Claremont Insider: 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Sheriff in Town

Claremont City Manager Tony Ramos, Left, and Tinky Winky

By now, Tony Ramos will have taken the chair in the big office in City Hall. He was approved as a replacement for Jeff Parker by City Council late last month in one of the most ram-rodded railroaded maneuvers seen in this city, at least publicly, in years.

Ramos is a two-time bankrupt, most recently this summer where, on a salary north of $170K annually, he stiffed his creditors to the tune of 70 cents on the dollar. Perhaps now with his raise to $198K, car, and a bunch of other benefits, the bankruptcy trustee will take another look and bump up his repayment so he pays every cent he owes. He can afford it. (Remember, his domestic partner went BK earlier this ear with some $40K-$50K in debt in his own name. So the Ramos household is going into 2012 with a clean slate and a new cushy job. Nice to have friends in high places.)

In its most recent meeting, the Council lowered the signature authority of the City Manager from $75,000 to $25,000. This action was draped in the bureaucratic misdirection of providing "consistency" in the purchasing authority of the City Manager and department heads. Uh, why? The elephant in the room that no one would mention is that the lower authority is a tacit acknowledgement by Council (the only one) that Tony Ramos' management of finances might need--well--a little oversight.

It's not clear whether Ramos took the reins on Thursday, December 23, as indicated by the most recent City press release, or today, as the press release announcing Parker's resignation would imply. Whatever, you can be sure the decision was made with the best interests of Parker and Ramos in the fore.

* * * * * * *

The image leading this post was acquired from a public Facebook post by Tinky Winky himself.
It was not Photoshopped.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas-- Now STFU

Kathryn Dunn, the Managing Editor of the Claremont Courier, seldom makes news and tries to stay out of the limelight. We last heard about her when there was a photo circulating of her making Monica-eyes at Bill Clinton. We don't expect that Dunn has been the places Monica has been, nor done the things Monica has done.

She did, however, take pen in hand to scribe a Christmas missive in Wednesday's paper entitled, The Politics of Charity in Claremont. She was so proud of it that she--or the Publisher-- put it on the Courier homepage for December 24th. Because it has engendered so much talk in town, and since she and the paper obviously want it to get wide circulation, we do our meager part and reproduce it below, exactly as printed in the Courier, along with a discreet Photoshop commentary on the page image. We trust everyone will agree that this is fair use and won't get their panties in a wad about it.

click image to enlarge
click image to enlarge

We will let Ms. Dunn's words speak for themselves...but let's just say that this piece could be a bit more tightly-written and coherent. We do note, however, that she conflates the group Claremonters Against Outrageous Water Rates with another group Claremont Taxpayers for Common Sense. That is actually a pretty fair example of her factual bases and cogency of argument. She pretends to see nuance, but mis-apprehends what's in plain sight.

There is at least one letter in the Saturday December 24 number of the paper touching on her piece. However, the email servers in Claremont have been melting down the past few days with tentative replies, draft replies, replies, comments, outrage and the like. We've received a boatload, but one will give you the flavor:
"Not that you had any doubts about it anyway, but today the Courier spells out in unusually plain language the utter contempt that their editorial staff holds for anyone in town who dares to question the liberal orthodoxy of Claremont's self-anointed ruling elite. According to the Managing Editor of the Courier, when a handful of narcissists set up a faux refugee camp on the steps of city hall, they are making a positive contribution to our community, as is our city council when it patiently resolves to address the issue of political encampments sometime in the distant future; but if a substantial number of law-abiding citizens respectfully ask that the anti-camping ordinance be enforced, or question the wisdom of our bankrupt state giving free tuition to illegal aliens, or exercise their right to publicly comment on water rates, or decline to rubber-stamp a blank-check $100 million school bond, they are divisive obstructionists who are negatively affecting Claremont's reputation. Got that? Good. Now STFU* and do what you are told. Dissent is no longer patriotic within the city limits. And bring your checkbook."

* * * * *

*STFU? Look it up on the Internet. And Merry Christmas. And buy the Courier

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cause and Effect

At the Library

A killer wind struck Claremont last night following the appointment of Tony Ramos as next City Manager. Many were left without power through the night and into the following day. In almost every neighborhood, along 'most every street: limbs, trees, and trash littered the gutters, shoulders, and sidewalks.

All of this in retribution visited by Providence on the City for council's abominable action in chambers last night. Too bad our neighbors had to suffer also. A Shakespeare might've described described it thus:

The night has been unruly. Where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' th' air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatched to the woeful time. The obscure bird
Clamored the livelong night. Some say the Earth
Was feverous and did shake.

Wellesley Street Light Wires Taken Down

Another Block on Wellesley

On College

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ho-Hum; No News Today

10:30 p.m. The end of just another quiet day in Claremont. The city council approved Tony Ramos as new City Manager on a 5-0 vote. But then we had that two days ago.

King of Claremont

Preparations are moving apace for the coronation of King Tony I tonight at City Hall, 6:30 p.m.

See here, here, and here for background.

Some City Process Wonks are whining to us that, "Hey Insider, you goofball: it's not a done deal. Council didn't 'hire' Tony Ramos on Monday. It only approved a recommendation of the ad hoc committee." Well, yeah.

Make no mistake. The special meeting tonight to rubber-stamp the action in closed session will be one of the most useless, forgone-conclusion, scripted, eye-candy meetings that even Claremont has put on. And Claremont is the acknowledged world leader in U,F-C,S,E-CM.

We understand Tony is already measuring the drapes in that big corner office, and for Tony Ramos that is a task he can really get into.

If it doesn't go down as we say in our last post, we'll eat our bearskin hat.

By the way, a reader points out to us that the city of Riverside is just concluding a search for a new City Manager. That city's search attracted 42 candidates and 10 finalists. What a waste of time and effort on their part...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ramos Hired

Drudge Siren Pictures, Images and Photos
8:56 p.m. Monday, November 28. Word from the report-out from council's nearly 3-hour closed session is that Tony Ramos is hired as the next city manager. City will post details by Tuesday, 6 p.m.

