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Readers comments 12-16-16

The price of justice

Dear Editor:

Hold on just one minute! Just because we have lost the opening round of a long legal process does not mean that you should pack it in and give up. Justice is not cheaply gained, nor is justice served if a judge happens to find that a privately-owned water system is to be kept in private hands over the overriding interest of the public here in Claremont. 

Some people, including a judge or two, can believe that somehow any amount of profit is okay and permissible, no matter what the cost of the water is. Let us for one moment recall why this all started. Golden State Water made it a habit to ask for a water rate increase every two years. Some Claremont residents were charged a fee for successfully saving water, because the water company was admittedly making less money. The cost of using water was becoming a real hardship for some of our citizens. 

Water happens to be a basic necessity. We can’t live without it. Why should we trust a water company to do anything other than try to maximize its profits? One must ask oneself how the public interest can be served if it is to be kept in the hands of a private company—if all we see as a result is more and more greed and more and more unfair charges. 

The judge decided that it is in the public’s best interest to have the water remain in a private, investor-owned utility’s hands. How can this be in the public’s best interest if we are to be left prostrate by the continuing interest of a company whose main goal is to serve themselves instead of serving the public? Water is a necessity. Its cost should not be determined by how much money you can make off of the backs of the people.

Gar Byrum

Claremont

 

Combine the commissions

Dear Editor:

I read with interest Susan Schenk’s comments regarding the back-and-forth process between the architectural commission and the planning commission.

During my seven-plus years of service on the planning commission (my term expired before the Pomona College Museum project was considered in detail), I had a front-row seat to the often-confusing distribution of responsibilities between the two commissions. (Throw in a project review by the traffic and transportation commission and it really gets interesting). 

I came to the conclusion that we, the planning commission, addressed projects at the ground level (parcel maps, zoning, etc.) and architectural reviewed it above the ground (design, color scheme).

What this meant was project proponents were often required to appear before both commissions, multiple times. We enacted some reforms to try and streamline the process, but it is clear that it remains challenging.

I understand that Claremont values its commissions, but perhaps it is time to consider reforms. I do not specifically advocate for one of these, but offer two for discussion.

I feel consideration could be given to combining the planning and architectural commissions. This would allow for a more complete and consistent review process while avoiding many of the issues Ms. Schenk writes about. Additionally, we have frequent movement by commissioners between these two commissions, which requires them to “change hats” with varying degrees of success. One commission would allow any commissioner to raise his or her questions and concerns without being told that it is the other commission’s responsibility.

Alternatively, a city council may also serve as the city’s planning commission. The architectural commission seems to be the greatest driver of maintaining the “look and feel” of Claremont, so it could continue its reviews of projects from that perspective. 

As many planning commission decisions, particularly on larger projects such as the Pomona College Museum, involve planning commission recommendations (rather than final decisions) which the city council must then consider and formulate its own judgment on the merits, the process could be streamlined.

These reforms would also reduce city staff time and cost in preparing multiple meeting agendas and supporting documents.

I worked with terrific commissioners during my time on the planning commission and I in no way want to demean the work they did, and still do, by suggesting the elimination of or merger of that commission into another. However, while some say with pride that Claremont’s number-one product is “process,” when our process produces unclear, unsatisfactory or conflicting results, maybe it’s time to reform the process.

Jeff Hammill

Claremont

 

Pomona College Museum of Art process

Dear Editor:

In response to Susan Schenk’s letter to the editor (December 2), I write to address questions raised about Pomona College’s interactions with the city of Claremont’s planning and architectural commissions throughout the planning and design processes for the new Pomona College Museum of Art (PCMA).

Pomona College has complied with each phase of the city’s required processes for reviewing, approving and implementing the college’s Campus Master Plan. In the case of the PCMA, the relevant plans have been reviewed by the city’s traffic and transportation commission, planning commission and architectural commission, as well as by the city council. These city agencies, as well as city staff, have been meeting with Pomona College staff and providing feedback at every step of the process for the past three years.

According to the city website, “The Planning Commission advises the city council on all matters dealing with the present and future development of the city, in accordance with the values and goals defined in the city’s General Plan. This includes reviewing, approving, or recommending city council approval of requests for zone changes, subdivision maps and variances.”

