Is Claremont coming to a crossroads?

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

A lot has happened in the City of Trees since pandemic restrictions have been relaxed, as all of us attempt to get back to some sort of normal. Our world screeched to a halt and we are still feeling the effects.

Now the world has awoken, and a rush of development and business activity is making headlines. Clearly, change is on the way, but are we going in the right direction? Ask Claremonters, and the answer is no and yes. But not all change is bad, and to be honest, the amount of change people can tolerate is lower than ever. And it was never high to begin with.

The latest loss of three iconic mainstays has caused many of us to evaluate how the city is going to manage Claremont’s future. However, the issues differ. Laemmle may still be open now, but the pandemic changed the way we watch movies. That means more of us don’t mind streaming movies, series, sports and more right into our living rooms. People just aren’t going to the movies as much anymore, and as a result, Laemmle will be a victim. I believe we all could have supported local theaters more anyway.

The closing of Candlelight Pavilion and Rhino Records right after Laemmle’s closing announcement, felt like Claremont’s unique character was taking a hit. Are we still a destination location? Soon the movie theater will close, there’s no live dinner theater, and no record store. Must we venture to Montclair to enjoy these things? Seems quite odd.

It seems Rhino Records had bigger fish to fry, wanting a bigger place with more bells and whistles, or whatever. It’s hard to tell what they really wanted or where they really wanted to be.

I can speak from personal experience after the COURIER’s lease just increased 19%, yet I was told by more than one source it was a fair deal. Once I heard the amount, I wanted to move… but only to another Claremont location, of course. My father Martin had the same issue in the ‘70s when forced to move the COURIER from Harvard Avenue, and again on South College Avenue when the new landlord literally kicked us out to build luxury condos (not Courier Place). In the end, I signed the lease.

It’s obvious Rhino has options. And the COURIER was told even a 40% increase in Rhino’s rent was the going rate. How can businesses absorb huge rent increases just because the landlord says it’s the going rate? The point is that sometimes a business just can’t pay up.

The owners of the Candlelight Pavilion handled their departure with incredible class. Especially for the employees who served them for so many years. I will remember their last performance for the rest of my life. But two things were perfectly clear before they left. One, the Candlelight is not out of business, they will move and set up in another city. The name may change, but the Bollinger family will still be involved. Two, the biggest issue for them was parking. There simply was not enough. Not with all the development literally right around them. Clearly the city had set a priority to build residential development over the welfare of a 37-year-old iconic business. And the Bollingers knew it.

It’s no surprise that we have also heard from readers about Larkin Place. This is the proposed affordable housing development for formerly homeless people at 721 Harrison Avenue. The four-story, 33-unit complex is big by Claremont standards, being built on a half-acre lot. Two weeks ago, Jamboree Housing Corporation discussed the plan with residents.

Since that time, we have seen a steady stream of complaints and NIMBYism coming from a variety of residents. City officials are mostly blamed for letting “criminals into Claremont,” while others talk the about the height of the building or the number of residents. The biggest concern, however, is quite justified. It’s right down the street from El Roble. In a way, it seems as though some are simply shocked it’s actually happening. And the level of misinformation is stunning.

The voices against Larkin Place have been heard loud and clear. But that doesn’t mean the majority of Claremonters are against the project. Residents who support low-income housing are seeing progress after so many failed attempts. State laws have now been changed to prioritize the huge need to house the disadvantaged and homeless. Another Claremont housing project for low-income seniors is preparing to break ground soon.

Anyone remember The Commons development proposal in April 2021 on Monte Vista Avenue and Foothill Boulevard? That’s where the city council voted 3-2 against the development after an uproar from residents. After the vote, I wrote a column about how Claremont cannot afford to keep voting down development proposals because of state edicts to cities to build more housing, especially affordable housing.

What happens if the city doesn’t build? The state takes over the projects and makes the decisions with limited input from a city.

Guess who’s going to make the decision about whether we build Larkin Place? That would be the state of California. In this case, you cannot blame the city council for voting for or allowing Larkin Place to be built. Heck, they could barely talk about it. But Claremont does rank high on the state’s list of cities with low residential development results. Rejecting new development has consequences we are seeing now.

If you must point fingers, city officials are an easy target. But is it time to look in the mirror and accept the fact we live in a state with a huge population? And it’s taking away the American dream from millions of people who simply want to call California home.

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