Councilmember believes Claremont is on the right course
Editor’s note: In light of the cancellation of the March city council election, the COURIER will offer a series of articles featuring each of our councilmembers. Over the coming weeks, we hope you enjoy getting to know your current council a little better. —KD
An unwavering commitment to ensuring the city lives within its means while maintaining the values of the community has been Opanyi K. Nasiali’s guiding principle.
In the four years he’s served as a Claremont city councilmember, Mr. Nasiali has worked in cooperation with his colleagues and city staff to stabilize the city’s finances without increasing taxes, reform city pensions and attract new business development as well as complete the Public Art Master Plan and an expansion to Oak Park Cemetery.
In the last three years alone, this collaboration has created a budget surplus of $5.9 million and increased the city’s “rainy day” reserves to 31 percent of the budget. It’s an impressive list of achievements for any city council, particularly one that in the not-so-distant past was faced with a multi-million dollar deficit.
“I want the city to be solvent,” says Mr. Nasiali. “If we don’t live within our means, we can’t do the things we love to do, the things we value, the things we think are important for the city. We can only do those things if the city is fiscally sustainable. That, to me, should always be the cornerstone of city government.”
After two previous unsuccessful runs for Claremont City Council, Mr. Nasiali began serving his first term in March 2011.
“My mother used to tell me this,” he says, “If you don’t try, you’ve already lost.”
This year, Mr. Nasiali, Sam Pedroza and Joe Lyons were up for re-election, but when the candidate filing period closed for the March 2015 Municipal Election with no opposition to the incumbents, the councilmembers were reappointed to their positions.
Given the positive direction in which the city is headed, Claremont residents sent a clear message. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
But just because the city council is enjoying a tremendous amount of success doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t opposing viewpoints.
“We’re not all in agreement in everything, but the one thing we do as a council is respect each other,” Mr. Nasiali explains. “You’ll never see us screaming at each other. We may disagree on things but we respect each other’s opinions.”
And with his no-nonsense approach to city issues, Mr. Nasiali is far from your typical politician.
“Sometimes people think I’m not very diplomatic. I don’t sugarcoat things. I don’t like to play games,” he explains. “I believe in a good democracy there should be discussion of issues and people proposing solutions…otherwise we have complacency, and I don’t believe in complacency.”
In spite of the never-ending challenges, Mr. Nasiali continues to focus on what’s good for the community and perseveres with the belief that good public policy that lives up to its goals is a reflection of a job well done.
“When I see the vibrancy of the city, when I see people who may not agree with me but like how I handled something, when I hear that sentiment in the community, that’s what makes me feel good.”
Mr. Nasiali has a longstanding commitment to public service that spans two continents. The eldest of 10 children, Mr. Nasiali was born and raised in rural Kenya during the height of British Colonial rule and worked for the Kenyan Parliament before coming to the United States to study urban planning at California State University, Northridge.
It was there he met his wife of 40 years, Kathryn. Mr. Nasiali went on to receive his master’s in urban planning and public administration and, following graduation, returned to Kenya to work for several municipalities. He and Kathryn would later return to California where he worked in the private sector in land development and as a consultant for site acquisition and government approvals of telecommunication projects.
The couple moved to Claremont in 1986 where they raised their daughter, Minayo. They continue to call the City of Trees home.
For his second act with the city council, Mr. Nasiali is ready to tackle the goals not yet achieved during his first term. The final acquisition of the Claremont water system remains a major piece of unfinished business along with the a new police facility, the Wilderness Park Master Plan, the Foothill Boulevard Master Plan, Jocelyn Center expansion and the Public Art Master Plan.
“I want Claremont to become the public art destination city in the region,” says Mr. Nasiali. “Public art is good for business because when people come into the city, they’ll eat at the restaurants, they’ll shop in the Village and other commercial areas, they’ll walk the Colleges and they’ll eat again. That’s what makes the city vibrant.”
Although Mr. Nasiali looks to the future with regards to the city, his dedication to public service and his passion to serve the people of Claremont is a true reflection of his past.
“I came to this country as an immigrant and a student, and this country was good to me. Part of why I do this is my saying thank you for the things this country has given me,” he says. “I’m living the American dream in the true sense of it and so, for that, I want to contribute something in a small way.”