Readers comments 2-8-19
Good intentions, bad outcomes
Claremont, wake up! Big changes are coming to the way we elect our city council members.
In response to a potential lawsuit that may be filed against the city seeking to enforce the provisions of the California Voter Rights Act (CVRA), the Claremont City Council is moving toward a system of electoral districts (five in all) rather than the current at-large system. Under the old system we had as many votes as there were open seats. Now we will only have one vote. That will have a big impact.
After losing the Golden State water litigation, I fully understand why the council and the city manager would like to avoid further legal defeats. But the proposed adoption of five districts could have many serious and unintended consequences.
Having looked at all 11 proposed maps, none of them appear to unify communities of interest—whether racial, economic, ethnic or by cohesive neighborhoods. Minorities of every race and ethnicity seem to be remarkably evenly distributed throughout the city, which will make it almost impossible to increase minority representation in any particular district.
What is the purpose of this exercise? Presumably, it is to have a council more representative of our entire community. The Claremont council has hardly been the preserve of privileged white males. We have elected African Americans, Hispanics, Filipinos, Chinese, gay people, straight people, and still others I probably don’t recall. The only under-represented group at the moment is women—and that was certainly not true in past decades.
I also foresee that there will be enormous variation in the absolute number of votes cast in each of these districts. Some candidates might be elected by more than 1,000 votes, others by a few hundred. Enthusiasm for voting varies throughout the city.
What will it mean if one candidate is elected by 1,000 votes and another by 100? That would be the equivalent of an extreme gerrymander in national politics.
I foresee great difficulty in recruiting even one candidate per district, let alone two. Since a candidate must live in the district from which they are elected, does that mean elections won’t be held in districts where there is only one candidate on the ballot? What if no candidate runs in a particular district? Will that district have no representation on the council? Will the council have fewer than five members?
We have had elections that were cancelled because nobody filed to run against the incumbents.
Before we make this enormous change to our local democracy—under threat of legal action not by choice—we should consider the consequences carefully.
At Monday evening’s special meeting to consider the proposal to divide Claremont into five voting districts, the city council authorized the city attorney to read the following statement:
“The city received an oral communication in September 2018 from an officer of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, stating that as soon as the new council would be installed, the SVREP would send a demand letter to the city pursuant to the California Voter Rights Act.”
The council’s apparent motivation for releasing this statement is to convince the public that the city will be hit with a costly lawsuit unless the council approves the proposal. That might be a decent argument if there was any reason to believe that this “oral communication” was a credible threat, but for some unstated reason the council will not share any of the essential details with us.
We do not know the identity of the SVREP officer or the city official who received the communication, what words were exchanged, or under what circumstances the communication took place. The city has also refused to release any documents that relate to this communication, even though it is legally required to do so under the Public Records Act.
I immediately contacted the executive director of the SVREP, asking her to confirm that her organization actually issued a threat to Claremont. I received no response.
I also discovered that Claremont—which has a Latino population of less than 20 percent, and which has had a Latino member of the city council for the past 12 years—does not even meet SVREP’s own stated criteria for a CVRA violation. (There is a four-part “Latino Voting Rights Denied” Test on the SVREP website).
Under the circumstances, there is good reason to suspect that the city is not telling us the whole truth. This would not surprise me, as the lawyer (from the city attorney’s own firm) and the demography consultant who are trying to sell this proposal to the council have grossly exaggerated the risk that a CVRA demand will be made. They have also obscured the fact that Claremont can keep its preferred at-large voting system until a demand is actually made, without any risk of being forced into a costly lawsuit.
I don’t expect that this will make any difference to the council, which seemingly cannot help itself from approving any proposal that is presented to it by lawyers and consultants—no matter how speculative and unnecessary it may happen to be.
This was true for the “bike station” (a $500,000 loss), the water system takeover attempt (a $14 million loss), and most recently the Clean Power Alliance, which forced Claremont residents to be part of an already failing “green energy” scam.
The common denominator in all of these endeavors is that the lawyers and consultants made a lot of money at the city’s expense, and there is no reason to expect that this pointless and unworkable district voting proposal will be any different—except that in this case, we will be losing more than just money.
While I understand the motivation to consider district elections to protect ourselves from legal action, I hope the council thinks long and hard about all the ramifications before implementing such a change.
I am concerned that we may not be able to field at least two qualified candidates for each district, as well as how voting locations and costs might change. This effort may have the unintended consequence of dividing us along district lines to the detriment of our city as a whole.
Has there been evidence of “racially polarized voting” in our city? I suspect candidate filings are public record. Maybe a historical analysis of those demographics would shed some light as to whether there is a problem or not.
