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Observer: Who do we think we are in Claremont?

“Why don’t they fix this?” Good question, I thought. They fix everything else. Enough to spoil us rotten here.

My friend and I were driving north on Cambridge Avenue crossing Bonita Avenue and there it was. That dip. That horrible, nasty dip. There, on the north side of the intersection, this extra-big gutter going across the street like a trough. I always worry that the front of the van will hit it and make a terrible noise and get damaged. Indeed, there are big, ugly scrape marks on the asphalt.

It looks so weird here in Claremont. Something that doesn’t belong, like in one of those tests or puzzles. Really. This is the city where it’s easy to tell where the town starts and ends because the street suddenly gets blacker and smoother.

The constant repaving of streets in Claremont, noticeably more frequently than in surrounding towns, is just one thing, though. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

This is the town where the streets not only noticeably look and feel better; they are safer. Yes, the crime rate has risen here, but Claremont is still known as a safe town, with remarkably little crime.

This is the town where, unlike neighboring cities, the 210 freeway is below grade, meaning that it goes below ground level, with streets crossing over it instead of under it. This is so there won’t be so much freeway noise while drivers pass through Claremont. And there was still grumbling about traffic noise after the freeway opened about 10 years ago.

This is the town where watering trees is headline news, where teams of volunteers publicize proper tree care and hand out watering kits. It’s the town where trees sometimes seem more important than people, with residents seeing red and threatening the city council when it allowed two trees to be cut down to relieve a disabled boy’s allergies.  

This is the town where a college is being sued by residents over its plan for building a museum, of all things. It’s the kind of town where an art museum being built on the west side or the east side of the street is of vital, life-changing, see-you-in-court importance.

So it’s weird to see that big, ugly, dangerous dip on a Claremont street. All the more so as Claremont continues to fix what no other city fixes or fixes things that don’t really need fixing just yet. 

It’s not surprising that Claremonters are wrestling with all that is going on in the Village. Yes, it’s great that the Village has gotten more lively, with an impressive number of restaurants, shops and entertainment options, including live music. It is wonderful that the train station plays a part in all this and that more trains will be stopping here, with the Gold Line coming through from Pasadena, expanding the public transportation opportunities even more. We can be very proud of that. In recent years, Claremont has been listed and praised in travel and lifestyle publications like Sunset magazine.

But it also means that there are changes. Some of these changes aren’t easy, with Claremont and the Village now not so quiet. For one thing, there are all those train horns. I hear them at my house several blocks away, south of Arrow Highway, including at 5-something in the morning. And when I am near the tracks in the Village, I’m sometimes shocked and irked—actually upset and angry—by how loud the train whistles are. Do they really have to be so loud?

It turns out that the whistles really are louder than they were before but, hopefully, they won’t be so loud later this year. Metrolink began using a different engine, with a higher-decibel “five-chime” horn as opposed to the standard “three-chime” horn, after a fatal 2015 crash in Oxnard. Due to complaints about the loudness, Metrolink is phasing out the engines starting in September on the San Bernardino Line.

Even so, with echoes of the previous negotiations and the special below-grade accommodations made with the 210 freeway through Claremont, a committee has been formed to see if Claremont can be a quiet zone, with minimal noise from train whistles. The committee will assess how this can be done in a safe way and in a timely and fiscally-responsible manner. Last month, the city council appointed the committee, comprised of three members of the city’s traffic and transportation commission, who will work directly with city staff.

Mayor Sam Pedroza and City Manager Tony Ramos are also traveling to Washington, DC in September to work with the federal railway authority as it is currently reviewing its train horn rule. The chair of the traffic and transportation commission, Chuck Gerlach, made it clear that this and the new committee are very much in line with Claremont’s approach and style when he told the city council, “You’ve seen other communities be in a reactive state, but Claremont’s a leader. We ought to be proactive.”

One can argue that the city council was being very proactive a couple weeks later when it voted 4-1 to quash plans for a railway bridge over Indian Hill Boulevard, as had been proposed with the Gold Line bringing more trains coming through Claremont. Some are saying that decision was too proactive.

Such an action may have seemed like a no-brainer. When the proposal came out earlier this year, the general consensus was that this was a terrible idea. More than that, it was crazy and the decsion didn’t make sense at all. It was unimaginable. It would be unsightly, a blight on the Village, and it would divide the town, far more than the tracks ever have. There was considerable grumbling when Mayor Pedroza said that process should be followed, steps should be taken and the proposal should be considered.

Apparently, the process has been followed and the steps have been taken. Or at least most of the council thinks so. By their vote, it concluded that the bridge is indeed a bad idea and rejected it as wrong for Claremont.

But was the process followed? Were all the steps taken? Some are now saying that the council was too hasty in its vote, and was too quick to shelve the bridge proposal. They point out that the decision doesn’t have to be made until February and are wondering why the council was in a rush to have the vote before the council took August off for its summer recess.

The concern now is that with all the additional trains coming through Claremont and the crossing gates at Indian Hill Boulevard going down so many more times—not to mention even more horns blasting (or maybe not?)—traffic in the Village will be held up much more and will be more of a challenge, to say the least. This is why Councilman Joe Lyons cast the lone dissenting vote. Not that he liked the bridge idea, he just wanted to take more time—time that is available—to explore options.

Both the council’s hasty vote to reject the bridge outright and Mr. Lyon’s wish to explore all the options are so Claremont. It’s enough to lead one to ask, who do we think we are in Claremont?

Apparently, we think we can get just what we want.  We don’t just think that, we are used to getting what we want. We are used to getting special treatment and to feeling special.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it was suggested in these pages that Indian Hill Boulevard be revamped to go under the railroad tracks in the Village. In Claremont, such an idea isn’t necessarily a joke—not any more and perhaps a bit less so—than a railway bridge in the Village.

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