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Viewpoint: Council’s Larkin Place vote is disingenuous

by Joe Lyons

Once again at its June 28 meeting, a decision was rendered by a majority of our city council that embodies preservation of the status quo over the legal and moral obligation to house the unhoused.

Following the typically boisterous public “debate” leading up to one of this council’s signature moments, it held its sequel in the form of a “dusk to dawn” meeting of the kind that disclosed the character and integrity of each councilmember during their hours of public deliberations on what is the most human of dilemmas: what to do with unhoused human beings who were left alone and unsheltered too long.

Under the guise of discussing the merits of providing an easement that would dramatically improve the design features of the permanent supportive housing project at Larkin Place, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Reece, councilmembers Corey Calaycay and Sal Medina defined the character and integrity of their “no” vote by aligning it with the project opponents’ demeaning depictions of the future residents of Larkin Place, a derelict and land grabbing developer, and the old standby, a way of registering their personal discontent with the state’s new “by right” housing laws.

And however compelling and conscience assuaging in the moment, all three failed to establish a concordance between their repeated claims of concern for the mental and physical health of the unhoused and their personal commitment to shelter them in Claremont, all the while passing judgement on the Larkin Place project in a way that reflects neither.

That said, of the many noteworthy moments during the meeting — intense proceedings that have become the signature Claremont way of (not) addressing the shortage of affordable housing and housing the unhoused — I had a moment of clarity caused by the angst I experienced upon hearing Reece’s veracity challenging assertion of being a champion of affordable housing.
The audacity of Reece’s public self-promotion is matched only by the hyperbolic route his reasoning must have taken for him to even consider making such a claim in public.

Like its predecessors, this council’s record on both affordable housing and sheltering the unhoused can only be measured in opportunities repeatedly lost to concessions made to market forces, minority opinions that embody exclusionary biases and cultural norms, and fears that disturbing the status quo will bring an end to Claremont as we know it.

For anyone to assume that status, without having earned it, is an insult cast by claiming a false equivalency with the only person on our council — Mayor Jed Leano — who has earned such a designation as champion, and with it the admiration and respect that follows from his extraordinary efforts and accomplishments.

The linked emergencies of insufficient affordable housing and the number of unhoused individuals and families are, and must remain, contentious, as long as minority held public opinions are supported by vote after vote from the dais. This is especially true when most residents consider it a moral imperative to act on an issue as compelling as housing the unhoused. This same majority has every right to expect that the council will consider the moral imperative to act when making any decision, especially those that align a moral imperative to the body of policies that define who we are and what we aspire to become as a community.

And finally, it was my understanding and practice after taking the oath of office to serve this community as a councilmember that I assumed an obligation to “well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I [was] about to enter.” For me that meant respecting the guidance and collective wisdom of our city’s governance policies, practices, and public engagement processes that serve the mission and achieve the vision of the community we are proud to call our home.

One of those sources of policy visioning is our 2006 City of Claremont General Plan and its housing element – a recommended read for every citizen of Claremont, and a required read for anyone elected to, or aspiring to serve on, our city council.

Joe Lyons is a Claremont resident and a former city councilmember

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