The Fix Is In

Fast Track for Tony Ramos.
Eyewash and Window Dressing for the Public
Another BK in Tony Ramos' Past...

By now it's common knowledge that the plan hatched last Monday (Nov 21) by at least 3 members of the city council is to "fast track" the appointment of Assistant City Manager Tony Ramos to the soon-vacant position of City Manager. A "Done Deal" the Courier calls it.

Why is this man smiling? Courier Photo.

Here's what passes for public participation and transparency in Claremont:

November 21: Closed session council meeting to discuss "vacancy"in CM position. Parker and Ramos orchestrate Amen-Chorus of reliable business-types touting Tony Ramos for CM in brief public comment prior to meeting. Those not in the know wondered, "Gee, here we just had a vacancy announced and already we are discussing a specific candidate. That's weird." "Surely this is just a process meeting of some sort."

November 22: Jeff Parker announces The Plan (during city manager's report at regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting):

Over Thanksgiving Holiday: Sam Pedroza and Larry Schroeder are to negotiate a contract with the sole and only candidate for the position: Tony Ramos.

November 28: Closed session council meeting scheduled to review and approve contract negotiated with Tony Ramos

November 29: Draft contract--already approved in closed session by city council--made available for public review with agenda for--

November 30: Special open meeting to publicly approve contract with Tony Ramos. Coronation to follow immediately.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder has been known to remark, in the frustratingly interminable Claremont processes that unerringly ensue when dealing with problems of regular citizens that, "Heh, heh, Claremont is not 'slow', it's 'deliberate' Heh, heh." Oh, he just loves that line. Well, deliberation has nothing to do with this procedure.

From what we hear, probably all five council members pre-judged Ramos based on their personal assessment that he is a good guy and a go-fer for Jeff Parker of the first magnitude, and decided that all such extraneous process matters such as a search, candidates, vetting, background check, public participation, etc., could be dispensed with. Sam Pedroza seems to be the head cheerleader for this idea if you read the black letter of the Courier and Bulletin. And then they decided to negotiate with him from the enviable position of strength [sarcasm alert for you Democratic-club types] that he's their sole candidate.

Parker--the man behind the curtain--foresaw the problems that Ramos' BK would pose and helpfully hypnotized the council members that they were prohibited from considering it. Make no mistake; Parker has been working this one hard.

We have always thought that this is less about the fact of personal bankruptcy on Ramos' part, and more about the light that the bankruptcy shines on his judgment. What do we have on that score?

According to today's Daily Bulletin, Ramos' bankruptcy petition in March 2011 was dismissed (that is, he was given no relief from his creditors) because he failed to make certain post petition payments. See the article, here (but it may go behind a paywall soon). We are unclear whether this conclusion is the result of reporting by Wes Woods II, or simply an interpretation of the BK documents posted here or available after registration on But the fact remains that it was dismissed and it appears that Ramos took the mere filing of the BK as a get-out-of-jail-free card with respect to those mortgage payments. His probable thought process: "If I'm going to go bankrupt anyways, it might as well be for a large amount as a small amount."

The Courier--in an excellent pair of articles last Wednesday--actually interviewed someone in the office of the BK Trustee in Orange County. It is clear from the Courier article that we mis-interpreted the wet-stamp on the court order posted last week.

From the above document (click to enlarge, and see in the box, middle of page, right), it appears that Ramos' BK was approved on July 21, 2011, and he actually was scheduled to pay $2125 on Aug 9, Sep 9, and Oct 9. Thus, by the time he had missed THREE monthly payments, on October 12, the Trustee threw in the towel and filed for a dismissal of the current BK. Said motion was later withdrawn, where it stands as this is written.

The Courier notes in it's article that last week, four months after the final court action on Tony Ramos' BK, he was behind more than half the amount due. He had paid $3592 of the $8500 now due the BK trustee, with the balance due by November 30.

We will post the Courier page here until the Courier objects. You should go out and buy the paper, or better yet subscribe to it. If the page is pulled, you should look in the Courier archives on its website. Look for the November 23, 2011 issue. Click image, right, to enlarge.

Pattern and Practice:
Not His First Rodeo

One of the advantages of crowd-sourcing is that there are a lot of minds working on the problem. We got a tip that the current matter is not Tony Ramos' first recourse to bankruptcy. Sure enough, in May of 1986, there was a Tony Ramos in West Covina with the same last four digits of our Tony's SSAN who was discharged under Chapter 7. We are reticent to get cross-wise with the bankruptcy court, so we will redact the SSANs and addresses. However, follow our instructions at the bottom of the prior post, search the LA BK court records for "Ramos", scan the list for "Anthony" and pull up the one-page record. Note the last four of the SSAN there match the last four of the SSAN when you search for the current case in the Central District BK court. That's our Tony.

One curious feature of this 1986 case is that Tony's attorney was Victor Tessier. Who is Victor Tessier? He was at the time a Pomona attorney doing quite well, thank you, and buying up troubled properties. His sons Jerry and Ed are the owners/operators of the Claremont Packing House and Lessees of the Padua Hills Theatre. Both venues are heavily entwined with City of Claremont finances and business perks. Jerry and Ed are involved, through family partnerships, corporations, or interlocking directorships, with the Hip Kitty, for example, which received--surprise--a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Claremont last year. And Tony--this will shock you--is the go-to guy for City economic development.

It's just like one big happy family. None dare call it cronyism. But the whole process involving Tony Ramos carries the odor of cronyism over due process and best practice.

It's our considered opinion that Ramos' is eminently unqualified to manage any city. This has nothing to do with the bankruptcies per se. But the insight the record gives to his breathtaking lack of judgment, as evidenced by his continually getting into the financial quicksand and more notably by his very recent, contemporaneous, and relevant actions in not strictly following the orders of the court--these traits make us think that Tony Ramos is a time-bomb waiting to explode.

We are watching very carefully how our councilmembers carry themselves on this one.

Monday, November 21, 2011


City Council meets tonight in closed session to discuss the upcoming vacancy in the City Manager billet when CM Jeff Parker departs for Tustin, a 15 percent raise, and that much fatter pension when he retires.

