The Overflow Room Was Overflowing

Why did more than 100 people show up at this week’s city council meeting? Most of them came because of a poorly written item that seemed to indicate the city was going to increase our CFD fees.

Many of the citizens who came to this week’s council meeting were seniors on fixed incomes who are struggling to pay their CFD and Mello-Roos fees. There was a poorly written item on the agenda that appeared to give the city the authorization to raise our fees. We learned the county determines the language of the resolution and requires the city to approve it in order to facilitate the collection of the fees; no increases were being authorized. By passing the resolution, the city authorizes the county to add the fees to our property tax statements. If not, the city would have to send out separate bills for the fees and incur the collection costs. Even though many were relieved to hear their fees weren’t going up, there was still a lot of angst over the fees and many took this opportunity to let the council know how they felt.

The mayor and the city manager preceded the public comments with a detailed explanation of the purpose of the resolution and then responded to speakers by blaming the county for the poorly written resolution and defending their position that there wasn’t much they could do about the CFDs. Council members related to us they feel our pain but told us there was little they could do. The mayor offered to send the city manager out to meet with homeowners to try and alleviate their fears. The city manager told us he had met with many groups already but it was clear from his comments there wasn’t much he could do, or would do. The city manager and the mayor continued to tell us we could eliminate the fees by paying them off early. Not many in the audience appeared to have the necessary tens-of-thousands of dollars and most, I included, have lost all our equity and can’t qualify for a simple refinance let alone the additional cash to pay off the CFDs.

It was evident by the council members’ comments they just don’t get it. They focused their attentions on the misplaced outrage of a citizenry who the council members believed had been misled by comments on the Patch and automated phone calls encouraging people to come to the council meeting to be heard. They didn’t get it that people are really struggling and need some relief. The council and city manager continued to present the position that the CFDs are in place and have been agreed to by homeowners and there is nothing they could do, even if they wanted to.

I told the council that there is something they could do. They could stop authorizing CFD fees on new homes. They could force developers to pay the upfront infrastructure costs and increase their home prices. This would help new homeowners easily, and more accurately, assess the value of their new home; it would reflect a truer value of their home and raise the value of ours. In the long run this would increase home values and enable more of us to refinance for lower interest rates and get out from under the CFD fees.

What else can they do?

They can focus on improving the home values of existing Beaumontians. They can hold down increases on fees they do control. For example, the sewer fee increase they authorized goes in to effect on July 1st. If they really feel our pain, and want to help, they could roll back this increase. They could do their homework and develop a new master plan that doesn’t add tens-of-millions of square feet of new warehouses. This plan will bring thousands of daily trips by trucks; keep our home values suppressed; and risk the health of our families. The air pollutants, noise, damage to our streets and increased traffic hazards will discourage new homeowners from buying here. If I had known what I know now, I would have found another place to raise my family.

I told the council we weren’t interested in what the staff knew. We wanted to know what the council members know. We want to know we can trust them to do their homework and will know what they are approving. I told them their failure to understand the Heartland warehouse project they were ready to approve at the last meeting was the reason so many believed they needed to be there to oppose any tax increase.

What can we do?

We need to perform our civic responsibility and exercise oversight of our elected officials. This means regularly attending council meetings, not just when there is a tax increase on the agenda.  We can demand the council to replace commission based department heads with salaried administrators who have a proven track record and who don’t have a financial interest in the projects they manage. We can elect council members who share our values.

What am I going to do?

I am going to continue to raise awareness about issues and the actions taken by our elected officials that threaten my children’s future by changing the landscape of our community; risking the health of our families; or restricting the growth of our home values. I am going to continue to offer ideas and suggest solutions to any council member willing to listen. I am going to recruit, encourage and support a slate of three candidates for next year’s election who not only share my values but have a chance to defeat (and are willing to go up against) the Beaumont political machine.

There was some good news. The council has postponed voting on the Heartland warehouse project and will hold a “workshop” at the July 2nd council meeting. I wonder if my friend Tony still believes we can’t stop the Beaumont City Council. I still plan to develop a flyer but I will hold off on organizing the distribution until a vote is scheduled. I want to thank everyone who volunteered to help with distribution or donate money for printing costs.

I am sure Mayor Berg’s determination will result in a vote. We need to turn out strong for the workshop but we need to be ready to once again fill the council’s overflow room. The applause that followed each speaker and the jeering to the mayor’s attempt to limit comments by some speakers revealed a citizenry unhappy with the direction their elected officials are taking their community.