Readers comments 3-25-16
A zero-sum game
At the recent Claremont Planning Commission meeting, Pomona College’s proposal for an art museum appeared to be a zero-sum game: disrupt the Victorian houses on the west side of College Avenue or deny the college a modern consolidated art museum. Testimony pitted Claremont’s preservationists against artists and college employees. However, there is an alternative that isn’t zero-sum.
Pomona’s new art museum can be located on the east side of College Avenue, northwest of the softball field, across from Second Street. This is where the college proposes to relocate the historic Renwick House, using about half of the available space. A substantial art museum can be built there instead. It will have a smaller footprint than the proposed design for the west side, but the footprint can be maximized by curving the southeast side of the museum around the softball field, and an additional level can be added if necessary.
The college will have its art museum close to the Village, the public parking structure and public transit, while the town will preserve the lovely row of historic houses on the west side of the street and will more fully comply with its General Plan, its Village Design Plan and CEQA.
During the commission meeting testimony, the proposed college museum was described as a bridge between the town and the campus. The above solution provides a better bridge.
Art lovers who visit an art museum on the west side of the street are unlikely to bother crossing the street and visiting the campus. However, if they visit the museum on the east side they will be right on the campus, and they will find it more convenient to stroll around a bit. Their access to the museum from the Village can be made easy by having a pedestrian signal at Second Street and College Avenue.
This will be a win for everybody, not a zero-sum game.
The commission’s role
Thank you for the extensive article about the planning commission meeting at which the Pomona College Master Plan was considered. I stayed for the entire time and would like to make a few comments.
The commission was charged with deciding if the environmental impact report for this extensive master plan adequately identified and discussed the possible significant effects of all of its aspects. It was not charged with deciding whether any of the included projects were desirable, but only with deciding if the impacts of the proposed projects had been examined fully as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Unfortunately, the commission did not restrict its discussion to this well-defined obligation.
The meeting centered on a newly-proposed project in the revised plan, the intent to move Renwick House from its original location in the row of historic residential-style Victorians along the west side of College Avenue, replacing it with a museum. The merits of the function of this proposed institutional building should have been irrelevant to the planning commission’s discussion of the EIR, but instead they dominated the decision.
City staff admitted that this newly-revised EIR omitted any mention of the effect of moving Renwick House on the aesthetics of the historic streetscape, which in a town like Claremont is something of great importance and would be a significant environmental impact. Failure to address this impact comprehensively was in itself a reason to reject the EIR and ask that it be revised and resubmitted.
In addition to this, there were several other areas in the EIR where actual data and arguments to support the conclusions were missing and the basis for the analysis boiled down to “because we say so.”
Whether the Pomona College museum would be a benefit to Claremont citizens was not relevant to the discussion. The commission should only have addressed whether the paper work for the EIR and the master plan was adequate and conformed to the goals and policies of the city’s general plan.
Planning commission recommendations go to the city council, which is the body that actually makes the decision about whether or not the projects are in the community’s interests.
Unfortunately, the desire for the museum got in the way of proper process at the planning commission meeting and the deficiencies in the EIR were discounted by some members, resulting in a split vote, with 4 to 3 in favor. The city council will now need to make a decision without having strong supporting documents.
Partnerships make Claremont history come alive
On March 14 and 15 at Pitzer College, Claremont history came alive. “Letters Home: A Claremont History Play” was performed by about 100 third grade students from Chaparral Elementary School.
Under the amazing direction of Chaparral third grade teacher Jean Merrill, the exciting performance included a beautiful dance representing the Mexican Players at Padua Hills Theatre, a musical rendition of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” that put Asleep at the Wheel to shame and a wonderful pump house/orange picking skit connecting us to our citrus roots.
Parents attended the performances on Monday night, and on Tuesday morning over 300 third grade students from across the district came to see the show. Many thanks to the Claremont Educational Foundation (CEF), which provided financial support for transportation.
The musical performers, videographer and playwrights were all Claremont High School students. Claremont Heritage provided the historical photos, which illustrated the history of Claremont over the last century. Third grade teachers Ms. Andrade, Ms. Cortese and Ms. Uy worked diligently to bring our town history to life for their students. Parent volunteers helped with costumes and props. And Pitzer College proudly opened its doors to host the performances.
As president of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, it is my privilege to serve a community that places such a high value on educating our students. This collaborative performance involved many other people and organizations who share our motto to “inspire students of today to be leaders of tomorrow.” Thank you, Ms. Merrill and the entire Chaparral third grade team for helping us understand our wonderful Claremont history!
Nancy Treser Osgood
President, CUSD Board of Education