Residents file suit to block Pomona College museum

A group of Claremont residents is suing to block the construction of the recently approved Pomona College Museum of Art and the relocation of Renwick House, the latest chapter in the saga of a project that has left the city divided.

In the petition for writ of mandate, dated June 23 and filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the group known as “Citizens to Save College Avenue” wants the city to reverse passage of the moving of the house, the final environmental impact report, the zone change and the entire Pomona College master plan, citing its alleged noncompliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

“By approving construction of the project museum at the current site of the Renwick House when feasible alternatives exist, and by approving demolition of the historic Thatcher Music Building when feasible alternatives exist, the city abused its discretion and violated CEQA,” the document states.

Under the master plan, the 1900 Renwick House would be moved across College Avenue to make way for the new museum.

The writ states that the EIR failed to analyze sufficient alternatives to the demolition of a number of buildings under the project, including the white cottages north of Renwick House, the Montgomery Art Center and Thatcher.

“For example, the EIR fails to analyze or adopt rehabilitation of the Thatcher Music Building instead of demolition of this historic resource,” the document states.The document presents the northeast corner of First Street and College Avenue as an acceptable alternate location for the museum.

Throughout public hearings, representatives for Pomona College have stated that the First Street and College Avenue parcel would be too far from the “academic core” and would disrupt activities of the existing softball field.

“However, this claim is unsupported, as ample space for the relocation of sports fields exists in the cleared but unused southeast portion of the campus,” the suit states, “Thus, the EIR’s failure to analyze a feasible alternative violates CEQA.”

The filing also states that the city improperly considered the 2007 Pomona College Strategic Plan, which the suit claims is not a city document that has been properly vetted by CEQA.

Numerous alternatives were put forth The Thatcher Music Building was considered to remain in place under Alternative 3 of the EIR, which would result in no museum and was considered the “environmentally superior alternative,” the filing states.

The petitioners also state that placing the new museum on the site of the Montgomery Art Center would fall in line with the original 1908 Myron Hunt plan and would cut down on noise complaints.

“However, the EIR improperly rejects this alternative for failing to comply with the Pomona College 2007 strategic plan, which is not a city planning document,” the suit states.

Pomona College Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson said construction under the master plan would be halted during the duration of the lawsuit, Ms. Sisson said.

“This is a 15 year plan, and there are other facilities and upgrades,” she noted. “Until the EIR and master plan lawsuit is settled, it would be very reckless of us to move forward with those projects.”

But other aspects of the plan, such as the creation of covenants with the city to keep the houses on College and Harvard Avenues, will continue.

Attorney Amy Minteer of the Hermosa Beach-based law firm Chatten-Brown and Carstens, who authored the document, was on vacation until July 5 and was unavailable for comment.

Resident Mary Stoddard, who has been vocal at numerous commission and council meetings against the project, identified herself as a member of Citizens to Save College Avenue in the petition.

A special closed-session city council meeting was convened on June 28 to discuss the suit. Mayor Sam Pedroza told the audience that the council received information on the suit and there was no action taken.

The filing is the latest development in the saga to place a brand new museum on the current site of Renwick. The home was bequeathed to Pomona College after Ms. Renwick’s death, and it has been used as student housing and administrative space ever since.

Ms. Minteer previously sent a letter to the Claremont City Council on April 20, in which she threatened to “explore our legal options” if the city were to approve the EIR, zone change and master plan.

The EIR, master plan and zone change received mixed responses throughout the vetting process. The Planning Commission gave a 4-3 negative recommendation to the council, which deadlocked on the zone change, leading to the creation of an ad hoc committee of two planning commissioners and two city councilmembers for further discussion.

That committee failed to give a recommendation to council, which then narrowly approved the project by a 3-2 simple majority.

Ms. Sisson said in her experience, lawsuits like this are common throughout California.

“I think we have a group of citizens who feel very passionately about their position,” she said.

—Matthew Bramlett


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