Claremont Insider: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Transportation Friday

We've got more transportation news today, beginning with the Claremont Trolley, which began service yesterday. The free, trackless trolley will run three days per week, Thursdays through Saturdays, from 11am to 11pm and will now cost an estimated $1,290,596 for the three-year trial, up from the original estimate of $887,000. The city is estimating the trolley will average 15 riders per hour.

The trolley is being paid for with money Claremont receives from state transportation bond money, even though it has been described by city officials as an economic development project rather than as a transportation project (it supposedly encourages shoppers in different areas of the Claremont Village and Village Expansion).

The Daily Bulletin's Wes Woods II covered the trolley unveiling:

CLAREMONT - City officials and residents on Thursday celebrated the Claremont Village Trolley with a barbershop quartet, christening and free cake and punch.

"I think having a trolley will make the downtown attractive" to those who live outside Claremont, said resident Ping Chang, 42, who rode the trolley for the first time with her 4-year-old daughter, Tiffany.

For Community Services Director Scott Carrol, this is exactly what he believes will happen, as the trolley "promotes economic development in the Village," he said.

To welcome the start of the free trolley service on Thursday morning, Mayor Ellen Taylor spoke to city officials and residents at the Claremont Depot on First Street.

The event was the culmination of events that started with the City Council's approval in January of using transportation money to fund the new service for three years.

The Bulletin's David Allen also had a column on the trolley. Allen seemed skeptical of the project's success, and the column's headline is "Not All Aboard 'Trolley.'" Allen also managed to fit quotes from a current and a former Claremont mayor into the piece:

....Mayor Taylor is already a fan.

"It's very cute," Taylor said. "Very Claremont."

And also very Victoria Gardens, I told her.[SNOB ALERT - CI ed.]

"Do they have one?" Taylor asked. "I never go there."

The "trolley" was about to depart for its third trip. I climbed aboard. It has arched windows, wooden slat seats and straps for anyone who stands. But it also has tires and a bus driver.

A few passersby gave us curious looks. At Bonita and Yale, two women jumped up and down and took photos. Outside the Back Abbey pub on Oberlin, an employee watched quizzically before giving us a wave.

I rarely walk along First, so it was educational to learn the Peyton Grey clothing store is gone. With Chloe & Hunter, that's two recent closures in the Village Square. Oh, if only they could have hung on until the "trolley" started!

Moments later the vehicle was back at the depot, disgorging a columnist. I say, disgorging a columnist.

Former mayor Karen Rosenthal, who rode the faux trolley earlier, was lingering.

"I don't know who's going to ride it," Rosenthal admitted. "Maybe if you park in the Metrolink lot. But if you park in the Village, you could walk three blocks to the trolley, or you could walk three blocks to where you want to be.

"The ones who'll ride it," she added conspiratorially, "are the people who really need to be walking."

Queen Ellen (left) also received a mention in LA Times writer Steve Hymon's Bottleneck Blog. Hymon caught Taylor's opinion piece against LA County's Measure R, the proposed half-cent sales tax increase that would fund transportation projects. Hymon spoke with Her Highness:
I also spoke to Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor earlier today. She recently wrote a scathing opinion piece against Measure R that ran in the papers in the San Gabriel Valley. She doesn't believe the Gold Line Foothill Extension receives enough funds in the spending plan to get it to Claremont and Montclair -- the plan guarantees it $735 million -- and, equally important, she doesn't believe the money that the Gold Line is promised would arrive in any kind of timely fashion.

I posed this traffic question to her: What's it like in the Valley these days? Her answer:
It's miserable. I’ve lived in Claremont for 30 years and traffic has gotten much worse -- to the point that we don’t go into L.A. anymore. That’s not good for me. I like a full life where you experience stuff. We’ll go to a concert on Sunday afternoon [in Los Angeles] rather than Saturday night because it’s easier to get in and out...

We’re like the bologna in the bread here. And they keep building. You take the 210 east and all you see is roofs and they’re building them without building the infrastructure.
That's a fascinating quote. Why? In early 2007, Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote a piece about how bad Westside traffic is, with quotes from one resident saying they too no longer tried to attend cultural events in downtown L.A. (The Lopez column led to the creation of the Bottleneck Blog). Taylor is essentially saying the same thing, but from the other side of Los Angeles County.



Thursday, October 30, 2008

Measure R Goes to the Voters

LA Times transportation writer and blogger Steve Hymon has an article describing Measure R, the LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority's half-cent county sales tax increase ballot measure. The measure is on next Tuesday's Los Angeles County ballot.

Measure R's potential revenue is supposed to fund traffic and transportation projects such as the so-called Subway-to-the-Sea on LA's westside. The measure has been opposed by some San Gabriel Valley groups and politicians who argue that the money generated would be not be evenly distributed and is unfairly LA-centric.

The article lays out the measure's supporters and opponents:

Who is for and against Measure R?

There is a healthy list of elected officials on both sides of the issue. Editorials among daily newspapers have varied -- The Times, the Daily News, the Daily Breeze and La Opinion are for Measure R and the Press-Telegram, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Antelope Valley Press are against, to name a few.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce support it.

Among prominent politicians, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) have been the most vocal proponents.

Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe and Gloria Molina have been fighting the measure, saying the MTA's spending plan favors the Westside and denies other parts of the county their fair share of sales tax revenues.

The MTA and Measure R supporters rebut that, pointing to a variety of projects that would be built in different parts of the county.

Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor recently had an opinion piece in the Claremont Courier that argued against the sales tax proposal. Taylor mentioned the MTA decision earlier this year to deny $80 million in MTA funds to the Gold Line Foothill Extension with the promise of Measure R funds. The trouble was that the the MTA's failure to fund the $80 million resulted in the Gold Line Extension being denied $320 million in federal funds for the project. The feds were requiring MTA to supply the $80 million as matching money.

