Claremont Insider: Tonight's City Council

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tonight's City Council

The Claremont City Council meets tonight at 6:30pm in the council chambers at 225 W. 2nd St. in the Claremont Village. If you can't make the meeting but absolutely have to watch it, you can see the live streaming video here.

For a change, there's no special closed session tonight, just the regular public meeting. Here's the agenda.


The meeting kicks off with the introduction of two new Claremont police officers, Issac Reyes and Michael Snyder. Best of luck to CPD's latest additions.

The council will also recognize Jennifer Maglio, wife of former city council candidate Mike Maglio, for founding an organization for families with special needs children. Ms. Maglio's group is called "Thriving Families."

There are a number of items on the rest of the agenda, including the proposed inclusion of the city of Pasadena on the Foothill Transit Joint Powers Authority and the subdivision of a 3.16-acre parcel at 3232 Padua Ave. into three lots by a real estate investment group called Padua Estates, LLC.

The council will also consider helping Pilgrim Place qualify for something called TEFRA financing in the amount of $30 million. This is a tax-exempt financing mechanism available through the California Municipal Financing Authority (CMFA). The city staff report says there's no cost to the city and the CMFA debt, in the form of bonds, will be the sole responsibility of Pilgrim Place, according to the staff report.

You can review all of the agenda materials for tonight's meeting here (click on 2009, then find the link that says "09-04-14 Regular").

We pulled a couple of tonight's agenda items that caught our eye:


Claremont staff reports too often slide into maddening self-promotion as department managers spin PR gold out of the flimsiest informational straw. The annual Claremont Police Department report is no exception.

(Welcome to Claremont, Officers Reyes and Snyder, hope you brought your waders with you. You didn't know CPD stood for Clearly Piled Deep.)

This year's CPD annual report, like every such document we've seen, employs a couple bureaucratic tricks to put a nice shine on the CPD image. One thing the department did differently this year, because of increases in traffic accidents and property crimes, was to expand its annual comparison of data from a year-over-year basis to a 13-year period. This takes us all the way back to the last big recession of the early 1990's, when crime was much higher.

No real reason is given for the change in the report's time horizon. CPD Chief Paul Cooper no doubt found it better to go back far enough to bury the bad news that property crimes were up 10% in 2008 and accidents increased 9%.

So, CPD trots out the good news that although traffic collisions in 2008 increased by 9% over the previous year, "they are still below average for three, five, and ten year periods." Technically, though, the accident rate has probably has nothing to do with anything the police department has done. There's really little they can do to reduce traffic collisions, other than perhaps having the occasional DUI checkpoints. Most crashes happen randomly; that's why they're called accidents.

If anything, Claremont's 9% increase in collisions last year was anomalous. In the U.S., as a whole, the auto accident rate declined in 2008, mostly because people are driving less. This is partly because more people are out work, and also because of last year's spike in gas prices. We found this tidbit from May, 2008, on the Wall Street Journal's website:

Bob Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group, said that, through the fourth quarter of 2007, he has seen no evidence that rising gasoline prices has made much of a change in driver habits. But the breaking of the $4 price barrier for a gallon of gasoline may be the final straw for drivers who have put up with steady increases, and could make a difference for insurer accident costs beginning in the second quarter.

He said a similar situation occurred in the 1970s, when oil embargoes cut supplies and raised prices.

Hartwig said data indicated “a very sharp drop” in auto accident frequency during the oil embargos, “but as soon as gas became available and prices fell, people rapidly began to drive again, and frequency moved back to pre-embargo levels,” he said. “Conventional wisdom would indicate that there should be a drop in frequency,” as long as gasoline prices stay above drivers’ comfort level.

So, CPD, no need to take the blame for a rising collision rate, just as there's not much call to take credit for a drop. It's out of your hands.

Claremont did see a 36% drop in violent crimes (rape, homicide, assault, robbery), according to the CPD report, but the city typically doesn't see many of those types of crimes in the first place, so any drop can result in a large percentage decline. For instance, there were no homicides in 2007 or 2008, and assaults dropped from 35 to 30 in that same period.

On the other hand, property crimes (thefts, burglaries, auto thefts, and arson) increased 10% from 2007. According to CPD's stats, property crimes increased from 985 to 1082, with the biggest jump coming in burglaries, which went up from 269 to 337.

Interestingly, Chief Cooper's message at the beginning of the report says that most of the increase in property crimes came at the Claremont Colleges. According to Chief Cooper, property crimes in Claremont's residential and business areas declined 2%, while it increased 67% at the 5C campuses. Keep a better eye on your stuff, kids!

You can read the entire report below (click on the little box in the upper right corner to enlarge to full screen):
4-14-09 CPD Annual Rpt


The council is also being asked by city staff to continue the Claremont Trolley's three-year "economic development" mission because that's been sooooooo successful, as we can see by all the shuttered downtown businesses with for lease signs adorning the storefront windows.

The trolley's been a half-hearted venture from the beginning. It only runs three days a week (Thursday through Saturday), from 11am to 11pm, because the cost of running it five days would have been too high - $1.29 million for three years versus the current $887,000 estimate. And, the 15 minute cycle time it takes to go the few square blocks of the Village makes it much quicker to simply walk, which most people figure out after one ride.
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Consequently, we figure one might reasonably expect to see a drop in ridership from when the trolley first entered service to now, and that's precisely what the staff report shows (see table at right). The numbers were highest during the first month of operation (12.3 riders per hour) and have dropped to under seven riders per hour in March.

The trolley's ridership numbers don't lie. The original report for the trolley said that it would need to average 15 riders an hour to be viable. We figured that averaged out to over $10 per rider over the three-year trial period. A pretty expensive ride, yes, but not nearly as expensive as the $23.25 it's costing now at 6.8 riders an hour.

In the staff report, Community Service Director Scott Carroll (he of the Wilderness Park razing) speculates that the drop in ridership can be attributed to such factors as colder winter weather, shorter daylight hours, and the absence of events in the Village. "Silly notion" isn't mentioned as a contributing factor.

Staff is asking the council to adopt Option A of Carroll's report. That option (shown at left) calls for the council to continue the trolley as is and to form an ad hoc committee to study some alternatives that might include running the trolley up to Claremont High School or the Old Schoolhouse at Indian Hill and Foothill Blvds. The committee would come back with recommendations to the council at the May 12 meeting.

One option the committee might consider, and we're willing to offer this up for free courtesy of the Insider, is to scrap the trolley entirely and hire a limo service. We checked and found that American Limo in Los Angeles will charge between $65 and $68 an hour (depending on the day of the week) for an eight-person Lincoln. Eight would be more riders than the trolley has averaged per hour the last couple months.

At a little over $8 an hour per person, that's nearly a third of what the trolley's currently costing us. We could easily brand the limos with magnetic City of Claremont decals. This would also free up the trolley for more communitarian missions. The mind reels at the possibilities: Oak Park Cemetery hearse; library bookmobile; Human Services catering truck (could be packaged as Meals On Wheels); could be leased to local hospitals for convenient patient dumping; rolling affordable housing - with bunks, sleeps 24!

Perusing all of these trolley tables and figures, it occurred to us that over its short existence, the trolley has performed significantly worse than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, with ridership dropping about the same percentage as the Dow, but in five months instead of 10. Don't believe us? Check out this handy graphic from the Insider Institute of Finance:

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