Since the discussion will take place in closed session, we assume it will cover more than simple issues of process. In fact, Friends of Tony Ramos--including Jeff Parker and Mayor Sam Pedroza--are already in print pushing his candidacy.

Tony Ramos, from a Claremont Courier photo

"...A perfect fit for this community", Parker is quoted in the Courier [Saturday, November 19]. The Courier goes on to write, "Mr. Ramos is the 'natural candidate', according to Mayor Sam Pedroza." We hear there is quite a bit of lobbying going on behind the scenes.

The Courier goes on to address, obliquely and in the most genteel way, how "[c]ouncil would not comment on Mr. Ramos' personal bankruptcy filing last March and how that might affect his fiscal responsibilities as potential city manager. " Councilmember Nasiali is quoted, somewhat breathtakingly, that "bankruptcy is a personal matter, but I don't see that as having to be intermingled [with his potential responsibilities as city manager]."

As is frequently the case, the Courier is a bit behind the times. Not only did Ramos file for bankruptcy last winter (the case was heard in March and dismissed for reasons that don't appear in the public written record), but he re-filed again in May 2011. This second petition proceeded without serious apparent impediment through the summer (it was amended somewhat on July 15) and Ramos was adjudged a Bankrupt--if that is the term--under Chapter 13 on September 23, 2011.

While we don't agree at all with councilmember Nasiali, who erects an imaginary Chinese Wall between a person's private integrity and public integrity, we have purposely stayed away from the Ramos matter on this blog because it was--well--kind of distasteful to us. The Insider has received several emails asking, in sum, "what's the story on Tony Ramos' bankruptcy?" And, we have received numerous emails over the past six months pointing out certain facts, issues, and angles to the story.

Almost all of the documents relating to the Ramos bankruptcy are public records at the bankruptcy court in Riverside.

It's Hard to Struggle by on an Income of $170,000 Per Year

Ramos' May 9 bankruptcy petition is essentially similar to his first one a few months earlier. It appears to have a bit more backup information.

(Use the controls under the window below to view the document)

Ramos Second Bk Eleven Documents

It shows a current monthly income of $14,282, annualized to $171,384. This is well over twice the relevant median family income for a California household of 4 ($78.869 from DOJ website). Still, $170K doesn't go as far as it used to although a lot of people would probably think they could scrape by on that.

Ramos' list of debts is noteworthy. It's not always possible to determine the time period exactly when these were incurred, but the list alone is rather daunting:

  • City of Claremont, 557 Loan, $2287
  • F&A Credit Union, auto loan on 2006 F150 truck, $13,208
  • Specialized Loan Services, 2nd lien on home taken in 2005, $148,000
  • Toyota Motor Credit, 2009 car loan on Camry, $19,614
  • Wells Fargo, 1st mortgage on home, $457,308 (home value est. at $440K)
  • IRS, 2008 Tax Debt, $3592
  • ACS/CLC College Loan, educational, $1835
  • Bank of America, credit debt, $6493
  • Calvary Portfolio Svcs, collection agency for GE Money Bank, $11,533
  • Capital One, credit debt, $2303
  • Capital One (another acct), $4335
  • Chase, $5415
  • Chase (another), $3498
  • Chase (yet another), $4494
  • Collection Consultants, collection agency for Bear Valley Comm. Hospital, $1094
  • Discount Tire, 2006 credit card (sweet wheels on some vehicle...) $1391
  • Diversi[fied] Col[lections], collection agency for college loan, $2000
  • Dr. Altwin, 2010 visit, $377
  • Dscvr/glelsi [sic], educational,, opened 8/11/08, $2217
  • Firstar, auto lease, $5152
  • GEMB/Mervyns, $452
  • Household Bank, credit card debt, $196
  • Household Credit Services, credit debt, $2033
  • Inland Valley Anesthesia, 2010, $519
  • Inter Community Medical Center, 2010 medical bills, $457
  • Kohls/Chase, credit card, $1261
  • Lowes/MBGA, last active 3/19/2009, $8497
  • National Credit Adjust, account HSBC, $4321
  • Nordstroms, $4456
  • Premier Family Medical, $67
  • US Bank, $1102
  • US Bank (another), $5152
  • Wells Fargo Financial Bank, credit card, last active 3/27/2009, $890
  • WFFNB, credit card, $3764

Simply put, Tony Ramos owes money, as the Dude said about Bunny in The Big Lebowski, all over town. The bankruptcy petition shows a couple of judgments against Tony for breach of contract.

That is not all. Apparently the Ramos household decided sometime last Fall or Winter to adopt bankruptcy as a business model. Tony's domestic partner filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October and it was granted, relieving him of $40-some thousand in debt, as close as we can make it. This discharge of debt occurred in March.

Chapter 7 is the "you can't get blood out of a turnip" chapter and Tony's domestic partner was able to show virtually no income against large monthly expenses. Thus, his dischargable debts were made to go away.

Tony Ramos filed under Chapter 13 because of his disposable income. His 60-month repayment plan is as follows:

The amount of each monthly plan payment is $2125 for months 1 to 35. For months 36 to 60, the monthly plan payment is $2218. The due date is the 9th day of each month. The plan provides for the payment of 30% of allowed claims for general unsecured creditors.

This is a base plan with the debtor paying at least $129,825 of disposable income in the Plan. The debtor shall submit statements of income on an annual basis to the Trustee, which income shall be reviewed by the Trustee who may petition the court to increase the monthly plan payment for cause until such time as all allowed unsecured creditors, to the extent they are to be paid during the term of the Plan, are paid 100%

Without working knowledge of the details of bankruptcy law, it is a little hard to parse just how much debt is actually discharged. It also depends on the details of payments into the plan over the next 5 years. A good guess, subject to refinement, is a couple hundred thousand dollars.

In total, the Ramos household has discharged debts in the past year totalling--what?--nearly a quarter million dollars, plus or minus.

We assume, though there is no documentation in the Court record, that Tony has duly reported his 5% raise granted by Jeff Parker last August. Such reports would be between him and the Bankruptcy Trustee.

