A Tale of Two Projects

The City of Beaumont is taking on two of the most significant and costly projects in recent memory, probably in all of the city’s history, the Potrero Interchange and the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) expansion. Both projects will benefit the city but both projects have created a lot of discussion and some controversy, as expected. Following is a brief summary of the projects.

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Potrero Interchange

The city breaks ground this week on Phase 1 and Phase 1A of the Potrero interchange at State Hwy 60.

Phase 1 will involve constructing a 6-lane bridge with center median and bicycle lanes extending Potrero Blvd over SR 60; adding a ramp from Western Knolls to Potrero Blvd. The widening of SR 60 at Western Knolls and widening Potrero Blvd east and west of the new bridge are also included in Phase 1

Phase 1A consists of constructing acceleration and deceleration lanes.

Phase 2 Will include constructing partial cloverleaf interchange and ramps providing full freeway access (ingress and egress in both directions) and will be undertaken after the earlier phases have been completed.

More than $13 million-dollars of tax payers’ money had already been spent on this project for design, environmental and right of way acquisition of phases 1, 1A, & 2 before Kapanicas and Urban Logic Consultants (ULC) principals left town. Much of the money was directed towards contracts involving ULC. These contracts were awarded by previous councils without competitive bidding. The city most certainly paid too much for ULC's work.

Another $21.6 million is needed to complete phases 1 & 1A. $13.4 million in State and Federal Grant funding has been acquired leaving a funding gap of about $8.4 million. The city council approved the completion of phases 1 & 1A on one condition, the gap must be covered with cash from the property owners, those benefitting the most from the interchange, No more tax dollars would be spent to complete the first phase. The cash has been deposited by the land owners in the bank providing the city the working capital needed for construction. The city will use the cash to fund the construction and later will be reimbursed with the grant money through the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) the stewards of the government money.

The settlement of the WRCOG (Western Riverside Council of Governments) resulted in the City of Beaumont rejoining WRCOG's TUMF (Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fess) program and makes it possible for the city to apply for TUMF credits for the Potrero project. If the project is approved as TUMF eligible, property owners will receive credit towards their DIF (Development Impact Fees) , and if authorized by WRCOG, credit towards TUMF.

Phase 2 of the project doesn’t have a funding plan established as of today, although Phase 1 presents mobility and economic value as a stand-alone project. 

Completing phases 1 & 1A will open up the area south of SR 60 to economic development. This area has been zoned for commercial and industry and will provide much needed, long term tax revenue for the city. Completing phases 1 & 1A will not only secure the grant funding for Beaumont, it will guarantee the $13 million of tax payer funds already paid into this project will not be completely wasted.

The fact that land owners have provided the cash flow the city needs to move forward on the project and that no more tax dollars will be contributed to the first phase is a huge win for the citizens of Beaumont.

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The Waste Water Treatment Plant

The City's waste water treatment plant (WWTP) has reached 75% of its permitted capacity of 4 million gallons per day (mgd).  Per the City’s NPDES permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board), once the WWTP reaches 75% capacity the City must begin the process of planning and constructing an expansion to add capacity.  The Board’s Basin Plan establishes the discharge requirements for WWTPs within the watershed. 

In 2015, the Board adopted a Basin Plan that requires the City to reduce the total dissolved solids (TDS or salts) in the WWTP discharge and future recycled water.  The City has selected to implement reverse osmosis treatment to reduce TDS, and the Board has issued a compliance order establishing mandatory timelines for the completion of the WWTP expansion and TDS treatment.  The reverse osmosis treatment removes TDS from the water and creates a brine waste product that must be disposed of.  The deadline for complying with the order before fines will be assessed against the City is to have the new treatment facilities operational by 2020 and mitigate for excess TDS complete by August 2025. Also, a failure to comply by the deadline could result in a cease and desist order from the State, which could lead to a moratorium against all development, residential, retail and commercial. This result is not acceptable.

The WWTP expansion and salt mitigation facilities will cost the City approximately $110 million, $65 million for the plant expansion and another $45 million for a brine disposal pipeline to connect to the Inland Empire Brine Line (IEBL).  The City’s brine line will be 12-inch diameter and 23-miles long.  It will be constructed from the City’s WWTP to San Bernardino where it will connect to the IEBL.  The IEBL pipeline extends from San Bernardino to Orange County Sanitation District’s (OCSD’s) treatment facility in Fountain Valley.  The brine disposal cost includes the purchase of pipeline capacity in the IEBL as well as treatment capacity at OCSD’s facility.   The existing sewer rates will provide the debt service to fund the plant expansion but does not cover the cost of the brine disposal facilities or connecting to the IEBL.

The decision to increase sewer rates on a community who has already given so much and have been so damaged by the previous council and administration is not an easy one for this council to make. We have already increased sewer connection fees on homes developed in the future from $3,194 to $5,125 per home to ensure that the new developments pay their share of the costs. Unfortunately, the City won't be able to cover the costs without a rate increase.

The City Council has directed staff to begin the Prop 218 legal process to raise sewer rates to meet the cost to comply with the Santa Ana Regional Board's order. This process requires a notification of the fee increase followed by a public hearing 45 days later and an opportunity for rate payers to protest in writing. If more than 50% of the rate payers file a protest, the increase will not be implemented. There are so many important questions that need to be answered that the City Council instructed the staff to go above and beyond the legal requirement and hold community meetings to address everyone's concerns. The first meeting was held earlier this month and the next meeting will be on February 15th. I urge you to get involved and make your voices heard.

Our predecessors obviously should have planned better for the expansion and brine removal. They talked about it for years but didn't responsibly manage our resources to make it happen. This council is committed to reverse the practices of the past and provide our community with a transparent and responsible government. Every decision this council has made has been in meeting this commitment.

Three years ago the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. We were facing judgements, pending lawsuits and RDA (Redevelopment Agency) obligations - all totaling more than $100 million. Now we are operating under balanced budgets; rebuilding reserves; and are completing long overdue projects promised by previous councils and administrations. 

This was not all done by the council alone. We have assembled an outstanding team that has made our amazing rate of recovery possible. We have made the difficult decisions to put the future of the City of Beaumont above all other concerns. We have come a long way towards reaching our goals and we still have a ways to go. We know what needs to be done and we are committed to getting the job done.