Claremont Insider: Community Service

Friday, October 8, 2010

Community Service

The debate over the Claremont Unified School District's $95 million Measure CL bond has raged in the pages of the Claremont Courier's reader letters section these past few weeks. Citizens on both sides of the school bond issue have used letters to the Courier as a sort of community forum.

The Courier itself seems to have slanted its coverage more towards the Yes on CL side, presenting an interview with members of the Yes on CL committee, taking readers on a CUSD-sponsored dog-and-pony show tour of Claremont High School, tossing in an article praising the district's test scores, as well as what amounted to an interview with Yes on CL's campaign consultant Jared Boigon of TBWB Strategies, who has been stage managing the yes campaign from San Francisco (at the cost of many tens of thousands of dollars, we might add).

Still, there not many other places to find both sides of CL the argument presented, the Courier did manage this past Wednesday to throw the No on CL group a bone by featuring an interview with their spokespeople, Donna Lowe, Opanyi Nasiali, and Jay Pocock. In a normal election year, our various local service organizations and institutions would be holding election forums where matters such as the November school bond could be debated.

For example, The Kiwanis Club, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, Pilgrim Place, the Claremont Manor, Our Lady of Assumption Church, and Active Claremont all traditionally hold city council candidate forums, as they will next spring in advance of the March, 2011, municipal election.

The local League of Women Voters chapter holds the forum with the greatest cachet. It's usually one of the best attended of the candidate debates, and a good showing there can certainly help a prospective council member's chances of winning a seat.

Which is why this blurb from Daily Bulletin reporter Wes Woods' Claremont Now blog strikes us as odd:

Pros and cons on the nine California propositions for the Nov. 2 general election will be discussed at 2 p.m. Sunday Oct. 10 at the Claremont Public Library, 208 Harvard Ave.

The league and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Pomona Valley Alumnae Chapter will host a 59th Assembly District candidates forum. The forum will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday Oct.11 in the Padua Room at the Alexander [Hughes] Community Center at 1700 Danbury Road.

We would have expected the LWV, an organization that prides itself on its non-partisan efforts at educating voters on local, state, and national issues, to have been one of the first to offer both sides of the Measure CL debate to give their reasons why voters should be for or against the bond. This is clearly an issue that's generated a great deal of community interest and one that will affect CUSD property owners' pocketbooks for years to come. Yet, Measure CL is conspicuously absent from the League's fall election events.

Similarly, the Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations, including Sustainable Claremont, have endorsed the bond without giving opponents a chance to present their views. Whatever side one favors in the Measure CL election, all this lack of activity by our so-called communitarian organizations gives a good insight into how things work in our little, close-minded community.

As always, it's not what you know but who you know. It's a good ol' girls and boys network of the same circle of people running each and every group mentioned above, along with the Claremont Education Foundation, the Claremont Community Foundation, the Red Cross, and a host of other local charities.

The result is that opponents of any issues have an extremely hard time making their cases to the voters. Forums, by their very nature, require each side to have equal time. So even if the LWV tries to tailor the debate questions to the strengths of the people it favors, they still have to give opponents a chance to respond.

The absence of any school bond forums makes us wonder if the League and their fellow Claremont 400 organizations recognize Measure CL's weaknesses and are trying to help it by not holding any public debates. This goes along with the perception that bond's proponents are trying to avoid substantive discussions of the measure.

All of the Yes on CL mailings, for instance, speak in generalities, and the proponents, as well as the school board, have failed to offer up any specific details of how the money will be spent. For instance, the most recent mailings, which went out this past Monday and Tuesday, don't make any mention the $95 million price tag. And you'll never hear them talk about the $250 million total price after financing the bond for 40 years - an extra long payment schedule CUSD had to use to keep the payments per household at $45 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Further, CUSD has actually ignored public records requests and has withheld public information on the bond's financial details because they know that their own numbers will torpedo their arguments (another thing you won't hear about in the Daily Bulletin or the Claremont Courier).

The one organization that is holding a forum is Active Claremont. The AC school bond forum will be 7pm Thursday, October 21, in the Santa Fe room of the Alexander Hughes Center. Both sides will answer questions submitted by those in attendance.

By the way, Active Claremont, unlike the League or the Chamber of Commerce, is truly neutral, which probably explains why they're willing to host the debate. They don't endorse one side or another, they just let them talk. So let's stop giving false praise to those other groups for their community building efforts. The real communitarians in Claremont demonstrate their respect for all people and opinions in town through their actions, not their words.