an average of 110 trees per acre, apple orchards (looking at you, Oak Glen) at 150 trees per acre, and almond groves (like those being allowed to die and be torn out in the Central Valley for reasons touted as an environmentally-conscious conservation of water) anywhere between 75 and 180 trees per acre.
By this math, all this means that an acre of citrus land could be over 80 percent more effective at carbon sequestration than an acre of U.S. forest land, and only 28 percent less effective than an acre of rainforest in the Amazon. Put plainly, an acre of grove land is closer in efficiency to an acre of rainforest in the Amazon than an average acre of forest land here in the United States.
The East Valley was home to over 15,000 acres of citrus groves at the turn of the 20th Century. Today there are 2,500 acres in active commercial production and still more smaller parcels that surround the scenic and historic grove homes of Redlands. This means the commercial groves of Redlands offset on average 4,500 metric tons (or over 9.9 million pounds) of CO2 from the air annually. The remaining commercial grove land alone offsets 27.8 million U.S. ton-miles of truck cargo each year. If all 15,000 acres were still standing, the total acreage could have offset 92.6 million U.S. ton-miles of truck cargo.1 In the case of the J.W. England groves, those nine acres could pull an average 16.8 metric tons of CO2 annually from the air.
We can all speak in favor of the benefits of cleaner air and less air pollution, but we need to acknowledge that the war on carbon emissions globally is not fought only in far-off Brazil. Certainly, Redlands is not going to end the issues of global air pollution single-handedly, but public policy choices made in Redlands every day can fight air pollution right here in this valley. Redlands should certainly still be able to grow, but at a certain point we have to acknowledge that tearing out orange groves to do so is a costly choice that future generations of this city will curse this generation for making.
“Without vision a people perish.” -Proverbs 29: 18-27
John P. Beall is a fifth generation Redlander, a former member of the City of Redlands Parks Commission and a utility-scale green energy investment professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Footnote: 1An average freight truck fully-loaded moves a max of 10 tons an average of 45,000 miles per year, meaning each truck generates 72.9 metric tons of CO2 on average every year. Long-distance semis on average 100,000 miles per year according to Federal Highway Administration. Trucks generate on average 162 grams of CO2 per US ton-mile, or 6,172 US ton-miles/metric ton of CO2. In 2018, trucks moved 68% of all freight domestically by weight (16.5B tons total, or 11.22B tons by trucks). Thus the US average ton-mileage in 2018 is 504.9Q US ton-miles, creating appx. 81.8T metric tons of CO2 in just 2018.