Claremont Insider: July 2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Mail

And then there was this reaction to those community development block grants for Hip Kitty Jazz & Fondue Lounge and the Packing House Wine Merchants that the city council agreed to award at their last meeting:

DATE: Wed, July 28, 2010 11:16:07 AM
SUBJECT: cdbg funds for hip f***ing kitty
TO: Claremont Buzz

HUD's CDBG website says this:

"...each activity must meet one of the following national objectives for the program: benefit low- and moderate-income persons, prevention or elimination of slums or blight, or address community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available."

What a bizarre way to use this money. Maybe the Packing House is a slum that presents an immediate threat to the health of the community.

The CDBG website also says:

Citizen Participation

A grantee must develop and follow a detailed plan that provides for and encourages citizen participation. This integral process emphasizes participation by persons of low or moderate income, particularly residents of predominantly low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, slum or blighted areas, and areas in which the grantee proposes to use CDBG funds. The plan must provide citizens with the following: reasonable and timely access to local meetings; an opportunity to review proposed activities and program performance; provide for timely written answers to written complaints and grievances; and identify how the needs of non-English speaking residents will be met in the case of public hearings where a significant number of non-English speaking residents can be reasonably expected to participate.

Of course, this being Claremont, there was no mention of future public meetings involving in this particular CDBG disbursement. There was just a decision by city staff, who recommend the council grant Jerry Tessier the two CDBG grants totaling $100,000. The money then disappears into construction expenses at the Packing House, which itself was just renovated by Tessier's company Arteco Partners.

The federally mandated "citizen participation" is equivalent in Claremont to the "citizen oversight" for our school district's bonds. That is to say, in practice it's non-existent.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It Tolls for Thee - UPDATED


The LA Times coverage of municipal salaries in the city of Bell
has focused a lot of attention on what had previously been an area examined mainly by gadflies. Local newspapers haven't seemed to care much about such arcana and that lack of scrutiny has allowed city governments, including Claremont's, to dismiss citizen's concerns about such things as city employee and city council compensation.

The excesses in Bell, however, have turned up the heat on city councils everywhere, including our little burg. At Tuesday's meeting of the Claremont City Council, mayor Linda Elderkin felt compelled to point out that Claremont's council members only receive a $400-per-month stipend. Elderkin neglected to mention, however, what she and other council members receive for attending meetings of the Claremont Redevelopment Agency or various regional boards the council members serve on, which is where Bell's council members made the bulk of their nearly $100,000 per year. Still, in Claremont, the total compensation is a fraction of what was seen in Bell, and readers can rest assured that Claremont City Manager Jeff Parker doesn't earn anywhere near the $787,000 former Bell City Manager Robert (not to be confused with Ratso "I'm walkin' heeyuh") Rizzo received.

In any case, local cities are now taking steps to distance themselves from Bell, hence Mayor Elderkin's characteristically blissful lack of self-reflection when she declaimed Tuesday night, "We are not in the realm of the Bell councils." As usual, the obtuse Elderkin missed the point entirely. It's not that Claremont's level of veniality can begin to approach that of Bell's. What ever corruption we have here isn't at all of the same sort as Bell. We're not paying exorbitant salaries and benefits for corrupt officials. Rather, here we pay a premium, a stupidity tax, for want of a better term. It's why we four years ago Claremont's ruling class, the Claremont 400, tried to institute a $45 million assessment district to pay for a $12 million parcel of open space.

Our city's mistakes may not be criminal in nature, but they can be costly. Casual observers of our town see what a wonderful place it appears to be, but they don't understand that the same sense of wonder could have been achieved for a fraction of the costs - costs that include untenable employee pension obligations and unneeded or extravagant city services.


We also noticed that Bell's city attorney, Robert Lee, didn't escape criticism. The LA Times reported in today's edition that the city of Downey, which also employs Lee, is ending its contract with him and his firm, Best, Best & Krieger, simply because they don't want to risk being associated with the Bell scandal.

As the Times article noted, city attorneys have a tough balancing act. They have to represent the interests of the citizens of the municipalities they work for but only so far as those interests are represented by officials elected by those same citizens - that is, the city council members. So, what happens when a council acts illegally, unethically, or irresponsibly? Should a city attorney speak up publicly, should they resign, or should they be supportive of the council?

The idea that a city attorney doesn't represent citizens directly but rather represents the council majority is one that informs our own city attorney Sonia Carvalho's legal philosophy. Coincidentally, Carvalho also works for Best, Best & Krieger and has also once worked for a city, Colton in her case, that had council members who were subjects of a federal corruption probe about 10 years ago.

Carvalho's legal advice isn't always reserved for the controlling majority of the city council. It sometimes extends to free legal opinions for the Claremont 400, as it did in 2007 when Mayor Elderkin was first running for council. At that time, one of the big issues was the possibility that Vulcan Materials Co. might begin gravel mining operations on land in northeast Claremont. Elderkin had a potential conflict of interest in any city business with Vulcan because her husband Rick is a Pomona College mathematics professor. Pomona College had a small ownership interest in the land Vulcan was interested in.

When that potential conflict became an issue in the 2007 campaign, Elderkin sought and received an opinion from Carvalho that Elderkin faced no conflict of interest. Carvalho, who didn't provide legal consultations to any other 2007 council candidates, did give Elderkin a freebie. Carvalho's legal opinion should at least have been reported as an in-kind campaign contribution, but Elderkin couldn't even be troubled to do that much.

(By the way, state attorney general's office, tell us again why you didn't look into that?)

We believed then, as we do now, that Claremont and every other city in California would be best served finding city attorneys whose philosophies of governance incorporate a greater concern for the actual town citizens, not just the controlling majority of the five elected city officials and the people who in turn control those council members.


One other Bell-related item on the LA Times' LA Now blog was a report that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for cities to post the salaries of top officials online.

On this issue, the Insider was way ahead of the curve. Almost three years ago, we obtained and shared the city of Claremont's payroll information from the city's online document archive. The information was posted in the form of pay stub information.

Our advice to Governor Schwarzenegger on this one: tread lightly. For our having posted that very public information, City Attorney Carvalho contacted Google, which hosts our blog, and threatened to take them to court if they did not remove the pay stub information immediately. Carvalho falsely accused the Insider of having stolen the information. Then, after the theft accusations were shown to be false, she claimed the pay stubs could not be posted because they were protected by copyright laws (also a false legal theory).

The Daily Bulletin ended up posting an image of one of the pay stubs themselves, after redacting all the personal information. The Bulletin, unlike the Insider, did not receive any nasty-grams from Carvalho, who did have a heapin' portion of crow to chew on in the aftermath of Paystubgate.