Instead, MTA is dangling the prospect of $735 million from the Measure R honeypot for the Gold Line. However, there is no guarantee that LA Mayor Antonio Villarigosa, who is the primary force behind Measure R, won't raid the promised Gold Line funds to fund other projects in his city, including the westside subway. Taylor's article states that "the last time the MTA committed mass transit funds to the San Gabriel Valley was nearly 3 decades ago," so according to line of thinking, there is probably no reason to believe that the MTA would suddenly change 30 years of behavior once the election is over.

It is more than a little ironic, though, to see Taylor and the city of Claremont having to fight a much larger governmental entity. Karma's a bear to deal with, as Taylor may be learning by getting a little of the ol' Taylor treatment thrown back at her. There are always bigger fish in the local agency sea, and one would hope that Taylor and the city would remember the experience of being unfairly snubbed and ignored the next time a Claremont area resident comes before them with a objections to a city project or initiative.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Enforcer Returns to the Scene of the Crime

We received some inquires about our post from last Saturday. The image we posted with Indio Assistant City Manager Bridget Healy's retirement farewell note to that town's staff was indeed real. It was taken without alteration from page 1 of the Indio city staff newsletter for October, 2008.

As Healy's goodbye note indicated, she is returning to Claremont, and she apparently wants to run for the Claremont City Council next March, at least according to the October 22nd issue of the Claremont Courier (the article is not posted online).

When she formerly worked here, Healy, along with former Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard, was responsible for any number of scandals and missteps - the roundabout at Indian Hill Blvd. and Bonita Ave. that had to be removed after complaints and accidents piled up; the failed investment of over $5 million in the Orange County Investment Pool in the early 1990's; the handling of the Irvin Landrum shooting and lawsuit; the behind-the-scenes support of Preserve Claremont affair; and much, much more.

Now, like an arsonist who just can't resist returning to the scene of the crime, Healy is slinking back into town to add to the damage she inflicted in her last go around. This time, with the urging and support of people like former Police Commissioner and town busybody Helaine Goldwater, she intends to stick it to us as an elected official.

Goldwater, not content to have given us Ellen Taylor, wants to give us an even worse choice for council in Healy, who was the enforcer on Glenn Southard's Claremont and Indio staffs. Like Taylor, Healy presents a smiling public face; unlike Taylor, Healy is smart enough to keep her nastiness from public view.

You can bet, too, that Healy isn't done with Southard, as Saturday's post indicated. Expect the invisible presence of His Southardness to be performing His usual sleight-of-hand. You might, for instance, expect plenty of cost overruns on projects - He always loved to pay much more than expected for big ticket items, but those are costs that can easily be passed down to the taxpayers. Say, where do those cost overruns go, anyway?

So, the Healy-Southard axis will be back among us. Here it is in Healy's own words from her Indio farewell:

You all know that Glenn and I have worked together for over 20 years….27 years if you consider community and professional projects we worked on prior to working together in the same City Hall. Either way, we have seen, spoken to or emailed each other for about the last 7,482 days in a row. Constant communications with Glenn will be another old habit hard to break.

Healy was certainly right about old habits, so there was more than a little irony in what the Indio city staff had to say to Healy about the criminal life:
Bridget Healy, you are all done stapling the blue form to the red form and for that, we must offer our sincerest CONGRATULATIONS! It is an awesome accomplishment and we’re grateful for having had the chance to work with you!! We’re confident you will not turn to a life of crime after this, but will come back here if retirement is boring.

Claremont should be so lucky!

Click on Image to Enlarge

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

City News

For our 1,000th post, news of the mundane -

WILDERNESS PARK OPEN AGAIN

The Claremont Hills Wilderness Park is open again after being closed for a few days due to high fire danger. We also hear that work on the emergency remediation is underway to repair the damage done during the city's summer brush clearance.


CITY HALLOWEEN EVENT THIS FRIDAY

Claremont's annual Halloween Celebration will take place Friday in the Village. The city's website has the details:

Co-sponsored by the City of Claremont, Claremont Chamber Village Marketing Group and local businesses, everyone is invited to Claremont's Annual Halloween Celebration in the Claremont Village on Friday, October 31. There will be trick-or-treating, free games, and a lot of entertainment.

Over 50 Village businesses, marked with balloons and a special poster, will be handing out free goodies to trick-or-treaters from 3-5 p.m. Maps listing all participating locations will be available at the Claremont Depot (200 W. First St) and City Hall (207 Harvard Ave).

The Claremont Depot will have free games and entertainment, including a puppet show and a live animal show, as well as a children's costume contest from 4-7 p.m. Additional entertainment will be located at the Packing House, Village Square, and a variety of other locations. The entertainment will include live music, clowns, and a magician. At 5 p.m., a Dog Costume Contest will take place at TruCare Pet Boutique (346 Yale Ave).

For more information about the City of Claremont's Halloween Celebration, call (909) 399-5490.

TONIGHT'S CITY COUNCIL MEETING

The Claremont City Council meets tonight beginning with a special closed session at 5:15pm to discuss price and terms for the ground lease agreement for the Padua Theatre.

The Council will reconvene in its regular session at 6:30pm. Among the items on the agenda are:
  • The second readings and adoptions of:
    - The ordinance allowing dogs on the Thompson Creek trail.
    - The city leaf blower ordinance.
    - The solid waste collection fee hike.
    - The city public park smoking ordinance.

  • A staff report on the city's investment funds showing that in the quarter ending September 30th, the city's investments in certificate of deposits and the state's Local Agency Investment Fund declined by $3,544,846, from $24,106,427 to $20,561,581.

    The report also stated that the Claremont Redevelopment Agency's investments declined by $1,106,396, down from $3,286,039 at the end of July.

    The staff report states that the declines were "primarily as a result of the outflow of funds to maintain operations."

  • A business climate survey commissioned by the City and conducted by the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College. The survey reported:
    The Rose Institute of State and Local Government conducted a survey of local businesses in the City of Claremont during July and August of 2008. Interviews were conducted by telephone with a random sample of businesses in Claremont. Additional personal survey interviews were conducted by Rose Institute staff with the some of the top twenty sales tax generating businesses in the city. Relevant graphs describing selected questions accompany each section.

