Big-ticket items dominated 2015 Claremont city news

The past year was a dynamic and interesting time for Claremont and its citizens.

Corey Calaycay was sworn in as mayor on March 11, and the subsequent year has been rife with local issues and spirited debate among Claremonters. A certain ballot measure, an eminent domain claim and a proposed museum of art dominated headlines and public comments throughout the year.

January started off with a bang, with Golden State Water Company asking the city of Claremont to dismiss its eminent domain suit. The two sides battled throughout the year on the heels of the passage of Measure W in 2014, which allowed the city to pursue litigation to take over the water system.

A trial date has been set for March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles Superior Court to determine who gets to run the city’s water system. In the meantime, Claremont has been preparing itself, striking a deal with La Verne in October to help maintain the water system if the judge rules in the city’s favor.

In February, a promotional video titled “Discover Claremont” was met with some raised eyebrows among residents, who claimed the video didn’t represent the Claremont they knew. The video was pulled from Vimeo a short time later, but it spawned the term “discovering Claremont” in the blotter, in reference to an out-of-towner picked up by police for bad behavior.

Measure PS, a bond initiative that would have given the green light for the city to fund and build a new police station, made headlines throughout the year. The COURIER, for its part, received heaps of letters and mailers from concerned citizens representing both sides of the coin.

Questions were raised, town hall meetings were convened and residents devoted themselves to learning the intricacies of the measure, which would have funded an up-to $50 million police facility through a 40-year annual parcel tax of $286.

Despite the best efforts of supporters of the measure, PS failed to gain favor from voters, and it was rejected by 75 percent of the electorate.

Development played a major role in Claremont headlines in 2015, especially the Serrano projects at the corner of Base Line and Mountain. Serrano I was approved in January, and Serrano II was pushed through in October, despite the objections of the Architectural Commission and some passionate public commenters.

In the same vein as the development projects, the council and the planning commission convened at the Hughes Center in November to discuss updating the city’s housing element, which outlines, among other things, the amount of low-income housing that is available within the city. The group eventually settled on a parcel of land currently occupied by the shuttered Claremont Golf Course as a way to show the state of California that they do indeed have room for low-income housing.

Trees also took center stage throughout the year in a city renowned for them. During the city council meeting on January 30, proposed revisions to the city’s Tree Policies and Guidelines Manual elicited 45 minutes of impassioned public comment. In April, a couple of holly oak trees caused an earthquake within the community when the mother of a disabled boy petitioned to have the trees cut down, alleging they exacerbated her son’s allergies. The council eventually concurred, but reader comments from incensed Claremonters lambasted the decision throughout the summer.

In 2015, the City of Trees was forced to face the realities of the drought. Claremonters were mandated by the state to curb water usage throughout the city by 32 percent. Lawns went brown, trees died and the lush greenery in front of city hall was replaced with a more drought-tolerant garden.

Water-wise foliage was also placed within the 15-year Foothill Boulevard Master Plan, a sign that the city was planning long-term for their water conservation efforts.

But Claremont smiled through the pain, not only meeting its goal but exceeding it, cutting water usage by 40 percent by May.

Many Claremont residents were also fired up over the proposed Pomona College Museum of Art, which is set to be built on College Avenue between Bonita Avenue and Sixth Street. The college lobbied hard to get city approval throughout the year. But residents, including Claremont Heritage, are concerned about the proposed relocation of the historic Renwick House—which will be moved across the street above the softball field—in addition to the demolition of the cottages directly above the stately Queen Anne home. The process is ongoing.

A draft of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park Master Plan was unveiled to the public in October, with the city and the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy receiving feedback from residents as they fine-tuned the plan to operate the massive park. Among the issues discussed were parking woes, day pass fees and whether or not the park should remain a park or be dubbed an “area,” as requested by the city.

On the crime beat, Claremont started off the year with robberies at their lowest levels since 1999. The blotter yielded some shocking (and, let’s face it, sometimes hilarious) misdeeds, but overall the city remained safe.

Unfortunately, Claremont experienced its first homicide since 2009 with the stabbing death of 15-year-old Aspen Geurts in November. Her 14-year-old brother stands charged in her murder and will be arraigned in January.

Three Claremont educators were arrested on suspicion of inappropriate relations with students, and date farmer, Joseph Davall was sentenced to life in prison for assaulting a 12-year-old Claremont girl while she slept in 2014.

Claremont McKenna College had its moment in the national spotlight when students, stirred by what they claimed was a lack of respect by college administrators toward people of color and other minority groups, protested and marched throughout the colleges in November. The protests led to the resignation of CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman, who sent a poorly-worded email pledging to help students who do not “fit the CMC mold.”

The situation at CMC gave way to spirited comments from COURIER readers on social media, with some decrying the students’ concerns as overblown and others supporting them in their quest for representation.

Finally, Claremont Police Chief Paul Cooper announced his retirement in November after more than 30 years serving the city, including eight years as chief. Chief Cooper will stay on board as interim chief in 2016 while the city looks for his successor.

It can be said that 2015 was a year of tough decisions for Claremont. But the city soldiered through it all and carved its own path into 2016. Water will still be an issue next year and plans will still be scrutinized, but the city will surely prevail, as it always has in the past.

Here’s to a wonderful and exciting 2016.

—Matthew Bramlett


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