Social media, Paris Agreement resolution highlight council meeting

Landscape tax, the Paris Agreement and Facebook were hot topics at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

The council narrowly approved Mayor Larry Schroeder’s request to join the Climate Mayors, a body of city leaders led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that seeks to address issues regarding climate change and the effects of greenhouse gases.

The council also approved a resolution in support of the Paris Agreement, a climate coalition that President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from on June 1.

Mr. Schroeder, Councilmembers Joe Lyons and Sam Pedroza voted in favor, Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali voted against and Councilmember Corey Calaycay abstained.

According to Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor, who presented the report to the council, there is no financial obligation to joining the mayoral group, and the action has been deemed consistent with the city’s sustainability policies.

In fact, Mr. Tudor noted, Claremont is already ahead of the game, meeting the three general criteria of joining the Climate Mayors—developing a greenhouse gas inventory, setting emission targets and developing a climate action plan.

The cities in the group would periodically meet to share best practices and concerns. They are also encouraged to follow the spirit and the policies set forth in the Paris Agreement.

Eighteen speakers made their cases to the council—17 of them supported the resolution.

Jennifer Stark reminisced about Southern California’s smoggy past, noting that back in the days of deregulation, one could barely see the mountains.

“The reason my three children cannot attest to this being a part of their personal experience growing up in Claremont is because of regulation and policies that reduce emissions that contribute to the terrible air quality that I grew up with,” she said.

Jack Monroe said the onus was on cities like Claremont to carry the torch the federal government has seemingly dropped.

“If our national leaders will not lead, then we as citizens of Claremont at the grass roots must lead it,” he said.

Only one resident spoke against the resolution. Matt Jones said Claremont’s leadership in sustainability was  reason alone to not support joining the Climate Mayors, arguing the city is already doing more than most countries in that category. Citing his family’s military background, he also characterized going against President Trump as a “dangerous precedent.”

“Why are we stepping on the toes of the president? That is the more dangerous message to send,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Calaycay noted his personal efforts in sustainability and lauded the work of Sustainable Claremont’s Freeman Allen, but abstained from voting, citing his policy of refraining from casting a vote on non-local issues that could be deemed divisive.

“The problem with these resolutions is it is divisive, and it turns people off—people who would otherwise get involved in a positive solution,” he said.

Mr. Lyons disagreed, emphasizing that it is on communities like Claremont to lead the charge to make change at the highest level and called attention to local governments who remained silent over the years, as the climate got worse.

“It’s bodies like this that have remained silent for too long,” he said.

In his no vote, Mr. Nasiali said he disagreed with Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, but he said it’s not Claremont’s job to act on issues that should be the job of the federal government.

In his remarks, Mr. Schroeder acknowledged the differences of opinions on the council, but said that ultimately Claremont shouldn’t turn it’s back when the federal government isn’t working to combat climate change.

“This is a matter of our citizens’ health and future, and we must continue to be a leader in sustainability,” he said.


Claremont gets on social media

After nearly an hour and half of discussion. the city council also approved a new initiative to increase its presence on social media.

According to the report presented by Mr. Tudor, the city has seen success in getting the word out through local events and City Manager Tony Ramos’ weekly report, and recognizes the opportunity to reach more people using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

Another reason is the recent surge in “unofficial” social media accounts related to Claremont. Those sites, the city worries, are spreading false and outdated information on city issues that Claremont has no control over.

An official presence, Mr. Tudor said, would give Claremont the opportunity to send information directly to the residents, and would allow the police to send business watch alerts and crime information to more people.

Public Information Officer Bevin Handel would mostly handle the social media duties, with help from a part-time Public Information Assistant hired in 2016, the city said.

Claremont considered establishing a social media presence in 2013 when cities were just launching Facebook and Twitter accounts, but voted to postpone the issue. Since then, more than two-thirds of California cities utilize some form of social media.

The council was generally on board with the social media plan, save for Mr. Nasiali, who worried about comment moderation, particularly on Facebook. Who would monitor comments? What would constitute inflammatory content? Could a person sue the city on First Amendment grounds if their comment was deleted?

Mr. Tudor and City Manager Ramos tried to explain that comments would be monitored, not moderated, and said that Mr. Ramos himself would make the final call on what would be deemed delete-able. An extensive list on what would constitute inappropriate content, including racist remarks, pornographic images and links to malware, was also included in the staff report.

Mr. Pedroza was for the plan, emphasizing it was high time for the city and that the “bare-bone basic issue we’re talking about here is putting information out there.”

“We need to catch up, folks,” he said. “We need to catch up with 2017 and get information out there.”

The resolution passed 4-1, with Mr. Nasiali voting no.


Landscape and Lighting District increase

The council also approved an increase in fees for the Landscape and Lighting District (LLD).

Based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from February 2016 to February 2017, the city determined that a 2.71 percent increase, or $4.47, would be applicable to tack on to the LLD cost. This translates to an increase from $165.16 to $169.63 per assessment unit, according to Management Analyst Cari Dillman, who presented the report. One assessment unit is equal to 11,550 square feet of land, according to the city.

The LLD covers maintenance and operations of landscaping, city rights of way, street lighting and other related issues within public area of the city. The total budget is $3.75 million, of which $1.45 million will go toward  parks, $1.079 million to streets and right-of-ways, $887,564 will go toward tree care and $329,139 toward street lighting maintenance.

The council approved the plans, except for Mr. Calaycay, who has a history of voting no on issues regarding the LLD. He shared his belief that the LLD was approved in “an unconventional way,” placing the utility tax with the assessment on one ballot measure. Under Proposition 218, Mr. Calaycay noted, those issues should be considered separately.

The LLD was established in 1990 as a temporary revenue stream for a cash-strapped city that was facing a $1.2 million shortfall, according to previous reports in the COURIER. Although a sunset date was mentioned by the city in 1989, it was never implemented. Claremont voters then approved a continuance in 1997 to ensure the LLD would last until a future city council decided to end it. The LLD’s original rate was $92.92. It has been steadily climbing ever since.

Mr. Calaycay has been against the LLD since its inception. In fact, it spurred his decision to run for city council for the first time as a 19-year-old—gathering thousands of signatures in a petition against implementation of the tax.

The resolution to increase the LLD by the current council passed 4-1. The next city council meeting will take place June 27.

—Matthew Bramlett


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