The cynic in me thinks this situation is a way for attorneys and consultants to drum up some business under the guise of a threat. My only hope is if we move forward with district elections, it is because a group has been impacted in a significant way and it is the best thing for our city.
So who’s counting?
On January 17, the Claremont City Council met to decide whether to create separate election districts for each council member. They did so decide.
During public comment, an idea was put forth to create either seven or nine districts, thereby increasing the number of council members, as well as the level of the community’s representation on the council.
This idea was commented upon during the meeting by most council members, but unfortunately was also dismissed, almost out-of-hand, by all of them. The most-uttered objection was that we might not be able to expect enough candidates to come forward in order to have a competitive election in each and every district.
Well, competitive or not, the community would nevertheless have benefited from greater representation with nine (or seven) council members, than it currently has with only five. And, who is to say that with elections being contested in nine small districts—instead of citywide—that more people would not come forward to run for office? People who, for example, may have considered a city wide campaign too daunting or expensive a prospect. In any case, I thought the idea deserved more thoughtful consideration and discussion than it received.
Then there is the California Voting Rights Act itself, which is the driver for this whole exercise. This act either invokes, or draws in phrases such as “racially polarized voting,” “ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice,” “minority vote dilution,” “protected class,” “Latinos” and “Asian-Americans.”
In this regard, we might note how this particular discussion also happened to coincide with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. How so? Well, it was 56 years ago that Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. One of that speech’s most famous lines was perhaps,
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream.”
It seems that dream will not be realized, in California at any rate, especially when our legislature requires that people be categorized precisely by “the color of their skin,” and not by the content of their character.
We may reserve some further ire for the state “lawmakers” who chose to include, as well, a poison pill extortion racket for lawyers in their legislation. A provision which grants a minimum of $30,000 to the lucky lawyer who is first to submit a “demand letter” to the unfortunate city of his/her own choosing.
At that same meeting, we heard anecdotal reports that “the California legislature is not inclined to modify this aspect of the law.” Well, shame on them.
Claremont rental misuse
Claremont restricts residential rentals of fewer than 30 days. This is an important ordinance to ensure safety for all community members.
With the rise in online rental services, I have become aware of at least one Village residence, located at 252 W. Sixth St. next to a church and pre-school, that is in violation of this city ordinance.
Though most homeowners who use online sites to rent their private homes, condominium units or guest houses, do so responsibly, there is one Village home being used, essentially, as an unmonitored, unregulated motel type lodging.
The owner of this home does not live in Claremont and has no on-site person running this short-term lodging. People come in for one or two night stays in as many as eight studio units carved out of what was formerly a single-family home until recently.
Both the online service (Airbnb) advertising the rooms and the city of Claremont permit department have been notified of this violation, yet nothing has been done.
As a brand new resident to this wonderful community, I would like to see the wishes of community members who voted to disallow rentals under 30 days respected by our city government, and the rules enforced accordingly. If you agree, please call city hall (909) 399-5460 and ask for the permits department.
Don’t limit ADU sizes
Our state has a housing crisis: there’s not enough housing for our population, and prices are too high. As a result, state law requires cities to facilitate the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family residential lots.
Unfortunately, the ordinance that our city’s commissions have offered to our council will inhibit construction by limiting ADUs to a smaller size than our zoning ordinance allows, whether it is a separate building or part of the main house. This is clearly designed to discriminate against ADUs, because the size limit applies to an addition or outbuilding only if it’s an ADU, not if it’s something else.
If we don’t want over-building on a residential lot, our zoning ordinance takes care of that by limiting the percent of the lot structures can cover, whether or not one of them is an ADU. If we don’t want a separate ADU that appears to be equal in size to the main house, state law already limits the ADU to no more than 50 percent of the main house.
There’s no need for a small square foot limit in our city ordinance applying to ADUs only. Our ordinance should comply with the intent of state law to promote ADUs to help solve the housing crisis. They will house renters and keep multi-generational families together. They will help some to afford a home purchase and others to keep their home. They will be built at no public expense and will add to our city’s tax base.
Changes with the Gypsys
You know how, when you finish a project there is a relief and a bit of a high? You worked it through, the parts went together, it showed well, and it’s done.
It has become time for our Gypsy Sisters of Claremont project to be done. Jan Wheatcroft and I are looking forward to slower lives with more time to do less stuff. Our friend, Aleta Jacobson, has had our ear for a year as a longtime Gypsy artist, and now our artist friends will have her ear also.
Gypsy Sisters has been a shared experience—we met the purpose of building an artist community. Before Jan and I were called Gypsys by a passerby in 1993 in front of Chancery Lane Book Store on Second Street, we showed as a pair and alone.