    Results from the survey indicate that businesses owners are not likely to provide strong support for a campaign to increase the transient occupancy tax in Claremont Survey results also show that gross receipts for local businesses have been relatively stable despite the general downturn in the broader economy. Most Claremont businesses are relatively small with less than ten employees but usually have a significant non-Claremont customer base. There are substantial differences between the types of businesses that are located in the Village and outside of it. The Village has a heavy concentration of retail clothing, gift retail, and restaurant business while non-Village business is generally professional offices, accommodations or other major businesses such as car dealerships, and grocery stores. Despite differences in categorization, Village and non-Village businesses responded similarly to a number of questions regarding the local business climate.
    What was that about a hike in the transient occupancy tax? And, it's difficult to believe that there local businesses sales have remained relatively stable. All you have to do is see the number of businesses in the Packing House and the Village Expansion and elsewhere in the Claremont Village that have closed in the past year. Or consider the drop-off in auto sales at Claremont Toyota.

    The survey also said that 75% of the respondents believed that it was the business owner's responsibility to market their business - not the City or the Chamber of Commerce. A similar number also said that it was the job of business owners to pay for that marketing, all of which should make warm the hearts of the City Council and the Chamber, since it takes them off the hook for marketing the Village.

  • A resolution supporting a 75,000-seat NFL football stadium in the City of Industry near the junction of the 60 and 57 Freeways, because traffic at that interchange isn't bad enough already.

  • Consideration of a mitigated negative declaration and the lease agreement for the Padua Hills Theatre. Staff recommends taking public comment and continuing the matter until the Council's next meeting in November.

  • Review and adoption of the Claremont's proposed Sustainable City Plan.

  • Review of the city's Housing Element Land Inventory Sites. The infamous Base Line Rd. affordable housing site gets a special mention. According to the staff report by Claremont Director of Community Development Tony Witt:
    The Planning Commission reviewed the draft Housing Element on October 7, 2008. The commission recommended on a 4-3 vote that the Base Line site be removed from the land inventory. The majority felt that the site was not suited for affordable residential development because of the negative air quality impacts of being next to the freeway and the fact that the site is not within close proximity to parks schools, public transportation or grocery stores.
    Yet, despite the Planning Commission's recommendation, Witt's staff recommendation is to include the Base Line site on the list of potential affordable housing locations. We suspect this is being done at the behest of Mayor Ellen Taylor, Claremont League of Women Voters president Barbara Musselman, and former Police Commissioner Helaine Goldwater, all of whom cannot stop themselves from meddling unnecessarily in this affordable housing issue. They've got it in their little heads that there is only one way to accomplish meet the state affordable housing goals -their way, which means putting it on the Base Line Rd. site, come hell or high water.

Goldwater, who is responsible for giving Ellen Taylor, isn't through with her machinations (hint: municipal election time is nearing). More on that in a future report.

Passings

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that former Claremont Mayor Enid Hart Douglass passed away in Sunnyvale on October 17th. Douglass graduated from Pomona College in 1948 and later at CGU became a pioneer in the field of oral history.

Douglass helped found Claremont Heritage, served on the Claremont Planning Commission beginning in 1978, and was elected to the Claremont City Council in the 1980s. The Times obituary said, in part:

When she entered Pomona College in 1944, "there were about 32 men on campus" because of World War II, she said in a 2002 oral history. One veteran who returned to the school after the war was her future husband, Malcolm Paul Douglass.

They married soon after she graduated in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in government.

After he earned a doctorate in education from Stanford University, they moved to Claremont in 1954 so he could teach at what is now known as Claremont Graduate University.

"Between child two and three," as she phrased it in the oral history, Douglass earned her master's degree in history in 1959 from the university. She wrote her master's thesis on the Claremont Planning Commission.

"When you think of Enid, you think Claremont," said Ginger Elliott, executive director of Claremont Heritage. "She was an example of the kind of people who make the town special to us, an academic who gave a lot to the community and who worked hard for projects that were really worthwhile."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October is a Scary Month

From the Indio city newsletter, Indio Insights, Bridget Healy's farewell address. You will recall that she is returning to Claremont to run for city council. She gives away the game, though, with her comments about Glenn Southard. Can there be any doubt who will be--or is--pulling the strings?

click on image to enlarge

Friday, October 24, 2008

78,000 Pounds of Frozen Chickens Dumped in Claremont

This was on the Daily Bulletin Breaking News website this morning. Only minor injuries to humans. Not sure how long the link will stay alive, but the best part is the headline and the nut graff:

Semi hauling 78,000 pounds of chicken
overturns in Claremont,

Sig Alert issued



A tractor trailer loaded with 78,000 pounds of frozen chicken overturned on the 210 Freeway this morning, blocking one lane and prompting a Sig Alert.

The semi collided with a car on the westbound 210 east of Indian Hill Boulevard at 2:28 a.m., said California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos.

Don't put those barbeques away yet.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Xavier Alvarez in Court Again


This time it was only briefly, to have his arraignment delayed until December 4th.

Yesterday's Daily Bulletin, in its Crime and Public Safety newsbriefs section, reported on the delay:

"Alvarez, 50, stared ahead with his hands folded in front Tuesday morning at Pomona Superior Court. Alvarez ws charged Sept. 19 with misappropriating public money, insurance fraud, and grand theft of personal property. Alvarez--who represents south Pomona on the water board and was elected in 2006--reportedly placed his ex-wife, Juanita Ruiz, on his insurance from Jan. 24 to Oct. 31, 2007."

Last week, according to an October 15 story, Alvarez had taken a "tough guy" approach with Will Bigham of the Bulletin: "When asked by a reporter whether he intended to plead not guilty at his arraignment next week, Alvarez said: 'Why don't you go on the court date and find out?' "

For those just joining this story, Xavier Alvarez is the local Three Valleys Municipal Water District director who was fined and sentenced in July of this year under the Stolen Valor Act for claiming that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He hadn't.

