At the city council meeting this week, I watched the council succumb to public pressure and reject an amendment to the general plan that would enable Lehman Brothers to build a large warehouse distribution center west of the new Centennial Bridge. Thank you to everyone who printed out the fliers and handed them out. I know many who attended the meeting received one of the fliers.
Since Tuesday, I've followed the reaction from Beaumont citizens regarding the council's decision on the Patch, the Press Enterprise blogs and Facebook. I've learned some citizens believe rejecting the warehouses will cost much needed jobs. This tells me we have a lot more work to do.
We need to warn our fellow citizens not to just accept the promises of thousands of high paying jobs made by warehouse developers and council members. They need to understand 6 million square feet of warehouses have already been constructed or approved and not one council members has been able to name a single company making a commitment to become a client. All our fellow citizens need to understand empty warehouses don’t add any jobs. We need to point out to them that the average salary of a warehouse worker in California is $24,000, this works out to less than $12 an hour.
You can’t raise a family or buy a home in Beaumont on $12 an hour yet these are the kinds of jobs Mayor Berg believes our high school graduates desire. Does this mean the mayor believes you need to go to college in order to raise a family or buy a home in Beaumont? I don’t think so but this is the message he is sending when he argues warehouse jobs are what's needed in Beaumont. This isn't the message we should be sending our kids.
I saw some comments from people arguing that the businesses that offer the higher paying jobs aren't considering building in Beaumont. They say we should be thankful Lehman Brothers is offering to bring warehouse jobs. I argue that so many warehouse developers are considering Beaumont because these are the businesses the city council and city administrators are courting. They are offering zoning changes, planning amendments and financial incentives to developers to build warehouses. There are still a number of lots already zoned for retail/commercial near 2nd street that are ready for construction. If our council and planning department were wheeling and dealing with commercial and retail developers as much as they are with warehouse developers, I am sure you would see more of the kind of stores for which we all travel to Redlands and beyond.
Where were all the citizens in support of the warehouse jobs Tuesday night? They weren't at the city council meeting. Not one person spoke in favor of warehouse jobs. If you are someone who believes the council made the wrong decision to reject the Heartland warehouses, you need to take more interest in what’s happening in your city. If you really think warehouse jobs are the answer, why don't we wait and see what happens with the existing warehouses. See how many Beaumontians are employed once the trucks start rolling in. And let's wait until the existing warehouses are at least half full before building more? Also, ask yourself, where are these $12 an hour workers going to find housing they can afford in Beaumont?
We need to move forward. The rejection of the land zoning change for the Heartland Distribution Center was a good beginning. I would like to see the council focus their attention on the outdoor mall we've been hearing about for years and completing the 2nd Street Marketplace they keep bragging about. But, before any new construction starts in Beaumont, we have a lot of work to do.
First we need to find out exactly what we are up against. The audit Libi has been doing over the last year has uncovered many questions for which we should be demanding answers from our council. This is why I have started circulating a petition to have the city council instruct the staff to proceed with an outside independent forensic audit of the last five years' finances.
If you would like to help me get signatures, click on the following link, or the one I loaded with this post, print it out, and once you have it complete with 10 signatures, send me an email to OurFocusOurKids@gmail.com and I will make arrangements to get it from you. Click here for a link to the petition.
During a break at Tuesday's meeting, Alan Kapanicas, the City Manager, reached out to me and asked me what is a forensic audit and what exactly am I requesting? He invited me to sit down with him and discuss any questions I might have. I will take him up on his offer while I am circulating the petition. Mr. Kapanicas is just a city employee, ordering an audit is not his choice. The council members are the ones who can make this decision and it looks like they will act if enough citizens demand them to.
Next, we need to encourage our city council to instruct staff to hold a public meeting with the staff of the Cherry Valley Water District to begin a public discussion about how our city, the water district and the public can come together to reach a solution for our water troubles. I know the water district’s general manager and commissioners are willing to work with the city.The city manager and his staff don't appear to be interested and have told the water district they are planning to move forward with a $60 million WWTP (waste water treatment plant).
This was their justification for the sewer rate increase that went into effect on July 1st. Several years ago the city rejected an invitation from the Yucaipa Valley Water District to partner on a waste water solution that would cost rate payers less than $10 each bill for a fixed number of years, I think it was for 5 years. Instead, Beaumont rate payers will be paying forever an additional $20 on every bill for a WWTP. The plan they have devised has not been proven to work and many water experts believe won’t work. It's hard to imagine our Urban Logic consultants would recommend any alternative to a $60 million project where their cut would be more than $5 million.
Once we know where we stand financially and once we have our city and water district working together on a viable water solution, then we can begin to discuss how we bring the right businesses and jobs to Beaumont. We can work on bringing jobs that will enable employees to earn a living sufficient to raise a family and afford a home in Beaumont. We can work on bringing the business we all want and will support.
What we accomplished this week even surprised me. Now isn't the time to celebrate victory, we still have much work to do. We need to keep the pressure on the city council and make sure they have a better understanding of what we expect from them in the future.
I know many of you don’t trust our city council but for now I will take them at their word. I will accept their claim that they are listening to the citizens and want to do what’s best for our families. I will continue to make my presence known at the council meetings and hold them to honoring their word. However, we've seen when only a few people show up at council meetings they don't pay attention. I am confident, when needed, the citizens will rise up again and demand to be heard but we have to work to keep them informed and educated.