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A busy day in the life of Mayor Stark

Mayor Stark

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com
When Mayor Jennifer Stark arose on Tuesday September 14, she undoubtedly knew it would be a long day. But she had no idea just how long.

That evening, the Claremont City Council was set to make a decision on the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance and whether to tie its implementation to the Village South Specific Plan. The two issues have drawn a lot of public interest and this evening was going to be the final showdown. It would be well into the morning hours of September 15 before Mayor Stark could turn out the lights.

The day began the same way as most with a 5:30 a.m. workout at Endless Fitness in Claremont. Tuesday morning Mayor Stark was lifting weights with about a dozen other women who have formed an impromptu exercise club at the fitness gym. The mood was light but there was little time for chatting as everyone, including Stark, had places to be.

The mayor left Endless Fitness around 6:50, with just enough time to drive home for a shower and head off to the DoubleTree Hotel for the Claremont Chamber of Commerce breakfast mixer.
During the time set aside for chamber members to share news, Mayor Stark reminded the crowd that Village Venture is a terrific opportunity for service clubs to work together to help make the annual event a huge success—and to ensure that it goes smoothly by volunteering.

At breakfast she had time to relax and chat with friends and acquaintances, but there was little time to waste with a typically tight schedule including an hours-long meeting with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments’ Water Policy Committee for which Mayor Stark is vice-chair. Before COVID times she drove to Monrovia for the water meeting but now the conversation is conducted via Zoom, like everything else, which is much more convenient.

The remainder of the day was occupied by preparations for that night’s city council meeting, including reading more than 25 new written comments submitted by the public and to review the agenda packet one last time.

Mayor Stark takes preparation very seriously and can pretty much plan on spending the entire weekend leading up each meeting reading the entirety of the agenda packet, which can run hundreds of pages. She said her duty, the one Claremont voters gave her, is to be well informed by the time the gavel comes down at the start of each meeting.

“On the second and fourth Tuesday I typically set aside a significant block of time because, also typically, a lot of letters come in the last minutes and I want to make sure I have time to read all of the public comment,” she said.

Small agendas take about 12 hours to process, but more extensive ones, such as the agenda for the September 14 meeting, take Stark up to 60 hours to read. She spent Thursday and Friday evening, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday, reviewing the document.

“I want to be done reading all of the agenda by Sunday, so that on Monday I can start strategizing if I need to, or asking more questions, or talking to staff. And usually that works out very well,” she said. “This is where we have impact. We have to know what it is we are approving or not approving.”

Mayor Stark grew up here and raised her three children in Claremont. Before she ran for council she spent a lot of time volunteering for Claremont Canopy and on tasks involving her now-grow children. She also taught yoga for years. So she has always had a busy schedule, it’s just morphed now that council takes so much attention.

“This isn’t forever,” she said. “While I am looking forward to running for a second term, I think eight years is a really good commitment. I think I will be able to see a couple of things through the finish line in that period of time.”

By 6:00 p.m., it’s crunch time. The council meeting begins in a half hour and there is still much to do, largely because she has decided to conduct the meeting from the office rather than the bedroom. The sudden move was inspired by the expected very late night and a desire not to keep her husband, David Berke, up all night as well.

She collects notes from the bedroom and organizes them on a modest desk which is lit by a circular lighting fixture specifically designed for video conferencing. One more trip downstairs for a giant jug of cooled water, and it’s time to settle in for the show.

“I spend some time [before the meeting] centering myself around deep gratitude that people care, so I try to be in a place where I can hear public comment as an expression of caring about issues that really matter.” Mayor Stark said. “Oftentimes there are criticisms, but in my opinion it doesn’t help to be defensive.”

As she logs into Zoom, she encounters a bit of a snafu because the link city staff sent isn’t working. A quick call to City Manager Adam Pirrie and a new link is sent. The meeting begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and some ceremonial matters including issuing certificates of appreciation. After other routine matters including the consent calendar, it’s finally time to begin the discussion of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

After a city presentation, public comment and lengthy debate, the council passed the housing ordinance but decided to delay implementation for 180 days, effectively separating it from any early applications under the VSSP.

Mayor Stark compared the job of being mayor with parenting, saying that children are a lot of work when they are young but as they grow they become independent.

“While you love your children forever, it’s not as active [when they are grown]. You don’t have to parent your adult children, you just love them, respect them and are kind of in awe of them. And I think that giving your time to an elected position is a little bit like that. You are dedicated, you put your whole heart into it, you do your very best and then it’s something that ends and you can feel that you did your best to have a positive impact.”

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