Council moves on Village South, supports state gas tax increase

The city is moving forward with the planning stages for the upcoming Village South development.

Claremont entered into a contract with Sargent Town Planning to assist in creating a specific plan for the incoming southern addition to the Village during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The development would be built on a 17-acre swath of land just below the railroad tracks, stretching from Santa Fe Street in the north, Arrow Highway to the south, Bucknell Avenue to the west and a few properties just east of Indian Hill Boulevard.

The plan, according to Principal Planner Chris Veirs, is to take advantage of what has become a prime location for future expansion, as it is within walking distance of the Village, the Colleges, the Metrolink and the future arrival of the Gold Line. In part, the plan would call for imagining new uses for existing buildings such as Vortox, which was bought by Keck Graduate Institute last year.

The current makeup of the area, which the city calls “underutilized,” includes a commercial properties and occupied homes, as well as the largely-vacant Richard Hibbard car lot.

That lot has been under the microscope, as the land is a vital part of the plan. Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik said that Mr. Hibbard could be looking to sell it in the near future.

“I can’t say it’s officially for sale because it’s not listed, but my understanding is probably within the next five years he would like to have sold the property,” he said in a phone interview.

The deal with Sargent amounts to $494,670, Mr. Veirs said. A large chunk of that cost will be filled by a $418,000 transit-oriented development grant from Metro. That leaves a remainder of about $76,000, but the city is also looking into getting an additional $250,000 grant from Caltrans. The city will find out if it won the grant in April or May, Mr. Veirs said. If the city doesn’t get it, they will come back to the council with another plan to pay for the funding gap, according to the staff report.

The schedule shows the city has a long road ahead. Preliminary reviews of the project by the architectural, planning and traffic and transportation commissions is set to take place in July, with preparation of the draft specific plan running from June to December 2017.

Revisions would run from December to May 2018, and a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis will be worked on from January to October 2018. September and October 2018 will be reserved for final analysis by the city’s commissions, and the council is set to review the final plan in November 2018.

The first community meeting will take place in May 2017.

The city settled on Sargent due to its experience in transit-oriented development and multi-use planning, Mr. Veirs said. The city also praised the firm’s reputation for having a highly collaborative staff.

That reputation would most likely be put to the test, according to the council. Councilmember Sam Pedroza told David Sargent of Sargent Town Planning that Claremont could be a tough town to impress when it comes to new development.

“I just want to make sure that we make it very clear what you’re getting yourself into,” Mr. Pedroza said, noting previous developers have said Claremont was a challenging city to work in. “We are overwhelming. I want to be up front about it.

“But more importantly, this project right here is probably the last, biggest thing in our city,” he added, noting that the project has many different moving parts, including the potential use of the Hibbard lot.

Mr. Sargent said he was willing to work with Claremont residents along the way.

“We’ve worked in college towns before. We know there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas and a lot of passionately-held beliefs,” he said. “Our view of complex projects is if it were easy, somebody else would have already done it.”

Mayor Larry Schroeder noted that interest has already come from the community regarding the project.

“The council is bringing up these questions because we’ve already heard a lot of questions about this area, even though we haven’t even begun,” he said.

The council passed the resolution unanimously. Mr. Pedroza said he anticipates it will be a “very comprehensive” plan, featuring a lot of community input.

“It’s such a great plan, that perhaps we should rename it the ‘Hibbard Village South Plan,’ kind of hinting that someone could donate property as well?” Mr. Pedroza quipped.


Council supports state bills aimed at funding transportation projects

The council also moved to approve sending letters of support—with an additional caveat—to Sacramento for three state bills, two of which could raise taxes to fund transportation projects.

Senate Bill 1 and Assembly Bill 1, introduced by State Senator Jim Beall of Campbell and Assemblymember Jim Frazier of Fairfield, respectively, would  collectively generate approximately $6 billion annually, with $2.2 billion going toward local streets and roads, according to the staff report. Assembly Bill 18, introduced by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia of Coachella, would issue $3.105 billion in general obligation bonds to finance environmental issues such as climate adaptation, water and protecting the coasts.

If the bills pass, Claremont would potentially receive approximately $1.4 million through SB1 and AB1, and at least $200,000 in funding from AB18, the city said.

The money would come from raising taxes. SB1 and AB1 both include  a 12-cent gas tax increase, with SB1 adjusting it every three years for inflation; a restoration of the gas tax rate previously reduced by the Board of Equalization; a $38 increase to the vehicle registration fee; a 20 cent per gallon increase to the diesel excise tax and a vehicle registration fee for zero-emission vehicles, among others.

Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali asked about a possible sunset date, to which City Manager Tony Ramos explained that there is none for either AB1 or SB1, with AB18’s sunset date arriving when the length of the bond is up.

Mr. Nasiali was also concerned about a subsection in AB18 that would allow disadvantaged communities to avoid the 20 percent local share match outlined in the bill.

Councilmember Joe Lyons explained that the provision is an effort to help these communities financially while also providing much-needed improvements.

“I think in that case they’re just saying if you’re a community that can bear the cost of 20 percent, if you want to have a project funded, then you can come up with that,” he said.

In the past, Councilmember Corey Calaycay has expressed reluctance to enter his opinion on regional and state issues, citing his concerns about putting residents “on record for something they may not agree upon.” To this end, while he did approve the motion he expressed his hesitation.

Mr. Calaycay explained that he wanted to balance the need for the state funds to maintain roads and avoid unintended consequences that may be a hardship to residents.

“We need these funds for our community. People expect us to maintain our roads here,” he said. “But there are many other folks who are reliant on their vehicles to get to and from work and to other responsibilities in their lives and for them these fees can be a challenge. So that’s the only remorse I have—that the solution doesn’t take that into consideration.”

Mr. Pedroza was in support of the bills, noting that the city should rely on the state for infrastructure improvements, as opposed to the federal government.

In the end, the council unanimously approved sending letters of support to Sacramento, with Mr. Nasiali’s added suggestion of creating a sunset date for AB1 and SB1 as well as doing away with the 20 percent local share match for non-disadvantaged communities as outlined in AB18.

The next city council meeting will take place on April 11.

—Matthew Bramlett


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