No surprises with city’s top priorities this year
Local water issues and the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park top the city’s priorities heading into 2013.
The 2 hot topics were added to the city’s ongoing focus on economic development, financial stability and overall city sustainability at the Claremont City Council’s priorities workshop last Saturday. Every year, council members and city administrators assemble to establish priorities, policies and projects for the year ahead. Few new items were added to the already heaping list of projects and priorities as officials look to focus on matters most important to the Claremont community.
“The water issue is going to remain a major focus of the city and the city council,” said Councilmember Sam Pedroza, who initiated adding water to the top of the city’s list of priorities. “Water is a very big issue that is going to monopolize a lot of our staff time and rightly so because it impacts not only Claremont today, but Claremont in the future.”
Dealing with continued problems at the Wilderness Park is not far behind. Several members of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy (CWC) were present at Saturday’s early-morning meeting to support the city’s decision to create a master plan. Board members feel this plan will more thoroughly address safety problems relating to traffic congestion at the city’s popular wilderness trails. Expanding the parking lot at the North Mills entrance, set to open in late February or March, is not enough, they say.
“This is a chance to look at the big picture,” emphasized Lissa Peterson, board president of the CWC. Ms. Peterson reiterated that the CWC board is willing to help in the plan’s construction.
Within the last couple of years, the number of visitors to the Claremont Wilderness Park has skyrocketed from 30,000 visitors reported in 2006 to an estimated 300,000 in 2011, according to city officials. The growing number of visitors has created an equally concerning issue of traffic congestion. Packed lots have led to overflowing street parking and cars jammed bumper-to-bumper along adjacent streets.
Though plans are already underway for expanding one Wilderness Loop parking lot, council directed staff to move forward with conducting parking studies over the summer to identify spaces for potential new parking lots. These include the lot at the northeast corner of Mills and Mt. Baldy Road, Mountain and Via Santa Catarina as well as the end of Pomello Avenue.
The council also supported Ms. Peterson’s call for creating an overall master plan to continue to address park maintenance, hours of operation, as well as parking on and off city streets. City Manager Tony Ramos did acknowledge that developing the master plan would take some time.
“It may take a little longer but it will be done right,” he said.
Plans for the Wilderness Park move forward, but any action on turning Claremont into a charter city is on the back burner as the city focuses its funds on more pressing issues.
There are perks to moving from “general law” to “charter city”: more local control and overall efficiency, because the city would be able to define its own governing system separate from state laws and regulations. It would also provide economic development tools, according to Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor. But along with the perks come a number of consequences, including the potential for expensive lawsuits and overall high expenses throughout the process of obtaining charter city status.
“You could probably liken the cost to…a conservative budget of maybe $100,000 because of the consultants and the people you need to bring into the process,” said City Attorney Sonia Carvalho. “When you take into consideration the election costs as well as the attorney fees, I personally think you are looking closer to $200,000-$250,000.”
Ms. Carvalho mentioned that the city of Costa Mesa, recently went through the process to become a charter city, spent near half a million dollars. With these high numbers in mind, council members unanimously opted to hold off on any decisions relating to becoming a charter city as it focuses its efforts and funds on other matters.
“Our highest priority is this water issue,” said Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali. “I would love to see all staff’s energy and resources…really focused on that.”
With continued plans to keep Claremont in the black this coming year, the council adopted guidelines on spending the city’s reserve funds, particularly those under the Equipment and Facility Revolving Reserve fund.
The Equipment and Facility Revolving Reserve fund was created last May to be used for city renovation projects, furniture and equipment replacements as well as other minor facility enhancements. To date, about $188,400 in that account has been used for terrace repairs at Claremont Heritage’s Garner House, bleachers at Blaisdell and College Parks, equipment and furniture replacement at the Youth Activity Center and copper theft alarm systems at Cahuilla and Wheeler parks. The present balance of the reserve account is $645,559.
Due to concern about what constitutes “necessary” repair, the council asked that city administrators to draft a more specific set of standards. Staff presented a potential guide for evaluating such matters before the council on Saturday, breaking the criteria into 5 different categories: disrepair/interoperability, safety/liability concerns, program necessity, excessive cost of maintenance and previously identified but unfunded items. City manager and city council approval will also be needed. Mr. Nasiali, who had asked for the criteria to be created, voiced his pleasure with the end result.
“This is really what I was looking for,” Mr. Nasiali said. “It’s nice to have them somewhere so a new person coming in [to office] tomorrow will know what the guidelines are.”
For projects without much-needed funding, such as the construction of a new public safety facility, Planning Commissioner Bob Tener suggested the city establish an “unfunded priority list” similar to that of other local cities. Mr. Tener believes such a list would “keep the visibility and some long-range advanced planning underway.”
The city will look to make such a list to include items such as the continued expansion of Oak Park Cemetery and further bicycle and pedestrian safety projects.
“I do concur with the concept of some sort of priority list,” said Councilmember Corey Calaycay, noting that “Many of these things—if not up on a board—you forget about. That list has merit.”
More than 15 other priorities and projects are featured on the city of Claremont’s list of goals for the year ahead. View those items or watch the council’s priorities workshop in full on the city’s website at www.ci.claremont.ca.us.