(There is an interesting addendum to this in the court documents. On October 12, three days after the first payment to the Trustee was due, the Trustee petitioned the Court for an order dismissing the bankruptcy in re: Anthony Ramos. The grounds are stated: "This motion is based on the following grounds: material default by the debtor with respect to the term of the confirmed plan by failing to make payments according to the plan (11 U.S.C. 1307(c)(6)."

So, immediately after getting a favorable judgement, Tony Ramos failed to make the first payment deadline. (It should be noted, on October 25 the Trustee moved to withdraw the above motion, so presumably Tony ponied up.)

Why rehearse these dreary facts?

The question is this: Is this the kind of person Claremont wants as its City Manager? We've heard several "justifications" for considering Ramos from people who should know better. First, "rather the crook we know than the crook we don't know; there are all kinds of crooked city managers out there and you really don't want them." Second, "If Tony knows we know, he'll be more likely to stay on the up-and-up." And finally, winning the sympathy vote, "Tony needs the City Manager job or he won't be able to pay off his creditors."

These justifications, while given with all earnestness, sound silly. The City Manager is a role model, like it or not. How can Ramos have any moral authority with any employee, stakeholder, or group with a record flagrant with irresponsible management of his own finances as outlined in the court documents? And what about his propensity to cut corners, shave the rules or norms for Tony's benefit? (there is a statement buried in the court documents explaining away Tony's failure to keep up with his mortgage payments to the tune of some $18,000. He apparently didn't think he had to pay them when he had filed for bankruptcy.)

Would the City Fathers (they are all men, now) actually consider giving him a City credit card? And what about somebody, somewhere, who might have something they could hold over Ramos--a misstatement someplace, inadvertent or not. Really. This guy couldn't hold the lowest level security clearance because of the ripe possibility of being susceptible to extortion.

We don't necessarily begrudge a person caught in a financial bind not of his making. That's why we have bankruptcy laws instead of debtors' prisons. From appearances, though, Ramos' problems are entirely of his making, starting long ago and continuing over years. (For example, he's not really that underwater on his house. He owes $476K on the first and values it at $440K. The problem is the $148,000 plus he took out of it in 2005 and owes now as a second trust deed. Where did that go?)

Make no mistake. Tony Ramos' entire situation is the responsibility of one Tony Ramos.

Maybe in the current situation, Parker is right when he says Ramos " the perfect fit for this community." And the Mayor is right when he says, Ramos is the "natural candidate". Maybe to lead the City into bankruptcy, the town needs someone with first-hand experience.

* * * * *

The documents here are a matter of public record, available at the website Registration and a credit card is required, though the document viewing costs is a nominal 8 cents per page. Even that is waived unless the download count is really large. The court is the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Central District, ECF. Court rules require that addresses and SSANs be redacted in subsequent publication.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ring of Dance

The news that Meg Worley and Kevin Lahey, the Pomona couple that started a blog called M-M-M-My Pomona (they lost one "M-" early on), have moved from the area left us feeling a little glum, as if we'd lost a friend.  Worley and Lahey have moved on to bigger and better things up in San Jose.  We wish them the best in their new endeavors, but we'll sorely miss the fresh voice and crisp writing Meg brought to the table.

We read of this departure in David Allen's Daily Bulletin column and in Allen's own blog, where Allen touched on the evanescence of life in the digital age:
M-M-M-My Pomona offered a window into the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the wider world of Pomona, especially in the blog's earlier days. Many of the community of blogs in Pomona have gone dormant; the form seems to have peaked in 2009 or 2010.

It's a little strange to think of something as new as blogging as having already fallen out of favor, but that's the way the changing media landscape bounces. The form still seems to have a lot of untapped potential locally.

In his column, Allen wrote that Pomona has a fairly lively blogging world compared to surrounding areas:
In 2010, the Pomona bloggers had their own float in the Christmas Parade, riding together on a flatbed truck, carrying laptops and waving to children. Now that's influence. (Which I can say, as a former grand marshal.)

Contrary to Pomona's reputation as a backwards, disconnected place, the city has been a hotbed of blogging, with up to a dozen active blogs commenting on local affairs from personal perspectives and linking to each other.

To my knowledge Claremont has only one community blog, and if Upland, Rancho Cucamonga or Chino have any, they're certainly quiet about it.

Actually, besides the Insider, Claremont does have Life in Claremont, which is the domain of Charlotte Van Ryswyk, a violin and viola teacher and the music specialist at Vista del Valle Elementary School.  Life in Claremont is extremely well-written, has a unique voice, and offers a little of everything: books, music, food, and, as the title promises, day-to-day life in our humble burg.  And a few new Claremont-oriented blogs pop up now and again and then pass away quicker than mayflies.

Still, compared to Pomona, our blogging scene is pretty barren.  Allen's article nailed the difference between Claremont and Pomona, and it may account for the lack of blogs here.  The blog form is a pretty egalitarian one, and Claremont tends more towards elitism.  Here's what Allen wrote in his M-M-M-My Pomona article:
"I think it's significant and telling that Pomona has a lot more community blogs than Claremont," Worley told me. "It's not just population. It's a different style of community engagement."

In Claremont, there's a social and political hierarchy. How long you've lived there and who you know matters.

Pomona, by contrast, has an improvisatory nature. With a thin layer of government, and civic competence sometimes in short supply, people have to find their own solutions. It's like "The Little House on the Prairie," but with Mexican food.

Perhaps it's that very egalitarianism inherent in a blog that appealed to us Insiders in the first place.  So much of one's experience of Claremont's high society is exclusionary, and a blog bypasses that quite neatly.  We can all have a voice, not just a select few.

* * * * *

Allen, by the way, had a couple columns, one in June and a follow-up in July, that discussed how Claremonters view themselves compared to how people from our neigboring cities often see us, as this from Allen's July 14 column shows: 
"I can give you a great example of the `friendly' people of Claremont," said Bob Terry, proceeding to relate an anecdote about a mixer in Claremont some three years ago for several area chambers of commerce.

Terry said one of his fellow Rancho Cucamonga Chamber officials briefly placed fliers on the Claremont Chamber's table while looking for a chair. The women at the Claremont table picked up the offending papers and dropped them on the floor like they were toxic waste.

