Inland Empire (California)

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For residents of Southern California, the Inland Empire is a popular informal name for a region located at the eastern end of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. The Inland Empire is centered on the oldest cities in the region: (in no particular order) Ontario, San Bernardino, Redlands, Upland, and Riverside. These cities were established at about the end of the 19th century and were major centers of agriculture including citrus, dairy, and wine-making. The name "Inland Empire" was first used in the 1950s to distinguish the region from the communities of the Los Angeles area, and the City of Los Angeles itself.

The "Inland" part of the name is derived from the region's location about 50 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. In general, there is no significant physical or geographic feature that defines the boundary between the greater Los Angeles area and the Inland Empire such as a river or mountain range. Between the Los Angeles area and the Inland Empire there was limited development (if any) and so, until about the 1970's, this relatively open, rural space between two 'developed' regions served as a convenient boundary. However, since then rapidly growing population and, therefore, residential, commercial, and industrial development, has led to cities being established in this rural, 'intermediate' area. Interconnectivity provided by a vast automobile-oriented transportation network, including perhaps one of the most comprehensive freeway systems in the United States, has further eroded any real or perceived boundary. Thus, these days it is increasingly difficult to determine where the Los Angeles region 'ends' and where the Inland Empire 'begins'. The best, although not the most logical, boundary could be considered to be the county line that separates Los Angeles County and San Bernardino/Riverside Counties.

More recently, the name has also been used to distinguish the area from the coastal communities of Orange County which are located to the southwest of the Inland Empire. However, because of the Santa Ana Mountains, the boundary between Orange County and the Inland Empire is more clear and obvious.



Prior to the mid-19th century, the area was sparsely populated by Native Americans; the Spanish and Mexicans who once controlled the area considered it largely unsuitable for colonization. The first group of white American settlers arrived over the Cajon Pass in 1851, in the form of Mormon pioneers who were the first settlers of San Bernardino. Although the Mormons left a scant six years later, recalled to Salt Lake by Brigham Young during the church's standoff with the US government, more settlers soon followed.

The arrival of railroads in subsequent decades and the importation of navel and Valencia orange trees touched off explosive growth, with the area becoming a major center for citrus production. This agricultural boom continued with the arrival of water from the Colorado River and the rapid growth of Los Angeles in the early 20th century, with dairy farming becoming another staple industry. In 1926, Route 66 came through the northern parts of the area, bringing a stream of tourists and migrants to the region.


As with the other agricultural areas in Southern California, such as the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys and Orange County, urban development has come to the Inland Empire. Since the 1980s, the area has evolved from a rural to a suburban environment. In addition to existing cities such as Riverside and San Bernardino, the region is now comprised of numerous suburban cities known as bedroom communities such as Rancho Cucamonga. Affordable home ownership is the primary motivation behind the growth in these Inland Empire communities as homes in the Inland Empire are generally less expensive than comparable homes in Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

Commercial development has increased at a similar pace to keep abreast with, and serve, the rapidly growing population of the Inland Empire. Like most suburban areas, the region is home to several large shopping malls, including the Montclair Plaza in Montclair, Ontario Mills in Ontario and Victoria Gardens Mall in Rancho Cucamonga.

Inexpensive land prices (compared to Los Angeles and Orange Counties), a large supply of vacant land, and a transportation network where many highways and railroads intersect have also made it a major industrial center. Some of the nation's largest manufacturing and shipping companies have chosen the Inland Empire for their distribution facilities including Toyota Motor Corporation's North American Parts and Logistics Distribution (NAPLD) center in Ontario and APL Logistics in Rancho Cucamonga. These distribution centers operate as part of the link that transports finished goods and materials from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to destinations to the north and east such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Denver.

The result of this ongoing development has resulted in greater employment opportunities, increased affluence of the populace, and homeownership. Unfortunately, increased traffic congestion, degradation in air quality, and loss of open and environmentally sensitive land has been the negative result. Air pollution, or suspended particulate matter locally generated from the increased number of automobiles in the area, from point sources such as factories, dust carried into the air by construction activity, and the contribution of similar pollutants from the Los Angeles area has regularly caused the Inland Empire to be at, or near the bottom, of many air quality ratings. In 2004, the EPA rated the San Bernardino-Riverside area as having the worst particulate air pollution in the United States (although the San Joaquin Valley in central California had the worst overall air pollution). The air pollution problem is exacerbated by the region's location which is surrounded by mountain ranges to the north and east; the mountains 'contain' these aerosols which otherwise would be carried out of the region by the prevailing winds which typically flow from west to east.

