Claremont Insider: League Maneuvers

Friday, January 11, 2008

League Maneuvers


As we noted in Wednesday's post, the Claremont City Council ended up certifying the environmental impact report (EIR) for the project. However, they only did so after two votes.

Councilmember Ellen Taylor made the first motion, which would have approved the EIR but which would also have removed from consideration any of the possible alternatives to the project. This was a power play on Taylor's part because if approved there would have been no chance of the project being moved.

Taylor's motion was defeated 3-2 (FOR: Taylor, Yao; AGAINST: Calaycay, Elderkin, Pedroza).

The second motion, which was approved 4-1 (with Calaycay dissenting), kept the alternatives available for future consideration.

Perusing the video for Tuesday night's council meeting, we counted a total of 32 people who spoke during the public comment on the project EIR. Of those, 22 were against the project and 10 for - more than a super-majority against putting the project on Base Line Rd.

What was more interesting than the numbers was the composition of the speakers. The people who spoke against the project were not members of Claremont's elite. They were average citizens. The proponents, on the other hand, were mostly all either connected to the Claremont League of Women Voters or they were city commissioners (or both). Among them were:

  • C. Freeman Allen (LWV member)
  • Bob Tener (Planning Commissioner, former Architectural Commissioner, City Council aspirant)
  • Gwen Carr (LWV member, Human Services Commission Chair)
  • Bob Gerecke (LWV member, Claremont Democratic Club President, spouse of Katie Gerecke, former LWV President)
  • Andy Winnick (Human Services Commissioner)
  • Mary Noonan (LWV member)
  • Sharon Hightower (LWV Member, former Planning Commission Chair, chair of the city's General Plan Advisory Committee)
  • Helaine Goldwater (LWV member, former Police Commission chair)

Looking at the above names really underscores the main problem with the process for approving these sorts of projects. If you are an average citizen you are really competing on an unequal playing field in trying to have a voice in the process. Your voice is really worth less than half of any of the people listed above. (Odd to see Mary Noonan throwing in with these folks, but such are the times we live in.)

The process is inherently unfair because there are no checks and balances. In these matters, the Claremont 400 and their representatives act as proponents, legislators, and judges. That is why people are compelled to challenge the city in court or in elections (RECALL!, as was shouted out more than once Tuesday night).

Moving the matter to court at least removes the city as final arbiter. Of course, litigation is never easy, but as the Palmer Canyon lawsuit showed, the city can be roundly defeated when the case is strong enough.


What's particularly odd about this case is the ignorance displayed by people like Winnick, Tener, Gerecke, Hightower, Goldwater, and the like. They've tried to take the main significant issue raised by the EIR - the fact that there will be unavoidable hazardous environmental impacts to children growing up on the Base Line site - and frame that as if it were an invalid argument raised by the project opponents.

This is, of course, a lie. The environmental concern about the site was NOT created by the people opposed to the Base Line project. The issue was raised by the city's EIR and by the USC Keck School of Medicine study that found children who lived within 500 feet of major highway had a much higher likelihood of impaired lung development.

When speakers like Mary Noonan get up and say that their children grew up next to the 10 Freeway and that their lungs are just fine, they think they're criticizing the project opponents. However, they are really taking on the USC Keck School work, which was a 10-year, peer-reviewed scientific study involving 11,000 children and published in the British medical journal The Lancet in February, 2007.

To someone watching from the outside, Noonan and the others sound every bit as ignorant as Flat Earthers in their remarks. We seriously doubt that Noonan or Winnick or Goldwater have spent 10 years, as the USC researchers did, compiling data on lung development in their children.

Yet, the League and Claremont 400 proponents of this project seem to be arguing that the USC study was part of a grand conspiracy of Base Line Project opponents to defeat their well-intentioned plan for affordable housing.

Imagine the cunning it took for the USC researchers to plan more than 10 years ago to set about to undermine the Claremont affordable housing project, to apply for grant money for their study, to gather research subjects, to devote 10 years of research time, resources and energy to their devious plan!

The ignorance of Winnick, et. al., extends to other arguments. For instance, they blur the distinction that the USC study made between living within 500 feet of major highway and merely living in the vicinity. To the study authors, there is a very significant difference. That is why some of the study's authors have weighed in on the subject.

And, Winnick and the like say that since we've built such developments in the past, we should continue to, which is really the same logic as saying that since we allowed certain kinds of auto exhaust systems in 1949, we shouldn't have catalytic converters.

The League also falsely argues that the timetable for building the affordable housing project makes the alternatives impossible. They claim that if we were to switch to one of the other possible sites it would take much longer than sticking to the current plan. This is nonsense and quite the opposite of the real situation.

In reality, if the city doesn't go to an alternative plan, one without the environmental concerns of the Base Line Rd. site, they will not qualify for the grants the city is counting on to build the project - that is, after any litigation on the matter has been hashed out. All you have to do is look at the Padua Park project to see where such stupidity leads. Seven years after a similar fight, after litigation finally ended, the park has no outside funding and the city is having to build the project in stages.

So, we have to ask, does the League really believe that changing to an alternative site would take seven years? Of course not! For one thing, an EIR would likely not be needed, and there would likely not be the opposition there is to the current plan. But the path-of-least-resistance strategy is lost on the clueless League, whose members seem to take an almost sadistic pleasure in hammering flawed projects down the throats of the public.

The League and friends also like the Andy Winnick tactic of disparaging members of the public who disagree with him. On Tuesday night, Winnick said he found the arguments opposed to the project (which by extension includes the arguments of the SCAQMD, the USC researchers, LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich's oiffce) reprehensible. What Winnick is really peeved about is that ANYONE would question his assumptions. There is no logic or reason at work here.


In the end, you can count on the League and the Claremont 400 will do as they always do: Turn on the opponents. They aren't just making bad arguments, the League says. They are EVIL.

In the 2006 Parks and Pastures Assessment District vote, they attacked opponents of the assessment saying that the claims of those people that they supported an alternative funding measure to buy Johnson's Pasture were false. The assessment proponents in essence called the opposition liars.

In that assessment campaign, the League, who just as they have done with the affordable housing issue, ran a large newspaper ad in support of the assessment. Further, the assessment proponents argued that the alternative, a bond measure, would never pass and that the assessment opponents would not work to help get a bond passed.

The reality was, after the assessment failed 44% to 56%, that a number of people who had opposed the assessment stepped up and worked with people they had formerly opposed and got a bond passed with a remarkable 72% of the vote in November, 2006. And many of the Claremont 400 people who had worked on the assessment - former mayors Diann Ring, Judy Wright, Al Leiga, Paul Held, and many others - were nowhere to be seen in the bond campaign.

So when the League and others claim that their affordable housing opponents are disingenuous in saying they support affordable housing at any other site but the current one, you have to take that with a grain of salt. There's the clear, recent example of Johnson's Pasture to show that people who've opposed one thing can turn around and work together to get an alternative accomplished.

If anything what that past example showed is the unreliability of the Claremont 400 when it comes to compromising and to working together with the larger community to achieve the consensus the League is always prattling on about.

This is where a community relies on its elected officials for guidance and leadership. The problem is that in the past the Claremont 400 has controlled all of the levers of power so that any compromise was impossible. Whether or not that control is as monolithic as in past years remains to be seen.

COMING UP: The Insider is at work on more video from Tuesday's meeting, including plenty of footage of a sour Andy Winnick so that you can see for yourself just how humorless and angry he can be.