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Riverside County Department of Environmental Health - Hazardous Materials Management Branch

Riverside County Department of Environmental Health - Hazardous Materials Management Branch

4065 County Circle Dr, Room 104, Riverside, CA 92503
(951) 358-5055

An Inland Empire CUPA

The diversity of the 58 counties that make up our beautiful state of California never ceases to amaze. Our profiles have gone from idyllic beaches, the majestic Sierras, urban hubs and rural retreats. This time we stopped in Riverside County, with 2.4 million people its the fourth largest county in the state and 10th largest in the US, encompassing 7300 square miles its about the same size as New Jersey. The natural beauty includes numerous regional Parks like Idyllwild and Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area plus natural wonders like Jacinto Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park. The County seat and most populous city is Riverside and the Coachella Valley in the central region of the county includes Palm Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta and more. Riverside is a dynamic county and one of the fastest growing counties in the state with more affordable housing and a diverse workforce. Centrally located and bordered by Los Angeles County on the west and stretching to Arizona on the east its a short drive to either. While agriculture has historically been the dominant industry the technology sector and manufacturing are gaining ground fast. Renewable energy is also gaining ground with over 2,000 megawatts of capacity, one of the largest for a county in the State, plus over 4,000 wind turbines.

Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, Hazardous Materials Management Branch is the CUPA and I recently caught up with Nicholas Crain to find out all about their program. Nick has been with Riverside since 2007. The Haz Mat Branch has close to 8,000 facilities in their inventory and they implement all six CUPA regulatory programs. As the CUPA, they also have two Participating Agencies (PAs), Corona Fire which does Business Plan inspections and Riverside Fire which does the Business Plan and APSA programs. The Branch has a staff of 39 with 28 inspectors. The inspectors here are all trained and perform inspections in every program, so they are well rounded professionals. Due to the sheer size of this county, there are 4 Branch offices to improve customer service and efficiency, reducing staff drive time and making it more convenient for business owners is important.

Riverside like most CUPA agencies prioritizes customer service and education with a positive approach, almost like a consultant for local business in partnership to achieve environmental compliance. While outreach and education efforts get the majority of facilities to comply, there are always those few recalcitrant sites that just wont comply without some form of enforcement, facilities here have to earn this enforcement. Riverside County has a robust enforcement program that pursues a graduated series of enforcement. Multiple checks and balances exist in daily processes to ensure proper violation classification and enforcement escalation for violations observed during inspections. For violations that require escalation, the internal Administrative Enforcement Order (AEO) process for formal enforcement is streamlined and accessible with over 58 AEOs being conducted in the last two years. In addition, the City of Riverside PA has started utilizing the AEO process for enforcement within the jurisdiction of the PA, utilizing CUPA staff. The City of Corona PA is willing to soon start this process as well. This parallel enforcement strategy is expected to make enforcement more comprehensive and consistent within Riverside County for all businesses, whether regulated by the CUPA or a PA. The CUPA works very closely with Riverside County's Office of the District Attorney (DA) staff on Statewide and local enforcement cases, while also being an active participant in the DAs Environmental Crimes Task Force. All of this is done to keep the playing field level for all business and eliminate any economic advantage noncompliance would provide.

Training is a priority for every CUPA, and Riverside puts all of their new hires through a rigorous training program to ensure they are fully trained within six months. Ongoing training is attained through attendance at the annual CUPA Conference and internal refreshers. In addition to just attending, the staff from Riverside are perennial trainers at the conference, not only sharing their knowledge but by being the trainer which always increases your own knowledge and broadens your perspective. All of this training is vital to keep abreast of the ever-changing regulations in the CUPA program.

Riverside's Haz Mat Branch also helps staff the County's Hazardous Materials emergency response team. All staff are trained to the Haz Mat Technician level with ER responders to the Specialist level. Being a member of the emergency response team gives inspectors a valuable perspective and improves their skill set, but participation on the team is voluntary. The Emergency Response Program consists of a joint agency response with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire that respond 24 hours a day throughout the county. In addition, staff respond with 3 city Haz Mat Teams (Cities of Corona, Hemet, and Riverside), and conduct complaint investigations, including responding to Cal EPA and DTSC referrals. In the past, emergency responders were drawn from inspection staff responding to emergency calls throughout the county 24 hours a day for the on-call period. They now have dedicated staff to take care of the daytime calls and to provide supervision. The CUPA logged in about 920 Emergency Response Complaint Investigations (ERCIs) during the last fiscal year.

The pandemic affected this CUPA just like every agency and business in the nation. They staggered office time for staff and performed contactless inspections while providing increased support to businesses. The UST program continued to perform inspections after a two-week interruption, as these inspections were conducted outdoors, with other inspections resuming shortly after once safeguards were put into place to protect staff. They are now back to normal and hope to remain that way. To help attract new staff they have a ride along program and also draw from UC Riverside and Cal State San Bernardino for internships on special projects. The growing population and business inventory mean that they will need to sustainably increase staffing continually, so recruitment is an ongoing endeavor.

The Riverside CUPA is a shining example of what the Unified Program is all about, providing outreach and education to business and ensuring a level playing field. A diverse and dynamic County of Riverside has it all from recreational lakes and gorgeous mountains to their spectacular and vast desert. So the next time you are in the area stop in Riverside County where you can be sure the staff is always there to protect you, 24 hours a day.