The Claremont pay stub information, incidentally, showed that our city employees were compensated quite well, especially after one includes things like bonuses and benefits - information that the city has never been willing to release and information that is supposed to be public, according to California law.


A reader contacted us and noted that yesterday's weekly report from City Manager Jeff Parker had the news that Claremont had started posting the salaries of top city officials, including Parker and the city council, on the City's website. Here's what Parker's report said:


As the media reports on the City of Bell's salaries for council and administrative staff, residents across the country are discussing the compensation of their own City officials. In accordance with the City of Claremont's open communication philosophy, the City of Claremont makes this information readily available to the public.

Each member of the City Council receives $400 per month compensation and an additional $30 per Redevelopment Agency meeting. The City Council does not receive retirement benefits and during the 2010-12 budget process, medical benefits were eliminated from council's budget. City commissioners are appointed by the City Council and receive no compensation.

As detailed in the budget, the City Manager's annual salary is $211,000 and the Assistant City Manager's annual salary is $165,000. The Police Chief's annual salary is $174,000. These salaries are based on surveys of comparable cities with similar services and populations to Claremont's 37,000 residents. Cities surveyed include Upland, Brea, La Verne, Glendora, Arcadia, Azusa, Covina, Rialto, Montclair, Monrovia, and Chino.

A complete list of salary ranges for each City position is available upon request through the City Clerk's office. For additional information, please call the City Manager's Office at 909-399-5441

Parker fails to inform the public that transparency only goes so far. We still don't get any information on bonuses and benefits, which together constitute a good chunk of total employee compensation.

According to another LA Times article on Bell, the idea of posting the salary information was supposed to be discussed in Sacramento yesterday at a meeting of city managers hosted the League of California Cities. The public disclosure is one action the League thinks will mute the public's ire over the Bell situation. It also shows that the League is more concerned with the plight of city employees than with the concerns of actual citizens.

The Times described the purpose of the meeting as "damage control," which implies the League wants to put its spin on the story rather than considering whether Bell is an extreme example of a wider malaise. The League is an interest group like any other, and its interests lie in preserving as much of the status quo as possible, to the greater detriment of the people who have to actually pay municipal bills.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


We've talked before about how the issue of outsourcing services is a sore point in Claremont. People in town are particularly attached to the Claremont Police Department, but they're nearly as protective of the City's trash service.

In its February 27 issue, the Claremont Courier carried a letter from resident Gregory Toliver, who wrote in to say:

The city of Claremont's sanitation department has served us well in all the time I've lived here [over 20 years, according to Toliver], and so I was surprised to learn that there was actually a proposal under discussion to contract this service out to private companies. This is apparently part of somebody's plan to address the city's budget problems.

Toliver pointed out that the sanitation department takes in $1.7 million in much-needed municipal revenue and that a trash contractor would provide "lower quality service" at a higher price. Toliver questioned the need to make a change and concluded, "As my dad used to say: 'If it ain't broke, nobody needs to fix it...'"

Apparently, the communitarians at the Claremont Unified School District didn't get Toliver's memo. A reader pointed out to us that if you visit any CUSD school and try to find the familiar green Claremont city dumpsters, you'll search in vain. CUSD, whose board is supported by the same trash fanatics who insist that the City continue to provide its own waste hauling service, has contracted out to Orange County-based Ware Disposal for its own trash service.

Click Image to Enlarge

If you go to Condit Elementary on Mountain Ave. (the site of the repeated wiring hazards), and you will see two gray Ware Disposal bins. One of them is in the photo to the left.

It's not just Condit. Every single CUSD facility has the same trash service. The same bins are present at Sycamore Elementary, for example (photo, right).

All of which makes us marvel at the hypocrisy of the Claremont 400, who force you to pay a premium for your trash service while allowing the Claremont Unified School District to shop around for the best deal. (Presumably the cash-strapped district wouldn't be using Ware if it weren't cheaper than the city service.)

In case you are curious about price comparisons, here's a contact number for Ware, courtesy of CUSD:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Friday Music


The Ravelers, our local classic rock band, just played a summer concert-in-the-park last night at Montclair's Alma Hoffman Park, and they're back in action this Friday at the Doubletree Hotel on Foothill Blvd. Here's what the Raveler Spam has to say:

The Ravelers are also returning to our favorite casual hang-out this Friday evening for a party on the patio.

Come on out and help us enjoy the middle of Summer with friends, dinner, and musical fun...
Friday, July 30- Let's party on the patio!

Doubletree Hotel Claremont
555 W. Foothill Blvd
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 626-2411

(Please call to make reservations if you would like to eat dinner, it helps them to set up the right number of tables on the patio)

The Ravelers play from 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm. Meet with friends, food, and fun!
On Foothill Blvd between Indian Hill and Mountain Ave.

If you are having a birthday, this is a great place to celebrate. If you are looking to wind down after a week of work, this is a great spot to wind down with some cocktails, dinner, and some fun music. If you are wondering where to meet some friends for fun at a nice outdoor setting...well, this is the place! can head over to PianoPiano across the parking lot for more fun...

The weather looks to be perfect for a patio party for the middle of Summer! We are looking to get a nice group photo.

Here is what the patio looks like...


Also, this Friday at The Press Restaurant at 129 Harvard Ave. in the Claremont Village, you can see Michael Tarbox and the Tarbox Ramblers beginning at 10pm. For more information, call (909) 625-4808.

The Press' website says:
Friday, July 30, 2010 Michael Tarbox with Jerry O'Sullivan

10:00 PM

Michael Tarbox leads the Tarbox Ramblers, about NPR's "All Things Considered" said, "Homemade rock 'n' roll with a dose of rattlesnake venom and gospel-drenched howling."

Michael is making a rare visit to the West Coast and will be performing songs from his new CD, "My Primitive Joy".

Jerry O'Sullivan opens the show.

Don't miss this.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

City Council Meets Tonight

The Claremont City Council meets tonight at 6:30pm (no special closed session this week). You can watch the meeting online here, or you can go on down to the council chambers at 225 Second St. in the Claremont Village.

This is the last meeting before the council and the town's various commissions take the month of August off. Here's tonight's agenda.

We noticed a few things that grabbed our interest:

  • Item 7 on the consent calendar is a recommendation by staff that the council adopt a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Claremont Police Management Association. If approved, it would cover the fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011.

    The MOU includes the union's concession of a 1.9% cost of living increase for this fiscal year. It also includes the implementation of a two-tiered CalPERS retirement system as a nod to the unsustainability of the present 3% at 55 pension plan for police officers. The MOU gives no specifics on the proposed two-tiered pension, and it only says that the details are subject to negotiation with the CPMA for the MOU for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

    The MOU also continues the City's payment of the each employee's 9% contribution to CalPERS. It also continues the City's annual adjustment of it's portion of each employee's health insurance premiums.

