Claremont city council candidate Douglas Lyon
Candidate Douglas Lyon hopes his simple message will resonate with voters: “I just want a pleasant place to live. I want a place that is comfortable and pleasant.”
Mr. Lyon admits, however, that achieving this vision is more dynamic. There are budget constraints, infrastructure needs and development to contend with.
“Revenue and sales taxes is part of the equation, but it shouldn’t be driving our decisions. It should be in the wagon behind,” he said. “We should be planning for the kind of town we want 50 years from now. We can make Claremont a nice place to be and still have enough revenue.”
After graduating from Claremont High School in 1967, Mr. Lyon attended UCLA, where earned a degree in political science. Like many longtime residents, he left and returned several times but he and his family moved back for good in 2000.
His campaign is grassroots. There’s no committee, no fundraising and you won’t see signs or campaign literature promoting his candidacy.
“I’m thinking for a volunteer position, which is going to take an enormous amount of time to do properly, that’s enough,” he said. “I shouldn’t be asking people for money to print glossy fliers and mailers. I’d rather have them listen to what I have to say and make their decision.”
In his free time, Mr. Lyon leans toward projects that give him a sense of completion, like restoring his 1959 Austin Healy or installing new hardwood floors in his Claremont home.
But mostly, he enjoys poring over meeting minutes and master plans in his spare time, a predilection that led to his joining city commissions and committees.
In 2013, Mr. Lyon became an active member of the Tree Action Group (TAG) of Sustainable Claremont, when the group took to rewriting the city’s tree policy manual. The effort took about five months, but he was pleased with what TAG came up with and that the council adopted it.
“To their credit, they passed it. It’s pretty much what we submitted. It did get reworked but not horribly,” he said.
He was, and is, concerned about the health of city trees. Poor pruning practices, he says, was the central cause of much of the tree stress.
“We used to be on a grid pruning system, where [West Coast Arborist] would to go to these blocks and prune everything,” he said. “They were out there in June or July, during the hottest months—that’s when trees are growing, that’s when they need to store their energy for the winter—and taking off 40 or 50 percent of the greenery. It’s hard on trees when they do that.”
With Mr. Roger—a former consulting urban forester from Inland Urban Forest Group who is now the city’s community services director—Mr. Lyon is optimistic about the future.
“A lot of our streets have mature trees, even elderly, and the pruning they need is mostly just to remove dead branches,” he said. “With Dave Roger there, things are better. But it will take time to recover.”
His involvement in city affairs began long before joining TAG—he frequently attended council and commission meetings and has regularly submitted letters to the COURIER. He joined Claremont FLOW in 2014, helping compose and edit literature to get Measure W, the water system bond measure, passed.
He describes the trial against Golden State Water Company as a “tangled web” and feels better guidance by the council could have brought a better result.
“Unfortunately, the council did not delve deeply enough into what needed to be included and educate themselves,” he said. “We got off on the wrong foot from the get-go. From that point, everything led to losing the case.”
From his perspective, the wrong foot included both the EIR and the resolutions of necessity. He believes the definition of the project was inadequate in the EIR and that the city failed to show the courts, “A more better public use,” which is required by the state when an entity attempts a utility takeover. This, he said, led to conflicts in city staff testimony at trial.
“We said we wanted to bring down rates, but then we testified that rates weren’t going to come down,” Mr. Lyon explained. “We said that we were going to make investments in the system, but then we testified that we weren’t. It was not a good scene, and that’s something the city council has to guide and lead.”
That same year, Mr. Lyon was appointed to the city’s planning commission. One project during his tenure was reviewing the new Pomona College Museum of Art. As far as town-gown relations, he believes we need a mutual respect going back and forth.
“Then we both benefit. If one wants to try to overpower the other side, we get into conflicts that I’d like to avoid,” he said.
Careful development is a high priority for Mr. Lyon, who thinks the city made some mistakes with the condos along Base Line Road.
“The trend is to go high-density but I don’t think it adds much to the character in Claremont,” he said. “It’s moving to the cookie cutter mold we see in so many places around us. You get the faux exteriors and very small setbacks, you get three stories; it doesn’t enhance the character of Claremont. That’s not the way we should go.”
He understands the focus is on density, because that’s where the profit margin is for the developer. And with a near $2 million budget shortfall looming, Mr. Lyon is keenly aware of the city’s need to generate revenue.
“We can generate money the way we did the first 100 years of Claremont, and we always got by,” he said. “There came a turning point 20 years ago when we changed focus from letting things develop on their own to aggressively redeveloping. We morphed into a city that is seeking out developers to come in. I’m not sure that’s the best way to go.”
The bulk of the budget, about 60 percent, goes to what he calls the “city trinity”—streets, police and trash.
“That’s a lot. That’s a big area to look at,” he said. “It’s a matter of being prudent with the money that we do have available.”
He sees future development, like Village South, as a way to increase the city’s budget but he’d like to see city planners move forward with caution to create an area that both start ups and regular offices can be comfortable in.
“Maybe some retail but I think we should not stress that in Village South—the restaurant and retail aspect,” he said. “There is also Peppertree Square that we want to support. If we draw too much retail into Village South it could starve Peppertree Square, which we don’t want to do. It’s just getting back on its feet.”
Mr. Lyon said he worked diligently to edit and revise the Village South goals and principles planning document in an effort to keep the project consistent with the character of Claremont. Height variations for buildings, creating appropriate setbacks and allowing for mature landscaping are all important aspects to making Claremont a nice place to live, he said.
“To have one stories and two stories sort of randomly configured so it looks like it just grew up over a period of years on its own, like in the historic district,” he said. “That would keep the personal, human scale that we have in the streetscape of Village South. That’s a really important thing.”
And he’d like to see the city recruit more tech and engineering firms so residents don’t need to travel to Pasadena or Los Angeles for careers.
“Bring your high paying jobs to Claremont; that’s what we should be actively recruiting, especially with Village South,” he said. “And they will come if Claremont is still a pleasant place to be.”