La Puerta, Measure CR hot topics at joint city meeting
A joint meeting between the city council and the CUSD board of education featured some fireworks over Measure CR and the La Puerta site.
The September 3 meeting, held once a year, signals the end of the month-long council recess as the city’s elected body gets back to work. The meeting’s agenda featured an update on a number of topics both bodies are working on, including Measure G projects; the ongoing La Puerta saga; partnerships between the city, the CUSD and the Claremont Colleges; and finally Measure CR, the proposed sales tax ballot initiative.
CUSD Assistant Superintendent Lisa Shoemaker gave a brief presentation about the current status of the La Puerta site.
The beleaguered lot, which was once the home of La Puerta Intermediate School, has sat virtually empty for decades. The school district has tried to sell the property to developers in recent years amid protests from nearby residents.
In June, the board approved a deal with Trumark Homes to sell the property for just over $13 million. Ms. Shoemaker said Trumark is in the middle of a due diligence period, where they will look into the possibility of a project in that space.
“So that’s what they are doing right now,” she said. “By engaging, talking to the city of Claremont, talking to local neighbors and others that they may choose to discuss whether or not the project they propose would be feasible for that property.”
That due diligence period ends in October, though Trumark does have the option to extend it in 30-day increments, Ms. Shoemaker said. After that period ends, Trumark needs to make a decision whether or not to proceed with developing the property.
During public comment, nearby resident Joyce Sauter, who lives on Dana Court, noted she and her neighbors have not heard from Trumark yet and stressed they should talk to residents in her area, not with nearby Forbes Avenue.
“I think you better tell the developers that they should talk to the people who are in the development and south of La Puerta, not to the east of it, because we are the ones that belong to that development,” she said.
She called for the development to align with her neighborhood’s standards—85 percent single-story, 15 percent two-story, and at least 13,000 square-foot lots.
Another resident, Robert Hauducoeur, took issue with dirt piles being left at the site, noting the lot has made it more difficult to sell his house.
“When is this project going to be over? Because it’s costing me a lot of money,” he said. “I’ve already lowered the price of my house twice because of what’s going on in front of me.”
Questions about Measure CR
The council and school board also heard a shortened presentation from City Manager Tara Schultz and Finance Director Adam Pirrie about Measure CR.
CR proposes to raise the tax rate in Claremont by three-quarters of a cent to bring in more money to maintain current service levels in the city.
If passed, the city says it could generate up to $2.5 million per year, which they say will eliminate short-term deficits and considerably eat away at long-term shortfalls.
CR would raise the tax rate in Claremont from its current rate of 9.5 percent to 10.25 percent, and would raise Claremont’s share of that tax rate from 1 percent to 1.75 percent. The rest goes to the state’s general fund and to various county measures.
Ms. Schultz said there was “no guarantee” that another agency might get approval from the state legislature to have an additional tax above the cap.
“But at this point, the tax cap for us is 10.25, so what we’re looking to do is try to keep that extra .75 percent here locally,” she said. “And that’s the point of the measure that voters will consider.”
To go above that cap, she said, an agency would need to get a sponsor for a bill and send it through the proper state channels before bringing a measure to the voters.
The council took the time to address concerns some residents have.
Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder defended funding community-based organizations, noting they are part of a “partnership” that delivers a benefit to the city. He also reminded the crowd that the Foothill Boulevard project is entirely funded through grants.
Councilmember Jennifer Stark said this was a time to educate residents about “certain civics that we all forget about,” namely the hoops a bill has to jump through to be signed by the governor.
“So?I think part of the confusion is actually an opportunity to be able to go back and remind people like that Schoolhouse Rock episode. It’s not easy by design,” Ms. Stark said in reference to the animated musical educational show popular in the 1970s.
She continued by saying “there’s a way to spin the confusion into opportunities to educate.”
Mayor Corey Calaycay stressed the idea it was important to keep the extra .75 percent within Claremont, highlighting Measure H as an example of a countywide initiative that has not given cities their fair share, despite early promises.
“The reality is—nobody can deny it—other agencies are looking for our tax dollars. And if they get it, we don’t get it,” Mr. Calaycay said.
The mayor hearkened back to other issues in the city residents were concerned about—including CalPERS, to which the city owes nearly $50 million in unfunded liabilities. Claremont can’t just walk away from the program; they would have to buy out of it, which would be “cost-prohibitive,” he said.
“So again, people need to understand these things,” he said. “It’s easy for people to have opinions and think about these things and put it out on social media, but people need to understand that these things are very complicated and there’s a lot more to the story.”
Resident Brian Bronk took issue with the tone of the council’s comments, noting during public comment that “it sounds to me like you’re saying we don’t understand how taxes work.”
He stressed for a more “creative way to do this,” including reaching out to faculty at the Claremont Colleges and apply for more grants to bring more money to the city. Mr. Bronk asked Ms. Schultz how much it cost to place the measure on the ballot, to which she replied roughly $260,000.
The cost is because CR is considered a special election and not consolidated with statewide general elections in even-numbered years, per state law. The city will pay for it through its reserves.
“We already pay a lot of taxes in California,” he said. “Everything we pay is really high because we love living here. But please don’t insult us by saying we don’t get it.”
This led to a brief back-and-forth between Mr. Bronk and Mr. Schroeder, where the mayor pro tem apologized if Mr. Bronk felt insulted and explained there were rules and regulations to apply for grants.
Mr. Bronk replied, “I don’t want to have a debate with you. This isn’t going to pass.”
Councilmember Ed Reece concluded the meeting by saying the council needs community support in passing CR to continue Claremont’s quality of life.
“That’s what we’re asking. We’re asking you to help us continue the same quality of life we have enjoyed for decades,” he said. “Because I will tell you, if this measure doesn’t pass, it will be a different quality of life here. It will be a different level of programs and services here.”
[Ed. note: this post has been updated with the correct spelling of Robert Hauducoeur’s name.]