Readers comments 11-25-16
Museum approval process
In response to Denise Spooner’s letter to the editor (November 11), I want to address the two issues she raised about Pomona College’s plans for its new museum of art—the recusal of two members of the Architectural Commission and the change in the condition of approval regarding the structural inspection of Renwick House.
First, because the city of Claremont asks prominent local architects to serve on the Architectural Commission and because Pomona College seeks to use local businesses where possible, there is an overlap between who is an architectural commissioner and who has done architectural work for Pomona College. This overlap is managed in an ethical manner by the recusal of all commissioners who have done work for Pomona College.
Further, open positions and recusals actually make it harder to obtain a project approval—not easier as Ms. Spooner asserted.
If the commission had been fully staffed and if no recusals were required, Pomona College would only have needed a bare majority (57 percent) of potential votes, but with the vacancy and recusals, Pomona College was required to get a super majority vote of 75 percent of voting commissioners. Consequently, Pomona College was not helped by the recusals and there would be no point in Pomona College refusing to employ prominent Claremont architects or their family members.
In this case, Commissioner Mark Schoeman started his work for Pomona College before he was placed on the commission and Commissioner Maureen Wheeler’s husband was hired after Ms. Wheeler was named to the architectural commission. Thus, to follow Ms. Spooner’s suggested guidelines, Pomona College would essentially need to place a blanket ban on hiring anyone from Claremont for fear that they or their spouse might someday serve on the commission.
With regard to the change to the condition of approval for the pre-relocation inspection of Renwick House, Ms. Spooner is correct that Claremont municipal code requires that the city engineer must inspect the building.
That code requirement remains in place for all relocations; the condition of approval was changed to add the requirement that Claremont’s Community Development Director, Brian Desatnik, also inspect the building because he is the supervisor of the city engineer and he might ask other experts to also perform an inspection. Therefore, the change to the condition of approval raised the bar—rather than lowering it as asserted by Ms. Spooner.
Pomona College has no objection to the city engineer and a similarly credentialed person making more than one assessment and has offered to fund a specialized inspector selected by the city.
We agree that Renwick House deserves to be treated with care and respect and we will ensure that this landmark historic building is safely relocated.
Marylou J. Ferry
Vice President and
Chief Communications Officer
We could use a watchdog
I share the sentiment Peter Weinberger conveyed in his recent column (“My Side of the Line,” November 18) that the news media is needed now more than ever. The independent review of information and events by the press is essential to the preservation of a free society. To that end, I would like to suggest that the COURIER has failed to perform its “watchdog” role as well as it might have.
To be clear, I don’t believe the COURIER is biased. It generously prints letters from all viewpoints, and its reporting is objective. But from day one this newspaper has been uncurious to a fault about what has proven to be the most costly mistake in Claremont’’s history (which to date has set us back an unbudgeted $8 million). In fact, I cannot recall a single instance where the COURIER has critically examined any aspect of the now-failed water system takeover bid.
Most notably, the COURIER was missing in action when I and a handful of other concerned citizens repeatedly pressed the city to disclose the feasibility study, as it was legally obligated to do—even though the COURIER had once made its own request for the study to be released to the public.
Had this newspaper not so readily acceded to a baseless assertion of privilege by the city—which we now know had the sole objective of protecting the study from scrutiny that it could not have withstood—the takeover debate may have turned out much differently.
Two years ago, as the author of the ballot argument against Measure W, I asked if I could meet with the editorial staff to present my side of the issue prior to the paper making an endorsement. It is unfortunate that I was not given the opportunity to do so, as my ballot argument warned that we might spend millions of dollars, lose in court and have nothing to show for it. The COURIER’s own credulous endorsement of W has not held up nearly so well.
In June of this year, just prior to the commencement of the right-to-take trial, I submitted an opinion piece in which I pointed out a number of significant problems with the city’s case—all of which were subsequently validated by the court’s decision.
At the time, I suggested that the COURIER ought to be actively investigating the many troublesome aspects of the attempted takeover—including the fact that the city’s own feasibility study contained a $100 million error—and I offered to share all of the relevant information with the editor. She evidently had no interest in reporting on it.
Don’t get me wrong. Claremont is blessed to have its own newspaper, and I appreciate the role that the COURIER plays in the life of our very special town. I am personally grateful that it has provided residents a forum in which to convey our concerns to the community.
It is not my place to tell anyone how to run a newspaper, but it would be unfortunate if what little information that Claremont residents have about consequential issues comes only from unverified assertions contained in press releases or letters to the editor.
We can all benefit from the efforts of media professionals who intelligibly present facts and hold decision makers accountable.
[Editor’s note: COURIER staff has studied and reported on Claremont water ownership for more than 50 years, long before the city council finally decided to make its first formal attempt at acquiring the system. Our endorsement in favor of Measure W was not solely based on economics. We believe that water is not a commodity to be sold for profit. We also believe that Golden State Water Company does not own the rainfall, a claim made by the company over the years. And, despite the unfavorable outcome of the tentative decision, we firmly believe that water should be provided as a municipal service to residents, not sold to us at the highest price possible by a private company for the benefit of its shareholders. —KD]
City should continue
The Democratic Club of Claremont urges the city council to continue with its eminent domain lawsuit against Golden States Water despite the tentative ruling of a judge. The ruling basically said that it was not in the best interests for Claremont to own its own water system.