Nope, we can't allow any mixing at a mixer.

"That is just one of many `friendly' encounters we have had over the years with the Claremont Chamber," Terry added.

Allen's June 25 column indicated that at least one Chamber representative seemed surprised to hear of a lack of unanimity concerning the town's general wonderfulness:
"Do you think Claremont is snooty?" [Claremont Chamber member Susan] Brunasso asked me, honestly curious.

"Of course," I replied.

As Claremont's ambassador, Brunasso should try asking that question in Montclair or Pomona - and brace herself for the response.

Claremonters' sense of superiority rubs people the wrong way, I explained.

There's a thin line between thinking your town is a great place to live and thinking it's the only place to live, we agreed.

"There's a pride here that can be taken for arrogance," Brunasso acknowledged.

It's really more than arrogance, though.  It's a profound lack of awareness, a lack of empathy, that blinds certain people, the ones termed the Claremont 400 (a phrase we co-opted long ago), to the perception of Claremont through the eyes of outsiders.  It's an unawareness that underlies a certain willingness to bend the truth, sometimes beyond all recognition.

Back in the Claremont 400's heyday, an issue would come up, and the 400 would spin it however they wished.  If you were on the other side of an issue, it took a huge effort to counter the spin because few people bothered to look deeper into what the 400 were saying.  Think of the City Council election this past March.  In the past, the 400 candidates could get up at a forum and spout whatever foolishness they wanted and not get called on it.  A blog makes it much easier to point out the deeper truths.

In days gone by, every election, every hot-button issue, would bring to light some little lie here, some untruth there, that would go uncorrected and, with the Claremont Courier or Daily Bulletin as unwitting conduits, become incorporated into the city's accepted wisdom.  A blog makes for the perfect place to shine a little light on precisely those things our town fathers and mothers would prefer remain hidden.

More than anything else, a blog levels the playing field.  It's a great tool for democratizing the information stream.  No one person or group should get to serve as the Great Information Filter, deciding what gets released and what truth is too inconvenient to be heard.  As Kevin Costner's Crash Davis says to Susan Sarandon's Annie at early on in the movie Bull Durham, "Why do you get to choose?  Why don't I get to choose?"

Don't we all have some valuable bit of information to contribute to the civic conversation?  It's just a matter of speaking up.

This line of thinking brought to mind Denise Levertov's poem "Caedmon," which tells the story of the first English poet.  Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman at a monastery who hid one night because, inarticulate and uneducated, he was ashamed that he wasn't able to join in singing with the learned monks. Then, in a dream, a figure appeared and commanded Caedmon to sing of the Creation:
All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.

the sudden angel affrighted me—light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:   
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
             nothing but I, as that hand of fire   
touched my lips and scorched my tongue   
and pulled my voice
                     into the ring of the dance.

* * * * *

Here in Claremont a certain segment of the population takes pride in our civic participation; yet, in reality a small number of people - not 400, more like 40 or 50 - get an idea (think Claremont Trolley) and the idea propagates out into the community through our various volunteer organizations, through letters to the local newspapers, and through City Hall until we forget what silly notion propelled the system into motion in the first place. 

There's no reason why these few and no one else should get to choose what course we take on any matter.  Why do they get to choose?  We just need more people to get involved instead of sitting at home and complaining when they disagree with some local policy or project after the fact.

So, whomever you are, whichever angel or muse moves you, stop your texting, put that remote or that game controller down, and step up.  Add your voice to the dissonant chorus that democracy is supposed to be.  Otherwise, you cede the decision-making to bullies from all parts of the political spectrum.  And then you have to live with the consequences.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Saturday Meeting Cancelled

Saturday's City Council workshop has been cancelled, according to the City's website. The cancellation was due to the death of Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza's father:

Saturday Council Workshop Cancelled (Nov 17, 2011)

The City Council Workshop scheduled for Saturday, November 19 has been cancelled due to the death of Mayor Sam Pedroza's father. The City Council and City Manager have rescheduled the workshop for Saturday, December 3 at 9am to allow Mayor Pedroza to be with his family during this time. Our condolances to the Pedroza family.

We're sorry to hear the news as well, particularly for Mayor Pedroza, who's had a tough year, with the death of his father coming on the heels of a very serious biking accident.

Hargrave Profile

Hal Hargrave, the fellow who organized Monday's meeting for Claremont residents to discuss Golden State Water Co.'s never-ending rate hikes, is profiled in this month's edition of Southwest Airline's Spirit Magazine.  The article also mentions Hal's son, Hal Jr., who was left a quadraplegic after a 2008 auto accident and who founded the non-profit Be Perfect Foundation, which provides support to people who've had spinal cord injuries:

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Meetings and Events Around Town

There are a couple upcoming meetings the civic-minded among you might want to attend.

  • The City Council will hold a goal-setting workshop this Saturday beginning at 9am.  Come on out and tell the council what you think our top priorities should be:

    (from the City's website):
    Council Workshop
    9:00 AM
    City Council Chambers
    225 W. Second Street
    (909) 399-5460
    The City council will meet to discuss projects and priorities to allow staff to draft a work plan. This workshop is open to the public.

  • On December 6, the California Public Utilities Commission pays a visit to Claremont's Taylor Hall to hear public comment on Golden State Water Co.'s application for a rate increase.  There will be an afternoon and an evening session:

    Public Hearing on Water Rate Increase on December 6

    The California Public Utilities Commission will hold a Public Hearing on the Golden State Water Company proposed rate increase on December 6 at 2pm and 6pm at Taylor Hall. An Administrative law judge will preside over the hearing and all comments will be included in the General Rate Case.

    Golden State Water has filed for a 27% rate increase for 2012 with smaller increases in 2013, and 2014. The public may comment or protest the rate increase at the public hearing, by e-mail, or writing to the Public Advisor's Office. All public comments are provided to the CPUC Commissioners and Administrative Law Judge assigned to the proceedings.