The DA Public Integrity Section had been on this insurance business which arose in the course of the scrutiny Alvarez received for his medal claims.

(We have covered the mustachioed malingerer many times over the past year, for example here for an early one, and here for a search of this blog for posts relating to Xavier.)

We have already commented on Alvarez's bio on the Three Valleys website. It was substantially downsized last summer and we think that is unfair. We think, since Three Valleys sees fit to disclaim the information presented in the biographies anyway, that the directors should be allowed to put up anything they want. We would like to see this one for Alvarez:

parody alert for the humor-challenged

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bridget Healy, Carpetbagger

So, the wind from Indio not only blows hot and hard, it blows ill. The stories on the ether turn out to be true. Bridget Healy, Assistant City Manager to Glenn Southard in Indio plans not only to return to Claremont in December but to run for City Council in the March election. Shades of the Reconstruction-era cartoon by Thomas Nast, above. Maybe that's the plan for Claremont: Reconstruction.

This is a piece of news that parodies itself.

Though she was a mid-level staffer when Glenn Southard arrived in Claremont twenty years ago, she became identified with him, joined at the hip as it were, through the years she was his "Hammer" or Assistant City Manager here. So close they were that she even preceded him to Indio by two weeks in 2005 while he took care of the unfinished business of getting the compliant Claremont city council to fix up the top city employees' pension arrangements with the International City Management Association. As we recall, Bridget even presented the first agenda report on this subject that was shot down by council two months before, in February. (This was in the time, some may recall, when Southard had gotten into a profane shouting match with councilmember Jackie McHenry, and pulled that February item in a huff when councilmembers Yao and McHenry started asking questions.)

Can anyone think of anything Bridget Healy has done for this community, good, bad, or indifferent, in the past three years?

Somehow the Powers That Be must think that Claremont is governed best when it is guided by former City staffers such as Bridget Healy and Sharon Hightower, an "inside" person and an "outside" person if the plans work out.

It would be just like the old days in a warped sort of way: instead of approving the agenda reports beforehand, which was Bridget's former job, she wants to approve them afterward as a member of city council.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kon-Tiki

The compelling subject of traffic median islands came up last week. Drive through Claremont on Foothill Boulevard and the trafficy-ness is relieved by these accomodations to the natural world, with large eucalyptus trees growing from the grassy greensward. The Claremont Courier, in an obituary on October 15 of the estimable former Claremont Mayor (1968-1970) Marjorie Spear, cited her as the mother, if you will, of the Foothill medians: "Ms. Spear's daughter, Kimberly McIntyre, recalls that her mother played in instrumental role in the installation of the median strip on Foothill Boulevard, where many trees grow. 'She always felt that she was responsible for that,' Ms. McIntyre commented. 'That's the one that sticks out.' "

Ms. Spear might have been a little surprised at the stubby islands that rose from the asphalt in the recent re-paving of Baseline. It seems that there are only a half dozen or so small mounds plunked down in the two-mile stretch between Monte Vista/Padua and Towne. They seem to have been downsized in all dimensions, sitting awkwardly well inside the double-yellow lines defining the left lanes. If City Manager Jeff Parker spent all the money he received from CalTrans to repave and landscape the road, then too bad he didn't negotiate for more to do the job right. If he actually received enough from CalTrans to do a complete job, and diverted some of it to other projects in the City, then his legacy, if any, will not stand up to that of Ms. Spear.

It has been noted that these blobs of islands don't even contain what is referred to in the traffic biz as the "finger", that long skinny extension of the median alongside the left-turn pockets. (See image, above left) Please, Mr. Parker, give us the finger.

* * *

The spirit of adventure, though, does live on in Claremont and a local group of intrepid explorers wondered if it would actually be possible to travel the great distance from one island to the next across the vast expanse of Baseline Road. Taking their cue from Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 voyage in the balsa raft Kon-Tiki (showing the possibility that the Polynesian cultures could have emigrated from South America), these Claremont explorers undertook the dangerous trip from one Baseline island to the next, just to show it could, in principle, be done.

We have pictures and a portion of their log from the trip:

August 28, 2008: Set out with some trepidation but confident our preparations would lead us to a successful conclusion of our voyage. Scanning the route ahead, we see no sign of our destination.

September 1, 2008. A new month, and laundry day: Our hearty crew is happily at work making fast the lines and setting the sheets.

September 8, 2008. The doldrums take their toll on the men. Will this voyage never end?

September 17, 2008. The vast expanse of Baseline now seems utterly boundless to us. Murmers below.

September 23, 2008. The watch imagined that he espied land. When the haze lifted we were yet alone. Time will play its tricks.

September 28, 2008. One month out. Celebrated our good health with the last of our grog. Eastward ever! But the wind is gone.

October 11, 2008. After two weeks, the wind again freshens. From the top of the mizzen we are nearly certain the island is in view on the horizon.

October 14, 2008. Land ho!, on the forty-eighth day. The undemonstrative inhabitants gather on the beach.

October 15, 2008. We make safe harbor in the lee of the point, avoiding the dangerous rocks, and having proven the practicability of reaching one island from another. We eagerly anticipate our intercourse with the native inhabitants of this land.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Limits

With the the economy tanking, the stock and housing markets plummeting, and a credit freeze just beginning to thaw, you'd think that there'd be some serious talk at Claremont's City Hall about what contingencies need to be in place for the inevitable hits the city budget is going to take. But don't hold your breath.

This past week, the credit markets loosened up enough for California to sell $5 billion worth of short-term revenue anticipation notes that allow the state to bridge the gap between now and the beginning of 2009, when tax revenue starts rolling in.

The news for California and local governments like Claremont isn't especially rosy, however. And, as the LA Times noted on its front page today, the potential damage will likely be widespread:

Some of the most dire problems are emerging in states such as California and Florida, where the housing collapse has been the most pronounced.

California lawmakers, who faced a $15.2-billion deficit going into the fiscal year, argued over the budget for months. In the final draft, state services took a big hit: Medi-Cal was temporarily cut by 10%, and the education budget was set at $3 billion less than last year.

