Council approves Gold Line bridge, moves city council election date

The Claremont city council reversed its direction from over a year ago on Tuesday night, voting unanimously in favor of an overpass at Indian Hill Boulevard for the upcoming Gold Line extension.

Councilmember Sam Pedroza added a provision to the resolution that tasked the traffic and transportation commission to look into betterments down the line for the bridge.

The vote comes over a year after the council rejected the Gold Line Construction Authority’s offer to build a bridge over Claremont’s main thoroughfare, citing aesthetic concerns and heeding concerns from some residents it would be a divider between north and south Claremont.

But then the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) stepped in, claiming that Indian Hill needed the bridge for safety and traffic concerns.

Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali said the council initially voted against the bridge after listening to residents’ concerns, despite the analysis that warned of more traffic.

“So now we have this design that I think looks much better than the wall that was there before,” Mr. Nasiali said. “And we have some people saying it is not good enough. I think there comes a time when you have to do something.”

Assistant City Manger Colin Tudor, in his presentation to the council, noted that by 2035, delays with an at-grade crossing would more than double, from an average of 49 seconds during peak hours without the Gold Line, to 120 seconds during peak hours with a street-level crossing. With the bridge, the delay goes up slightly to an average of 55 seconds.

An August 1 email from CPUC Utilities Engineer Jose Pereyra went into more detail about the safety aspects of the bridge, claiming that without it, more delays would lead to motorist frustration, including trying to beat the trains and disobeying traffic signals. Mr. Pereyra was also concerned with the possibility that a motorist would not clear the tracks in time after a Gold Line train leaves and before a Metrolink or second Gold Line train arrives due to increased cross-traffic.

Mr. Tudor noted, however, that the CPUC did not take surrounding impacts of the bridge into account in their judgment.

Mr. Tudor also dispelled claims the rail could be built below ground, noting the construction costs alone would jump by at least $9 million, and would require additional excavation and shoring due to the proximity of the Packing House and parking garage to the rail corridor. The depth needed to accommodate the rail could also force the Gold Line station to be moved to the east of College Avenue, potentially eliminating the Metrolink station altogether, Mr. Tudor said.

The new bridge design isn’t complete, as the city and the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority are still working on the height of the bridge, as well as other aesthetic designs.

Despite the fact the bridge was the focal point of the agenda, some of the concerns from the council were about the estimated $300 million funding gap for the project and the study of the possibility of the Metrolink station being removed. Mr. Tudor noted that Metro is looking at cap and trade funding as a way to cover the shortfall.

Frustration from some residents was palpable during public comment. Susan Schenk claimed there was not enough information for a bridge, and implored the city to make the bridge as minimally intrusive as possible.

Resident Doug Lyon, who is also on the city’s planning commission, offered up the idea of saying no to the Gold Line altogether, due to what he said were unforeseen consequences such as the bridge and the upcoming parking structure.

“Is the Gold Line more important or is preserving the character of Claremont more important? And to me, I come down on the side of preserving the character of Claremont,” Mr. Lyon said.

Councilmember Sam Pedroza responded to Mr. Lyon’s claims, emphasizing that the rail corridor is owned by Metro, and not the city.

“It’s like the city of Claremont saying we don’t like airplane noise, let’s stop those airplanes from flying over our city,” Mr. Pedroza said. “It’s something that I think a planning commissioner should know.”

Councilmember Calaycay noted the effort to turn the Village into a transit hub stared in 1990, when the city purchased the Depot. Creating transit-oriented development, he said, is the genesis of the Village expansion.

“The only certain thing in life is change, and it’s also necessary to make things relevant,” he said.

Council votes to move up election date

The council narrowly-approved moving up the next municipal election date to November 2018, following a state bill mandating local elections be lined up with a statewide election date.

Senate Bill 415 in 2015 was enacted in part to try to curb low-voter turnout by shifting local elections to run in tandem with larger elections. Before Tuesday, Claremont held its elections in March of odd-numbered years..

The council was given three options to consider: moving the next election to March of even-numbered years beginning in 2020 and extending the term of the current council an extra year; moving to November of even-numbered years beginning in 2018 and shortening the current council’s term by four months;  or have a consolidation plan in place to hold elections in 2019 and 2021 and switch to even-numbered years in March or November 2022.

The third option would result in only three-year terms for new councilmembers, the city said.

Mr. Calaycay was in favor of the third option, noting that pushing a council election to a crowded ballot with school district, water board and other elections would give less of an opportunity for residents to focus on council elections.

Mayor Larry Schroeder countered that shorter terms would de-incentivize people from running for council. Councilmember Joe Lyons, who indicated he will not seek re-election, thought the second option would be the “least impactful” for the entire system.

The council voted in favor of the November 2018 election, 3-2. Mr. Calaycay and Mr. Nasiali, who were in favor of the third option, were the two dissenting votes.

The council also approved the hiring of one additional police officer, bringing the department’s sworn officer count to from 39 to 40.

The next city council meeting will take place on October 24.

—Matthew Bramlett


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