Claremont 2016: city of trees, committees

2016 was a banner, if a little divisive, year for Claremont. As the city moved forward with a number of projects, the town’s civically minded residents expressed passionate support from both sides of the aisle.

Consider the uproar over the upcoming Pomona College Museum of Art. The plans outlined by Pomona College call for a state-of-the-art museum to be placed on the site of the historic Renwick House. The house is scheduled to be moved across the street to the southeast corner of College Avenue and Second Street to make room.

Throughout the vetting process, residents and city officials clamored for and against the plans, with supporters noting them as a welcome addition to Claremont and a “bridge between town and gown,” and detractors accusing Pomona College and the city of not properly illustrating the potential impact of the project.

The plans also laid bare the bureaucracy that is the Claremont process. After the planning commission gave a negative recommendation on the Pomona College Master Plan, zone change and environmental impact report (EIR), it was sent to the council, where the divided councilmembers voted 3-2 in favor of the project, but not the supermajority needed for the plans to move forward.

After an ad hoc committee failed to reach a recommendation, the city council passed the plans by a narrow 3-2 simple majority using a clause in the city codes that allows a simple majority vote after a committee is convened.

Pomona College and proponents of the plans rejoiced, but detractors did not stop there. A group calling themselves “Citizens to Save College Avenue” was organized, issuing a notice to the city to invalidate the approval of the plans or face litigation. The upcoming museum (some have called it an “administrative building” due to the notion that classrooms and offices will also be part of the facility) will move forward into 2017 with the looming threat of a lawsuit.

Claremont’s future police station plans were rebooted in 2016. A special ad hoc committee gathered to pick up the pieces of the failed Measure PS. Claremont was forced to start at square one after PS failed at the ballot box in 2015.

The 15-member committee met throughout the first half of the year, poring over details and hammering out a plan that would be enticing to Claremont voters.

The result was an up-to-$30 million facility to be built at the current police station site with a three–tier financing system—a yet-to-be-determined contribution from the Claremont Colleges, general fund money to cover costs such as technology and furniture and a general obligation (GO) bond to cover whatever is left over. The plan was approved by the city council and is set to appear on the June 2017 ballot.

But perhaps the biggest story of the year was the decision against Claremont in the right-to-take trial over the water system. For years, the city has worked toward its goal of claiming eminent domain over a system currently owned by Golden State Water Company.

City officials cited operational deficiencies, a lack of transparency and rate increases as some of the reasons for the takeover, while Golden State contended that Claremont would essentially be taking over the system “as is,” negating the city’s claim that a system under local control would be a “more necessary use” for the community.

After a 21-day trial in the Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge Richard Fruin sided with Golden State, issuing a 41-page decision that refuted every claim the city tried to make during the takeover trial. The saga may not be over, however—the city council will meet in January to consider a possible appeal.

Claremont also got a new police chief after months of searching. Chief Shelly Vander Veen was sworn in as the new chief nearly a year after outgoing chief Paul Cooper announced his retirement. Chief Vander Veen, the first woman to become Claremont’s chief, has been with the department for 23 years, moving through the ranks from officer to top cop.

Chief Vander Veen will undoubtedly set out to tackle the city’s ongoing issue with property crimes. The city, in an effort to curb residential burglaries and other crimes in town, deployed “see something, say something” signs throughout town, urging residents to stay vigilant and report possible criminal activity.

The citizens also banded together in an effort to curb train noise. Throughout the year, Metrolink was using BNSF locomotives while their engines were sidelined during an accident investigation, and those locomotives’ louder train horns were causing headaches for residents living near the tracks.

An ad hoc committee was created by the traffic and transportation commission to deal with the noise, and the city council approved a feasibility study to look into establishing a “quiet zone” throughout Claremont. That study should be due in the early part of 2017.

While 2016 was a busy year for the city, 2017 should be even more interesting. A crowded field of city council candidates will make for a competitive March 7 election, and voters are set to decide on the fate of a new police station in June.

As with every issue, Claremonters will tackle them head-on, determining the future of the City of Trees.

Here’s to a wonderful and productive 2017.

—Matthew Bramlett


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