    It certainly looks as if the council has done nothing more than push dealing with the employee pension problem out another year, and they've left it open to the CPMA to dictate what new employees would receive for their pensions.

    The refusal on the part of the council to make the tough decisions needed to fix the coming pension storm shouldn't be surprising. Three of the council members, Peter Yao, Sam Pedroza, and Linda Elderkin, are up for re-election next March. Pedroza and Elderkin are of the belief that they need to placate city employees, no matter what long-term damage their lack of action causes the City's finances. Neither, after all, are the brightest when it comes to financial issues (see Padua Park, which Pedroza and Elderkin pushed).

    You'd think that council member Larry Schroeder, being a retired municipal finance officer, would be able to tell the extent of the pension problems are out there on the city's financial horizon. On the other hand, he does receive a CalPERS pension himself as a former city of Lakewood employee, so perhaps he's willing to let the City take a hit out of some misplaced sense of solidarity..

    Pension reform has long been one of Council Member Yao's pet issues, so it will be interesting what, if anything, he has to say on the issue tonight.

  • Staff is also asking the council to approve having liens totaling $83,624 placed against 16 abandoned, bank-owned properties. The properties all have delinquent fines that were levied by the City because of the owners' failure to properly maintain the properties.

    Among the deadbeat institutions are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and US Bank (which took over PFF Bancorp).

  • Items 12 and 13 on the administrative items portion of the agenda have to do with requests by staff for the council to approve Community Development Block Grants to two Claremont Packing House businesses - the Packing House Wine Merchants and Hip Kitty Jazz & Fondue Lounge. The grants are $50,000 each.

    The Hip Kitty grant would be used to pay for expansion into the space formerly occupied by the EMW Limited Gallery. Staff justifies the grant by saying it would create two full-time employee jobs.

    Jerry Tessier, whose company Arteco Partners restored the Packing House, has told staff that getting the grant would allow Tessier's Linus Partners LLC to obtain $45,000 more in financing to complete the Hip Kitty expansion.

    The Wine Merchants grant would be used to expand the business into the space that had formerly housed the Claremont Forum's book store. As with the Hip Kitty money, Jerry Tessier and Linus Partners LLC would use the $50,000 to qualify for $50,000 in additional financing and would use the total to complete the Wine Merchant's expansion.

    The funding for Claremont's CDBG program comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These two grants follow a $150,000 CDBG last December to the new Casa Moreno Grill in the Village Expansion. Since the CDBG money comes from the federal government for job creation, it doesn't cost the City anything. Still, you have to wonder what factors City Hall uses to determine who gets the grants and who does not.

    Also, is there any favoritism involved? Because Tessier's fortunes and the City's are so completely intertwined in the Packing House and the Padua Hills Theatre, would they favor him over another equally deserving business?

    In the past, the City seemed to favor the Candlelight Pavilion when the council loaned them $175,000 in 2000 and again in 2006 when they had to renegotiate the loan terms after the Pavilion's owners had trouble making their promised payment.

  • Administrative item 14 on tonight's agenda is proposal from staff to allow City Manager Jeff Parker enter into a lease agreement with Three French Hens and its owner Brenda Monahan. The lease is for the space in the Village Expansion parking structure that had been occupied by Bedol What's Next. The City would charge Monahan $1.50 per square-foot, or $1,800 a month for the 1,200 sq.-ft. space.

    Staff is also giving Monahan a $300 break on rent in exchange for her functioning as a "City Concierge," a duty that the staff report explains:
    Prior to opening staff will work with the tenant on creating the concierge space, which will provide an opportunity for guests to receive and view information on the City's businesses and the services and products they offer. They will also have a calendar with all of the things to do in Claremont on a monthly basis. They will provide in store space for other businesses to advertise its products especially in the food drink and entertainment arenas.

    Here we have to wonder why we're paying the Claremont Chamber of Commerce $40,000 a year to do much of what the City is asking Monahan to do at $3,600 a year? Do we really need that Chamber visitor's center on Yale Ave? Perhaps the City ought to be thinking about pulling the plug on that Chamber contract.

    Three French Hens should certainly benefit from the extra foot traffic generated from being a City Concierge, but, as with the Packing House grants, we wonder how the City decides when they get into the business of choosing economic winners and losers.

  • The council will also consider recommendations from their Ad Hoc Commission Selection Committee, composed of council members Larry Schroeder and Corey Calaycay. These are the appointments suggested by the committee:
    Architectural Commission
    Mark Schoeman - reappoint to a four-year term
    James Sink - reappoint to a four-year term
    Henry Perera - appoint to a four-year term

    Community Services
    Pauline Bourne - appoint to a four-year term
    Antonia Castro - appoint to a three-year term

    Human Services Commission
    Robin Gottuso - reappoint to a four-year term
    Robert Miletich reappoint to a four-year term

    Planning Commission
    Jeff Hammill - reappoint to a four-year term
    Tom Lamb - reappoint to a four-year term

    Police Commission
    Barbara Musselman - reappoint to a four-year term
    Sayeed Shaikh - reappoint to a four-year term
    Laura Fragoso - appoint to a two-year term

    Traffic Transportation Commission
    Rob Poy - reappoint to a one-year term


The obituary section of today's Los Angeles Times mentioned the passings of two noteworthy Claremonters.

The first was former Pomona College president David Alexander, who died on Sunday. Alexander ran the college from 1969 to 1991 and is generally credited with taking Pomona to the top ranks of the nations liberal arts colleges. Pomona College's website has a news release on Alexander's death. It quotes current Pomona president David Oxtoby:

According to David Oxtoby, current president of Pomona College, “David Alexander was a passionate supporter of the liberal arts college in America and served Pomona College with distinction, creativity and compassion. During his tenure as president, Pomona solidified its reputation as one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges. In finance, admissions, and national rankings, Pomona grew in excellence during David Alexander’s 22 years of leadership. His dedication, his high aspirations, and his moral integrity were at the core of his extraordinary contribution to making Pomona College what it is today.

“It’s hard to think of David without acknowledging his wife Catharine’s contributions to Pomona,” added Oxtoby. “Theirs was a true partnership, and the College has benefited enormously from her warm, wise and ever-gracious presence.”

During Alexander’s tenure, Pomona’s endowment increased from $24 million to $296 million; faculty grew from 130 to 156; and new construction added 15 major buildings to campus. The geographic and ethnic diversity of the student body increased dramatically as the college made the transition from a primarily regional institution to a national liberal arts college with the majority of its students from outside California. The year after his retirement and in recognition of his leadership and commitment to the campus community, Pomona College named its new administration building the David Alexander Hall of Administration in 1992.

