Claremonters united in supporting Metrolink
The message was loud and clear—Claremonters want to keep the Metrolink station.
More than 300 people filled the Padua Room and spilled out into two adjacent courtyards at the Hughes Center Monday night, as representatives from Metro, Metrolink, the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority and the city of Claremont presented their initial findings of a study on whether or not the Claremont Metrolink station should remain.
The 60-day study, announced by Metro board member and LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis in September, was conducted through a joint effort by the city of Claremont, Metrolink, LA Metro and Gold Line Construction Authority staff.
Ms. Solis was at the meeting and spoke to the crowd before the findings were presented, and advocated for transparency and hearing the voice of the people before the board makes their decision on January 17.
Ms. Solis heard about 10 minutes of Q&A, but left the meeting at 7:45 p.m., before the public comment session.
“It’s always been about making sure the people have a room at the table,” she told the crowd. “A room at the table means we hear voices. It doesn’t always mean we get everything we want, but that’s the art, I think, of being a representative, making sure that we listen to our constituents and try to work things out the best we can.”
This was the first time the findings were presented to the public, Mayor Larry Schroeder said. No action was taken Monday night, as the Metro board of directors will continue to take feedback from residents through December 21.
The panel presenting the study included Jeanet Owens, senior executive officer for regional rail at Metro; Chris Burner, the Gold Line Construction Authority’s Chief Project Officer; Metrolink Planning Director Roderick Diaz; Metrolink Engineering Director Justin Fornelli; Councilmember Sam Pedroza and Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor.
The study looked at boardings, ridership profiles, the impacts to travel times should the station be eliminated and gate-down times, among other factors. Ms. Owens noted there are other “non-quantifiable” impacts as well.
The study emphasized that the distance from the Claremont station to the Montclair and Pomona North stations span roughly two miles, the shortest distances on the San Bernardino Line.
Around 406 riders board the train in Claremont on an average weekday, the study noted, which is lower than Pomona North’s 534, but higher than Montclair’s 322. Of those, Mr. Diaz said more riders than usual see Claremont as a destination, with roughly 32 percent of daily riders coming to the City of Trees for work or leisure.
According to Mr. Burner, the elimination of the Metrolink station would shave five months off construction time, which translates to about $40 million in savings. The rail expansion, which broke ground on December 2, is facing a $280 million budget shortfall.
If the station were eliminated, Mr. Burner said Claremont would be without any rail service for at least five years. A shuttle provided by the construction authority would take Claremonters to the Montclair station during the closure.
“Our estimate is sometime around the end of 2021 the station would go out of service and the Gold Line would go into service in 2027,” he said, which elicited groans and murmurs from the audience.
Traffic and Transportation Commission chair Zach Courser asserted that the board would not have been as transparent had Claremont residents not found out about the proposed study. The real motivation behind the study, he submits, is money.
“I think it really comes down to the books,” he told the panel. “You’re saving 15 percent by making a disastrous long-term decision about transportation options for the city of Claremont. Take that to heart when you put this together, and don’t try to balance your books on our backs.”
Frequency of gates down at the crossings would be reduced if the Metrolink station is scrubbed, but not by much. With the Gold Line completed and the Metrolink stop gone, Indian Hill would fall from 11 minutes per hour to five minutes per hour, while College Avenue would drop from 30 minutes per hour to 27. Claremont Boulevard would drop from 35 minutes to 30 minutes.
Mr. Pedroza called it a “major setback” to Claremont if the station is taken away. “Our goal is to see more rail options, not less,” he said.
The study revealed there would be no meaningful impact to ride times if the station were to be taken out—only a two to three minute difference in the earliest Metrolink morning trains and the latest evening trains, Mr. Diaz said.
“We drew the conclusion that there would be no actual time savings if the station is skipped,” he said.
In addition to 15 written questions, about 38 speakers addressed the panel. Every single public commenter was in favor of keeping the station. The response was multi-generational, from older Claremonters who reminisced about how hard the city fought to get the Metrolink station in the early 1990s, to students from the Claremont Colleges.
Many of the students were part of the Claremont Community Action Network and held signs that read “#SOS Save Our Station” and circulated documents that had 140 testimonials from students who depend on the Metrolink. Olivia Wood stressed that the closure of the station would adversely affect Claremonters who cannot afford rideshare services like Uber or a car.
“For those of us who are on a budget who need to get to work or medical services or classes or to see our families, we don’t have that kind of privilege. We don’t have the luxury or time or money,” she said. “We can’t wait and we can’t spend more money.”
Resident Andy Winnick called the move a “bait-and-switch” after Claremonters helped pass Measure M, which allowed a half-cent sales tax across the county to help pay for numerous transportation projects, including the Gold Line.
A few speakers lauded the safety of the Claremont station, including one Montclair resident who told the panel she travels the extra distance to Claremont to catch a train.
Other speakers accused the panel of not having an ear to the community during the study process.
“The problem is that the people who are making these decisions don’t live here,” Ivana Nimoh, who takes the Metrolink to her job in Universal City, said. “None of you guys live here, we do. None of this impacts you—you’re just on a board and you see numbers and it has no impact on you.”
Comments from residents will be accepted until December 21. Comments may be mailed to Regional Rail, Metro MS: 99-17-2, One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012 or by email to RegionalR@metro.net.
At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, City Manager Tony Ramos said Claremont would arrange transportation services for those who wish to attend the January 17 meeting.