Claremont Insider: Mailbag

Wednesday, November 21, 2007



Monday's post on Claremont's Base Line Rd. affordable housing project generated more than a few reader emails.

One reader wrote in to express concern that the project might face difficulties securing financing:

Another issue that might arise regarding the project on Baseline is financing. If I were a financing institution asked to loan money for the project and I knew of the environmental concerns, I would run, not walk away.
Of course, the financing woes would not be limited to private lenders. As with most of its large projects, the city is relying on public grant money to defray the costs. But those public grants are competitive, so Claremont's grant application for the Base Line Project must compete with other cities whose needs are equally great.

If a project generates controversy or if it has problems with it's environmental impact report (EIR), as the Base Line Project does, it's much less likely that a grant agency will award money to the grant applicant. Why should they give money to problem projects when there are plenty of non-problematic proposals floating around. That's why Claremont's Padua Sports Park was denied $3.2 million in state grants and why it remains underfunded.

Successful grant applications demonstrate complete community buy-in, something that is prevented by the hubris of the Claremont 400, whose arrogance precludes them from involving entire segments of the community. The 400 believe that only they have a right to decide how city projects should be shaped, and it has cost them plenty in much-needed grant money in the recent past.

Until the geniuses in the Claremont 400 learn to stop trying to manipulate events and allow all citizens to have a voice in projects that affect their neighborhoods, this same contentiousness will occur again and again. The trick they've not mastered is to allow anyone who expresses an interest to become an equal stakeholder.

Jamming unpopular and problematic projects down citizens' throats only gets you so far. At some point, you have to ask for outside funding, and you'll go begging if you haven't played it fairly and honestly, as Claremont has discovered, again and again.


Another reader wrote in on the same subject:

Hi Insider,

Your article re: the possible lung damage to the children who'll live in the proposed affordable housing I think misses a far greater concern: the children of Claremont already living within 500 yards of the 210 and 10 freeways. If there is indeed lung damage from long-term exposure to the traffic fumes, I worry more about the families living within that corridor who are in long-term residence in homes, many bought long before the 210 freeway was built. Granted, it will not be beneficial for the children living in the affordable housing units, but the majority of these families will be (relatively) short-term renters and residents compared to the families who own homes worth several hundred thousand dollars, yet are subject to the same foul air you decry for the affordable housing residents...only their children may well live in this unhealthy environment for five, ten, 15 or 20 years. And if the air is unhealthy for children, I am sure it is also unhealthy for the elderly, some of whom bought homes 30 or 40 years ago that are now within 500 yards of the 210. As for suggestions, I don't have any.

People all over LA live with smog. Is it good? No. But is it reason to stop this development? There is housing (both apartments and single family homes) within 500 yards of every freeway in LA. I'm neither a supporter nor an attacker of the affordable housing units (I live well away from the area) but it seems to me that raising the spectre of air quality and lung damage to the children of residents as a main reason against the building is slightly disingenuous.

That aside, I do appreciate the various issues that the Insider covers which the Courier doesn't seem to anymore.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 500 yards was a typo. The USC Medical School report cited a 500-foot distance. When we realized our error, we corrected this. The reader is correct that some (certainly not all or even most) children Claremont live within 500 feet of the 10 and 210 Freeways.

A couple points. The study, which took 10-years and hasn't really been disputed, noted that kids within that 500-ft area have a much higher risk of impaired lung development than kids in a wider, general area outside that margin. So we can't really say that all kids in Claremont face the same level of health risk as kids in the wider area.

And, consider the argument that since kids have lived within 500 feet of freeways in Claremont for a long time, we should continue to build those sorts of housing developments. Isn't that a bit like arguing that because people have been smoking cigarettes for years with only an occasional risk of cancer, we should encourage people to continue cigarette smoking?

Also, the existing homes within 500 feet of the freeways in town were built by private developers without the use of public funding. Doesn't a public entity have a greater moral duty than a private entity when new health information comes to light?

Remember, it's not like there aren't alternatives to the project. The site is still suitable for things like a police station, which Claremont needs (the employees who would work there would not be living in building and have lungs that are already developed). The city's EIR for the Base Line Project also mentioned two other smaller sites the city owns that could be used and which don't present the same problems as the current site.

Our argument in Monday's post was primarily about the possibility of future liability that the city could incur as result of ignoring their EIR. Remember, the document was commissioned by the city, and represents the work of a city contractor.

The EIR puts the city on legal notice of a problem. A waiver signed by a parent does not absolve the city of the responsibility it would bear for mitigation (which is not possible unless the city is going to enclose the project in glass). Nor can a parent sign away a child's right to seek compensation for damages from gross negligence. We can build it, but we cannot bar a child who grows up in the complex and who reaches the age of majority (18), from suing the city if the child discovers that he/she has chronic bronchitis or asthma or some other lung problem that could be attributed to being raised in close proximity to a freeway.

Again, the liability arises from the fact that the city knew beforehand that there was a risk of such problems but chose to ignore those risks despite the availability of alternatives to the project. And, if you think that 10 years is a long ways off and need not be a consideration, remember that the city's Vegetation Management Plan for the Claremont Wilderness Park was established in 1998, and nine years later the city paid $17.5 million to settle a suit that claimed that homes were lost in the Padua Fire because the city ignored its plan and its own expert recommendations for brush clearance.

Most of us want to see affordable housing built. The public interest is not in stopping the project but in having it built properly and in a way that does not cause problems, and the city, Mayor Peter Yao, and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Taylor and some of their supports insist on ignoring these issues.