Traffic congestion problems on the major roadways, as with elsewhere in Southern California, is, simply stated, the result of the steady increase in the number of vehicles and a transportation infrastructure that has not been upgraded accordingly. Many of the existing freeways were completed in the late 1970's. With the exception of the extension of the Foothill Freeway, California State Highway 210 (CA/SR-210) from San Dimas to Fontana in late 2003 and its eventual completion at about 2010, no new freeways or highways are planned in the Inland Empire. Another problem is the jobs vs. housing imbalance. In general, most of the higher paying jobs are located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Thus, workers must commute daily up to one hour (each direction) on the existing network. As the population increases, the problem is most certainly going to increase as well.

The steady rise in population and the strong demand for housing has led to a dramatic increase in single-family residential construction on lots of 1/4 acre (1,000 m²) or more (as opposed to high-density development such as multi-level apartments or condominiums). Much of the vacant land is rapidly being developed to the chagrin of those who grew up living 'in the country'. In addition, much of the land that was used for agriculture is now being sold by their owners and being converted for use for more intensive purposes such a shopping centers, industrial warehouses, etc. This continuous development, due to the various interests involved, has become seemingly unplanned and uncontrolled suburban sprawl.

The solution to all of these problems is not simple. The presence of so many municipal jurisdictions within the Inland Empire which often have different 'visions' for their respective futures means that no two cities can mutually agree on a solution or, just as common, have unequal means for implementing one. The lack of an organized or unequal enforcement of existing laws and policies further undermines any solution that could be proposed. Lastly, the pace at which development occurs (fast) versus the ability of government to respond to changes (slow) means that it could easily take years, if not decades, for a viable solution (such as new roads, pollution controls, etc.) to go into effect.

Gang violence

The Inland Empire is well known for its Chicano gangs. The most well-known is the Onterio Sur Black Angels gang. Fueled by drug money and the ease of communication brought on by affordable cell phones, the street gangs have flourished and spread across and beyond the Inland Empire in the face of sporadic and ineffective law enforcement efforts and inadequate intervention strategies. Incidents of gang violence in San Bernardino County have increased since the 1960s, while at the same time growing more brutal. There are now an estimated 18,600 gang members in 287 gangs in the Inland Empire.

Sergeant Phil Brown of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said the gangs are growing more violent in the farthest reaches of the county, including the High Desert.

"It's getting out in more remote areas," Brown said. "They go gang against gang. There's more gang violence to the general public and it's becoming more random.." [1] (

The Inland Empire is also known as the historic home of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. Much of the area's reputation for methamphetamine production is derived from the Angels' once-heavy involvement in the distribution of the substance.


The massive region generally covers the western half of Riverside County and the southwest corner of San Bernardino County. The region is 'framed' by these counties' boundaries with Orange and Los Angeles t to the west and the San Jacinto Mountains on the east, and from the San Bernardino Mountains on the north to the San Diego County line on the south. The Victor Valley region, lying to the north of the San Bernardino Mountain range, and to the east of the Antelope Valley, in the southern Mojave Desert is generally considered part of the Inland Empire.

Valleys in the Inland Empire include:

Incorporated cities in the Inland Empire include:

Freeways serving the Inland Empire include:

Interesting things to know

Some residents (mainly adolescents and children) call the area the "909" (the region's primary telephone area code). This term has been picked up on popular radio and television programs such as The OC (which centers around a character originally from Chino who relocates to wealthy Newport Beach). As of 2004, however, the area code 909 only covers San Bernardino County; the Public Utilities Commission split Riverside County off and gave it a new area code, 951, in order to meet growing demand for telephone numbers. Also, Riverside County wants to distance itself from the notoriety that comes from the reputation of "the 909 area," an image produced by and popular among the area's adolescent population.

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