Although it is not in the purview of the planning commission to become involved with architectural concepts, the commissioners felt that seeing conceptual drawings would help their decision-making regarding the master plan as it pertained to the PCMA.

As a result, although we were not required to do so, Pomona College developed architectural concepts long before we normally would for a construction project because we believed it would be beneficial for the commissioners and the public. The main discussions in the planning commission centered on the site for the new PCMA, and those questions were addressed through ad hoc subcommittee review following extensive discussion in both the commission and city council, where the plan was ultimately approved.

The city process for reviewing architectural concepts and plans begins with the architectural commission. According to the city website, “The Architectural Commission typically reviews site and architectural plans for commercial, industrial, institutional, and some residential projects to ensure that proposed developments are in conformance with city codes and aesthetic standards.”

The commission first reviewed the conceptual drawings for the PCMA in October 2015. At that time, several suggestions were made for altering the concept—suggestions which were incorporated into subsequent drawings and, ultimately, the actual architectural plans and schematics. Plans were presented again at two separate meetings in November 2016. On both occasions, the commissioners made recommendations for modifications, and the college complied.

It is important to note that the architectural commissioners understand the scale and placement of the PCMA, which they believed was suitable for the architectural context. Their feedback has focused on the fit of the building with the architectural style of the surrounding structures, the aesthetic aspects of the building’s exterior and the aspects of the museum that will enhance the community’s enjoyment and use of the new museum.

Recommendations were also made in regard to the placement of Renwick House on its new site and the surrounding landscaping. Pomona College has taken this feedback very seriously, resulting in several substantial changes to the museum’s design to address these concerns.

Some of the changes that have been incorporated over the past three years of community conversations and public hearings include: substantially re-designing the original PCMA concept to provide a more robust and welcoming entrance on Bonita Avenue; re-working the designs for the multi-purpose room and courtyard to provide more versatile spaces for public use; re-designing the west side of the building to enhance the aspect visible from the public library, including adding windows, expanding the “art walk” and adding more extensive landscaping with seating; enhancing the landscaping plan around the building’s loading dock as well as adding the “College Avenue Garden” at the corner of College Avenue and Second Street and adding a piece of public art to the courtyard facing College Avenue.

A revised plan moving Renwick House slightly south on its new site and modifying the surrounding landscaping will be presented to the architectural commission’s ad hoc subcommittee for review.

Pomona College has appreciated the ongoing participation of the community, and we believe the suggestions and revisions have resulted in an even more functional and beautiful teaching museum for students and public spaces for the Claremont community.

Note: The new Pomona College Museum of Art is fully funded by Pomona College including necessary upgrades and improvements to sidewalks, roads and other public infrastructure.

Marylou J. Ferry

Pomona College

Vice President and

Chief Communications Officer

 

Water costs

Dear Editor:

At the December 13 city council meeting, it became clear to me that the group that started the water takeover has lost sight of the initial complaints and reasoning that led to the voters approving Measure W.

Some proponents of measure W reminded the city council that it was their duty to fulfill the will of the people in Claremont and pursue an appeal of the court’s recent rejection of the city’s eminent domain case. However, some comments made by the proponents should cause concern for many who voted yes on W. It is no longer about lowering our water costs but rather about owning the water company for the sake of owning the water company, no matter the cost. 

Some who spoke clearly used the water rate argument as a “bait-and-switch” to bring about a voting coalition against the demon water company, when their over-arching goal was always municipal ownership and their own political control of our water system. It was never about costs, or break-even points; it was always about control and power.

How else should we interpret the several comments Tuesday night from proponents that they always knew “water prices will go up” under city ownership?

I have opposed city ownership from the start. However, many people voted for Measure W on the economic argument that there would be a payback. It is now clear that will never happen. And, when the dust from the current lawsuit settles, the city will be on the hook not only for its own costs, $6 million with the meter still running, but Golden State’s legal defense costs which will likely be at least that amount also.

If you voted for Measure W because you thought the city would be able to deliver water at lower prices, be aware that the proponents never did have that goal, and definitely don’t have it now.

There will be an opportunity to voice your objections to the city council during a meeting in January when the council discusses how they might choose to proceed in light of their failure in Superior Court. Please plan to attend when the date is set.

Donna Lowe

Claremont

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