Parking issue stalls decision on Village South

by Steven Felschundneff |

At long last the Claremont City Council got an opportunity to evaluate the merits of the Village South Specific Plan—however, the council concluded the plan needs more work.

During one very long meeting Tuesday evening that went into the early hours of Wednesday morning, the body decided to send the VSSP back to the planning commission to revisit parking ratios required by the plan.

Parking has been one of many contentious issues surrounding the VSSP, with residents adjacent to the site claiming the allocation of spaces is too small for the size of the proposed development, which will cause spillover parking into their neighborhoods. Others have insisted transit oriented developments, which VSSP would create, encourage people who live there to use bicycles, walk or take public transit, lowering the demand for parking.

In another hypothetical scenario, the popularity of the Village area as a tourist destination combined with inadequate parking will ultimately discourage people from visiting Claremont because they cannot find anywhere to leave their vehicle.

During the discussion, Councilmember Corey Calaycay expressed doubts that new residents of Village South really would forgo automobile ownership. He asserted that even someone who commuted to Los Angeles via Metrolink would likely still have a car for weekend excursions and other trips. He also wanted to know if those suggesting the reduced parking allotment was workable had tried using public transit over a extended period to really understand whether it was practical in Southern California.

Principal Planner Chris Veirs has repeatedly maintained parking allocations in the VSSP are conservative for a transit oriented development, and during the meeting he presented a chart showing comparisons with other local TODs that have similar parking ratios per number of units.

A letter sent to the council on Monday from 16 Claremont residents, including Jim Keith, who forwarded it to the COURIER, requested the council revisit the parking reduction plan within the VSSP so that it does not result in “[an] unintended low number of parking places to be built.” The parking reduction plan would allow a builder to construct fewer parking spaces in a development if certain criteria are met, including unbundling, paying separately for parking, or providing bicycle storage.

The letter proposes adding a requirement that “no less than 1.0 reserved parking spots will be constructed and available for the residents of each of the 1,000 residential units, and that the 415 visitor parking spots will not be reduced.” Alternately, the writers suggest cutting the allowable parking reductions in half.

Following the eight-hour, 13-minute meeting, which included a closed session, the council instructed staff to revisit the discretionary parking reduction option and consider making fewer potential cuts in parking spaces. It will go to the planning commission on July 6 and back to the council on July 13.

Councilmember Medina has potential conflict

On Monday Councilmember Sal Medina was informed by City Manager Adam Pirrie and City Attorney Alisha Patterson that he cannot participate in the discussion or vote on the Village South Specific Plan because of a potential conflict of interest involving his business, Packing House Wines. Additionally, Mr. Medina must recuse himself from discussions involving the sale of a city owned property to Village Partners Ventures, LLC, or Arteco Partners, which is located within the VSSP boundary.

In a letter dated June 21, attorneys with the Fair Political Practices Commission concluded the Political Reform Act’s “conflict of interest provisions prohibit Councilmember Medina from taking part in governmental decisions relating to either the Specific Plan or the City Property because those decisions would have a disqualifying financial effect on the Councilmember’s leasehold interest in his business’s tenant space based on the facts presented.”

The wine shop’s location in the Claremont Packing House, just across the train tracks from the northernmost border of the VSSP, was less of a concern to the FPPC than the potential impact on his business from decisions made by the council about Village South. Those could include more foot traffic at the business due to the new development or an increase in the value of his leased space.

“My understanding was the value of my lease could be affected either positively or negatively based off the vote,” Mr. Medina said Wednesday.

Councilmember Medina said even if the FCCP decision was accurate, it could also be unfair because it robbed the voters in the south part of the city of their voice on the council. He represents District 5, which is also the location of the VSSP, so his recusal means the Claremont residents most directly affected by the plan have effectively been disenfranchised.

“We went to the architectural commission and the planning commission and there are no people from District 5 on those commissions. And now with this decision that our councilmember can’t even ask questions of staff, we feel totally disenfranchised,” Mr. Keith said.

Sentiment in Mr. Medina’s district has focused on the timing of the decision, literally one day before the council was set to vote on possibly the most impactful land use document in a generation. However, it was the councilmember himself who sought guidance a couple of weeks ago on the potential conflict. The FPPC can take weeks to respond, but expedited this decision due to the pending vote.

“Typically, councilmembers decide for themselves based on the FPPC regulations whether they have a conflict of interest. In this case, as the project got closer Councilmember Medina, in consultation with me and the city manager, decided to ask for formal advice from the FPPC,” Ms. Patterson said.

“I know there have been a lot of questions lately about why did this come up so late. Part of the concern I had is with our process. Maybe we should, as a city, be a bit more proactive about these decisions that could directly affect some of our councilmembers,” he said. Even though he accepts that the onus is his, and the late request could be partly because he is a freshman on council, it would have been preferable to seek FPPC guidance months ago. “It comes across as if it were a last minute [attempt to] silence District 5 representation. Whether that was the case or isn’t the case, perceptions sometimes can become reality unfortunately.”

“Regardless of the rule that is in front of us now with the Village South Specific Plan, I hope that I can continue to truly represent the folks of District 5 in other matters that come to council, and be able to again raise that voice for the community—both in terms of ethnicity in terms of the [people] who live in south Claremont, and [those who] have found they don’t have representation. But also for the business community and some of the business owners who have concerns about Village South,” Councilmember Medina said.


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