Spending cuts loom as council addresses Measure CR impact
With the recent failure of Measure CR fresh in their minds, Claremont city council members took time to address next steps at Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilmember Ed Reece wanted to thank the community for participating in the election, “no matter what side of the fence you were on.”
But he alluded to cuts to programs and services that may be looming in the near future.
“In light of the outcome of Measure CR, I think the community has afforded us the opportunity to reduce programs and services,” Mr. Reece said. “I believe there is an opportunity for council to make some immediate reductions, and for others that need more planning to the council budget working group.”
Measure CR, which proposed a three-quarter cent sales tax increase, narrowly failed at the ballot box by less than 150 votes. It was the only measure of its kind to fail in California this year.
The yes campaign has yet to concede, even though there are only a dozen ballots left uncounted throughout Los Angeles County as of Wednesday afternoon.
The election results will officially be certified on November 15.
The city warned throughout the election season that cuts would be made if they didn’t get that extra $2.5 million annually from CR. The city claimed that money would have maintained the status quo in Claremont.
What may eventually be cut remains to be seen. Mr. Reece asked city staff to start working on a “services and programs reduction list.”
“While Claremont will experience some significant changes in light of this budget issue, it is my hope that what is so very special about us will remain,” he said. “Now is the time for our community to come together as we move forward through this process.”
Assistant City Manager Chris Paulson said city staff would present proposed department budgets to the citizens’ advisory group as part of the 2020-2021 budget process. City Manager Tara Schultz was out of town Tuesday.
Mayor Corey Calaycay did address one of the many issues opponents of CR had with the measure—the roughly $260,000 price tag to put it on the ballot in the first place.
Detractors claimed the price tag was an example of the city not being smart with the money they had. The money came from the city’s general fund reserves.
Mr. Calaycay noted that cities were once able to run elections “in-house” at a cost of just $60,000 through an outside firm. But after the state consolidated local elections to line up with state and federal elections, that firm closed.
He also took issue with one designated polling place—Edmunds Ballroom at Pomona College, where he said there isn’t adequate parking for voters. He said City Clerk Shelley Desautels had communicated with the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder that the site was not appropriate, but the registrar “went around her.”
He called on residents to take the issue to the registrar and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to demand that elections be made less expensive.
“We should only be debating the issues themselves, we shouldn’t be debating the price of the election,” he said.
Brian Ofstedahl, owner of Village clothing shop Amelie who opposed CR, lauded councilmembers Jennifer Stark and Jed Leano for listening to his concerns about the sales tax measure and the challenges facing businesses in Claremont.
“I’m aware that retail has challenges, and I just want you all to know that I’m aware that the city has challenges,” he said. “But together I think we can come together as one voice and figure out some great solutions for this city.”
Former Councilmember Joe Lyons also spoke during public comment, and let his disappointment with the election results be known. He decried the “shrink and starve” mentality with regard to local government, and reprimanded those who discredited the council and previous councils over past decisions.
“Claremont is not in a better place today than they were last Monday, that is for sure,” he said. “And everyone who voted one way or another should know that.”
After the meeting, Ms. Stark said the most crucial task right now is building trust. While the country may be divided, she said, Claremont is not.
“We are one community and we are going to talk to each other,” she said. “So talk to us. We’re listening.”
Mr. Belna calls for LASD contract, police chief responds
The council also passed a consent calendar item that showed the city’s quarterly budget update, but not without comment from resident Jim Belna regarding the possibility of contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Mr. Belna claimed that cities of comparable size to Claremont are in better financial shape in part due to one thing: not having an in-house police department. He claimed Claremont spends roughly $4 million more per year on its police force than neighboring cities.
The idea of contracting with the sheriff has been hotly debated in recent months, notably during the Police Station Citizens’ Advisory Committee meetings earlier this year.
Mr. Belna said if the city didn’t make “deep cuts” to the budget, it would be insolvent within 10 years, which could impose “unfair burdens” on the police department.
“We should negotiate a contract with the sheriff before we are forced into it,” he said.
In a written statement, Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen told the COURIER that the LASD is in no position to provide a proposal for service to Claremont—they are currently addressing their own financial deficits and evaluating their pricing models.
According to an October 1 article in the Los Angeles Times, the LASD has a $63 million budget shortfall, and the LA County Board of Supervisors recently froze part of their spending to address it. In that article, Sheriff Alex Villanueva called his department “the most understaffed law enforcement agency” in the nation, with 816 sworn vacancies.
“What I am hearing from those community members that are proposing that we utilize LASD services rather than our own local police department, is that they want to reduce our public safety budget and are willing to give up current levels of service that we provide,” Chief Vander Veen wrote. “To accomplish that, I am evaluating how we can reduce our budget.”
More on the meeting will be in the COURIER, in print and online.