    Please send all comments to:

    Public Advisor's Office
    320 West 4th St. Ste. 500
    Los Angeles, CA 90013
    or via e-mail to

    Visit the Golden State Water Website

    • The first weekend in December brings us Claremont's annual Christmas Holiday Promenade and Tree Lighting:

      Holiday Promenade & Tree Lighting 2011

      The City of Claremont invites you to an evening filled with live music, festive storefronts, a magnificent tree lighting ceremony and more. The Claremont Village, the area's ultimate shopping destination, will transform into a holiday wonderland where the young and young at heart can enjoy the festivities. The Holiday Promenade will include live entertainment throughout the Village as well as an opportunity to take a photo with Santa Claus.

      You won't want to miss this magical Claremont event. Please join us Friday, December 2nd, from 5-8 p.m. at the Claremont Village Holiday Promenade and Tree Lighting. Enjoy the festive atmosphere and remember to shop Claremont this holiday season.

      For more information please contact us at (909) 399-5490 or visit us at

    • And, also in December, the Gypsies Sisters Art Show, having found a new home, will hold their December sale the same weekend as the tree lighting:

      THE GYPSY SISTERS ART SHOW has finally found a home and will be pulling up and parking at the UCC church on Harrison and Harvard Aves. in Claremont. The 31 Gypsies complete with their wonderfully creative art will be settling in down in the basement which faces Harrison Ave. on Friday, December 2 from 4-9, on Saturday, December 3 from 10-8 and on Sunday, December 4 from 10-5. Their wide variety of arts and crafts include quilts, weavings, dolls, clothing, ceramics, jewelry, glass, paintings, handmade books, collages, photographs, prints, purses, metal sculptures, paper sculpture, artistic boxes and bowls and a psychic.  The Gypsy Sisters and their brothers have been coming to Claremont twice a year for more than 18 years.  Please join them for a relaxing visit and some exciting shopping.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Wednesday Mail

    We received this email from a reader who, while agreeing with some of what we wrote Monday about the Claremont Police Officers Association's latest negotiating tactics, disagreed with the idea that the city of Claremont has improved its responsiveness to public document requests:

    SUBJECT: claremont pd
    DATE: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 7:19 AM
    TO: Claremont Buzz

    I agree with most of your latest piece on the Claremont PD pension fiasco. However, suggesting that all of the documents Dieter was requesting could be obtained from the city clerk is not credible. I have tried to get documents from the city clerk in the past and was stonewalled by her higher ups. And when my attorney brother tried to do it for me the city demanded a several thousand dollar fee for "copying" and researching our request. My brother has done several of these requests (for pension, salary, and disability numbers) in Ventura County and he never meant the level of resistance to disclosure there as he did in Claremont. Transparency is not part of the Claremont way.

    Well, we didn't say they were perfect. Lord knows we've had our own problems when it comes to obtaining copies of City employee pay stubs (see here, here, here, here, and here).

    City Manager: Movin' On Up - UPDATED

    Well, it's time to bid farewell to Claremont City Manager Jeff Parker, who is leaving our fair city to take the same position with the City of Tustin.  At least, that's what the Orange County Register reported today.

    As of 10:30am today, the news wasn't up on Claremont's website, but we expect there will be a press release soon.

    The Register article, which was fairly short, said:

    Jeff Parker, city manager of Claremont, told the council he will start work in late December and expects to spend time at City Hall this month as he gets to know the city.

    The City Council voted unanimously to appoint Parker, said Mayor Jerry Amante.

    "Thank you for that very gracious, warm welcome," Parker said. "It's a very big honor for me to take this next step in becoming your city manager."
    The terms of Parker's new contract weren't announced, but we'd expect him to get a bump in salary, which should give Parker's CalPERS retirement payments a nice boost when he decides to retire, which we suspect is not too many years away.

    UPDATED, 11/17/11, 5:00PM:

    Yesterday, the City posted a notice of City Manager Parker's resignation on the City's website:

    City Manager Jeff Parker Resigns (Nov 16, 2011)

    On November 16, City Manager Jeff Parker announced his resignation with the following statement:

    "I wanted to inform everyone that I have accepted the position of City Manager in Tustin,CA. My resignation from Claremont is with mixed emotions. I have found my last 6 years both challenging and rewarding and want to personally thank all of you for the opportunity to lead this wonderful organization and serve the community. We have accomplished many great things over the last 6 years. To the talented members of the staff, although the last few years have been difficult you continue to display the knowledge, experience and caring that sets you a part from other cities. You will always be the heart of this wonderful community."

    City Manager Parker's last day will be December 26, 2011.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    PD Contract Conflict Continues

    The Daily Bulletin yesterday had an article by Wes Woods II about legal actions taken by the Claremont Police Officer Associations in response to the City's decision to unilaterally impose a one-year police contract that calls for Claremont public safety employees to pay 6-percent of their 9-percent CalPERS retirement contribution.

    Up until the new contract was imposed, the City had paid the CPOA employees retirement contribution.  The City has argued that that payment is not fiscally sustainable.

    The CPOA, through its attorney Dieter Dammeier, have taken a pretty hard negotiating stance.  The Bulletin article indicated that Dammeier has gone on a fishing expedition, making a court request for City documents:

    An unfair labor practice charge was filed in late October with the state Public Employment Relations Board. The city has 30 days to respond to the filing.

    Attorneys for the association also filed a writ of mandate in Pomona Superior Court requesting salary information for Claremont's city manager, assistant city manager, City Council members, retired members of the council and executives of city departments.

    Both actions were filed "because we were treated differently than the rest of the city," said Dieter Dammeier, attorney for the Claremont Police Officers Association, referring to the Oct. 25 council decision.

    We had a couple reactions to Dammeier's requests. First, if he's too lazy to check the City's online archives, why can't he ask the City Clerk for the documents like everyone else? To be fair, this seems to have started as a simple document request, but Dammeier's document demand sounds so broad that he would always be able to claim the City hadn't been forthcoming in its response.  That would then open the door to Dammeier's media play, first by filing for a writ of mandate in Superior Court, which would then generate the headlines Dammeier seeks.

    Second, Dammeier's claim that the City is treating the CPOA differently from other city employees strikes us as awfully hypocritical. Dammeier's recent tactics have been to have the CPOA argue that they deserve to be treated differently because police duties are different than other employees.

