The city of Claremont was full of news in 2012, oh my!
While Claremont, California has garnered itself a reputation as a small, sleepy town known more for its trees than its trouble, here at the Claremont COURIER we might have to disagree. 2012 proved to be a landmark year characterized by a strong boost of economic development, construction and a few city squabbles. Fires and snakes and a bear, oh my! Here’s a look back at Claremont’s year in headlines.
Parking at Wilderness Park still hot issue
From the first meeting to the last, nothing has seemed to grace city agendas more often this year than the Wilderness Park (second only to water). City officials were kept busy hashing out plans to expand parking to accommodate the park’s oversaturation while also providing relief to nearby residents who had complained of noise and traffic issues.
The council approved the first phase of parking expansions in early December 2011, replacing the park’s existing north lot located at Mills Avenue. Currently designed with 20 parking spaces, the lot will expand to hold an additional 137 spaces and span 1.45 acres. Asphalt will be added to an area west of Mills Avenue to accommodate paid parking along the street. The rest of Mills Avenue to the Thompson Creek Trail will be restricted.
With unanimous approval from the council, parking spaces within both the expanded north lot, located at the end of Mills Avenue, and the south lot, at Mt. Baldy Road and Mills, will be metered. Those who use the lots will be charged $3 for every 4 hours in the lot or have the option of purchasing a $100 annual pass. Claremont residents will be able to present proof of residency in exchange for 2 free parking permits per household to be used in the south lot only.
In addition to parking lot construction, the city approved a pedestrian pathway. The 8-foot path will be constructed on the west side of Mills Avenue from where the Thompson Creek trail meets Mt. Baldy Road to the entrance of the park, replacing the existing easement on the east side of the street. The $79,000 plan includes adding a crosswalk at Mt. Baldy Road.
Rounding out the year, the council approved 12 sets of rotating park hours for the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. The Wilderness Loop’s hours will rotate based on the year’s fluctuating dawn and dusk times.
Trying to make the park available to the public as much as possible while heeding noise and safety concerns, the council says the new set of flexible hours, though numerous, present the best solution for both sides.
Tents are gone, but Occupy spirit is strong
When the council unanimously decided in January to clear up language within the city’s camping ordinance to include activities such as Occupy Claremont, protesters had to rethink their strategy for social change without the use of symbolic tents. Occupiers did just that with a kickoff ‘Occuparty’ held in late February.
Throughout the year, Occupy Claremont left their tents to continue fighting social and economical inequalities. In March, Occupiers and others took to the streets in a silent march in remembrance of the homeless who have died in Claremont, including Phil Greene, who died at the entrance of city council chambers in late January. In the following month, members joined forces with the Service Center for Independent Living (SCIL) to gain nonprofit status to drive policy on homelessness, foreclosure and corruption in the banking industry.
“The homelessness issue is much bigger than people think in this affluent place,” said Millie Carroll, an active participant of Occupy Claremont and Pilgrim Place resident in March. “We want the city and the public to act on it.”
In the months following the memorial for the homeless who have died, the city council heeded Ms. Carroll’s request. In April, the city drafted a letter supporting Occupy’s application for $10,000 in funding from Tri-City Mental Health’s Community Wellness Project grant program to aid their continuing efforts to help the homeless.
Occupy Claremont plans to use the grant funding to create the Claremont Homeless Identification Project. This program aims to help the homeless receive legal identification, such as a state-issued ID card. Many local agencies require a form of legal ID in order to provide social services like basic health care. The program will serve dual functions, helping the city with its programming while also serving those in need, according to Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor.
“The goal of the project is not only to serve the local homeless population, but also create a model that can be copied by other cities to address similar issues,” Mr. Tudor said in April. The city’s current homeless programming, such as the city’s participation in the Los Angeles Homeless Services Association, continues.
Occupiers saw further fruition of the past year’s work when the Claremont City Council unanimously supported their request to move the city’s money from Bank of America to a smaller bank. The city sent out a Request for Proposal for banking services earlier this month, seeking institutions with at least a satisfactory ranking as determined by the California Reinvestment Act, which encourages banks to help meet the needs of low-income borrowers and to reduce discriminatory lending practices.
It is just one of many milestones Occupiers hope will continue.
“Tents haven’t stopped Occupy,” said Claremont resident Charles Bayer earlier this year. “We will find ways to continue.”
City redevelopment agency shutdown
In February, cities across the state were forced into uncharted territory as California redevelopment agencies were shut down. Claremont was no exception. However, thanks to smart city budgeting, Claremont weathered the changes; as other cities struggled with bankruptcy, Claremont officials presented a balanced budget.
“It is a budget to be proud of,” said Councilmember Sam Pedroza in June. “You read in the papers what other cities are going through. We are very fortunate.”
It wasn’t without noting that cuts have been made. The city ended its partnership with the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, its monument sign program and cuts to regional print advertising.
“We are still moving forward with what we want to do. We are just looking at more creative ways of how we are going to fund these projects,” said City Manager Tony Ramos in March. “Through the partnerships with our schools, our business community, with the chamber, our employees, the colleges, our public and regional agencies, we will collaboratively figure out how to move these projects forward.”
Business climate key factor for choosing Claremont
Despite cuts to regional advertising, the city of Claremont saw a boost in economic development at least in the small business sector, as noted by Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik in a May edition of the COURIER.
“The weekends are reflective of what’s going on. It’s really crowded here,” Mr. Desatnik said.
Reasons for increased new development in the small business sector are twofold, the first being economic resurgence and the second that bigger development over the past couple of years is helping to lead the way for smaller establishments, Mr. Desatnik added.