The bad news continues to mount. Last month, the state's revenue fell about $1 billion short of projections. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders have been meeting weekly to discuss the problem and are considering calling lawmakers to a special session. In Florida, lawmakers faced a similar challenge as they wrote their yearly budget. The plan they devised was nearly $6 billion smaller than the year before. It resulted in 200 net job losses, tuition increases, cuts to nursing homes and the shuttering of 13 driver licensing offices.

Now the Legislature is scrambling to patch a new $795-million gap. Lawmakers may face yet another multibillion-dollar shortfall when they sit down to craft a budget for the fiscal year starting in 2009. Declining revenue is just part of the problem in Florida: Education costs are soaring because of the passage of a 2002 class-size-reduction ballot initiative, and rising enrollment and healthcare costs are bloating the Medicaid program.

Budget woes engulfed more than 40 states beginning in 2001, a result of the dot-com crash. At the time, economists said it was the biggest fiscal crisis for states since World War II.

"If you look at some of the basics of the economy -- unemployment, the stock market decline, the decline in consumer spending -- there is some reason to fear this crisis will be worse," said Nicholas Johnson, an analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Local governments, in particular, may get hammered harder this time around. In 2001, Johnson said, cities and municipalities, flush with cash from high property tax rolls, were able to pick up the cost of services that states had abandoned. But that will be more difficult now because declining home values have dragged down property tax revenues.

Yet, despite the obvious looming budgetary problems, no one in Claremont is talking, at least publicly, about the hard decisions that we may have to make. Rather than having an open, public discussion of our fiscal realities, the powers-that-be in town are carrying on as if the party's still in full-swing on the one hand, and on the other they sneak in things like trash collection rate increases based on false and misleading information.

The City took steps earlier this year to try to address reduced sales and property tax revenue by instituting across the board spending reductions and putting a hiring freeze in place. But we suspect that no one anticipated things like a nationwide 32% decline in Toyota auto sales - something that has dire implications for a city like Claremont which gets over 50% of its sales tax money from Roger Hogan's Claremont Toyota.

In trying to cement what she considers her legacy, Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor has placed a lot of costly projects on the city's plate - an affordable housing project, Padua Park, a new police station, to name a few - but her real legacy may be committing the city politically and fiscally to things that will push the city's budget far into the red.

We like to believe in a limitless future, but that simply does not square with today's reality. We hope our city's leaders have the vision to understand that reality.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Claremont Happenings

DAILY BULLETIN BLOGS CLAREMONT

The Daily Bulletin as a relatively new blog by Claremont beat reporter Wes Woods II. It's called Claremont Now and has a lot of community events listed, as well as bits of other local news.

A couple events Woods has listed:

  • Tuesday, October 21st, 7pm - Neighborhood Meeting

  • City Council Neighborhood Forum -Padua Hills Theatre
    4467 Via Padova
    Claremont
    (909) 399-5460

    Council Members are also hosting a series of Neighborhood Forums. Neighborhood Forums give residents from different neighborhoods the opportunity to talk with City Council Members in a relaxed and informal setting. Neighborhoods can discuss issues that are important to them, air concerns, share ideas, ask questions and get the latest information about topics and projects that are specific to each neighborhood. Although forums are scheduled for specific neighborhoods, you do not have to live in that immediate area to attend.

  • Wednesday, October 22nd, 3:30pm - Padua Park Dedication

    Groundbreaking for Padua Park, located on Padua Ave. a half-mile south of Mt. Baldy Rd. Woods writes, "comfortable shoes and clothing are recommended." Given all the BS and hyperbole the City has employed in justifying spending down the General Fund Reserve and effectively defrauding the state of California out of $850,000 to build the park, you just might want to bring your waders.

  • Tuesday, October 28th, 7:30pm - Community Talk

    Woods writes that two local residents who lost their home in the 2003 Padua Fire will be giving a talk about the experience of rebuilding their home:
    Debbie and Vern Jahnke, as part of the Mt. Baldy Group/Sierra Club meeting, will discuss their rebuild at 7:30 p.m. inside the Olin Bldg. at the college, 301 Platt Blvd.

    The cost is free.

    Information: (909) 621-7148.

    The Jahnkes' new house was featured in an LA Times article last year.

Speaking of home and the loss of home, we were reminded of another post we had last year when we in one of those windbaggy, waxing-poetic moments.


NO, REALLY, BRING YOUR WADERS

The City of Claremont's website informs us that tomorrow, October 18th, the city will have another of its' free mulch events going, beginning at 6am:
Claremont residents are invited to help close the recycling loop by participating in the Free Mulch Program. The City's tree maintenance contractor uses trimmings from City trees to create mulch, taking a wonderful community asset and making a sustainable product. Mulch helps not only to conserve water, but to limit the amount of waste produced in the community. The next event will be held this Saturday, October 18, 2008, at the Wilderness Park Overflow Parking Lot located at the corner of Mills Avenue and Mt. Baldy Road. Mulch will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 6 a.m. Please be sure to bring any equipment necessary to load and transport mulch.

If you would like more information about the program, please contact the City's Community Services Department at (909) 399-5431.

VILLAGE VENTURE

The annual Village Venture is set for Saturday, October 25th. The Claremont Chamber of Commerce has all the info:
Saturday October 25th 2008, 9am to 5pm

One day show - rain or shine.

Over 450 booths fill the tree-lined streets of Claremont Village. Over 25,000 visitors attended in 2007! Check out the Gabriel Fenoy's 2007 Village Venture photographs from the Claremont Courier here!

Children's Halloween Parade begins at 9:30 am. Participants are invited yo assemble at the corner of Harvard and Bonita Avenues at 9:15am.

The Great Pumpkin Contest will once again be located in Shelton Park, northeast corner of Harvard and Bonita. This area is also Kid's Korner which is filled with games and activities. Application forms coming here soon!

Parking:

Parking Structure First Street, west of Indian Hill Blvd

Metrolink Parking, First Street

FREE SHUTTLE service from:-

The Claremont Colleges Facilities Services parking lot on east First Street at Mills, every 5 minutes.

