How Can We Promote Economic Development in Beaumont? I have an idea.

Following is my summary of last night’s Beaumont City Council Meeting. On tonight’s Beaumont Hangout, we’ll discuss more in detail. I will post the link here as soon as it is available.

At last night’s city council meeting the big story was not on the agenda; the big story was what wasn’t on the agenda.

There was no item opening a public discussion on the financial concerns of the citizenry and what type audit, if any, is needed to ease the growing numbers of citizens concerned about the financial health of our city. We did learn from Mayor Berg that he doesn’t care how many citizens signed a petition requesting an audit, he will never vote for an independent audit. He told us that he believed citizens would rather he spend $100,000 on road repairs than on an audit.

At least he acknowledges his administration has neglected the maintenance of our roads; we might be making some progress. Unfortunately he has voted for our city to break with WRCOG and to not honor the agreement our city made for TUMF funding to fix our roads. He has voted to approve spending millions of dollars in legal fees to fight WRCOG and RCTC and to break our commitment to work with our neighbors to improve the transportation infrastructure in the Pass and surrounding areas.

There was no 2011-2012 “annual” audit presented to the council for their approval and for comments from the community. We are now in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, 16 months since the end of the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The council approved warrants (payments) to the auditing firm yet, according to our council, the firm has still not presented a report or an audit.

There was no agenda item regarding the amendment to the City’s General Plan for the Hidden Canyon warehouse project. This item was continued from last months’ council meeting to last night’s but, not only wasn’t there an item on the agenda, there wasn’t even a mention as to why. I heard the developer contacted the city and asked them to pull the item from consideration.

So what did happen last night?

First, during public comments section we witnessed a show of total disrespect again by our Mayor, Roger Berg, to citizens exercising their right to comment. In violation of the Brown act, and the city’s own policy, he responded to public comments. Agenda item #3, Public Comment Period, clearly explains “State Law prohibits the Council from discussing or taking actions brought up by your comments. Any questions will be answered by staff after the meeting, during normal business hours or at the next regular meeting.” Listen to the podcast for yourself and you decide if Berg’s conduct was legal and is it what we should expect from our elected officials. If he can’t control his temper and his comments when addressing his constituents, he should at least resign as Mayor and consider whether he still has the appropriate passion for serving our community.

Next, the City presented a “workshop” on Economic Development. This item would have better been referred to as a report on the Economic Development Department. We heard from the EDD’s Community Development Analyst, Kyle Warsinski. He presented a cute power point presentation on who is the EDD and what have they accomplished. One of his first slides asked “Who is the Economic Development Department?” the following showed his picture. His title on the City’s website needs to be updated, it shows him as an Analyst but he indicated to us last night he is the EDD. Wouldn’t that make him the Director?

Near the end of his portion of the “workshop” he told us when he is asked what we need to do as a city to bring businesses such as Trader Joes and Costco to Beaumont. His answer is one word, Population. He said he would be happy to deputize 40,000 citizens to recruit the business we want. That seems to be a lot of power for an analyst. Why doesn’t he organize a committee of citizens to promote Beaumont to retail businesses? Why does “his“ department only court warehouse developers? That would be answered by the next presenter.

Mr. Warsinski’s presentation was followed by a presentation from the City’s paid consultant and economist, Dr. John Husing. For just under an hour, Dr. Husing presented the same report he presented to SCAG (the Southern California Association of Governments) in July 2013. The same report I commented on and linked to in earlier posts. Dr. Husing’s presentation in person is no different than what he presents in is written reports. He presents a lot of statistics and survey results that appear to show one picture, then he provides his personal analysis that conflicts with the positions he presented in his data.

He presented a story of a city’s economic lifestyle. He told us that Beaumont is still in the early stages of economic development. He made an argument that Beaumont has a combination of a higher percentage of high school only educated citizens and low land values. This he says attracts logistic industry developers, warehouses and fulfillment centers. Fulfillment centers are warehouses for internet companies such as Amazon to fulfill online orders. Fulfillment centers, unlike warehouses, may generate sales taxes. He went on to say that the business we all are requesting won’t come to the Pass until higher skilled, higher educated, higher paid workers (lawyers, doctors, accountants) move here and that won’t happen until there is more upscale housing available. Dr.  Husing also pointed out we needed more health care services and more higher education facilities.

At the end of the presentation, I was allowed to ask a couple questions. While setting up my question, I told Dr. Husing that in his report to SCAG in July 2013, his data indicated 67% of our home mortgages were under water. He interrupted and said it should be lower now (a lot must have changed in two months). When I told him I was still underwater, he told me to wait a year. I asked him if we followed his strategy and brought warehouses into our neighborhood, along with the truck traffic and pollution, who would want to buy my house? And if we focus on bringing lower paying warehouse jobs, who could afford to buy my house? How will any of this strategy raise home values?

He answered saying we shouldn’t be putting warehouses near residential neighborhoods – I hope our council members were paying attention. Then he explained there is a misperception of warehouse jobs and people don’t realize how much technology is involved. He said when you look into today’s warehouses, you don’t see many employees because everything is automated and the employees are computer techs unlike when he worked in a warehouse back in the 60s. This contradicts his argument that warehouses bring thousands of jobs.

Earlier he had commented that Beaumont may be too far from the center of the inland port activity to really take advantage of the boom in logistics, transportation of goods; yet he was still arguing for a focus on the logistics industry, I asked him if he felt Beaumont had the necessary transportation infrastructure to support the additional truck traffic. His response was that we are further along than we think. I wonder if Dr. Husing has driven around our streets. I assume he probably gets off the I-10 at Beaumont Ave and drives a block to City Hall. Anyone who commutes for work is well aware of how inefficient our on and off-ramps are and the congestion that results from the insufficiently controlled intersections and underdeveloped roadways; just drive over the freeway on Oak Valley some evening around 6 pm..

If you want to know what is driving our City Council to continue to focus on warehouses and more housing developments even though they are already unable to provide the infrastructure and the services needed for the 30,000 new residents from the last housing boom, just listen to last night’s Council Meeting podcast. We have an Economic Development Analyst, acting as our Economic Development Department, who believes the answer to community demand for more services is more population. And we have an Economic consultant advising the City Council that we need a larger under educated, lower paid workforce and that we should wait for more upscale housing to attract higher educated, higher paid residents before the city should work to attract the businesses and services we were promised when we decided to move to Beaumont.

Mr. Warsinski said he would be happy to deputize the community to promote Beaumont to the Trader Joes and Costcos of the world but that he believed the solution was more population. I propose we don’t wait for the population to grow and for Mr. Warsinski to realize it his job, not the community’s, to attract business to the Pass.

Here’s my proposal:

When I’ve asked in earlier posts what business we want to see in Beaumont, I received tremendous response. So here’s how we can work together. Respond to this post in the comments on the patch, on Facebook or email me directly (OurFocusOurKids@gmail.com) with the top 5 companies you want to move to Beaumont. I will collect the responses and then pick two or three of the most requested companies and find the contact information (website, email, and phone) and we will begin a community effort to reach out to these companies. Every few weeks, we will select another couple companies to focus our efforts. Even though we expect our City administration to do this, we don’t have time to wait until we are in the right phase of the city’s economic lifecycle. This isn’t limited to Beaumontians; I want to hear from all Pass residents.

Here’s my list of 5 business based on why I go to Redlands or Moreno Valley

 

  • Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Yard House
  • Krikorian Movie Theater
  • Trader Joes

Tell me yours.