In 1995, Jan got us the Claremont Forum parking lot at the old COURIER building and we had room to invite art friends to join the party. And the community of Gypsy Sisters and Their Brothers was begun.
In the future, new artists will come and emeritus artists will continue in the new show—on schedule. Aleta will be the boss and do the hardest work—management, paperwork, personnel organization, financial balancing, human resources officer. Jan and I will happily keep our booths in the two shows of the year, as will others.
To all of our friends who came to visit the party to participate in the fun the last 23 years, we are so grateful for your smiles, your loyalty and your sense of adventure that spurred us on. Gypsys fed off you with joy.
Gypsys was a different show every date. Our percentage benefactors changed over the years, but our community always gave. Besides the truth of the creativity, the gift was always a given.
A tale of two cities?
You remember the drill: It was the best of… It was the worst of… Well it is not that but it is still a dickens of a story.
Some time back when a Southern California Theological Seminary was in financial trouble, the city of Pomona, which had decided to join the Compassionate Cities Network, offered free land to the seminary so it could relocate, solve its financial woes and enrich the life of Pomona.
When a similar situation occurred in Claremont and the Claremont School of Theology tried to solve its financial difficulties by selling part of its campus it ran against the Claremont University Consortium (now going under the name of The Claremont Colleges Inc.), which insisted on enforcing a clause written in the 1950s allowing the Colleges to enforce the right to purchase the land at 1950s prices.
The seminary needed at the time around $40,000 to survive and continue operating in Claremont but CUC offered about one-tenth of what the School of Theology needed. All perfectly legal but thoroughly unethical, not to mention unfriendly to an institution that had contributed so much to the quality of life in Claremont and the educational excellence of the Colleges.
The COURIER’s report on the end of the litigation made it appear as if everybody is happy with the results. The city of Claremont should not be happy losing an institution that, for more than 50 years, enriched the life of its citizens.
The whole episode brings back the Arbol Verde story that was shared at an Athenaeum lecture on April 4 last year detailing the way which made the city of Claremont appear like just another company town. (The lecture, Tierra de Nadie: The Claremont Colleges and the Mexican American Community by Matthew Garcia, should be available through the CMC Athenaeum lectures archive.)
I am sure faculty members, students, some administrators and citizens of Claremont will not believe what has happened under our noses. Who are the real stake holders of the institutions of the city? During the Arbol Verde fiasco there was much secrecy, and this time around the same happened.
The School of Theology did not want the story to be told because it might scare away potential students at a time the enrollment had hit an all time high. I can think of many reasons why the Consortium did not want average citizens of Claremont to know what was going on.
When I told one of the trustees of the seminary that I thought the story should be told I was urged not to do it lest it imperil the negotiations going on behind closed doors.
Now that the judgment has been rendered, I want to make sure there is at least one witness that can be read by scholars in the future who might want to write about “Arbol Verde 2,” when heavy handed individuals guided only by the bottom line acted in ways that ought make students, faculty and average citizens of Claremont cringe.
A tale of two cities? Not really; Pomona’s leaders have considered the well-being of the average dweller of that much maligned neighbor city. The Claremont Colleges Inc. did not speak for all the good people of Claremont. Perhaps now many voices will be raised to object to actions that make Claremont look like just another company town.
Conversion to green energy
For starters, the PCIA is nothing like the the WRAM, although in Claremont utility dialogues both are used as bogeymen to sell certain narratives, your recent article serving as the most recent example. Saving the WRAM for another day, let’s cover the PCIA:
Electricity is a commodity, like gasoline. Commodity prices fluctuate over time. Several years ago, gasoline was more expensive than it is today.
I don’t think any of us think we can head over to our local filling station and force the station owner to pay us back the difference between a more expensive tank filled years ago and the cost of the same tank today. So why should that happen in the electricity context?
It shouldn’t. While the legacy renewables contracts look expensive by today’s standards, that’s what was available back then. (And if you think those contracts are pricey, ask CUSD how much they’re paying for solar—ouch!)
Paying the PCIA is a necessary step in the longterm evolution of the electricity service model(s) here in California.
That said, the PCIA is a piece of a larger puzzle and shouldn’t distract us from our core mission of reducing GHG emissions to fight global climate change.
With that in mind, Claremonters should ask Southern California Edison and the Clean Power Alliance to clearly state the carbon intensity of each of their products. Renewable energy content only tells you so much, and a grid with more renewables isn’t always the most carbon-efficient grid.
We need accurate carbon emission factors for these products so we can better understand how we can each reduce our respective carbon footprints. This “unspecified sources” nonsense is inexcusable.