I am often asked why I do what I do. What do I get out of writing a blog where I am always complaining? Lately I’ve been asked if I’ve given up on the school district and why has my focus switched to the City of Beaumont.
Seven years ago, my wife and I bought a home in Beaumont. We moved our four year old daughter and seven month old son here from Highland. We moved here because we needed a larger house. Even though we already lived in a good school district, Redlands Unified, we knew the Beaumont elementary schools were outstanding and large homes were more affordable in Beaumont than in Redlands.
We enrolled our daughter in Brookside Elementary in 2007 and took an active interest in the school and the school district. I served on the school’s site council and PTA board. I attended almost every school board meeting for six years and I served on the district’s Budget Review Committee and Technology Planning Committee. I wasn’t satisfied with the direction our school board was headed and their management of our kids’ resources. I made an unsuccessful run for school board in 2012 but, up until about a year ago, my wife and I have been very happy in Beaumont.
When my daughter entered the fourth grade, I started to take a closer look at our middle schools and the middle schools in neighboring districts. I learned Beaumont’s middle schools did not offer a STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). As an employee of a company in the technology industry, I saw the opportunities STEM careers offer our kids. I knew first-hand the availability of lucrative career opportunities in STEM companies, even during depressing economic times. I knew our school district was short changing our kids and that my kids would be at a disadvantage to students in other districts; districts providing STEM curriculum for their students.
I saw an article in the Press Enterprise about the STEM program for sixth graders at Mesa View Middle School in Calimesa. I was optimistic that a program such as Mesa View’s could be brought to Beaumont. This was why I ran for the school board. I knew nothing could be put in place in time for my daughter but I believed, and still do, there was time for my son. I tried to make it a major issue of the campaign After I lost, I realized the makeup of the “new” board wasn’t going to be making any middle school program improvements.
I worked with the superintendent Dr. Latham and her administration to organize a forum for parents to discuss STEM and to educate parents about what was available in Beaumont and what the district’s future plans were for STEM. I was encouraged by the attendance at the forum but I was discouraged to learn neither of our middle schools would be offering anything new. I heard no specific plans for STEM programs from the administration. Later, I attended orientation programs for both Mesa View and Mountain View and found there to be no comparison, Mesa View will better prepare my daughter for high school and college. It was a no-brainer, my daughter starts sixth grade at Mesa View on Wednesday.
I haven’t given up on Beaumont schools; we have outstanding elementary schools and teachers. I will continue to work to bring a STEM program here before we have to make the middle school decision for my son. It is hard for my daughter to leave her friends but some of her friends will also be attending Mesa View and she knows she will make new friends. We will not be bringing her back to Beaumont Unified until high school. If something doesn’t change, my son will also be leaving the district for middle school.
I plan to continually update the school board with my daughter’s progress and make the board members aware of the projects and activities Beaumont’s middle school students are missing out on. I encourage other Beaumont parents of Mesa View students to join me in future board meetings to share their kids’ progress. There is still hope for our younger kids.
About the same time we became aware of the failure of our middle schools to offer STEM courses, I started following what was happening in our city. I been interested in the politics of the city council and the water issues our community must address. I learned the truth about CFDs (Community Facilities District), also known as mello-roos. I became more aware of how our council is abusing the CFD funds. I also started attending water district board meetings and talking to water experts.
When we signed our escrow papers, we were aware of the CFD Bonds and our obligation, at least we thought we were. We knew these bonds would finance the infrastructure necessary to support the new developments in Beaumont and we thought we would be responsible for the payments for 20 years. We had already committed to live in Beaumont until my son graduates in 2024. We planned to sell our house then and expected our CFD obligation would be fulfilled. We weren’t aware our payments would increase and we didn’t know the city council could extend the term, and our debt obligation, for as long, and as many times, as they saw fit… without voters’ approval.
I had heard about Urban Logic a while ago but I didn’t understand how they work with the City Manager, Alan Kapanicas, to recommend refinancing of the CFDs. I learned these bond reissuances decrease the city’s interest rates minimally (less than 1%) but not homeowner rates or payments. Our CFD payments are increasing and the council is extending our terms of obligation by at least ten years. I realized the council’s actions will reduce my retirement and my kids’ college tuition savings by tens of thousands of dollars. The City’s debt strategy, if continued, will seriously compromise my retirement plan and my children’s educational opportunities. The City’s current debt strategy only benefits Mr. Kapanicas and his firm, General Government Management Services; Rod Gunn Associates Inc (Financial Advisor); Oconnor & Company Securities Inc (Underwriter); McFarlin & Anderson (Bond Counsel); and Union Bank (Trustee). They all benefit at the expense of homeowner. One of my biggest fears is that our neighboring communities will offer new homes without mello-roos.
I’ve educated myself about the water issues and tried to determine how our elected officials plan to deal with providing sufficient healthy water for our community. I learned how the city passed up the opportunity to collaborate with our neighbors on an affordable water treatment solution. I’ve learned how all the water stakeholders in the area, with the exception of the City of Beaumont, have developed a plan that has been approved and accepted by the governing water agency. I also learned the City of Beaumont’s plan was rejected. I understand the City has now quietly agreed to go along with the other agencies’ plan. It is questionable whether the $60 million dollar Waste Water Treatment Plant the city was planning will ever be built. Knowing how much Urban Logic would make on such an expensive project, I wouldn’t count it out. Last month our sewer fees were increased by 39% and will increase annually for the next five years for a total of 69%.
In the last few months, guided by Mr. Kapanicas and Urban Logic’s principals, I’ve seen how determined our city council is to fund enormous infrastructure projects and to make deals with warehouse developers to turn our community into a major distribution center. The recent death of another Beaumont citizen makes it clear the Hwy 60 interchange is needed but I think it should be built, and funded, by the state and county, not just the citizens of Beaumont. We’ve already paid Urban Logic millions of dollars for the project and they stand to make a lot more with us going it alone. We have been able to delay the Heartland warehouse project but many more projects will come before the council and I am sure we haven’t heard the last from Lehman Brothers about their Heartland project.
I’m often asked “If Beaumont is so bad, why don’t you move?” Even if we wanted to move, we can’t, not without losing much of my retirement and our children’s college tuition. We owe more on our house than it is worth and moving isn’t an option. Even if we could move, we wouldn’t. We love it here and our kids love it here. We’ve formed many great relationships with other Beaumont families through our participation on the Pass Area Stingrays swim team, Cub Scouts, and Beaumont Youth Baseball.
My wife recently told me that she loved living in Beaumont until I started telling her what was happening to our future. She wishes she could go back to just not knowing, she was happier then. She’s told me when we do eventually move, she wants me to keep my nose out of the local issues. She knows I won’t be able to.
I know most of my friends and neighbors aren’t aware of what’s really going on in our city. They are too busy working and raising their families and they are happier not knowing. I also know they can’t avoid these issues forever. Many of my friends have been directly affected by the last two rounds of CFD refinancing.
When they finally realize what our elected officials, city administrators, and Urban Logic have stolen from our kids, I know they will be outraged. I hope it won’t be too late. I will continue to do everything I can to get the word out. I will continue to be critical of those running our city and school district. And I will continue to offer solutions. It is because of our kids, and their future, that I do what I do.