Claremont Insider: Paving Paradise

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Paving Paradise

(Click to enlarge)
City of Trees I

Saturday's Claremont Courier had an article by Tony Krickl about the city of Claremont bulldozing several acres of its Wilderness Park, including a large section running along Thompson Creek:
The city decided to bulldoze the land in an attempt to save money on an unexpected project. City officials acknowledged they made a big mistake.

“I admit our actions were wrong,” said Community Services Director Scott Carroll, speaking at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “I’m deeply sorry for putting the city [in this position]. Our intent was to comply with [the county regulations] and protect the homes on Via Padova.”

Bare terrain is all that remains next to these Padua Hills homes after a bulldozer was used to clear the area as part the city’s fire abatement plan.

The decision to bulldoze caused irreparable damage to the land, said residents and ecological experts, and will end up costing the city upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix. The exact price tag has not yet been determined.

Back in July, the city was notified by the Los Angeles County Fire Department that the territory had been surveyed and the brush needed to be cleared behind the homes. This year has been particularly dry and prone to fires, so the extra safety precautions were necessary. The city had already set their budget for the next 2 years, and the unexpected abatement expenses had not been planned for.

But fear of liability was an overriding concern for City Manager Jeff Parker in case a fire did break out. He did not want to be in the same position as the previous city manager back in 2003 when fire ripped through Palmer Canyon, destroying homes and leading to a $17.5 million lawsuit settlement.

“I told [Mr. Carroll] to get it done,” Mr. Parker said.

Community Services Department staff came up with a plan that was quick and cost-effective. In mid-August, the bulldozers were brought in to complete the work.

Residents are now concerned that the area is prone to erosion, excessive dust and the invasion of non-native plants. With fall and winter rains around the corner, time is limited to repair the damage.

One thing we're being told by readers who seen the area is that you really can't appreciate the extent of the damage unless you walk down inside that canyon running along the east end of the Wilderness Park. It's apparently very difficult to get an idea of the scope of the damage from the road. The Courier photos do show how wide the swath was, though.

Another thing readers are telling us is that while the ground in the photos looks like hard-packed clay, most of it is really a fine powder several inches deep that gets picked up and blown all over by the wind - remember the Dust Bowl? Once the soil goes, whether by wind or rain, it's going to drive up the cost of fixing the damage.

The silence from groups like the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, whose newsletter editor Robin Ives teaches math at Harvey Mudd College, strikes us as particularly odd. The Angeles Chapter is involved enough in Claremont local politics to have endorsed Sam Pedroza in the last city election. Why no involvement in this issue?

Or what about Claremont Heritage, which has a particular interest in the Padua Theatre? That same bulldozer ran up the canyon all around the Theatre, causing damage there. You'd think the people interested in preserving the Theatre's structures would be concerned about the ground under the buildings being undermined by erosion or that the view of the Wilderness Park would be marred by that bulldozer blade scraping great red gashes in the canyon. Is historical preservation something that's confined to the built environment, or does it extend to the the natural environment as well?

If a private landowner had done what the city did, these groups would be all over the hapless private party. But since it's the city creating the damage, they hold their tongues, giving tacit approval to the actions with their silence.

Odd indeed. But then, that's Claremont in a nutshell.

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One reader who wrote in commented on the Courier article's grammar:
SUBJECT: Courier editing staff
DATE: Saturday, September 13, 2008 11:05 PM
TO: Claremont Buzz

Over the past couple weeks I have noticed a couple of jaw-dropping printing errors in the Courier. But somehow this headline from the Courier website reminded me of you, dear Insider: "In the eastern portion of the Claremont Wilderness Park, plots of baron [sic] land covered with tire tracks can be seen behind dozens of Padua Hills homes."

Who knew that Claremont had a real-life aristocracy?

We caught that bit too, but with our occasional typos and misspellings, we're hardly in any position to criticize the Courier.

And then there was this reader who thinks we need a plaque on Thompson Creek to commemorate the damage:
SUBJECT: bulldozed
DATE: Saturday, September 13, 2008 1:07 PM
TO: Claremont Buzz

Someone with a couple hundred dollars to spare should put up a commemorative plaque with the names of city officials at the site of the bullzdozer massacre. A great piece of political theater, for people who follow Claremont politics and get the joke.