The voters of Claremont have overwhelmingly declared, by vote, that it in fact is in their best interests to control their own water system. That the judge can override the expressed and informed opinion of the city is a highly undemocratic judgment, as if such an outside party is more authoritative than we are in determining what is good for us.
Consequently, the city needs to continue to represent the will of the citizens of Claremont by staying the course.
Democratic Club of Claremont
I believe these times call for a new verse to the Thanksgiving hymn, “We Gather Together.”
“We pray for our country in this time of crisis
And ask that our people not torn apart be
Let goings-on scary just be temporary
Preserve us safe and sound until twenty-twenty.”
James Van Cleve
City lawyers’ big payday
As a Claremont resident, I was pleased to read the tentative ruling made by Judge Richard Fruin Jr. that rejected my city’s misguided, expensive and frivolous eminent domain lawsuit.
The research I had done, along with others, concluded that the case was unwinnable and, more importantly, that an eminent domain takeover would result in residents paying more for water service that was inferior to the professional water company that has been serving Claremont since 1929.
Anybody who reads the complete 38-page ruling will easily understand that the Claremont City Council, city manager and representing city attorney, the private law firm Best Best & Krieger, failed completely. This wasn’t a close or difficult decision to make. It was a 70-3 football game.
The judge’s ruling also signaled that our city has wasted millions of tax payer dollars that only benefitted the city’s private lawyers. Now, we are on the hook to pay millions to them and to pay millions more to cover Golden State Water Company’s legal fees.
In particular, the following paragraph, cited from the tentative ruling, should give all Claremont residents great concern about BB&K’s ability to represent our city and our interests:
“The court would expect to receive into evidence in an eminent domain trial to decide whether the city’s ownership is ‘a more necessary public use’ a list of reasons considered by the city council expressing the city’s priorities for a water system and justifying the city’s acquisition of the assets of the existing water operator. That list, the court would assume, would be complete and available to the city council before it voted on the Resolutions of Necessity. However, so far as the court can discern, the city did not prepare any report that provides a complete list of reasons for its exercise of eminent domain.”
The judge then definitively declares that “The resolutions do not offer any factual findings for a taking of a privately-owned and operated water public utility.”
This to me is a complete dereliction of duty of our city council, not to mention mounting evidence of remarkable conflict of interest concerns, by outsourcing our city attorney position to the very legal team that would recommend this ill-fated water coup.
At a minimum Sonia Carvahlo should have recused herself, and the law firm she represents, after giving the formal advice to move forward on this takeover attempt. BB&K and their team of lawyers failed to represent Claremont’s best interest, and not by just a little bit, but by a lot, per the tentative ruling.
Simply stated, a private law firm saw a big payday because it was able to advise our city council to undertake multi-million dollar litigation, using the same firm. Even though the case went against BB&K they still make millions, and will likely recommend that the city appeal, which only adds to their billable hours.
Perhaps the city of Claremont should change its name to the city of Bell. Yes, BB&K were Bell’s attorneys too, and we all know how that turned out.
Donna Sue Lowe
I supported Measure W, the water bond. I now regret my vote.
The judge presiding over the current eminent domain case has made it very clear that in his opinion our claim is exceedingly weak. If we appeal, we stand to lose the case anyway. The costs we are liable for will multiply.
Ownership of the water company is not going to save us money. We really have no idea about the condition of the subterranean infrastructure we are proposing to buy. There may well be extremely costly hidden maintenance issues. GSWC can spread the capital cost of repairs over a large organization. We are just one city.
The much-hated WRAM charge appearing on our bills is not a penalty for our efforts to conserve water. It is an attempt to fairly spread the cost of maintaining infrastructure from which we all benefit—no matter how little water we use. The profits of GSWC are regulated by the California PUC. The cost of our water reflects the wholesale cost of buying water from the Colorado River; the cost of maintaining underground infrastructure, in addition to a reasonable profit, which includes the salaries of management, the cost of capital and a current dividend of 2.5 percent paid to shareholders.
My advice: if you want to save money, use less water.
I use an average of 5 ccf per month (about $40). I own a large lot north of Foothill Boulevard landscaped entirely with native plants, succulents and cactus and some large oak trees.
The viability of this region depends on conserving as much water as we can (and limiting future growth). If the city of Claremont owns the water system, we are likely to face steadily declining revenues (due to using water more efficiently) and we will be forced to institute our own version of the WRAM charge. That will come as an unpleasant surprise to many of our citizens.
Our effort to acquire the water company is proving to be a costly miscalculation. I suggest we cut our losses. Let Golden State retain ownership while we, the ratepayers, start conserving.
If we reduce our water use enough, GSWC may wish they had sold us the entire system for $55 million while they had the chance.