* * * * *

The LA Times also reported that Claremont ceramicist Rupert Deese died July 12. Deese was a graduate of Pomona College and later received an MFA from Claremont Graduate School. The Times noted that Deese at one time shared a studio in Padua Hills with fellow Claremont ceramicist Harrison Macintosh and was part of a circle of local artists that included the late woodworker Sam Maloof, and painters James Hueter and Karl Benjamin:
Deese created such functional yet decorative pieces as ashtrays and martini pitchers as well as bowls, vases and other stoneware for the home. The fired clay forms were usually finished with a soft matte glaze in natural colors. One of his cocktail pitchers with a deep blue sheen is in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"He made elegant vessel ceramics in functional forms that were very well suited to the modern California home," Bobbye Tigerman, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at the museum, said. "They fulfilled contemporary needs.... He was very much in touch with how Californians lived."

Deese's pieces also are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Mingei International Folk Art Museum in San Diego and many other museums, and have been exhibited at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday CUSD Recap

The Claremont Unified School District continues to fascinate inquiring minds.

We noticed that the Daily Bulletin article on the CUSD school board meeting last Thursday cited a person named Bill Fox, who spoke in favor of the board's proposed $95 million bond:

"It's an opportunity to take advantage of a crisis in the construction industry," resident Bill Fox said. "Construction costs are way down. It's a much different environment than 10 years ago. Ten years ago, when Measure Y (a $12.5 million school facilities bond) passed, we had very different challenges in bidding on what was out there. What we're seeing is prices are coming down."

(As we have pointed out, the Bulletin was incorrect. Measure Y was $48.9 million, not $12.5 million.)

We had wondered if Bill Fox was any relation to Michael K. Fox and Fox Transportation, who together donated $10,000 to the last CUSD bond campaign in 2000. We still don't know if there is any connection, but we do know that Bill Fox is a Claremont resident and is the president of The William Fox Group, which, among other things, operates a housing development company called William Fox Homes. Fox is also Claremont High baseball team sponsor.

If memory serves, Fox has served on a Claremont school district advisory committee. We believe it was Fox who first suggested that the district might be well-served leasing out it's old district office land on Base Line Rd. to an RV storage business. Fox would presumably know about the profit that CUSD could earn through such an arrangement because his company operates Route 66 Self Storage at 450 Foothill Blvd. Route 66 Self Storage advertises RV storage as one of its services.

In any case, Fox is very deeply involved in school issues and in the community. Here's a photo from the 2009 Claremont Educational Foundation newsletter showing Fox and his wife Cindy posing with former Claremont mayor Dianne Ring, Ring's husband Robert, and Ken Corhan (whom we last saw working on Bridget Healy's failed 2009 city council campaign):

Fox is also involved with the LA County Fair Association, according to a press release from 4/11/09:
Sharon Autry (909) 865-4262
Wendy Talarico (909) 865-4263

For Immediate Release


William R. Fox has been named to the Los Angeles County Fair Association. Fox is president of William Fox Group and William Fox Homes Inc. located In Ontario.

He founded the companies in 2003 to engage in commercial and residential construction and development. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. He currently serves as a member of the Claremont committee for the L.A. County Fair, on the Claremont School District Site Council and Claremont School Asset Advisory Committee. He resides in Claremont with his wife, Cindy, and children Heather and Brian.

The appointment complements a roster of nearly 50 notable and dynamic community and civic leaders that serve on the association of the not-for-profit organization. The LACFA operates and manages Fairplex, home of the L.A. County Fair and more than 500 diverse year-round events.

If you read Saturday's Claremont Courier, you may have also seen reporter Landus Rigsby's coverage of the Thursday CUSD meeting (no link available). Rigsby didn't mention Bill Fox, but he did quote another bond supporter named Mike Seder:
"To me, it all comes down to timing," said Claremont resident Mike Seder. "We have an emergency right now. We have a school [district] that depends on a state budget that is unreliable at best and if we are going to take control, we need to do it now. This is an investment we need to make in our schools and in our children. What we do now will leave a legacy for future generations of students."

Seder (pictured, left), like Bill Fox, CUSD school board member Jeff Stark, and Stark's mother Jil, has a connection to the LA County Fair Association. Seder is LACFA's Vice-President of Finance and CFO. Jil Stark is (was?) and LACFA board member, and Jeff Stark, along with fellow CUSD board member Beth Bingham, Arteco Partners owner Ed Tessier, and Claremont Club owner Sue Hyland, is an LACFA member as well:

Click on Images to Enlarge

This all just goes to show how well-networked are the movers and shakers in our neck of the woods. But, then, it's like everywhere.

We just hope (but don't really expect) that they'd be open to contrarian views. As we've noted in the past, many of our community's problems have been a result of a groupthink mentality in which a collection of individually intelligent people makes collectively stupid decisions by excluding important information that just doesn't fit the group's preconceptions.

Lost Dog

We received a request from a reader to post a flyer for a lost dog. Maggie, a tan-and-brown female Chihuahua, was last seen a week ago on Cambridge Ave. near Bonita in Claremont. If you've seen her, please let the owners know.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Look for the Union Label

The Claremont Unified School District and the Claremont Faculty Association (the district's teacher's union) agreed Friday on a three-year contract that's retroactive to the 2009-2010 school year.

Wes Woods II reported in the Daily Bulletin that the agreement saves the job of 41 teachers who'd been given pink slips earlier this year as part of the district's budget-balancing measures. CUSD had been facing a roughly $6 million deficit over the next 3 years. Woods' article also said the district agreed not to implement the six furlough days that they had proposed. The agreement will have to be ratified by a vote of CFA members.

Woods wrote that the union gave some concessions as well:

Have its members receive $1,500 less per year in benefits contribution, which would save the district $500,000 per year for the next two years without impacting retirement benefits.

Increase the maximum class size and class average in seventh through 12th grades by one student for the next two years. This would save the district $100,000 per year for the next two years.

Wood's article didn't address concerns that the union and the district may have colluded to have the union support the district's upcoming $95 million bond measure in exchange for the concessions. There's been much talk of such a secret agreement, in which the teachers would get their concessions back with bond money once the bond passes. Notice that the agreement came less than 24 hours after the district voted 4-1 to move forward with the bond.

As we've noted, bond money cannot legally be used for teachers' salaries or benefits, so the bond money would have to be shuffled around so that the district can say they're just taking general fund savings made possible by the bond and using those savings on teachers' benefits.

So, we can probably expect CUSD teachers to be working on getting the bond passed and trying to scare parents into voting yes on the bond measure by raising the spectre of teacher layoffs and expanded class sizes.

The concern of collusion between CUSD and the CFA was reinforced yesterday by Claremont Courier a Viewpoint piece titled "Enough is Enough." The Viewpoint author's name withheld at the writer's request.

(Sorry we don't have a link. The Courier piece isn't available online without a Courier subscription.)