    The CPOA's complaint has been that they haven't been treated differently at all and that public safety employees deserve different types of contracts than every single other city employee. Seems like Dammeier's trying to have it both ways when it suits him best.

    This is exactly why it's so hard to take sides in the current police contract negotiations. The City's played the same games in the past, arguing both sides of an argument depending on the situation. City? Dammeier? It's a match made in heaven.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Water Rate Pain

    Yesterday's Claremont Courier carried a small ad announcing a "Resident's Meeting [sic]" 6pm tomorrow at Apex Imaging Services, located at 720 Indigo Ct. in Pomona. The ad's title said, "CLAREMONTERS AGAINST OUTRAGEOUS WATER RATES! Golden State Water STOP RIPPING US OFF!!!"

    Click to Enlarge

    The ad was apparently placed by Hal Hargrave, who recently had a letter to the Courier complaining of our water rates. It also pointed readers to the group's Facebook page.

    Residents planning on attending tomorrow's meeting are asked to bring a copy of their latest water bill. The meeting's goal is to "set a plan of action to fight Golden State Water."

    A noble goal indeed, and one we support. Golden State Water and its parent company, American States Water Co., certainly do a great job of playing the Public Utility Commission rate game by, every three or so years, asking for huge rate increases to cover infrastructure repairs that we're not sure are ever completed. (Did they ever get around to upgrading the water tank up by Claraboya after the water presure failed during the 2003 Grand Prix Fire?)

    The PUC, in all its wisdom, shows how fair its judgment is by chopping down the rate increases into digestible chunks - 20%, say, over three years.

    Incidentally, Golden State is playing the same game elsewhere in Southern California: Ojai, Orange County, and the high desert.

    Of course, thanks to regionalized water rates, Claremont's rate hikes are tied to the Bartow-Victorville area. As we've written in the past, Claremont's water rates got lumped together with Barstow's back in 1998 when the water company (then known as Southern California Water Co.) asked for the rates to be regionalized.  Then-City Manager Glenn Southard claimed to have worked out a great deal for the City, getting discounted rates for municipal water use, along with SCWC leasing the City's rights to 535 acre-feet of ground water per year.   In return, the City signed off on SCWC's regionalization request.

    Ironically, in the current fight against rising water rates, the ratepayers' best friend may just be the City of Claremont and other affected municipalities, whose city attorneys will be needed to make a coordinated fight against Golden State Water, whose main goal has always seemed to be to ensure a steady dividend stream to its stockholders, who in turn reward GSW execs with huge salaries and bonuses.

    The Joke's on Us

    Xavier Alvar
    Former Three Valleys Municipal Water District board member Xavier Alvarez seems to find his way into the news with great regularity, the latest instance having to do with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding to hear an appeal of the dismissal of the federal criminal charges against Alvarez by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    That last story made the New York Times, so it wasn't surprising to see it also pop up in the November, 2011, edition of the California State Bar's California Bar Journal.

    What was surprising, however, was the rather outlandish photo that accompanied the article by writer Diane Curtis.   The photo displayed a mustachioed Alvarez grinning and in full military dress, complete with rows of medals and ribbons.

    November 2011 California Bar Journal
    (Click to Enlarge)

    The photo first appeared in a Claremont Insider post and was a Photoshop graphic that superimposed an Army Ranger dress uniform over a photo of Alvarez.  If the Bar's writer had emailed us to check on the graphic, we'd gladly have told her it was a joke.

    Alas, we didn't receive any inquiry on the photo and just happened to learn of it after a reader did a double-take after reading the Bar Journal article.  We plan on letting Curtis and the Bar Journal in on the joke.  In hindsight, we suppose it could have been worse:


    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Saturday Mailbag

    We received an email from a reader who was concerned that the City of Claremont's Winter 2012 recreation and activities guide has a cover with some of Claremont's children throwing down gang signs:

    DATE: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 4:45 AM
    SUBJECT: Are those gang symbols?
    TOClaremont Buzz

    Sorry for my ignorance on the matter, but looking at the cover of the recently arrived in the mails Recreation & Activities Guide from the City of Claremont...

    Are the girls in the cover photo, in the back row, right side trying to communicate something?

    Here's the cover:

    Well, it turns out the kids are communicating something, but it's nothing sinister.  The hand signs are called "chuckin' the deuce" or "chuckin up deuces."  It's origins are attributed to hip-hop star Chris Brown.  Here's how the website defines the term:
    “Chuckin' the deuce” is a term that originated in the Southern part of the United States. It’s what someone does when they’re just passing by, or leaving. People used to say “peace” instead of goodbye, now they just do it with their hand signals
    (cf. Chris Brown’s “Deuces”)

    * * * * *

    And we got this note from a former Claremont who read our post about the planned expansion of the Wilderness Park/Thompson Creek Trail parking lots:
    SUBJECT: RE: Claremont Insider
    DATE: Friday, November 11, 2011 4:04 AM
    TO: Claremont Insider

    I feel sorry for the Meyers Family. Are you Stealing their land, TOO ???

    So much Government intrusion in Claremont since the days that I grew up there. I truly feel sorry for the citizens of Claremont who are now being bamboozled by a bunch of corrupt council members, and city politicians. They (they City Council), should ALL be put down like a pack of rabid Coyotes !!!

    Let's see if THIS letter makes it to print? LOL !!!! I SERIOUSLY doubt it!

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    This Weekend in Claremont


    The annual Pilgrim Place Festival is today and tomorrow, from 10am to 4pm at 625 Mayflower Rd. in the Claremont Village.  As with any Claremont event, there'll be arts and crafts, music, fun for the kids, and food.
    (Click to Enlarge)
    Here what the Pilgrims' website has to say:
    63rd Annual Pilgrim Place Festival
    Friday and Saturday, November 11 & 12, 2011
    10:00 am to 4:00 pm

    Visitors to our Festival will share in a unique “Pilgrim experience” filled with fun activities for people of all ages which include rides, booths selling a variety of items (including creative crafts!), an authentic drama, and terrific food. We celebrate the spirit of friendship and community that is Pilgrim Place.

