Beaumont Needs a New Plan - An Inland Port?

The Alameda Corridor is one of the region’s largest transportation projects in the last 20 years. It is a 20 mile freight rail “expressway” connecting the national rail system near downtown Los Angeles to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The corridor includes a below ground 10 mile long “Mid-Corridor Trench” that runs alongside the 710 freeway. It allows trains to bypass 90 miles of older tracks avoiding 200 at grade railroad crossings where cars and trucks previously had to wait for long freight trains to pass. The corridor has improved traffic conditions and reduced noise pollution.

The Alameda Corridor East extends the freight train transportation east through Ontario eventually to the Colton Crossing. The Colton Crossing is one of the busiest at-grade rail-to-rail crossing in the nation. An at-grade rail-to-rail crossing is where two rail lines cross at the same level (or grade). The BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad lines form the Colton Crossing and continuous movement of trains through Colton is inhibited. This leads to trains idling in Colton, delay of transportation of goods, and impacts passenger train operation and reliability. This chokepoint needed to be addressed which gave rise to the Colton Crossing Rail-to-Rail Grade Separation Project.

The Alameda Corridor, Alameda Corridor East, and Colton Crossing projects will improve traffic through grade separation of rail lines and roads. Improved traffic conditions will reduce air and noise pollution and should contribute to the growth in the state and local economies by facilitating expanded trade. For the last 15-20 years, local governments along the trade route wanting to capitalize on the trade opportunities, came together to form joint power authorities (JPAs), solicit Federal and State funding and made investments in their infrastructure.

The Federal Government has taken an active role in the development and financing of an inland port in the Inland Empire and has funded many of the supporting infrastructure projects. An inland port in the San Bernardino/Ontario/Riverside area will improve the nationwide distribution of the ever increasing numbers of manufactured goods coming from Asia through Long Beach and Los Angeles ports. San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ontario, planning to capitalize on the inland port, have developed plans to prepare for the increased traffic of goods. This is the reason for the increase development in warehouses in San Bernardino, around March Air force Base, Ontario and Mira Loma. Even around Redlands you will notice a number of new warehouses. SANBAG (San Bernardino Association of Governments) partnered with the City of San Bernardino, and the Federal Highway Administration on the $723 million Interstate 215 Widening Project. $128 million came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Beaumont has been following a different plan. Over the last 20 years, Beaumont planners have focused on housing developments and the lucrative and flexible funding source, Mello-Roos fees. Instead of partnering with other local governments to acquire state and Federal funding, Beaumont planners have been funding infrastructure using the fees that are supposed to be earmarked for improvements to the Community Facilities Districts (CFDs), communities paying the fees/taxes. The law allow cities to use the Mello-Roos revenue to pay for the increased services, such as police and fire, as long as the additional services are required for the additional residents in the new developments. The City is then required to audit their CFDs and prove the bond revenues are primarily benefiting property owners in the CFDs.

Rather than working collaboratively with our neighboring communities through associations such as WRCOG (Western Riverside Council of Governments) and programs such as TUMF (Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee) Beaumont’s leaders have decided to go it alone. They actually have a law suit pending with WRCOG regarding TUMF. It resulted from Beaumont asking WRCOG for TUMF funds they believe should reimburse the City for projects the City funded with Mello-Roos fees. 

The City will be building the $79 million Potrero Interchange alone, without support from any other governments. They have already paid their consultants $11 million for mitigation fees for the interchange. Where do you think the City found the funds to pay for this? The City’s only projected funding source appears to be Mello-Roos bond revenue from future home developments. Our neighboring communities have been working together to fund transportation projects and acquire funding to prepare infrastructure to be an extension to the inland port that is soon to be a reality. 

The poor housing market over the last few years has forced Beaumont’s City Council, led by their consultants, to rethink their plan. Looking for a quick and easy replacement for the CFD fees, they have switched their focus to warehouses and distribution centers but they haven’t done the necessary preparation to put the infrastructure in place to support the transportation routes. The council will argue that Beaumont can benefit from the inland port project but, without a plan to fund the infrastructure upgrades needed, they are heading us toward a traffic and pollution nightmare. If they change their planned land use from housing developments to warehouses, where are the future CFD bond revenues, the City's future funding source going to come from?

I've read the City's general plan. It mentions a goal of providing the services the citizens need and want. There is only a brief mention of warehouse development and no planning for the inland port development. 

I’d like to see the council form a citizen based committee and review the current general plan.  They should solicit input from the community about which direction we should head. I know the community would prioritize facilities for healthcare and higher education, road improvements, and retail centers over distribution centers. I personally would like to see the City court technology companies and bring the high paying career opportunities available in the technology industry to Beaumont.

If the council is still intent on building a major distribution center, they have an obligation to detail a plan to the community on how they will finance the infrastructures, Mello-Roos funds are only allowed to support the property owners paying them, not for major transportation infrastructure projects. Regardless of their intentions, the City’s general plan doesn't support a change towards distribution centers; it does layout a plan to provide the commercial and retail services to support the population growth. There has been a number of amendments over the last few years to move our City from a residential community to a regional distribution center. Amendments to the general plan can only accomplish so much. I agree with Mr. Castaldo, it is time for a new plan.