VIEWPOINT: Paying for public services in Claremont

by Diann Ring, Claremont city council from 1986 to 1999

Thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers and my neighbors a 40-year story of public funding for Claremont services. This will not likely be made into a TV blockbuster series, but I hope that it may enlighten our electorate.

And, yes, it involves the upcoming vote for a new police station—on the June 5 ballot as Measure SC. I hope that this will instill in us all the duty to pay it forward for the next generation of Claremonters.

I am 75 and have lived in Claremont and been politically active for 45 of those. Admitting one’s age should have its privilege.

Before 1978, Claremont had paid for most ongoing services through property taxes. Claremont residents had long supported residential development and limited commercial development. Property tax was (and still is for most of the country) the way services were delivered.

But, in 1978, the Jarvis (Prop. 13) Amendment upended it all when it was passed statewide. The passage of this amendment froze property tax assessments in California at what they were in 1978 and could only be added to at two percent a year or at the sales price when sold.

This is still the law today. Corporate offices and factories that never moved are still taxed on 1978 rates. Old folks like me are taxed on assessed values of our homes in 1978. Young families buying homes next door at today’s prices are paying much more in property taxes than I am. It’s not fair, but it’s the law.

But, that’s just the start.

After the passage of the 1978 Jarvis State amendment, we struggled as a community for a decade. Streets went unpaved. Volunteers were required for park maintenance. Claremont Unified School District, while a separate entity from the city, was struggling equally.

Communities fought back to save our basic services however we could.

My predecessors on the city council worked hard to develop the auto center and other commercial centers. Sales tax revenues were king to save communities. For our town, this was not enough.

When I was elected to the city council in 1986, it became obvious that we had to find more revenue if we hoped to maintain the community we had come to expect.

As a member of the city council, I, quite publicly, stated that I would vote for almost any legal measure that would keep our community thriving. At that time, the LLD (the landscaping and lighting district) was the viable option. I voted for it and was twice re-elected supporting it. I stated, repeatedly, that I did not see the LLD as a temporary fee.

Gone were the days when a city council would set the mill rate for property taxes to fund the adopted budget each year (still the traditional way in most states). FYI:?the Colleges and non-profits pay the Landscaping and Lighting District fees. 

Then came the recession of 1992. The state of California raided cities coffers to balance its budget. Claremont’s property tax receipts were reduced to 10 percent of every dollar. Another crisis in local funding emerged. The council went to the citizens. In a series of 10 or so neighborhood meetings, the dilemma was presented. What do we cut? If the community supports the services and programs we have, how can we raise new revenues? Genuine arguments and presentations were noted on butcher paper boards. A broad consensus emerged: citizens wanted the services they had and wanted to find a funding mechanism to pay for them.

A final public hearing was held at Bridges Auditorium. All of the butcher paper suggestions were displayed around the auditorium. Eighteen of 20 speakers asked for a Utility Users Tax, and the city council voted unanimously to enact it. This was the largest and least controversial tax increase, I believe, in our community’s history. FYI:?the Colleges and non-profits pay the utility users tax. 

A state proposition again intruded into local decision making in the mid-1990’s and mandated local voter approval of city council enacted taxes or fees. We went to the voters in 1997, and both the landscaping and lighting district fee and the utilities users tax were approved—period!

Much has been accomplished for our community with creative financing during the last 25 years or so. Redevelopment financing (now gone because of abuse by some cities) enabled us to finance Village West, senior and affordable housing and other infrastructure improvements.

Historic agreements and good will between Pomona College and the city brought us the Wilderness Park and Padua Hills Theatre. County and federal cooperation and the tenacious work of our own Judy Wright brought Metrolink to fruition. Other creative financing enabled us to remodel city hall, make a school building into the Hughes Center and other public projects.

I guess what I am saying is that a community does not just “happen.” What we have here has been paid for by all of us, using whatever financing tools have been available at the time.

General obligation bonds have always required the dreaded two-thirds vote (the tyranny of the minority) of the voters. In 1963, many of our parks were approved by such a vote. The police station that we seek to replace today was approved by such a vote in 1972. In 2007, we used this funding method to acquire Johnson’s Pasture for expanding the Wilderness Park.  

All of this is just a backdrop to our current discussion about a new police station. We know that a new station is needed. We know that the parcel tax funding proposal was voted down in 2015. We know that there is no other magic funding source available.

We know that our home values exceed our expectations. We know that this is because of our public infrastructure (including public safety), vibrant Village, schools, colleges, parks, Wilderness Park, etc.

I have spent time during the last few months with members of the next generation of Claremont’s younger families and leaders. They are leading the charge for the new police station and other new visions for our community.

There is a great early picture of professors hand-watering little eucalyptus trees on College Avenue in the 1900s. This embedded in me a sense of purpose and duty. Those folks knew they were planting trees that they would never see mature. They watered them for us.

What will you and I, who have benefitted so much from past investments, leave to our successors?



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