St. Ambrose Episcopal Church parking lot Bonita Avenue, east of Towne, every 10 minutes.

Youth Activity Center at Indian Hill Blvd at Scripps Drive, every 10 minutes.

Call 909-624-1681 or e-mail contact(at)claremontchamber.org with any questions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

$35 Million Water Rate Increase

They come around with the predictability of eclipses or the tides or the change of seasons. They are applications by the Golden State Water Company to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for another RATE INCREASE. Since the water company is a regulated utility, all rate increases must be approved by the PUC.

Last month the water company sent yellow notices to all of its customers advising of yet one more bite at the rate-payers' apple:

NOTIFICATION OF APPLICATION FILING BY GOLDEN STATE WATER COMPANY FOR A RATE INCREASE
REGION III SERVICE AREA
REQUEST FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS
APPLICATION NO. 08-07-010

Down in the fifth paragraph, the water company advises us that the total request for Region III, which includes Claremont, is for $35,414,600, with the bulk of it, $30,035,900 coming as a 33% increase in 2010!

Why Is This Man Smiling?


This breathtaking increase request is quite in keeping with the modus operandi of Golden State in initially asking the PUC for the moon and then settling for a few scattered comets, asteroids, and pieces of space junk. Over the years, Golden State comes in with a highball request, the wheels of the PUC grind exceedingly slow and fine, and the Commission ultimately approves an increase in the neighborhood of half what was initially requested--still, gobs and gobs of money. Enough to keep President and CEO Floyd E. Wicks in those nice suits for a long time (see photo, right).

This year the Claremont City Council approved $30,000 to pay lawyers at Best, Best and Krieger to represent the City as a participant in the rate increase application process. This process is a highly choreographed procedural minuet, and becoming a "participant" is the only way effectively to have a voice. [Reading the staff report referenced just above authored by that Candide of Claremont, Scott Carroll, would make a reader believe that the City's vaunted participation and protest single-handedly brought Golden State's water hikes to rein. The City participation was important, as it is a formal way to participate, but even in 1996, when the City was not a participant, the 56% increase request was slashed to 12%. As we recall--we could be wrong--the big deal that year was not the rate per se, but getting approval of a new rate structure with separate "meter" (fixed hookup charges), and "commodity" (water usage) rates. Anyway, post hoc ergo propter hoc, Scott.]

All of which makes us wonder, whatever became of the fanciful idea of the City purchasing the water company? We haven't heard about it for a long, long time, and it is a remnant from the bad old days of Glenn Southard, giving you some idea of how long it has been floating around. Did the City come face to face with financial reality on this idea? This is how the world ends, not with a whim but with a banker.

More on all of this as it unfolds in the community. For now, in case you lost yours, here is the notice sent last month--or perhaps it was August--by Golden State Water (click on images to enlarge:

(If links below appear broken, try again later. The PUC appears not to have paid its electric bill.)
(Links seem to be working again. Guess Arnie sold those short-term bonds)

Also, if you are really a glutton for punishment of the worst sort, here is a link to the California Public Utilities Commission file on the July 1, 2008 Golden State Water Company rate increase.

The 70-page rate increase application is here.

The City's August 7 protest is here (4 pages).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sam He Is

What with all of the important stuff at Tuesday's City Council meeting: raising trash rates with abandon, killing the leaf blower ordinance [Gentlemen, start your engines], making Thompson Creek Trail safe for dogs, banning smokers from City Parks, and making the first $100,000 payment on Community Services Director Scott Carroll's goof-up in bulldozing the Wilderness Park...what with all of this, what do we here at the Insider turn to? Ourselves, naturally, as anyone would.

We got a bit of mention during public comment when a Claremont citizen took it upon himself to lambaste the City Attorney for violating our free speech rights a year ago. Maybe it was a one-year anniversary thing, since the City Attorney's letter-writing campaign came to light in October of last year. This delayed-fuse google-bomb surprised City Attorney Sonia Carvalho. So much so that she burst into tears in apologizing for her letter to Google demanding that we be "terminated".

Just kidding; she really didn't cry. But we had one of those photo-caption contests here at Insider Central, and that caption won. In truth, not much was said.

* * *

This Insider reference and the one we now take up formed nice airy bookends to the substance of the meeting. At meeting's end Sam Pedroza gave a report about his excellent trip to a League of Cities symposium on Blogs.

Since he doesn't like to be filtered by the "local negative blog" (us) we present his report here, in full, in his own words, with the very least editorial comment we could possibly restrain ourselves to make.

Sam on Blogs, 2:24 video clip

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hot Air Blowing in from Indio

DESERT CITY NEWS

Bridget Healy, long-time Assistant City Manager in Claremont, who followed Glenn Southard to Indio, has announced to staff in Indio, and Indio's council has been informed that she plans to retire in two months, on December 17th.

She was recently spotted by the Indio Desert Sun newspaper purchasing the first bag of popcorn at a new SuperTarget store in that desert land of the Open Spaces and Big Boxes. Referring to the Coachella Valley SuperTarget, she was quoted, "It's awesome, and the popcorn is great."

Bridget has maintained a pied-a-terre here in Claremont since decamping to Indio in 2005. Her name has appeared since on supporter lists in several local political contests. She signed the Courier ads for the ill-fated "Parks and Pasture" assessment district measure of 2006. Last year, during the school board election, her Claremont digs sported a Hilary LaConte sign (don't blame us or accuse us of stalking, Google Streetview caught it). So, she's definitely a beautiful person.


We have the vague recollection, though, that she supported a losing candidate in the 2005 school board election, and until we research that one a bit more, we'll say no more.

We are reminded of a party we attended more than a year back in a town a hundred miles from Claremont. There we met a shirttail relative of "Bridget Distelrath"--this relative couldn't shake the name she went by for years. The story goes that at a family gathering a few months earlier, Bridget spoke of her desire to return to Claremont and "run for Mayor". We guess her heart is in the highlands of the Inland Empire and not in the below-sea-level lowlands of the Coachella Valley. Maybe it's too hot there.

