Housing dominates Claremont news in 2022

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

By far, the stories that had the greatest impact this past year concerned housing development and how that ties into sometimes conflicting views about Claremont’s future. These same issues drove much of the conversation during Claremont City Council meetings and on the letters page of the COURIER.

Housing became one of those topics that threatened to divide the community, with some advocating for more, specifically affordable housing, while others expressed concern that new construction was threatening to ruin the character of Claremont.

This divide was on full display at the first public meeting with Jamboree Housing Corporation, the developer looking to build Larkin Place, a permanent supportive housing project on Harrison Avenue, which devolved into a shouting match.

Jamboree has proposed building a 33-unit development for extremely low-income people who are either currently unhoused or in danger of losing their shelter.

Advocates for Larkin Place, including Housing Claremont, say it’s our duty to provide this housing as part of the greater effort to end homelessness in the region. The opposition, while maintaining they are not against affordable housing, say they feel Larkin Place’s location near a park and El Roble Intermediate School is no place to house the target population.

George Searcy, chief impact officer for Jamboree Housing Corporation, answers a resident’s question at an April meeting about the proposed permanent supportive housing project Larkin Place. Jamboree wants to build the affordable housing project on a tract of land owned by Pilgrim Place, which is next to Larkin Park on Harrison Avenue. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

One of the most contentions aspects of Larkin Place has been its status as by-right, meaning many of the decisions about what gets built have been made outside of Claremont.

The issue came to a head in June when the City Council voted 3-2 not to approve an easement that would have facilitated the Larkin Place’s construction. The council’s decision resulted in the State of California threatening to sue Claremont, demanding it reverse course and approve the easement.

Meanwhile Jamboree has continued to solicit funding for Larkin Place. So it seems even without the easement the project will likely get built.

Slightly less contentious was the debate over South Village, the massive proposed housing development that’s currently making its way through the approval process.

The developers have proposed constructing 705 residential units, including 581 apartments and 101 flats, plus 144,417 square feet of new commercial space and 1,293 parking spaces on a roughly 13-acre plot of land.

If built, South Village will be the first development under the Village South Specific Plan, which created a special zoning overlay in the area west of Indian Hill and south of the railroad tracks. The plan focuses on building a transit oriented development, which includes greater density and larger buildings than have ever been built in Claremont.

The sheer size of the proposed structures, some of which would be four and five stories, has prompted much of the public resistance, which maintains South Village is out of character with the existing Village. Opponents of the development have also expressed fears that Claremont will become too urbanized. A perceived lack of adequate parking also drove the opposition, mostly from residents adjacent to the development who say overflow parking will end up in their neighborhoods.

Proponents say that the smaller, mostly rental units in the plan fill a gap in the city’s  housing stock, which also makes living in Claremont accessible to a wider demographic, many of whom may be employees in the Village or at the Colleges.

South Village also goes a long way to satisfy the roughly 1,700 housing units Claremont must plan for under its portion of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, part of the city’s sixth cycle of the housing element, which is currently significantly behind schedule.

Claremont’s tardiness in updating its housing element prompted the nonprofit Californians for Homeownership to file a lawsuit this fall in an attempt to spur the city into compliance. And on November 2, the city published a second draft of that planning document, which is now under review by the state.

Housing advocates maintain that keeping people in their existing homes is perhaps the most effective tool in preventing homelessness, and that issue came to Claremont this summer when about 30 families found themselves facing eviction from their homes at Monarch Terrace.

The renters were confronted with a new owner who wanted to renovate all of the units at the complex and raise the rent significantly. The residents were given the option of taking a buyout from the owner or being evicted in January.

This prompted the City Council to act by passing a six-month emergency moratorium on the practice of evicting people for the purposes of renovation, and it will consider permanent renter controls in the spring.

Another topic of much discussion has been the increase in sex work and other crimes associated with the three motels adjacent to the 10 Freeway and Indian Hill Boulevard. The concern prompted the Claremont Police Commission to pen a draft ordinance aimed at curbing illegal activity at the motels. That ordinance came to the planning commission in the fall, but its members felt they were not ready to act and sent it back to staff for more work, a delay that frustrated some residents in the south part of town.

Through its tenacious fundraising and some big grants, the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy secured enough money to purchase the Clara Oaks land in the hills above The Webb Schools. But a deal has still not been made despite the developer indicating last year it would sell the property to the conservation group.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic was still big news, as the Omicron-fueled surge peaked in January before receding as warmer spring temperatures brought people outdoors where the virus spreads less quickly. It seemed as though life was getting back to “normal” this summer, but Covid returned in November, prompting public health to “strongly recommend” indoor mask wearing.

Nature also made big headlines in 2021, beginning on January 21, when a strong windstorm swept through the city, leaving unprecedented destruction in its wake. By daybreak no neighborhood was left unscathed, but it seemed like the Village took the hardest hit. The bill for windstorm including damage, staff costs to respond to the emergency, recovery efforts and repairs came to $550,000

A day after the January 21 windstorm, Lenore Brashler walks past the giant pine tree that fell across Eighth Street in Claremont, coming to rest on part of her home at Pilgrim Place retirement community. Fortunately Brashler’s house, which she shares with her husband Jim, was not seriously damaged by the tree, but other Claremont residents were not so lucky. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

Curtis Real Estate, which had its office on the corner of Harvard Avenue and First Street for 75 years, closed its doors in February. Current owner Carol Curtis, whose grandparents opened the business, had planned on working a few more years, but Covid and its calculus changed that plan.

The city had to redraw its council districts by March 1 to comply with state law. The result was a number of late night meetings, and many people left feeling like the new map was somehow lacking. The process did restart calls for returning to at-large, citywide elections, which has strong support in most parts of town, with the exception of District 5 in the south, where many residents felt overlooked in the past.

In late May, years of drought forced the Metropolitan Water District to impose strict limits on water usage for more than 7 million people, including the residents of Claremont. Outdoor watering of landscape, in particular grass lawns, was restricted to one day per week, resulting in a lot of dead turf by mid-July. However, the citizens of Claremont came through, reducing water usage beyond the restrictions imposed by MWD.

In November voters reelected three incumbent Council members, Jennifer Stark, Ed Reece and Jed Leano, as well as passing Measure CT, which authorizes the city to tax cannabis businesses.

On December 8, longtime Claremont resident and former mayor Joe Lyons died at age 77.

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