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Opinion: When an easement isn’t just an easement

by Chris Naticchia

Recently the Democratic Club of Claremont issued a resolution in support of Larkin Place and sent it to our city council members and the COURIER, which published it in its June 10, 2022 issue. Since then, the council voted on a vehicular access easement for Larkin Place.

Our club took the position that a vote against the easement was inconsistent with our resolution, communicated that position to city council, and mobilized our members to support it by writing to them. We then informed our members which council members supported our position and which ones opposed it immediately following the vote.

Why did we take the position that a vote against the easement was inconsistent with our resolution? On the surface, at least, it doesn’t seem like a vote against the easement implies one is opposed to Larkin Place — just to the easement itself.

However superficially plausible that view seems, though, it really downplays the vote’s significance. It wasn’t merely a vote against an easement; it was a vote for a poison pill.

We’ve already observed intense public hostility to the development, much of it whipped up through falsehoods. We anticipate such hostility will grow as the public learns the council has now rejected $700,000 in safety and aesthetic improvements the city negotiated with Jamboree as a condition for approving the easement. And we believe that council members surely must have known this as well.

Since most of the public’s hostility comes from the development’s perceived safety impacts, and since some of it comes from dislike of the design, the council’s decision renders Larkin Place more vulnerable to death by a thousand cuts. The club’s position rightly deprives council members of the political cover that attends the claim that it’s just an easement.

Our resolution calls on the city council to eliminate impediments to Larkin Place’s construction. There’s no good reason, though, to construe an “impediment” so narrowly as something that, on its own, would prevent the development from moving forward.

By this standard, it would be no impediment to Larkin Place’s construction for the city council to reject the second step required to approve Jamboree’s loan — which will be on the agenda in the next few months — since, even if it is rejected, Jamboree could still get the $1.5 million elsewhere. That’s not plausible, and neither is the overly narrow construal of an impediment on which this reasoning rests.

As a result of the council’s vote, it’s possible that Jamboree may submit a redesign to avoid what many believe is an “ugly box,” that is, the backup design the city’s architectural commission previously rejected in favor of the design conditioned on the easement’s approval. If a redesign occurs, though, it will go through the architectural commission once again, then back to the city council, with the decisions being subject to appeal by the neighbors.

These facts place the development in another dilemma: either keep the ugly box to avoid the prolonged process or repeat the process and allow the inevitable anger to build. Heightening that risk is a state law limiting the number of public meetings that may be held on the development, which might preempt some of them (in which case opponents will exploit the lack of public input on the redesign).

We all know — and believe that city council members must surely know as well — that opponents will not use any extra meetings to offer good faith input on the redesign. Instead, the council’s decision buys them time to intensify their opposition to the development as a whole. It seems aimed at wearing down Jamboree and having them withdraw out of frustration, providing political cover for the development’s opponents on and off the council.

For these reasons, we took the position that a vote against the easement was inconsistent with our resolution, and we lament the fact that city council voted 3-2 to reject it. We will closely monitor the second vote required to approve the Jamboree loan.

Chris Naticchia is the president of the Democratic Club of Claremont. This Viewpoint is submitted on behalf of the organization.

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