If we were Jeff Parker or Tony Ramos, we would be worried about the return of someone with Bridget's knowledge of where the skeletons in City Hall are hidden, and with too much time on her hands.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We Meant a CPI Increase All Along

The City agenda report for trash rate increases was published on Friday. You may link to it here.

In this, the City Staff exceeds its own enviable standards of soaring and smug self-justification. These people are just plain without shame, no question about it. We don't know who is most responsible for this remarkable prose, but until we hear to the contrary, we guess we'll go with the person named under "Prepared by", Garbage Staffer Anna Sanchez. This woman seems to come from the same "We Can Never Do Wrong" writing school as City Planner Lisa Prasse, and is coached in the same sing-song condescending style of oral delivery (see our prior post, and look at part 1 of the entire July 22 staff report if you don't believe us). For goodness' sake, we know that our councilmembers aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, but do you have to talk to them like they were 7-year-olds?

Now, we don't propose to parse every sentence in the staff report. Let's take a look at paragraph 2 though:

"On July 22, 2008, staff presented council with two options to consider increasing multi-family and commercial refuse collection service fees and temporary rental container fees as well as include an annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase on all solid waste service fees..." [emphasis added]
Looky how the CPI increase has risen in importance in this summary. It takes about one third of the verbiage. Funny though, because in the entire 32 minute presentation that Anna Sanchez gave at the July 22, 2008 council meeting, she did not mention CPI even once. (Again, the entire video of the presentation is here.) The City Manager chimed into the colloquy, and he didn't mention it, either. Nor did our Mayor Ellen Taylor, who seems to have fallen into a bad habit of butting into any councilmember's or staffer's discussion, not to mention the time given to members of the public.

In the July 22, 2008 staff report on these increases
, the CPI increase was not even mentioned in the summary:
"Staff Recommendation: That the City Council choose Option A or B to increase multi-family, commercial, and temporary bin refuse collection services, approve amending a late fee penalty for delinquent payment or nonpayment of sanitation service charges, and set a public hearing on October 14, 2008 to review the proposed increases."
It wasn't until the middle of page four that the CPI was mentioned, and then it was clearly in the context of the options on multifamily and commercial rates:
"Staff reviewed the deficit in the sanitation operating fund during the budget workshop held on June 12, 2008, and during that presentation, [sic] presented two (2) options for council's consideration. Both options outlined below assume all fees will be increased by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in July of each year."
We have already covered how each of the options that follow this contain a table with the footnote, "Assumes a 2.5% CPI increase on all fees except Residential".

But now, after some persistent members of the community have raised questions, the CPI assumes pride of place as probably the main thrust of staff's rate increase proposal. From page 2 of the October 14, 2008 agenda report:
On July 22, 2008, staff presented two options for council to consider to remedy the impending deficit in the Sanitation Fund. Both options presented included a CPI increase applied to all fees on July 1 of each subsequent year. Using the CPI as a method of increasing rates on an annual basis will help prevent any future large increases to recover costs for service. One of the primary reasons why the Sanitation Fund is in its current state is because a mechanism to increase rates was not placed in the the original ordinance. To help mitigate any future disparities in revenues versus expenditures, the CPI mechanism was chosen. Although residential service revenues appear balanced today, without incremental rate increases based on CPI, as costs increase over time, the residential service revenues will not be able to recover costs for service and the Sanitation Fund will face another deficit.
We are really sorry to subject you, our readers, to this bland bureaucratic drivel. Let's be clear. The Sanitation Fund has a $2,000,000 SURPLUS. That is because the City has been overcharging us for years.

We'll bring this too-long and too-boring post to a merciful close by simply posting how staff proposes to re-address this issue. We especially like the self-justifying prose in the first paragraph:
"After the July 22 City Council meeting, there has been public concern about the CPI increase on residential rates. In the staff report and public notice, the CPI for all solid waste services, or Option A or B, was noted. However, the presentation and subsequent dialog of the City Council focused on the immediate increases proposed to the multi-family, commercial and bin rates."
When you have writing as poor as this example, which fuzzy and obscure writing is a product of fuzzy and obscure thinking, you can make a post hoc argument, as staff tries to do, that it means whatever staff wants it to mean.

We give up. They're gonna increase your residential rates and make it sound as if it's OK with you that they do so.

Click on image to enlarge

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Talkin' Trash Again

One nice thing about the City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 14: the trash controversies will be over. We hope.

If you need to catch up, our first post was here: Bait and Switch. This was followed by Claremont Trash News, and Yet More Mail.

You may recall that the Big Issue is the CPI increase buried in the two-page notice to residents. Everyone--and we mean everyone--who reads that notice fairly believes that they are reading a notice that is about an increase in (1) Commercial Sanitation Rates, (2) Multifamily Sanitation Rates, and (3) Bin Rental Rates. Readers are unanimous in believing it has nothing to do with an increase in residential rates--until someone points out the strained reading of the eye-glazing verbiage in the fourth paragraph, below the 5-point-type table:

"...In addition to the proposed rate increases listed in the above table, an annual increase to all solid waste service rates at the rate of inflation as determined by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is being proposed..."

Even then, because the context is Commercial and Multi-family rates (and bin rentals), and because those items were underlined in the previous paragraph, 99 people out of 100 say that the quoted sentence on CPI applies only to CPI increases on Commercial, Multi-family, and Bin rates. And remember, the key tables in the July 22 staff report (see our earlier post) specifically omitted residential rates from the CPI calculation.

The one person in 100 who doesn't agree with that, is the City staff, who seem to be digging in with the interpretation that they always intended to increase the residential rates.

However, a review of the tape of the July 22, 2008 council meeting shows that in a 32-minute presentation and discussion, no one--not Garbage Staffer Anna Sanchez, not Mayor Ellen Taylor, not City Manager Jeff Parker, not Councilmember Peter Yao, not Councilmember Corey Calaycay, and not Councilmember Linda Elderkin--said, thought aloud, or intimated, that the proposal before the Council included a CPI increase on residential rates. We have already discussed the paper staff report here with copies of the notice posted.

