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2022 city council race profiles: Jed Leano

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

When Mayor Jed Leano was first elected to city council, he felt he had to say yes to every request for his appearance at public events, which, combined with his immigration law practice, meant he had little time left over for his family. It also coincided with “unquestionably the hardest part of adulthood,” when you have young children, aging parents, and a full-time career.

“That went on at breakneck speed for about 14 months, and then the pandemic happened. And then I was home for a year and-a-half and I became the kindergarten teacher for my son, the golf coach for my son, the babysitter, and the after-school provider for my son,” Leano said.

Looking back on his first term, Leano says he would have been more deliberate, cautious, and thoughtful about the other demands in his life if he’d had the experience.

“And the funny thing is, I was able to learn about that tremendous imbalance because of the pandemic,” he said.

Like most sitting councilmembers, Leano is still very busy. His many commitments include serving as chair of the Tri-City Mental Health Board, Claremont’s representative to the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Homelessness Committee, chair of the Claremont Lincoln University MPA program advisory council, vice chair of the Filipino American Democratic Caucus, and on the board of the San Gabriel Valley Immigration Resource Center.

In October 2019, he was named Democrat of the Year for the 41st Assembly District by the L.A. County Democratic Party.

Leano also provides pro-bono legal services, including serving as the lead attorney for the quarterly immigration and naturalization clinic at the Claremont United Methodist Church. The clinic, which has helped more than 1,000 people, has been on Covid-related hiatus but is expected to return this year.

Leano is running for a second term in part to keep the momentum going for what he sees as the many ways Claremont is better off now than in 2018.

“We are in a better position now than four years ago,” Leano said. “We are making substantial progress in all of our major objectives: financial stability, continuing to provide robust services for all residents, addressing things like affordable housing, continuing on the path of implementing our sustainability plan and thinking about climate change. And I believe I am best suited for the job.”

Anyone who has read the COURIER recently, or met Leano at a public event, will not be surprised to learn that housing, specifically finding new ways to create affordable housing, is at the top of his to-do list.

“My number one priority remains the continuing development of opportunities for Claremont to create a more livable, inclusive, and affordable city. There is no question that right now the greatest challenge in Claremont and all our cities is housing affordability. It is impacting all areas of life. It impacts economic growth, it impacts homelessness, but it also impacts the promise we make to our kids that this is a place to raise your kids, grow up and then start your own family here,” he said.

In a second term, addressing housing needs will be coupled with other quality of life issues facing Claremont, including continuing the policy of complete streets, which is an approach to planning, designing, and building city streets that are safe for all users.

“People ask me, ‘What is the job of a city council member?’ At its core, your basic responsibility is to make laws to implement programming to protect the health and safety of Claremont residents,” Leano said. “We need to dedicate a lot of focus not only on funding but on programmatic energy to continue to develop complete streets that are safe for pedestrians, safe for people in wheelchairs, safe for people on bicycles.”

Councilmembers have a basic responsibility to be strong stewards of the city’s financial resources. Four years ago — with the loss of the water trial and the ensuing multi-million-dollar settlement with Golden State Water Company — Claremont’s budget and financial position were top concerns. As a result, the city faced a structural deficit.

Leano claims Claremont is now substantially more financially sound, with a two-year balanced budget, a four-year labor agreement with the police officers association, and three-year agreements with all the employees.

“I am really proud of the fact that we have put the city in a much stronger financial position, and that obviously remains a top priority,” he said.

Asked about the unfunded liability for Claremont’s public employee pensions and the position of council candidate Peter Yao that the city’s current estimate regarding this debt grossly underestimates the true size of the problem, Leano said he would have to see the statistical basis behind Yao’s assertions to form an opinion.

He cited the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, which mandates a substantial change to the way annuitants accrue benefits, as a slow but key factor in the city getting on top of its pention obligation.

“This is predicated on an independent analysis by staff at the League of Cities that once the PEPRA employees take over the system and constitute the majority of annuitants there will be a substantial course correction in the unfunded liability in the positive direction for agencies,” Leano said.

Leano, along with councilmember Jennifer Stark, constituted the minority by voting yes to approve the easement at Larkin Park. That easement, which came with $700,000 worth of improvements to the park, was part of a plan approved by the architectural commission to facilitate the construction of Larkin Place, a permanent supportive housing development. His position has not been popular with opponents of the project, who object to housing formerly homeless people adjacent to the park and El Roble Intermediate School. Affordable housing advocates have lauded Leano for taking a stand for the unhoused.

He supported the easement because “it was a smart plan offered by city staff to achieve a far superior design and also it achieved improvements to the neighboring park.” In addition, rejecting the easement has placed the city in legal jeopardy with state housing authorities who accuse the city of violating the Housing Accountability Act.

“One thing that is becoming crystal clear is our energies as an agency should not be dedicated to the question about if there will be housing at Larkin Park. There will be and that is a combination of our own zoning code and the application of valid enforcement of state law,” Leano said. “What we should be focusing our energy on is how to create the best possible project for the City of Claremont.”

Citing the Psychiatric Assessment Care Team program, which pairs a mental health professional with a police officer for certain non-safety calls, Leano wants Claremont to continue to be an innovator and leader in mental health services.

“Tri-City [Mental Health Services] is developing culturally competent mental health programming to make sure we reach people no matter their language, faith, or upbringing,” he said. “And Tri-City is invoking new technologies and innovation to help reach more people in need of preventive mental health care.”

In parting, Leano lamented the devolving state of public office and public service where the dialog is fundamentally lacking in civility no matter the issue or topic.

“I don’t think the most important thing voters need to consider when electing a leader at a local level is policies or issues. I think the most important thing they need to be thinking about are the qualities of the individual.

“I have always led by my values. But on top of that, I have treated everybody in the city — my colleagues, the city staff and residents who agree with me or don’t agree with me — with dignity and respect. And I think that is the biggest challenge in public service right now.”

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