The writer said that she had voted for Measure Y in 2000 but was very concerned that CUSD's promised repairs and upgrades were not completed. The writer is very much against this 2010 school bond. The woman also gave $30 a month to the Claremont Educational Foundation's 365 campaign and to a number of other fundraisers at Chaparral Elementary School.

The unnamed writer further wrote of a CUSD faculty member who said that the district's teachers where never going to give in on the furlough days and that they were going "to put a bond out." At the Insider, readers have written us with similar reports of the teachers being told by their union that benefits would be restored if the bond passes.

The Viewpoint writer also pointed out that Glendora's school district, which is ranked higher than CUSD, implemented furlough days without any problems. It's no surprise, then, that Glendora's district isn't having the same degree of financial problems that CUSD has.

It's not surprising to see a piece like that in yesterday's Courier. It's quite likely that the school district and CFA are overreaching with this bond. These are pretty tough economic times, and when district officials and the teachers' union play these sort of dishonest games with voters, they face a backlash.

Most people are inclined to support a school bond when there is a real need. But when "needs" are ginned up in order to circumvent the spirit of the law, these officials and agencies lose all credibility.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

School Bond News

Wes Woods II reports today on Thursday's Claremont Unified School District Board of Education meeting where the board voted 4-1 to approve putting a bond of up to $95 million on the November 2 ballot.

Woods quoted a mother of CUSD students as being against the current bond after having supported the last one in 2000:

Parent Kathy Yeager said she was an "enthusiastic supporter" of the 2000 measure Y bond measure, but later "realized we had been duped."

Projects were scaled back or not undertaken, said Yeager, who is a Parent Faculty Association member at Chaparral Elementary School and El Roble Intermediate School.

Yeager also criticized the lack of specifics on the bond, for which no project have been listed, and she said CUSD mismanaged the Measure Y money.

Someone named Bill Fox as speaking in favor of the bond at the board meeting. We recall that a Michael K. Fox and his Rancho Cucamonga company Fox Transportation donated a total $10,000 to the Measure Y campaign. We do not know if they bear any relation to Bill Fox.

Woods also gave some unintentional support for bond proponents. Woods wrote that Measure Y was "a $12.5 million school facilities bond." At $48.9 million, Measure Y actually was four times the amount Bulletin readers will think it was.

CUSD assistant superintendent of business services Lisa Shoemaker was quoted as saying she had no idea how much the campaign would cost. A check of campaign finance records for Measure Y showed that proponents spent $81,386.77 on the Yes on Y campaign. That was by far the most money ever spent on a Claremont election.

As we have noted before, the majority of that money came from businesses that were potential contractors with CUSD.

Around Town Today

Here's a quick reminder of the Cheese Cave's grand opening today from 12pm to 4pm. If you haven't already been there, you'll want to check out their wares. The owners and the help are friendly and very helpful. And they're remarkably patient with those unschooled of us whose idea of good cheese comes in a spray can.

The Cheese Cave is located at 325 Yale Ave. in the Claremont Village, directly across from Walter's Restaurant.

* * * * *

Also, don't forget that the City's annual e-waste collection event is going on in South Claremont near the Claremont Auto Center. Take your batteries, circuit boards, monitors, computers, DVD/CD and VCR players, cell phones, and such over to 436 Auto Center Dr., west of Indian Hill and south of the 10 Fwy.

A side note: You will probably want to make sure your cell phone information is all cleared and that your hard drives are formatted to erase any personal records. It never hurts to be safe.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday in Claremont

Now that the pro forma approval of the bond measure resolution by CUSD's board is done, we can get back to little city news:


The Claremont Police Department is having another DUI checkpoint tonight at an undisclosed city location from 6pm tonight to 1am Saturday morning. The checkpoint is funded by grant money from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

So, even if watching the Claremont 400 run the City's and the school district's finances into the ground has you reaching for another Manhattan, take it easy in and around Claremont.


The Claremont Courier reported in Wednesday's edition that City Hall is having to reorganize as part of its cost-cutting measures. The Courier article noted that the City's staff is down 20% from its peak numbers.

Community Services, which has been without a permanent director since Scott Carroll left, has been rechristened the Community/Public Works Department and will be under City Engineer Craig Bradshaw. Community Services currently runs Claremont's trash service, and that may end up being outsourced (more on that subject in a moment).

If trash service is contracted out to a private company, one wonders what will happen to that Community Services building at 1616 Monte Vista Ave.. The City dedicated the building with much fanfare in 2005. When you think about it, it has turned into boondoggle of the highest order. The construction was beset by cost overruns that were only vaguely explained by then-City Facilities Manager and champion blowhard Mark Hodnick, and the structure ended up costing well over $10 million. The building also leaked when it first opened because the City failed to account for groundwater movement around the building.

It also turned out that the City, with its usual competence, figured the property lines incorrectly, so that a corner of the building jutted into Upland. Additionally, the entire second floor of office space has never been used. That's right. A whole floor has essentially sat empty for the building's short life. So, now the City may use the building as a police station, or it may lease out the space.

Good use of that ten-plus million, eh?


Raise the subject of outsourcing our town's police or garbage services, and you'll be greeted by plaintive howls and a chorus of boos. Claremont city services hold roughly the same devotional status as the the Virgin of Guadalupe does in Mexico, and the threat of the loss of those services inevitably elicits keening and self-flagellation from Claremont's true believers.

When folks here talked tentatively about maybe looking into contracting for trash service, we heard endless variations on the same story: "So-and-so's great-aunt Tilde lives in Laguna, and they outsource there. Anytime someone goes on vacation, they get robbed because those lowdown contract waste haulers tell their criminal drug-fiend friends about the empty houses."

Well, to rebut some of those more outlandish claims, we point to a New York Times article about the city of Maywood outsourcing most of its municipal services. The article appeared in the NYT earlier this week and was titled "A City Outsources Everthing, Sky Does Not Fall."

Keep in mind, though, that this experiment is only a few weeks old, and Maywood outsourced its police services to Bell, which has been on the front page of the Los Angeles Times for its scandalously huge municipal salaries - $787,000 a year to City Manager Robert Rizzo (more than twice what US President Barack Obama earns), $457,000 to Police Chief Randy Adams (about half again as much as LAPD Chief Charlie Beck), and around $100,000 to all but one city council member.

Bell now replaces Pomona as the community Claremonsters will point to whenever someone wants to try to change anything here - as in "Do you want us to be like (fill in the blank)?"


Finally, one of our more astute readers saw a Claremont-centric post on a blog called Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis. The post had a note from a Mish reader who is from Claremont. The reader, Gregory Levine, gave his analysis of the sidewalk renovation in the Claremont Village.

