Where should we go from here?

An article published by the Press Enterprise on May 16th reported on Beaumont Mayor Roger Berg’s State of the City address. The article talks about how Berg grew up in Beaumont, and said he remembers having to travel to Redlands to shop when he was a child. He was quoted as saying, “Now, many residents live within walking distance of retail businesses” and “It’s got everything here we need”. He also talked about managing responsible growth in Beaumont.

I agree we need responsible growth but I disagree that we have everything here we need.

Many of us still travel to Redlands, Moreno Valley, and cities in the desert to go to a sporting goods store; movie theaters; a bookstore, clothing stores, restaurants and other family recreation. I know this because I often run into friends and neighbors from Beaumont when we are shopping or dining in our neighboring communities. I believe we are at a crossroad in the direction our city is headed. The recent actions by the city council and the comments by Mayor Berg at last week’s address is the motivation for this post.

My family moved to Escondido in 1967. I lived there for 12 years until I graduated from high school and left for UCLA. The population growth in Beaumont over the last 12 years and the growth in Escondido from 1967-1979 are very similar. In the 70’s Escondido was declared one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

In 1997 my wife and I bought a home in Murrieta; we lived there for 5 years. We bought our home at the bottom of the market after a real estate crash similar to what we’ve seen the last 5 years in Beaumont. The population growth in Murrieta and Temecula was similar to Beaumont’s growth and Murrieta was declared to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

In the mind of some of our council members, I have no business offering ideas to improve our community because I haven’t lived here all my life. I argue that our city council members, and other community leaders, who have spent their entire lives in Beaumont have not personally experienced what comes next. What happens to a city after the kind of growth we've experienced in Beaumont? Where do we go next? What kind of city will continue to draw new citizens and new businesses? How do we build a community where our kids will want to raise their families?

Besides Escondido and Murrieta, I’ve lived in many other California cities - Westwood, Oroville, Citrus Heights, Roseville, Rocklin, Camarillo, Los Angeles (Van Nuys, Encino, Canoga Park), and Highland. I, and the more than 30,000 Beaumontians that have moved here since 2000, bring to the discussion life experiences with a perspective that Beaumont lifers don’t have. Many of us have lived in cities at different stages of a city’s life cycle. Unlike Beaumont lifers, we have first-hand knowledge of where a city goes from here and what prospective home buyers are looking for when they consider relocating or starting a family.

Lifers may be more accepting of driving to Redlands, Palm Springs or Moreno Valley for shopping and entertainment since they have been doing it all their lives. I moved here understanding I would be driving 15-30 minutes for shopping and entertainment but I recognized the stage of growth Beaumont was experiencing and I knew, from experience and from closely following the city’s development plan on their website, that it was only a matter of time before Beaumont would be able to fulfill most of my family’s needs. As we watched the 2nd St Market area develop, we were even more encouraged. Now we hear our council members talk about multi-million square foot warehouses able to service hundreds of eighteen wheelers. We are told that one day the city may develop an outdoor mall.

Let’s assume, for all the right reasons, the Potrero interchange is a good thing and will be moving forward regardless of the concerns many of us have regarding the cost and risk that comes from “going it alone”. Let’s assume it improves the safety on SR-60 and it reduces some traffic through the SR-60 and I-10 interchange. Here’s the question I’d like to ask citizens of Beaumont to consider. Is the city council’s plan to develop the western half of our city as a major regional distribution hub the direction we want to see our city moving?

The city manager says he has the $10 million he needs to complete phase 1 of the Potrero interchange. The mayor indicated last week his goal for next year is the completion of the Potrero Bridge Project. I’d like to propose a different direction. Instead of relying on fees assessed on new warehouses and distribution centers and counting on the county coming in and completing the 2 miles of infrastructure to connect the interchange to the proposed site of a new distribution center, why don’t we build the “Victoria Gardens Style” outdoor mall at the interchange instead.

Building an outdoor shopping mall around the new interchange would benefit the city in many more ways than building infrastructure to enable hundreds of 18 wheelers to travel through the west side of Beaumont to multi-million square foot warehouses. Warehouses for goods that will generate sales tax revenue for our neighbors and may only create a few hundred jobs.  I believe with the right shops in a quality environment  similar to Victoria Gardens, we would attract businesses and customers – and sales tax revenue – away from Moreno Valley, Hemet, Yucaipa and other pass area communities. The city’s infrastructure investment in the interchange, along with other incentives, could attract the right business.

I believe we are at an important period in our city’s life cycle. What we do next will determine what kind of a community we will leave our children. How is focusing on developing a major distribution hub while delaying the development of a “Victoria Gardens Outdoor Mall” meet the standard of responsible growth the mayor spoke about? We should let our neighbors build warehouses to house goods for Beaumont’s retail shops. Let them have the 18 wheelers and hundreds of unskilled lower paying warehouse jobs while we build a vibrant community that will provide retail job opportunities for our kids and bring businesses that offer career opportunities to attract families looking for a permanent home town, not just a shorter commute.

What do you think?