Claremont has strong show of support for keeping station

Nearly 70 Claremonters took the train to Los Angeles to let it be known they want to keep the Claremont Metrolink station.

The transit team, ranging from residents to city leaders to college students, packed the third floor board room at the Metro headquarters to show support during Wednesday’s planning and programming committee meeting.

As he waited on the Claremont platform for the train to arrive, Mayor Larry Schroeder said he was pleased at such a high turnout.

“It’s great,” he said. “I think that especially in the middle of a work week, we can get this many people out. We’ll be able to show Metro that it’s a great concern of Claremont.”

The meeting comes nearly a week after Metro staff recommended the Claremont station be kept open, concluding a 60-day study co-initiated by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis that looked at the pros and cons of possibly eliminating the station as part of the Gold Line construction.

The receive-and-file item passed the committee unanimously. The recommendation still needs to make it through the Metro board of directors at its January 25 meeting.

“If it passes, I’ll sleep easier,” Mr. Schroeder said.

The city footed the Metrolink ticket bill for residents who wanted to travel to LA to show support. City spokesperson Bevin Handel said 66 tickets were purchased by the January 15 deadline.

The group included members of the community who depend on the Metrolink in their daily lives.

Grace Verhoeven said her family moved from Pomona to Claremont because of the easier access to public transportation. Her daughter uses the train to go to school at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

“I want them to really experience public transit and grow up in an area where there are different modes of transportation and not to be so reliant on cars,” she said. “That’s why we moved here.”

Jennifer Stark said the turnout by the community Wednesday was “wonderful.”

“I think this is the hallmark of our community, getting together and putting your money where your mouth is, actually participating,” she said. “I think this is to be expected of our town and our community.”

The recommendation, officially released on Friday, January 12, goes into detail about ridership numbers, rider profiles and potential impacts if the station were removed.

Current daily ridership at the Claremont station sits at 406, with a projected increase to 482 by 2025, the report noted. Around 25 percent of riders walk or ride bikes to the station, which is higher when compared to Pomona North (15 percent) and Montclair (four percent) stations.

Metrolink trains would not be saving much time on the San Bernardino Line if the station was removed, according to Jeanet Owens, the senior executive officer for regional rail at Metro who presented the study to the committee. Only the earliest and latest trains would save about two to three minutes, well below the 10 minute minimum to make a significant impact.

The Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority, which is spearheading the building of the Gold Line, would save about five months of construction time and about $40 million in costs, Ms. Owens noted.

Mr. Schroeder noted that the project is experiencing a roughly $300 million shortfall, but the authority should continue to look at cap-and-trade funds to fill the gap, not at taking away the station.

“It’s not what we signed up for,” he said. “They’ll     find another way. They’ll do something. Don’t take the Metrolink station.”

The city would also save about $30,000 per year, but Ms. Owens said the savings were “really nominal and very minimal.”

If the station were eliminated, Claremont would be without rail transit for around five years, beginning in 2021 and ending when the Gold Line opens in 2026.

The boardroom was filled to the very last seat, mostly with Claremonters showing support for the station. Twenty speakers, including Mr. Schroeder, Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali and councilmembers Sam Pedroza and Joe Lyons, made their cases to the committee supporting the recommendation.

Mr. Lyons praised the Metrolink as a crucial component of Claremont’s growth.

“It’s been integral to the development of our city, it’s been integral in making Claremont a destination, and we hope it will continue to do so as we build our city and appeal for people as a destination,” he said.

Commenters ran the gamut from representatives of the Claremont Colleges to Village businesses. A few of the commenters were from the Service Center for Independent Life, a Claremont-based group that provides assistance to the blind and disabled, who stressed that they depend on the Metrolink to come to Claremont.

“What has me saddened and dismayed is none of the report reflects the impact on disabled riders in that area,” said SCIL representative Jeanette Heitmann, noting that the mitigation measure Metro floated of a shuttle service to and from the Montclair station would not work for people in oversized wheelchairs.

Erik Griswold questioned the necessity of the study and said it actually served to unite the community, highlighting the positive impacts it has on Claremont of which people were already aware.

“Thank you for proving what we already knew,” he said.

Committee member and LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger noted the study was needed as a “roadmap” for the future.

“I think this is going to be valuable information to us in terms of providing better service to riders going forward,” she said.

Although Ms. Solis played an integral role in initiating the study, a move that caught both residents and city officials by surprise, she thanked the community and fellow board members, relating that the process “has come to the right conclusion.”

“One of the objectives of this exercise that I have come to understand even more is it’s always important to make sure that we have a connection to the community and the community has a right to speak about that,” she said.

Further, her office released a statement after the meeting in an effort to justify the study, stating that Ms. Solis “couldn’t be happier the Claremont Metrolink station is here to stay.”

“When my office was first approached about the urgency related to procurement packages for the Foothill Gold Line, I was deeply concerned about some discussions that would eliminate this station,” she said. “I sprang into action and requested an in-depth study that required community input.”

She also introduced a motion, which passed, to develop a discount program for residents along the San Bernardino Line, modeled after the 25 percent fare discount already in place on the Antelope Valley Line.

“I have never been prouder to stand with the residents of Claremont and Metrolink riders to keep this station as a vital transit hub in the city of Claremont,” she said.

Committee member Ara Najarian, who co-authored the motion to initiate the study, said it was never his intention to do a study that would result in the station’s closure, but to “validate the existence” of the station.

“They say sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until there’s a chance of losing it, and I think this is really one of those occasions where the value of that Metrolink station is clearly seen. I’ve never seen so much love for the Metrolink,” he said. 

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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