The sidewalk work was pushed by city staff, who got some federal stimulus money for the project. It was not popular with a lot of the Village merchants, whose businesses suffered from the construction. Levine concluded:

My second point regards the cost of the project. I conducted informal interviews of eight business. All but one suffered major revenue losses. Most reported being closed for 2-4 days with some suffering losses for five or more days.

Business owners estimated revenue losses from $2,000 to $3,700. The average loss was $2,850. Total revenue losses to businesses comes to $2,850 X 96 = $273,600.

How much did the project cost? $1,497,232.

And guess what? The contract was awarded to an out of town construction company. So in the short run, Claremont businesses suffered $273,600 in losses for prettier sidewalks. Most say it was not worth it, especially in this economy.

City Hall strikes again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Son of Measure Y

Drudge Siren Pictures, Images and Photos

To no one's surprise, the Claremont Unified School District Board this evening approved the bond resolution for a $95,000,000 bond to be voted on in November.

The vote was 4 in favor with Steven Llanusa opposing.

Those in attendance felt as if they had stumbled into a private party uninvited.

The "Most Witless Comment by a Board Member" Award goes to Trustee Jeff Stark, who opined that, really, questions about bond projects on priorities were out of order because the Board had to vote on the bond resolution first.

The "Most Opaque Answer in a Supporting Role" Award goes to Business Services Assistant Superintendent Lisa Shoemaker, who twice answered a question on how the bond would relieve the General Fund. In neither iteration did she give any specifics, leaving the questioners wondering "how much, exactly". She did, however, give her second answer at a slightly elevated volume, pitch, and level of impatience.

Below is a schematic of the educator's mind:

H/T to our correspondent.

Nothing New Under the Sun


It's been a while since we took a trip in the Insider Institute's time travel capsule (our liability insurer raised some concerns after our last trip). But the Claremont Unified School District's consideration of a bond resolution caused us to cast our temporal gaze back to 2000 and the district's last bond.

In preparation of our time-tripping, we did a little research in our archival vault (pictured, right). We located a number of relevant documents from CUSD's Measure Y campaign. Now, 10 years later, we can see that the district and the Claremonsters have not only recycled old slogans for the 2010 bond, but they also misled the public when it came to the uses of the Measure Y bond money. In that instance, as in the present one, some of the erroneous claims the bond proponents made may have been misstatements, but others were blatantly manipulative.

Before we go any further, here's the text from the mailer CUSD sent out this past week. We'll need this to refer to later:

(Click Images to Enlarge)


Back at the end of May 2000, right before the June Measure Y election, the Claremont Courier ran an opinion piece from CUSD's then-superintendent Douglas Keeler. The essay enumerated the reasons Keeler felt the bond was needed, and he touched on all of the talking points ginned up by the Claremont 400 and district's election consultant. Keeler's piece included a committee's recommendations regarding a possible bond.

Here are Keeler's comments. They appeared on 5/27/00, just before the June election:

Keeler listed the suggestions from district's Facility Advisory Committee, chaired by Jeanne Hamilton. Hamilton would later be elected to the school board in 2001. Hamilton and her committee recommended a number of things. Two things that the committee determined were that the district should:
  • Modernize Claremont schools (roofs, electrical, plumbing, etc.)
  • Convert the La Puerta Adult Education Site to an elementary site
If the Measure Y bond was supposed to modernize our schools roofs, electrical, and plumbing, why do we need to do the same repairs again only 10 years later? This week's CUSD flyer for the 2010 bond says that "The bond would improve Claremont schools by: ....Repairing and replacing old leaky roofs and plumbing....Improving student and school safety by updating fire alarms and wiring."

And the district's original resolution for the Measure Y bond included a bullet list for each Claremont school stating that the district would be replacing deteriorating roofs, replacing aging doors and windows, modernizing the district's technological and communication infrastructure systems at every school facility, and a host of other things.

Either Measure Y's $48.9 million was misspent, or the district isn't being truthful now when it claims that some of the same things need to be done 10 years later. Roofs, doors, electrical and communication wiring should last longer than 10 years.

And as for La Puerta, the district concluded they didn't need another elementary school after all. What happened to the $4.5 million from the bond that was budgeted for converting the adult school?

Let's also not forget that CUSD initially said they would use a chunk of the money to build a football stadium next to the Claremont High School. However, when residents in the neighboring Towne Ranch area became upset, imperiling the bond vote, CUSD turned around and said they had no plans at all to put the football stadium on the CHS campus. District officials said they were looking to build somewhere else. Bond opponents warned the Towne Ranch residents that the district was not being honest about its plans. But enough of them were mollified that the bond measure passed.

Drive by CHS now and take a gander at the football field, bleachers, and field lights. Sorry, Towne Ranch neighbors, you took the hit on that one.

Oh, and one last point about that electrical wiring. In 2000, the Yes on Y campaign sent out a district-wide mailer that had a photo of an electrical wiring junction box. The box had no cover, so the wires were exposed for kids to electrocute themselves.

Sound familiar?

As we noted yesterday, CUSD's mailer this week had a photo of bare wires. The wires were presumably supposed sound alarms with parents about safety in our schools and, to underscore the point, the photo appeared adjacent to a bullet point about using the proposed bond money for school safety and for updating wiring.

Here's a comparison of the two photos:
LEFT: 2000 CUSD election flier photo
"30-year-old wiring at Eleanor Condit Elem. School."

RIGHT: 2010 CUSD flier photo
CAPTION: "Old outdated wiring like that pictured here from Eleanor Daly Condit Elementary School must be updated to improve student safety and support classroom technology."

Hmmm, same school, same kind of photos taken 10 years apart. And the photo on the right isn't even electrical wiring! If you enlarge it, you can clearly see those are telephone wires with a telephone jack right below. Not exactly a safety hazard.

The wiring photos reminded us of the scandal-within-the-scandal involving British Petroleum and their oil spill. BP, to show how hard they have been working on the cleanup, posted on their website a photo of their crisis command center and another of a helicopter crew flying towards the flaming well. The problem was that they were both photoshopped. Some of the monitor images in the crisis center were added in, and the helicopter in the photo was actually on the ground, not flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

As we in Claremont have learned the hard way, reality in the hands of a master PR person or an election consultant is infinitely malleable.


It turns out that current school board member Jeff Stark, along with the aforementioned Jeanne Hamilton, were co-chairs of the Yes on Y committee. Stark is a financial advisor, so he presumably had the education and experience needed to lead the bond campaign. Stark's experience would certainly probably him to review the currently bond proposal as well.

(On the other hand, let's hope Jeff didn't inherit his financial acumen from his mother Jil Stark. Jil was a board member of the now-defunct PFF Bancorp. You'll recall that Jil made a small fortune off PFF stock shortly before it crashed.)

