Don’t like the game? Change the rules

by John Pixley

“After attendance at the hot topic presentations begun to dwindle, Ms. Glaudi begun seeking ways to revamp the program.”

Sounds simple enough. And smart. Sometimes, when things are not working out, it’s good to revamp, shake things up and try something new. Sort of like getting a new perspective.

That’s what Shannon Glaudi, senior recreation leader at Claremont’s Joslyn Senior Center, was thinking. As noted recently in these pages, it was in regard to a longstanding interactive morning lecture series held at the center.

It appears that she was right. And, in this case, it was indeed simple. A change of rooms played a big part in the reboot. Once the series was moved to the Oak Room dining hall, the dwindling reversed, and there was “a much bigger turnout than the select few attendants that would show up for the previous program, according to Ms. Glaudi.”

Tinkering with the morning program at a senior center is one thing. What about tinkering with Claremont’s streets?

What about changing the road when we don’t like the rules of the road?

This is essentially what is being done as Claremont officials experiment with redesigning some streets rather than raising speed limits. As strange as this sounds, it stems from an even stranger requirement from the state that the speed limits be raised.

Even stranger is that the state says the speed limits have to be raised, because people are driving faster. Never mind that speed limits are supposed to limit speed.

Here’s how the reasoning—if that is what it can be called—works: Cities are required to set a speed limit within a certain number of miles per hour of the speed a majority of cars travel at. Otherwise, a speeding ticket isn’t enforceable in court.

Not only did a Radar Speed Survey conducted last year suggest that people are driving faster in Claremont, but, with recent changes in the state regulations, the city now has to set the speed limit at the nearest 5 mph rather than within 5 mph of the majority speed. This means, for example, that if the speed of the majority of drivers on a street is 28 mph, the speed limit can’t be 25 mph but has to be 30 mph.

Like I said, strange.

Many Claremonters thought it was not only strange but also unfair and dangerous, and they told city officials so, citing children playing and the like. Hence, a dozen or so street segments are being changed, with crosswalks, bike lanes and other “traffic calming measures” costing $165,000.

“What we need is really a small decrease in speed, just 1 or 2 mph on most of these streets to bring down the speed limit,” Interim City Engineer Loretta Mustafa said. “That’s what we are looking to do here.”

This scheme is most likely for the best, but Ms. Mustafa and the rest of us should be clear that that is what this is, a scheme. We shouldn’t deny—not that we are—that we’re fudging here, changing the rules when we don’t like the game.

A bit of fudging may well be perfectly harmless and may even be beneficial when it comes to a discussion program at the local senior center or even the city streets, but what about when it comes to the way the government operates or is run? Is it good when our officials fudge, change the rules, when the game isn’t working for them, even if the result may be generally for the best?

Eyebrows were raised earlier this month when California legislators sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown that would allow him to attend closed meetings with county officials. The measure, AB 246, was written by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) in reaction to a county prosecutor declaring that a private 2011 meeting between the governor and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law. The topic at the meeting was Gov. Brown’s “realignment” plan to hold nonviolent felons and certain other low-level offenders in county jails rather than state lockups, following federal court orders to reduce prison crowding.

While those in favor of the bill claim it simply adds the governor to a list of officials and experts allowed under the Brown Act to attend closed-door meetings regarding public security matters, critics hold that it could be a slippery slope, used for an ever-expanding range of “public security matters,” in addition to noting that it being requested by LA County reflects badly on the supervisors.

As Terry Francke, the general counsel for the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, said, “This is how they correct violations of the Brown Act when they’re caught in the act: They change the law so it will give them cover in the future.” Mr. Francke also pointed out that if the governor signs the legalization, it will mean “he knew….the meeting was illegal” when he spoke behind closed doors with the supervisors in 2011.

Likewise, there was some head-scratching here last month when there was what appeared to be rule-bending or rule-stretching at a City Council meeting. It was all the more curious and perhaps disturbing when the cause was a well-intentioned one.

The cause was the Mayors Against Illegal Guns petition encouraging the adoption of laws to ban “lethal, military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” develop technology to help law enforcement better trace illegal guns and punish those who obtain or deal such weapons and ammunition. Over 800 mayors in 44 states have signed the petition supporting the enforcement of gun laws within their respective communities and started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the cinema shooting in Aurora, and other shocking mass shootings, like the one recently not too far in Santa Monica.

The discussion at the meeting seemed to be at an end when a motion to direct the mayor to sign the petition failed, with Mayor Opanyi Nasiali and Councilmen Corey Calaycay and Sam Pedroza uneasy with forcing the mayor petition against his will and with dealing with a “national or state” issue, as Mr. Nasiali indicated, and one that is not so clear for all Claremont residents. “It’s not for the city to put all of the residents on record,” Mr. Calaycay declared.

Mr. Pedroza began the bending and stretching by proposing a motion to “authorize” the mayor to sign the petition should he wish to do so now or in the future. The final twist came after the motion was approved, with Mr. Nasiali and Mr. Calaycay voting no, and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said that, “under the government code” and with the mayor “unavailable or [refusing] for any reason to carry out your authorization,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Lyon could “step into his shoes” and sign the petition.

Even residents in favor of the petition, like Claudia Strauss who “take[s] heart in the fact that a majority of the council and the audience came forward in support” of it, were perplexed. “I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea that the mayor pro tem can step in,” she admitted. “I won’t go against legal counsel, but this is education for all of us.”

For sure.


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