“Newer development like in the area west of Indian Hill takes a few years to catch on, but once it does, and people discover it more, it becomes a destination,” he said.
Marketing programs such as Discover Claremont have come to the aid of the city. Incentive programs like Discover Claremont Weekends, where visitors are offered a free round-trip Metrolink pass after booking a hotel stay in Claremont, have helped to market Claremont to the masses despite the city’s inability to do so.
“This is a real opportunity for us to make an impact,” said Ron Antonette, a Discover Claremont spokesperson. “Our Discover Claremont packages, where we provide [hotel and motel] guests with an opportunity to shop and dine and stay in town, are a real opportunity for us to promote and draw interest to other areas of our city.”
Peppertree development moves forward, City Council makes expansion plan a reality
2012 brought with it progress on 2 long-anticipated development plans in the city of Claremont: Peppertree Square and the Village West Expansion Plan.
After years of talking about fixing the dilapidated center, Peppertree finally began receiving its facelift in September, if not with a bit of destruction before real plans began. The first step in the center’s renovation included demolishing a front portion of the shopping complex, a corner building once home to the likes of Wherehouse Music and the Green Burrito.
While the city was thrown a curveball when Fresh & Easy decided to pull its bid from the center in June, the city will still incorporate 2 large spaces—one 18,000 square feet and the other 10,000 square feet—for potential anchors to the center. City officials said they had received some interest in those spaces.
“We are moving forward, giving the center a clean look and removing the building that obstructs the interior from view,” said Nick Quackenbos, broker for the owners of Peppertree who reside in China. “The economy is picking up, albeit slowly, but we are confident that we will get [the center] filled.”
With unanimous approval by the Claremont City Council in July, the Village West Expansion Plan, nearly 12 years in the making, was completed.
The council approved a code amendment to allow the development of a 4-story, commercial mixed-use and residential building to take over the last available parcel of the Village West area. An internal parking garage and additional mixed-use building next door to the main attraction also received approval. Brought forward by Denley Investment and Management Company, the project will take over the vacant Rich’s Product site on the corner Oberlin Avenue and First Street.
“We view this as an opportunity to allow the developer to have the possibility of doing a couple of different things as market conditions will ultimately dictate so we don’t find ourselves in a position where a project is scrapped or we go into another review because the nature of the project has to change,” Mr. Hammill said.
Residents can expect construction to commence in the year ahead.
City settles with police union
After ending 2011 in limbo, the city and its police unions finally reached an agreement on employee contracts. But it wasn’t without a fair deal of controversy first.
The Claremont Police Officer’s Association filed a lawsuit against the city of Claremont and the Claremont Chamber of Commerce in January claiming its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated at the 2011 Village Venture.
At the Village Venture, officers claimed their First Amendment rights were violated when they were forced to shut down a booth with fliers stating that the city was not prioritizing public safety. Chamber and city officials claimed otherwise. In the end, the CPOA revoked the lawsuit and reached an agreement with the city in May.
Under their new contract, the city will save an estimated $311,562, according to Personnel Manager Shawna Urban. This excludes the estimated $7000 legal fees used for the latest Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) hearing, part of a lawsuit filed by the CPOA after reaching an impasse late last year.
In return, the police union members will get a total 5 percent Cost of Living Increase. Forty members will be given an annual uniform allowance of $400. Cost to the city over the life of the 3-year contract is approximately $435,352.
The Claremont Police Management Association followed suit the following month. Contracts will be up for negotiation again in June 2014.
Bear caught after run in Claremont
Not all of 2012’s city news is controversial, however. In fact one of the most talked-about stories (at least one of the stories that received the most hits on the COURIER webpage) centered on a 145-pound female black bear that sent residents and police officers on a wild goose chase throughout the Lynoak Drive neighborhood in November.
Police found the bear taking a nap atop a deodar tree, with every appearance of staying put as the crowds gathered around the tree to get a good look.
“We’ve had several coyotes, lots of raccoons and squirrels, but never a bear,” Laurie Applebee had exclaimed.
As it turned out, nobody had. “This is the first time we have seen a bear below the 210 freeway,” commented Warden Don Nelson of the California Department of Fish and Game.
The bear chase (which forced a lockdown at nearby Danbury and Sumner elementary schools) commenced after the strong-willed female black bear left the safety of a tall residential tree on Lynoak after being pelted with a tranquilizer gun. It took 3 hits with a tranquilizer gun and an hour before the bear finally came to rest in a townhouse complex adjacent to Lynoak. She was transported back to the Angeles National Forest from which she came.
City begins uphill battle against proposed water rate increases
The city of Claremont should dub 2012 “The Year of the Water Rate Battle.” From January to the last city meeting in December, the water issue graced more city agendas, discussions and squabbles than any other topic.
It began with the council’s unanimous decision to fund contractors to complete a water study and continued in the following months with a protest in front of Golden State Water’s Claremont office. The feud continued with numerous back and forth allegations, press releases and city mailers. While the council made a formal offer of $54 million to Golden State Water for the purchase of its system, the fight continues as the water company has rejected that offer. Negotiations are expected to continue for some time.
The “City of Trees, PhDs and the Water Rate Battle” slogan will carry over into 2013 and beyond as the city continues its commitment to fighting Golden State’s rate increases. Councilmembers are ready to fight the privately-owned company all the way through acquisition of the city’s water system.
“I’m looking forward to moving forward with local control…for our water rates, local control for our destiny on water conservation,” said Councilmember Sam Pedroza earlier this year. “We also need to fight the rates, and I think that’s what we are looking at…really taking a full-hearted effort at going after and fighting these rates. This decision will define our careers as elected officials.”