Riverside Declares War On Smog While Celebrating California Air Resources Board’s New Headquarters

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(This article was written by Jeff Horseman and published in the Press Enterprise on October 28, 2017.)

Assemblyman Jose Medina remembers not being able to see the bell tower on the UC Riverside campus and, as a teacher, having to keep his students indoors for recess on bad-air days.

Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey remembers getting out of swimming pools choking not from water, but from the thick smog.

Medina, D-Riverside, and Bailey shared their memories at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday, Oct. 27, for a facility dedicated to relegating smog-filled days to the past.

Besides housing advanced vehicle emissions testing and clean-air research, the $419 million California Air Resources Board Southern California Headquarters will employ more than 400 people – many of them engineers, technicians and scientists – in what local leaders hope becomes an economic engine and a defining facility for the Inland Empire.

“This is more than a groundbreaking,” Bailey said at the ceremony. “This is a birthday. A new family member has arrived in Riverside.”

Said UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox: “We’re building the air quality research center for the world.”

The roughly 400,000-square-foot facility, which will occupy a vacant 19-acre, UCR-owned site on Iowa Avenue between University Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, replaces an aging building in El Monte.

Officials said the headquarters will be the largest net-zero energy structure in America, with power coming from solar panels attached to the exterior and above parking spaces.

Inside will be $108 million worth of high-tech equipment, a chemistry lab and a 250-person auditorium. Construction is expected to start in February 2018 with the facility ready to open by February 2021.

The air resources board is responsible for stopping air pollution and developing programs to fight climate change. Riverside beat out Cal Poly Pomona in March to become the board’s new headquarters location.

Riverside’s selection was a coup for local elected officials yearning to bring high-tech, high-quality jobs to the region.

“The work this community did, together with the air resources board … did to ensure that we’re standing here today, celebrating a victory, is a testament to frankly military-like planning and precision,” said state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, a retired Air Force general.

Others who spoke at the groundbreaking included Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, and Mark Takano, D-Riverside.

“This facility needs to work with UCR and the entire region because the days of cleaning up the low-hanging fruit (to improve air quality) is over,” Calvert said. “So now, it gets back to the last 15 or 10 percent or 5 percent … It becomes much more difficult and it becomes much more costly.”

About $154 million of the headquarters’ funding comes from Volkswagen as a penalty for the company’s scheme to use technology to circumvent auto emission rules. Air resources board technicians helped discover Volkswagen’s deception, said board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, who attended the groundbreaking.