Jeff was the public face of the Measure Y campaign. The Yes on Y people sent out a district-wide mailer that featured the Stark family. That was the mailer with the electrical wiring. It was supposed to demonstrate the continuity of the community's (or the 400's?) vision. Here is the flyer:

Notice the slogan: "It's hard to believe it's been 35 years..." The argument in 2000 was Claremont's schools were aging - 35 years old or older. The mailer, written as a letter from Jeff Stark to the community, said Claremont's schools desperately needed upgrading and maintenance.

This time around, the mantra is, "it's been 10 years; it's time to have another bond because Claremont schools desperately need upgrading and maintenance." At the present rate of accelerated wear, down from 35 years to 10 years, we'll need another bond in three years at twice the price. And another one year after that.

Folks, $95 million is an awful lot of money for a small school district like Claremont, especially when the district hasn't identified any specific projects requiring the money. The last time around, they at least did that much, even if they didn't complete them. The absence of such a project list may be quite intention. If they don't have concrete goals set, the district and its board cannot be held accountable. That is simply not prudent given CUSD's track record.

There are plenty of other measures that can be taken to address the district's budget problems. There are other, reasonable alternatives. The powers-that-be in Claremont, however, refuse to listen to reason, refuse to acknowledge other, less costly ways of getting through this bad patch.

The $95 million bond train left the station quite a while ago, but if you're interested in watching a slow-rolling wreck, you should consider going to watch tonight's CUSD board meeting. It all starts 6:30pm in the boardroom at the district's Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center at 170 W. San Jose Ave.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Game Plan

If you are interested in learning about the playbook Claremont Unified School District will follow in their proposed school bond campaign, you don't have to look far. On December 4 last year, at the 2009 Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Diego County, you could have attended a workshop on how to craft successful bond measures. This was part of conference organized by the California School Board Association.

The workshop, titled "Dynamics of a Successful Bond Campaign," laid out the strategies school districts like CUSD need to employ to ensure passage of school bond measures. We've attached the PowerPoint (what else?) presentation below. There were four speakers, one school district superintendent and three private sector representatives.

The private sector speakers all represented businesses that assist agencies with bonds, either with the actual campaigns or with issuing the bonds after voters approve them. One of the speakers was Jared Boigon, a partner at TBWB Strategies, the company CUSD hired a while back to conduct a poll to determine the level of support a bond or parcel tax would have with Claremont voters. TBWB also worked for CUSD on the Measure Y campaign in 2000. Boigon was the person who reported on the poll to the CUSD Board of Education in June.

As you may know, TBWB is more than a humble polling firm. TBWB advertises itself as having a three-step formula for getting bond measures passed:

  • Organize

    TBWB will organize and train your volunteers to mobilize supporters, communicate a clear, consistent message, conduct private fundraising and turn out supporters to the polls.

  • Communicate

    TBWB will identify the key message that voters need to hear to support your measure. Using our in-house, award-winning design department, TBWB will craft unique, eye-catching direct mail suited to your particular community that carries the message you need to win.

  • Win

    At TBWB, we have the experience needed to win campaigns and ensure your agency receives the funding it needs. Our hands-on approach means that we craft a campaign plan and develop materials suited for your particular community, instead of using a cookie-cutter approach.

    With TBWB, your campaign will have the support and guidance needed to secure funding for local schools, community colleges, hospitals, firefighters, police, transportation or other needed services.

Another speaker was David Casnocha, a partner with the law firm of Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Stradling Yocca is a firm that, among many other things, provides bond counsel service. Stradling's David Casnocha was employed by CUSD in 2000, and the Claremont Redevelopment Agency (the five city councilmembers and the city manager) has also used Stradling Yocca in past for bond counsel.

A third speaker was Mark Farrell, the managing director of Piper Jaffray & Co. , an investment banking firm that underwrites municipal bonds. Piper Jaffray's literature says that they can do more than underwriting. They can help with the election:
Capital planning & bond election services

Your school district's bond issue starts with capital planning. We'll help you determine the cost of your project, how much your school district can afford and what the impact to taxpayers will be. This requires in-depth knowledge of your state's property tax system, tax equalization laws and bond issuance statutes.

Next, we'll use our knowledge of local election laws to structure your bond issue in a way that voters are most likely to accept. We'll even help you review and design election surveys and campaign materials – because we know how critical it is for your bond issue to pass.
Take a look at the seminar outline below. As you can see, Page 3 of the presentation give us the election road map, one which CUSD seems to have faithfully followed in setting up their 2010 bond measure:
  • Prepare a District “road show” for community and parent presentations
    (We've called them "dog-and-pony shows." Whatever term you use, in Claremont they've certainly put the fiscal fear of God into the locals. -ed)

  • Be visible and interact with community, parents and staff with consistent talking points regarding the bond
    (This explains why you've heard the same ideas tossed out by bond proponents in school board town halls and in letters to the Courier.)

  • Engage a consultant firm to develop a plan and follow their advice
    (May we suggest TBWB for your plan developing and advising pleasure?)

  • Know your community
    (Know your friends, discredit your opponents.)

  • Don’t take short cuts and don’t assume anything
    (Um.... but assuming is one CSUD's and the Claremont 400's favorite pastimes. They'll have to work on this bullet point.)

  • Make sure your campaign is strong and visible before the absentee ballots are mailed
    (See road and/or dog-and-pony shows above. Also, see yesterday's district-wide mailer.)
And page 10 underscores the importance of getting a strong election message together and out into the ether way before the campaign:
Prepare “Message Frame” Before Campaign
  • Link to state budget situation
    (The sky is falling, the sky is falling!)

  • Focus on academics
    (But spend on fluff.)

  • Second or third bonds: talk about success, not failure
    (Don't mention what happened with the last bond money.)

  • Local Local Local
    (Somos loco, loco, loco.)

  • Trust polling
    (Trust TBWB. And prepay, please. No, really.)

So you skeptics out there can see that we're not Grassy Knoll-variety conspiracy freaks when we say that much of what you've seen and heard about the district budget from CSUD for the last six months or so has been designed to bring us to this point. The vote tomorrow night represents just one more box to be checked off on a decision that was made a long time ago before the public ever got involved. The rest has been window dressing.

The alternative to a bond is a parcel tax, which we believe is a better way of bridging the district's three-year budget gap. We think a limited parcel tax with a sunset clause would be more attractive because would involve much less money than a bond - around $5-6 million versus $95 million - so it would be an easier sell in a bad economy. And according to what CUSD has reported, the TBWB poll the board commissioned shows about a 65% approval rating for a parcel tax, and a 58% approval rating for a bond. The parcel tax needs 67% to pass, and the bond needs 55%.