There are only three times in the 32-minute discussion where council even touches on the idea of a residential rate increase. See what you think after viewing this short video clip:



First, Ellen Taylor says there is no intent to increase residential trash fees, then Linda Elderkin confirms it in no uncertain terms. Finally, a lengthy discourse by Sam Pedroza is cut short by Peter Yao and Ellen Taylor who say the COLA (cost of living, another term meaning, loosely, Consumer Price Index) is attached to both Multi-family and Commercial rates. No mention of Residential, because the context is clearly increases in these two rates.

Lest you think the Insider took these out of context, the four YouTube links below give the entire discussion, cut into parts to comply with YouTube 10-minute length limitations.

part 1, 8 min 40 seconds



part 2, 8 min 15 seconds



part 3, 7 min 19 seconds



part 4, 9 min 28 seconds


TOMORROW--THE CITY STAFF REPORT

(YOUR WORRIES ARE JUST BEGINNING)


Friday, October 10, 2008

Yet More Mail

A reader commented on the Daily Bulletin's coverage of Claremont's residential trash collection rate hike, which a number of citizens believe is being implemented in an underhanded manner by the City and the City Council. The reader took issue with what he/she felt was uncritical thinking on the part of the Bulletin's reporter, Wes Woods II:

DATE: Thursday, October 9, 2008 12:47 PM
SUBJECT: DAILY BULLETIN ARTICLE ON TRASH FEES
TO: Claremont Buzz

I AM APPALLED THAT THE REPORTER FOR THE DAILY BULLETIN TOTALLY MISSED THE POINT ABOUT THE CITY INCREASE IN RESIDENTIAL RATES FOR TRASH. He (or perhaps his editors) mislead the public by saying that a part of the letter sent out by the city to 10,000 residents included a sentence that said residential fees WOULD be increased to the CPI every year. It is clear (and perhaps the only clear thing about the letter) to anyone who received that letter that the word RESIDENTIAL was never used in reference to residential fees. The reporter further says “The confusion appears to stem from the fact that in one portion of the notice that deals with a price hike to several classes of services, the single-family residential service is not mentioned”. TRUE, but then here is the obfuscation, “But in another portion, which discusses the application of a new Consumer Price Index fee, the notice states that single-family residential service is included”. NOT TRUE AT ALL. The reporter could have at least quoted the sentence from the city letter that city staff says refers to single-family residences “ In addition to the proposed rate increases listed in the above table (they are referring to a chart above showing increases in multi-family, commercial and bin rental fees) , an annual increase to all solid waste service rates at the rate of inflation as determined by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is being proposed”. In that way he could let the public objectively decide whether that sentence meant to include SFR in the proposed fee increases, but he chose not to do so. I guess it is a matter of what “is” is.

The reporter then goes on to say that “The city analyst”, and he means Anna Sanchez, “said the wording on the notice outlining a price increase for single-family residential pickups was spelled out, and there was no intention of deceiving residents”. Notice that he is not quoting her, merely paraphrasing so we do not know if she actually said that or not. But we do know that on the videotape of the July 22nd City Council meeting when this issue was discussed, Ms Sanchez, in her report to the council on this item, clearly stated that staff was not proposing to increase single-family residential rates (you can get a copy of the tape from the Claremont Public Library for free or view it at city hall by requesting it from the city clerk or buying a copy for $5 and see and hear her exact words on tape). So where is this reporter getting his information?

It is disappointing to see a new reporter get it so wrong so soon in his career, and I hope that your readers will write letters to the editor correcting this misrepresentation. At the very least , if they oppose this CPI increase, which will be in place FOREVER with no review by the council again, that they each write a letter of protest stating their name ,address parcel number (assessor’s id number on their property tax bill) and stating which rate increase they oppose( in this case single-family residential CPI increase in trash fees) and get it to the Claremont City Clerk on or before Oct 14th. If they want to be present at the public hearing which will be held at the regular City Council meeting on Oct 14th no earlier than 7pm (we do not yet know the agenda item it will be but they cannot hold a public hearing before 7pm so people should get there no later than 7pm), that would be great. We are appealing to the sense of fair play and doing the right thing that we hope the council will consider and not impose the CPI on single-family residential rates as we pay the highest rates out of 17 cities (16 pay less than we do)and we feel it was not properly or clearly noticed.

And thanks for your coverage of this and other important issues that don’t seem to get coverage in the media, or at least, in many cases, not competently reported upon

Thursday, October 9, 2008

CUSD Actions - A Reader's Take

We received an email in response to yesterday's post about Claremont Unified School District board member Steve Llanusa, whom one suspects will someday in the not-too-distant future be the target of a censure motion by his fellow school board members.

Here's our reader's comment:

DATE: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 5:52 PM
SUBJECT: SCHOOL BOARD CENSURE POLICY
TO:Claremont Buzz

DID ANYONE NOTICE THAT AT THE END OF THE CENSURE POLICY (aka GAG LAW) THAT THE OFFENDING MEMBER CAN AVOID CENSURE BY APOLOGIZING FOR HIS/HER ACTIONS, STATEMENTS,ETC. BUT THAT THE BOARD CAN STILL RETAIN THE RIGHT TO CENSURE HIM/HER? TALK ABOUT A DOUBLE BIND!! PRETTY SOON THEY WILL TELL LLANUSA THAT HE IS FORBIDDEN TO SPEAK TO ANY EMPLOYEE, THEN ANY PARENT THEN ANY STUDENT. HAVEN’T WE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE?

Well, yes, this has been played out before in Claremont's City Hall. If the people who run things here, especially the local school board, don't respect their own rules, why should they respect things like opposing viewpoints or free speech?

As always in our small town, past is prologue. (If you click on the link, notice how current Claremont League of Women Voters president Barbara Musselman inserted herself into that prior city brouhaha.)