    Pilgrim Place residents work selflessly throughout the year to create crafts, prepare activities and attractions to engage people of all ages—all for a worthy goal. Proceeds from this event go directly to support those residents who have dedicated their lives to serving others and who now need help themselves.
    For details

    And here's a slideshow with photos from last year's event:


    The Claremont Museum of Art, which hasn't gone away despite losing its gallery space in the Claremont Packing House, revives the old Padua Hills Art Fiesta this Sunday, November 13, from 11am to 4pm at the Padua Theater, located at 4467 Padua Ave. in northeast Claremont.

    Admission is $8 for adults, and anyone under 18 gets in free.

    The original Fiesta ran from 1953 to 1959 and showcased the works of that era's prominent Claremont artists.  This Fiesta features works by 20 local artists, and there is also a special exhibit called Claremont Moderns: The Fiesta Artists of Padua Hills 1953-1959 at Claremont Heritage's Ginger Elliot Gallery.

    The Elliot Gallery is located in the Garner House in Claremont's Memorial Park on Indian Hill Blvd. between 8th and 10th Streets.  The exhibit runs November 18 to December 18 with a special preview this Sunday. The opening reception is next Friday, November 18, from 5:30 to 8:30pm.



    Our Rhino spam tells us that Led Zepplin IV is out on iTunes this week in honor of the 40th anniversary of the album's release:
    40 years ago today, the greatest rock band of all-time released the greatest rock album of all-time, Led Zeppelin IV. A powerhouse from the legendary opening vocal intro of "Black Dog" to the final notes of the hypnotic Mississippi blues-infused "When The Levee Breaks," IV contains eight radio classics including "Rock And Roll," "The Battle Of Evermore," "Misty Mountain Hop," "Four Sticks," "Going To California," and, of course, the ultimate rock anthem, "Stairway To Heaven." "Hats Off" to Jimmy, Robert, John Paul, and John for creating a true work of art that only gets better with age.

    Of course, this reminded us of a plug we saw a long time ago on Second City TV:

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Build It and They Will Come

    The City of Claremont is moving forward with the expansion of the parking lots for the Claremont Wilderness Park and the Thompson Creek Trail.  There are currently two small lots, one at the north end of Mills Ave. and one at the northeast corner of Mills and Mt. Baldy Rd.  The City intends to expand both lots.

    The parking expansion plans are on the agenda for tonight's Community Services meeting.  The meeting begins 7pm in the City Council chambers at 225 W. Second St., across from Saca's Restaurant in the Claremont Village.

    The plans call for the Mt. Baldy Rd. lot to be expanded east onto the empty land under the Edison powerlines.  The new lot there will add 178 spaces and will also have an entrance opening onto Mt. Baldy Rd., directly across from the Strasbourg Ct. cul-de-sac.  We've already heard complaints from hikers and residents who worry that traffic speeding along Mt. Baldy Rd. will inevitably lead to more accidents once the new lot is built.

    Proposed Parking at Mills Ave. and Mt. Baldy Rd.
    (Click to Enlarge)

    The City is is expanding the existing north lot at the Wilderness Park trailhead and will add 127 parking spaces.  The expansion area will run south and west from the current lot at the terminus of Mills Ave.

    Proposed Parking at North End of Mills Ave.

    Whatever the lots' final configuration, one thing is certain.  There won't be enough parking in 10 years.  In 1999, we went through the same thing.  The original 15-space lot at the trailhead wasn't big enough, and parking was spilling over onto Mills.   The City's answer was to triple the number of spots by adding the 45-space Mt. Baldy Rd. lot.  Here we are again needing another parking expansion, taking the total parking to nearly 360 spaces, about three-fourths of the parking in the Packing House parking structure.

    Claremont Courier, 2/20/99

    At this rate, in 2021, we'll need to build a Wilderness Parking Garage.  Don't worry, though.  It'll be a LEED certified design and use recycled concrete.

    Incidentally, the City has completed an initial study with a mitigated negative declaration, saying that the parking lots will have no negative environmental, traffic, biological or cultural impacts.   We had to laugh, reading this because if this had been proposed for the Claremont Village by a private developer, there would  likely be all sorts of language about how the added parking was going to generate additional daily vehicle trips and would therefore be a cause of more pollution.  Which just goes to show that these documents are a lot like the school district's Blattner Report - not much more than a political statement written by a consultant to support position whatever you need propped up with jargon.

    Here's the information from the City's website:

    Wilderness Park & Thompson Creek Trail Parking Lot Expansion (Nov 7, 2011)

    The City will conduct public meetings regarding a proposal to expand the existing parking facilities serving the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park (CHWP) and Thompson Creek Trail (Project File #10-A01).

    Currently, parking is located at the CHWP entrance on Mills Avenue, as well as in an overflow parking lot at the northeast corner of Mills Avenue and Mt. Baldy Road that also allows access to the Thompson Creek Trail trailhead. The proposed project would essentially be an expansion of these existing parking facilities. The proposed increase in parking spaces is intended to better serve and accommodate existing parking and use demands.

    Two lots are being proposed to provide parking visitors. The north lot is approximately 1.45 acres, and is located at the northerly terminus of Mills Avenue. It will replace the existing lot and provide an additional 127 spaces. The south lot is approximately 3.0-acres and would be located within the area between Mills Avenue, Mt. Baldy Road, and the channelized stream. The expansion area is undeveloped land currently and will provide 178 spaces.

    Staff has worked on the development of additional parking for the CWP and TCT because of the increased numbers of visitors to the park and trail that have resulted in overflow parking onto nearby public streets. At the City Council workshop, staff was directed to obtain necessary approvals for such an expansion and on April 12, 2011, the City Council provided staff with additional project direction.

    The agreement details with Pomona Valley Protective Association are being worked out for the North Lot and plans are being reviewed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for portions of the South lot. Staff has also been working with Rincon Consultants, Inc. on the necessary CEQA documentation, Phil May Landscape Architect on related landscape plans, Andreasen Engineering, Inc. for civil engineering plans related to the North lot and RKA Engineering for civil engineering plans related to the South lot.