Sure, some work would have to be done to bump that 65% up, but it's been done here before. As we've already pointed out, the Johnson's Pasture bond in 2006 also needed 67%, which the Claremont 400 said was impossible to reach. It ended up with about 72%.

Tomorrow: A brief trip in time to 2000 and the last school bond campaign.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Get on the Bus! Fare: $95 million


Yesterday, just ahead of the 72-hour legal requirement, the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education posted an agenda for their meeting 6:30pm this Thursday, July 22, at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center at 170 W. San Jose Ave.

As we predicted, the agenda includes a resolution to go forward with a $95 million bond to be financed over 30 years. The bond will (note the inevitability) go to the voters in November. This current CUSD bond effort is almost twice the amount of the $48.9 million Measure Y bond approved in 2000. As we've pointed out many times before, CUSD squandered that earlier bond money without completing all the projects the district promised.

CUSD is using the current fiscal crisis to do exactly what California has done for the past 30 years. The district is trying to finance its operational costs through long-term bonds. CUSD stills owes $30 million on the Measure Y funding, and we are only 10 years into that 30-year bond. The district's proposal says that part of this bond's $95 million will go to pay off that earlier bond. So what we are really being asked to do is approve a 40-year, $113.9 million bond - $95 million, less $30 million for the old bond, plus the original $48.9 million from 2000. All CUSD has done is to break down the vote into two elections 10 years apart.

This money will never get paid back in its entirety. You heard it here first. Our school district will be back in another 10 or 15 years asking for a bond to pay off the 2010 bond and upgrade facilities again. All this to let them move money around to items not expressly listed in their 2010 bond literature. Speaking of which....


As with the previous bond election, CUSD Superintendent Terry Nichols and the CUSD Board of Education cannot legally campaign for the issue. But that has never stopped CUSD. The district sent out a district-wide, four-page, four-color bulk mailer that offered a "Spotlight on Claremont Students." The slick mailer, which almost certainly had to have been produced by CUSD bond consultant, was timed to hit mailboxes yesterday, the same day they knew news of the bond would break.

This mailer represents something CUSD they cannot legally do. School districts are not allowed to finance political campaigns, even if is for an education bond. So they send out a mailer with an implicit message saying we need money, we need this bond. The document is a de facto election piece offering up the rationale for voting "Yes" on the bond. The mailer was been planned well in advance and would have been designed by CUSD's consultant (in effect, a campaign consultant), to lay out the first talking points justifying the bond.

The mailer would have cost $4000 to $5,000 to create, print, and mail. That, of course, does not include the consultant's time. The mailer and the district's expenditure was approved without any public discussion well in advance of the district going public with the bond proposal.

Clearly all of this is - the district's town hall meetings, the polling CUSD commissioned, the mailer, the CUSD board's predetermined passage of their bond resolution Thursday night - are part of a design, a campaign. The CUSD mailing alone is a masterpiece of political manipulation, and we'll take a shot at parsing it.

Here's the mailer:

Click Images to Enlarge


The district's mailer starts with a photo a cute, enthusiastic girl raising her hand. She sports a broad smile because thanks to Claremont schools she can answer any question with confidence. The girl is literally spotlighted. She is in full color and sharp focus, while the other children in the background are out of focus and screened with gray to contrast our shining CUSD student. You're a kid hater if you vote down a bond to help this sweet child.

Underneath this girl's image is a small banner that says "Community Update from Claremont Schools." Ah! See, California Fair Political Practices Commission, it's a newsletter, not a campaign piece, full of information about the goings on in our district. Let's take a look at what's inside:
  1. When we open the mailer, we see a highlighted paragraph explaining that CUSD "continues to be known for providing our local students with an exceptional education."

    Nothing better than repetition to establish our starting point: Our schools are outstanding and are an asset to our community (i.e., you, Mr. and Ms. Voter).

  2. The first bullet point bears the heading "Academic Acheivement."

    More message repetition -good schools, good teachers, good kids, good community.

  3. Next comes: "High-Quality Classroom Instruction Despite State Cuts."

    Our district and its teachers are hard at work desperately trying to hold the quality education line against the state's crushing budget crisis. The underlying message is that this great asset, CUSD, is threatened by a fiscal crisis not of its own doing - look, we're doing our best, but we're at the edge of a cliff here. Whatever will we do?

    (Cue up the Snidely Whiplash laugh and Nell about to be cast into the abyss.)

  4. "Potential Bond Measure to Update Schools, Offset State Cuts."

    More fear. With CUSD offering up the solution: Thanks goodness! CUSD, the same people behind Measure Y, has a fiscal plan to save us. They'll even hire the same consultants! All you have to do is support our bond measure in November.

    (Cue up the Dudley Do-Right theme.)

    There's no mention of any specific work that will be done, just a list of things like:

    • The removal of hazardous materials like lead and asbestos.

      Hey, if CUSD is so competent, why our they exposing our dear front-page student to poisons?

    • Retrofitting our schools with energy efficient improvements.

      Got to appeal to the green voters - people concerned with the environment, not voters turning green from being spun by consultants.

    • Fixing leaky roofs, updating technology, improving student safety.

      ee the first bullet above.

    • Replacing old wiring:

      Good God! Our kids are going to get electrocuted if we don't pass this bond!

      Here the district's consultant has not-so-subtly inserted the obligatory photo of frayed wiring - the district and bond proponents did this sort of thing with Measure Y, BTW.

      In this instance, they've also juxtaposed the perilous wiring photo with a picture of a classroom with a teacher instructing kids who are sitting in front of flat-screen monitors - look out 21st Century, here comes CUSD!

  5. "Fiscal Accountability."

    Rest assured, voter. We're looking out for your money. We'll appoint a citizen's oversight committee (handpicked by us) "to ensure funds are spent appropriately." We'll also conduct yearly audits - conducted by an auditing consultant (also of our own choosing).

    You can trust CUSD. After all, we had citizen oversight with Measure Y.

As always, the district's literature fails to show how that $95 million will save a single teacher's job. We'll have shiny new equipment, all the bells and whistles, but fewer teachers.

And, speaking of fiscal accountability, never forget that in the 2000 Measure Y campaign, proponents spent about $80,000, most of which was raised by district contractors - exactly the people and entities who would have benefited from the bond money. They undoubtedly looked at that $80,000 in campaign donations as an investment that offered substantial returns in the form of CUSD contracts.

We'll see more of the same this time, and, like the little girl on the cover of CUSD's mailer, the school board possesses absolute confidence in the bond measure's passage. Get enough fear into people, and they'll vote for anything.

Once the bond resolution is approved Thursday, the campaign effort will be seamlessly handed off to an election committee led by people the Claremont 400 have slated to be future school board members. The last time around, current board member Jeff Stark figured prominently in the campaign.

Remember, voters, always follow the pea.