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Claremont residents hear more details on Measure PS financing

Measure PS planners met with Claremont residents at the Active Claremont meeting on October 15 to answer questions and try to assuage fears about the ballot initiative.

Michael Shea, the architect and chair of the ad hoc committee for the police station, was joined by former planning commission and architectural commission member Bob Tener and Mayor Corey Calaycay to field questions from citizens at the Hughes Center.

Opponents of the measure weren’t given the opportunity to formally present, but were instead encouraged to speak up during the Q&A.

Mr. Shea and Mr. Tener began the meeting with an outline of why the police station needs to be built, why they chose the site next to the city yard and why a parcel tax was decided to pay for the measure.

“We need to support our police facility—our public safety personnel—with a modern, up-to-date, sustainable facility they can work out of,” Mr. Shea said.

The majority of the questions dealt with the steep price of the proposed station: up to $50 million, to be paid through an annual parcel tax of $286 per year for 40 years. Residents in attendance who spoke up acknowledged the need for a new public safety facility, but were unsure of the specifics of the plan, including the price tag and the size of the facility.

Resident Sally Seven called into question the decision to pay for the police station using a parcel tax, as opposed to a general obligation bond, which would leave college and nonprofit properties exempt from contributing to the facility’s cost.

“When you talk about fairness, it is fairer, I agree, to have the nonprofits also pay,” Ms. Seven said. “But I don’t think it’s fair for people with really expensive properties to pay as much as people in the median do.”

Another resident, Matt Gilkey, asked the panel a point-blank question: “What happens if the measure fails? What’s the plan B?”

“Well, that means we do nothing,” Mr. Shea said. “It means there’s not enough energy in this committee to pass a bond, so that’s a do-nothing to me. What are you going to do, go back to the drawing board?”

Mayor Calaycay claimed it would be difficult for the city to offer a plan B that is “perfect for everybody.”

“My motto when I ran was ‘citizen-driven policies,’” the mayor said. “So my plan B is, everybody in this room who says that you want a police department, you need to sit down at the table together and you need to work something out. And then you all need to walk out and sell it to your neighbors, so that it is citizen-driven and we’re not accused of driving it on you as a council.”

Mr. Shea, after apologizing for “being somewhat cynical,” elaborated on what it took to get the measure on the ballot and hinted at what it may take to get back there in the future if the measure fails.

“There should be a plan B,” Mr. Shea said. “But what has happened since 2001 is it gets pushed back, council steps back. It takes a lot of energy to bring it back up on the table again and try to come up with another alternative to this thing.”

Valerie Gustafson, who lives on East San Jose, lamented the already high property taxes she faces.

“I’m 74 years old, and I’m still working because I have so much to pay on my property taxes,” Ms. Gustafson said. “The school bond and Johnson’s Pasture and the water system, which I did vote against because I don’t know what it’s going to cost, and now the police station.”

Ms. Gustafson noted that the 2006 Johnson’s Pasture bond known as “Yes on S” was also a parcel tax. The bond measure added a property tax of $24.73 per $100,000 assessed home value per year for the entirety of the bond’s 30-year life, according to earlier reports from the COURIER.

In the end, the city paid $11.5 million for the 180 acres of open space. The city received a $1 million state grant from the California Wildlands Conservancy Board, $500,000 from Los Angeles County and $250,000 from the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy. The Claremont Colleges also pledged nearly $2.5 million to be paid over 35 years. After donations and processing fees, the final cost to Claremont landowners was about $10.2 million.

Another question fielded by the panel dealt with the location of the facility. A number of residents in attendance claimed the proposed location on Monte Vista was too far out of the way from the center of town.

“I think there’s a great psychological advantage to having it downtown, where it’s accessible and visible and seems a part of the community.” Ms. Seven said.

Mr. Shea and Mr. Tener both acknowledged that they looked at several locations that were more city-centric, but said many of the lots were unfit or had been developed out. According to Mr. Shea, there were originally 15 potential sites for a new station when talks began in 2002. When the committee was put together in 2012, the number of possible lots was down to three.

One resident asked about the recently vacated Richard Hibbard Chevrolet dealership on Indian Hill. Mr. Shea responded that the city manager did try to buy the property, but Mr. Hibbard refused to sell it.

Claremont resident Richard Rosenbluth brought up the nearly $4 million allocated toward high-tech equipment and how the technology may be replaced in a few years.

“Usually with high-tech equipment you look at three to seven years as the lifetime of that equipment. Why would we put that cost on the 40-year bond when in seven years we would be replacing most of that stuff?” Mr. Rosenbluth asked.

Mr. Calaycay responded that a new police station would need to have new technology to stay current.

“We need the latest technology because we’re still looking at these three years out,” Mr. Calaycay said. “With the current technology, we can’t just move it out to the new police department. We need the newest technology.”

Mr. Calaycay also discussed the possibility of receiving grants that could lower the overall cost of the new safety facility but said, “It’s a catch-22. You can’t apply for a grant if you don’t have a building to put it in.”

Mr. Calaycay and Mr. Shea reminded the audience that inaction will only result in another, potentially more expensive, bond measure to arrive on future ballots. Mr. Shea mentioned the first financial estimate of a new police station was around $26 million in 2007.

“As we move down the timeline, it doesn’t get any cheaper.” Mr. Shea said.

“If the community, at the end, says it’s not the right time, then it’s not the right time. And council will respect that and we’ll move on to other things,” Mayor Calaycay said. “There’s no agenda here. If you say no, you say no. We understand it.”

According to a recent COURIER online poll, nearly 35 percent of Claremont residents approve of Measure PS, with 55 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided.

Residents will vote on November 3.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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