Claremont Insider: Stinkin' Laws

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stinkin' Laws

After seven years, sports groups are celebrating the decision by the Claremont City Council to go forward with Phases 1 and 1A of the Padua Ave. Sports Park. The sports groups and Human Services Commissioner Valerie Martinez have long pushed for the park. The sports groups are happy because they say there is a severe shortage of lighted fields, and Martinez cheers because she sees the sports groups as a power block to support her own plans for rehabilitating her tarnished post-Preserve Claremont image. (You have to hand it to Martinez, the original Transparent Woman; she has no shame and certainly isn't lacking for chutzpah.)

Tuesday night, the Claremont City Council approved going forward with the first two phases of the park at a total cost of about $3.6 million. The council had already approved approximately spending $2.4 million for Phase 1, which consists of one unlit soccer field and 52 parking spaces. On Monday, however, the city received an additional $850,000 from the San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy (RMC), and that allowed the city to go forward with Phase 1A, which includes the lit soccer field and 58 more parking spots.

One thing the council didn't really discuss is how their approval of the two park phases will mean raiding the city's General Fund Reserve and taking nearly $1 million to build Phase 1A. In addition to needing to burn an extra $527,000 of General Fund Reserve funds, they are "borrowing" another $450,000 in reserve money and promise to repay that from city Park Development Impact Fees. The problem with that is that those fees are paid by developers when they build new projects in town. As you may have noticed, there's not a whole lot of building going on right now, and there's no guarantee when developers will move forward with new projects. So that repayment money may be a long time in coming.

Another thing they didn't talk much about Tuesday night was that because the RMC money comes from a conservancy that is supposed to be preserving the 8.9 acres of sage habitat that the sports park would otherwise destroy, the city sold the project to the RMC as a project that meets the city's draft Sustainability Plan, and the city made representations (false?) that it would use part of the grant to preserve a chunk of the sage habitat. The city dangled a promise to the RMC that the city might set up a 6 acre habitat area with walking trails.

Of course, you know all about Claremont's history of promise keeping. Once they received the RMC's $850,000 for Phase 1 on Monday, the city council on Tuesday night turned around and were then able to use Claremont money that would have otherwise been used on Phase 1 and plugged it into Phase 1A. In effect, the San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy is underwriting the destruction of the habitat in Phase 1A and the introduction of sports park lights into a foothill area that has very strict lighting restrictions. This is a bait-and-switch of extraordinary proportions. Well executed, Claremont!

Judging from Tuesday night's discussions, Claremont's arguments for being able to break the lighting rules for Northeast Claremont, courtesy of City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, are that the city's own rules don't apply to the city itself. No surprise there, since we know that Carvalho seemed to believe last year that the First Amendment and quaint notions about prior restraint had no place in Claremont.

The city is apparently foregoing Phase 2 for the present. Phase 2 would have included a lit softball field and unlit tennis courts. It originally included a lit roller hockey rink in place of the tennis courts.

(We've received a little more information on the RMC grant, complete with some spiffy images, and we'll be serving that up in the coming days.)

The Daily Bulletin had a story on the park decision. Because the 100-foot sports lights in Phase 1A were an issue for Councilmember Corey Calaycay, the council bifurcated the vote. The council unanimously approved going forward with Phase 1 and voted 4-1 for adding in Phase 1A, with Calaycay dissenting. According to the Bulletin:

The council voted for the project in two phases. Council members voted unanimously in the first phase for one soccer field without lights, among other items. In the second phase, Corey Calaycay cast the dissenting vote because he opposed a soccer field with lights.

``I have no objection to the park,'' Calaycay said. ``My objection is to the lights.'' Calaycay said that while he supported the park, the property needed to have its designated zoning changed from rural, and he didn't like ``bending rules.''

``They've always had lighting standards there,'' Calaycay said Wednesday.

``A big criticism of government is when they make rules apply to others and not themselves,'' Calaycay said. ``It brings government into question.''

The RMC might want to know (if they cared) that the council was already talking about replacing that 6 acres of sage habitat they said they were going to preserve with another sports field. Councilmember Peter Yao said he did not want to accept $50,000 from the RMC for a habitat feasibility study because he wanted a third sports field on the Padua site. Yao said he knew how what a conservancy's study would say, and he wanted no part of it.

Yao's support for the Padua project was quite a change from September, 2002, when then-candidate Yao sent a letter to the Claremont Courier that laid out all the reasons why he was against not only Padua Sport Park but Village West as well:
I initially agreed with the City's decisions to build more homes in the Village West expansion and to construct a sports facility in Padua Park. However, the comments from the public have caused me to rethink my position. Four public statements voiced in various city council meetings have prompted my re-evaluation:

1. Who would want to live in the new upscale Village West homes built next to an active railroad track?

2. Padua Park will generate a heavy volume of traffic on Padua Ave., a narrow two-lane rural road.

3. Lit up, the Padua Park, with tens of thousands of megawatts of lighting, will ruin the character of the quiet North Claremont.

4. It makes no sense to locate the largest Claremont sports facility in the extreme northern corner of the city.

The problem is that both the Village West and Padua Park capital projects do not adhere to Claremont's zoning philosophy. The zoning laws caution us not to put houses in a noisy zone and not to put large sports facilities in a quiet zone.

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It's easy to see why Yao has changed back to supporting the park. As he has learned by now with the able tutoring of one Sonia Carvalho, in Claremont, we don't need no stinkin' laws!