Doing it right in Claremont
by John Pixley
“Finally. We’re in Claremont.” No doubt about it. We were now in Claremont. Never mind the city limit sign.
We were coming from Pomona. My friend was driving and again commenting on how rough the roads were. Indeed, it was a bumpy ride. Then, all of sudden, it wasn’t. The street was smooth, the ride was gentle. Yes, we were in Claremont.
For a few blocks we could literally see a line, a border, in the street. As we drove along the city boundary, the street was dark and even, while those going off into Pomona were faded and rough.
The difference was right there.
My friends from other towns and cities—not only this friend—are always saying how different Claremont is. They usually aren’t talking about the roads but, in this case, there they were. Perhaps it’s unfair to talk about the roads, but my friends are right: Claremont is different.
The difference was evident in the recent election. There may be many complex reasons why the roads are different in Pomona and other cities, the vote on November 3 show the care and consideration—the intricate thought process—that goes on in Claremont.
That’s because Claremonters who voted, by a notable three-to-one margin, didn’t choose the obvious answer. They didn’t take the knee-jerk easy way.
When Measure PS was introduced, it seemed like a no-brainer. Claremont’s police station is old and small, with closets being used as rooms and female officers having to change in a trailer. There isn’t enough room for up-to-date equipment, and it isn’t wheelchair-accessible. One could well say that the police station on Bonita Avenue just two blocks from the Village is unsafe. Of course, Claremont needs a new police station. No question.
So it seemed weird when there were people saying in letters in these pages and on fliers that the $50 million bond measure should be voted down. Were they just those crazy anti-tax folks who don’t want to pay for anything spouting off again?
And what about the police? Were these people saying that the police, who work very hard and often in dangerous, even life-threatening situations, don’t deserve good, safe working conditions? Wouldn’t this upset the police?
It didn’t sound right. If this was what they were saying—that we shouldn’t be paying for our police to have a good, safe, up-to-date station—then these people really were kooks.
But it turned out that this wasn’t what they wanted and wasn’t what they were saying. They wanted something better for Claremont and its police force. They were saying that Claremont can do better.
It turned out that this wasn’t the anti-tax railing that is always heard from some corner somewhere. It wasn’t that the project would entail money that would have to be collected from the public. The problem, as the letters and fliers pointed out, was that $50 million that the bond measure was to raise was really much more than is needed. Sure, we need a new police station but, at 37,000 square feet, does it have to be huge?
Perhaps, it was argued, Claremont doesn’t need as big of a station as Upland now has. It looked like officials just picked out something that looked good, something that was top of the line, without thinking it through.
Moreover, it was pointed out that the mechanism for the tax was both unfair and wrong-headed. An average Claremont homeowner would pay the same amount per year—$286 each year for 40 years—as a large business with this parcel tax. Not only that but, although it seemed fair that churches, colleges and other institutions normally tax-exempt but dependent on police services be included, the bond would end up more costly and requiring more tax to be collected.
This was in addition to the concern over Claremont already being involved in an expensive effort to take control of its water system from Golden State Water.
Another argument concerned the proposed site of the new station. In addition to concern that more land may have had to be obtained, there was the argument that the site on Monte Vista Avenue just north of the city yard, is too far from the center of town where the current station is.
It was clear that, despite the high-end price, the proposed project wasn’t the best for Claremont. Just because it looked to be top of the line and looked like we were putting our money (and lots of it) where our mouth is didn’t mean that it was the best we can do. Rather, as more and more saw, it was a hasty plan with a big price tag as a pretty lure. Is it really the case that if we spend that much on our police it must mean we really care about them?
The same thing happened some years ago when the hours at the library were cut back drastically because of county budget cuts. It looked very desperate when the library was open for only four or five hours a few days a week. In response, the city put a Mello Roos tax on the ballot to restore hours and services.
It seemed that the tax was the obvious solution and an easy way out of a bad spot. Why not fill in the hole left by these cuts? Wasn’t Claremont the type of community that would pitch in to solve a tough situation like this?
But the tax turned out to be too obvious. In a bit of a surprise, it was turned down. But it didn’t mean that people didn’t care about the library. It meant that the tax was not the fairest way and was not appropriate. It meant that that there was a better way and that Claremont could do better in coming together in saving the library.
And Claremont will now do better and get a new police station that most suits the town and its police force. As one resident put it, “Win or lose, we’ve raised awareness of the need in Claremont. Now it’s a matter of how best to fund it. It’s not back to the drawing board, it’s back to the table.”