BY DAVID JAMES HEISS
Beaumont believes that, originally, its neighbors would be on board in developing an evaluation framework to prioritize programs and projects that could favorably impact the Pass area’s expanding I-10 traffic and transportation needs.
That combined single voice, Beaumont envisioned, would provide input for transportation-related matters to the likes of the Western Regional Council of Governments, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, Southern California Council of Goverments, and CalTrans, among others, and would have represented Banning, Calimesa, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and Riverside County, in addition to Beaumont.
But Beaumont is under the impression that neighboring municipalities do not trust the city as it relinquishes itself from the corruption fiasco left behind by former city officials from five years earlier, and has been informed by its neighboring communities of their desires to pursue other means to achieve the same vision Beaumont hoped to achieve.
Calimesa’s Mayor William Davis sent a letter in September to Beaumont suggesting that the potential collaborating municipalities explore a joint memorandum of understanding, instead, claiming that “The independent numbering by each entity of a Joint Resolution will likely cause confusion, as the Resolution numbering for each entity will most likely be unique to that entity,” suggesting that projects considered by such a union of municipalities might specifically benefit one over another, rather than all cities in the Pass area combined.
According to Beaumont’s officials, the city of Banning preferred to rely on the county’s taking a lead in such discussions; and the only true interest seemed to come from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, despite the joint resolution having also been passed by the city of Banning and the Morongo tribe.
“It was a significant deviation” from what had been established, Beaumont’s City Manager Todd Parton said during the Oct. 19 city council meeting.
“Since we no longer have participation from the other communities we should rescind the resolution and be ready to participate should discussion come our way in the future,” Parton explained.
Councilman David Fenn wondered if there were attempts to reach out to Hemet and San Jacinto considering how treacherous backed up traffic is, since an intermodal, regional effort in the Pass area would likely benefit those communities, as well, as they lack convenient freeway access. “I don’t know if they’ve shunned our idea, or just feel they have a better approach” to tackling the issues.
Parton explained that the concept was conceived in order to take advantage of potential regional transportation grant opportunities from CalTrans and SCAG. As we’ve wrestled with how to coordinate and prioritize transportation needs and to mitigate impacts along our corridor here, the idea was to reach out to our immediate neighbors.”
“Everybody’s got projects that they’re planning on; they are all interrelated: what happens with Morongo affects us, what happens in Calimesa affects us. If one project gets funded, that means there’s more dollars to address other projects, because the whole system has to work together,” Parton said.
”I don’t construe this as a not having a desire to work” with other municipalities; rather Parton translates its neighbors’ reluctances on their questioning of “what is the right vehicle to do this, specific to the Pass area.
Parton said that Beaumont had not pitched the idea of an MOU because he believes those memorandums tend to be “project-specific,” whereas an area strategic plan would be a more effective way to approach elected officials at the federal level.
Fenn said “The perception I don’t want to have out there is, if we rescind this, just to say we throw our hands up and say ‘Forget you all,’” and expressed an interest in an alternative plan, or at least keeping channels open, to renew discussions if other municipalities wish to.
Mayor Pro Tem Lloyd White told his colleagues that the council’s pending decision to withdraw from a strategic partnership was “not the real reason we’re rescinding this.”
“I’ll be perfectly blunt,” White said. “We continue to hear from our neighbors that they don’t trust us” reflecting sentiments at the last mayor’s breakfast. “They’ve already moved forward with letting our supervisor’s office take the lead on this. Well, he’s had at least a couple of years since we’ve been talking about it, and the county has continued to overlook and neglect the Pass area in regards to transportation … but I think if we continue to move forward with the county taking the lead, it’s going to get bogged down in the politics, they don’t have the resources that the cities could have put together for the grant writing, and I feel it’s a disappointment. We need to move forward on this … I still don’t know how we don’t get what we need — Highland Springs, the other projects that are in Banning, that are in Calimesa that impact us all. At some point I personally have done everything we can to reach out and provide support to our neighbors. For them to continue to argue they don’t trust us and that we’re just out to get credit for everything is just very disappointing,” and further lamented that “the county has not done Beaumont any favors in quite some time.”
“The original intent, White said, was to create a coalition of our regional neighbors so we could apply for grants,” the deadlines of which have been missed, or the funding of which is no longer available.
“We should broaden our sources … We should not throw our hands up, we need to move forward, because we need it — the whole Pass area needs it,” White said.
Councilman Rey Santos understood that neighboring cities do not officially see Beaumont as “taking advantage of them.”
“We’re working as a team on this” regionally, Santos said.
He pointed out that if the city misses out on applying for a piece of available $6.2 billion in federal allocations, those funds will instead be doled out and benefit other cities outside the Pass area.
Councilman Julio Martinez said “Our neighbors got it wrong: bringing in the supervisor of the county is just another layer of bureaucracy” in the area’s efforts “to have a regional voice talk about issues. I think the direction has been changed; obviously there’s external influences going on … We’re going to keep going forward and doing what’s in our best interest, not just for our city, but for our region.”
Mayor Mike Lara said that the neighboring municipalities and the tribe had opportunities to comment on a proposed joint strategic plan, but Beaumont only heard back from Morongo, Lara said.
“We’re going to miss another grant opportunity since we’re starting back at zero,” Lara said.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and messages may be left at (951) 849-4586 x114.