Must remain vigilant
Recently, we are seeing a scary outbreak in India, with the staggering number of over 400,000 cases per day, the world’s biggest one-day jump in new infections. Doctors and the news media in India point out that the skyrocketing cases in India is caused by a “double mutant” coronavirus variant—both more contagious and more resistant to vaccines. The rising cases also result from people’s relaxing public behavior and large social rallies after the first wave. This is a bloody lesson: We’ve always had less of a handle on COVID than we like to think until it explodes again.
In the U.S., even though vaccines appear to be starting to curb new COVID-19 infections, we still need to remain vigilant at all times. Coronavirus variants are still causing outbreaks in the U.S. and throughout the world. Aggressive variants from Brazil and India have both been detected in the US. India’s COVID Crisis could reach us too. It is still a hard war we need to fight. Wearing masks substantially reduces the risk of infection and transmission. Even though CDC eased face-mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people outdoors, I strongly recommend people to still wear masks outdoors and remain vigilant.
Claremont McKenna College ‘23
Open letter to Claremont’s City Council:
I would like to bring up the topic of the Brown Act and California regulations as they relate to open transparency in government. The City of Claremont has built a reputation for consistently doing better at promoting these values than many of our surrounding government agencies. Having attended many regional meetings, I can personally attest to this, and I commend the City of Claremont for continuing to set the bar high.
That said, I want to discuss the Brown Act in relation to the Claremont Council’s last meeting of April 27th. During the appeal process for the Commons Development proposal, I watched at least two paid consultants speak in favor of this multi-million dollar project without revealing that they have accepted money to promote this project.
This seems wrong to me.
California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Section 18310.1 – Public Participation at Meetings. (current through Register 2021, April 9, 2021), states in its section B, Rules of Organization and Order, item (8), that “A lobbyist appearing on behalf of one or more clients, rather than as an individual member of the public, shall identify himself/herself and any client who is paying the lobbyist to appear on behalf of the client, at the beginning of the speaker’s public comment.”
I am not a lawyer so I do not know if what happened two Tuesdays ago was a clear violation or not – our city attorney could provide guidance on this. But I do know that it is not in the spirit of the Brown Act, and as is often touted by the experts, the Brown Act should serve as the floor for ethical practices, not the ceiling.
It seems to me that if a developer is allotted 10 minutes to state the reasons for their appeal – their strategy to extend this influence with hired spokespeople speaking during public comments should be scrutinized. The public deserves to know when they are listening to a paid advertiser.
In the next few years, the City of Claremont will be scheduled to review, approve or disapprove various multiple, multi-million dollar development proposals all over this City. This is a positive – the region needs affordable housing. We have some 100 acres to consider in a City that is largely built-out. However, with this comes increased responsibility to seek full disclosure, complete transparency, and ethical government practices.
Pamela Casey Nagler , Claremont
Facts about The Commons
The validity of the developer’s appeals is the only decision the city council faces now regarding The Commons. The issue before the city council is whether or not the developer’s claims in its appeals are accurate and sufficient to overturn the unanimous denials by the Planning Commission, Architectural Commission, and the city staff analysis and recommendation to deny the appeal.
But the deliberation at the April 27 council hearing on the denial, was thought by many to be whether or not to approve the project itself. Those deliberations on the project already occurred, through years of reviews and hearings, public meetings and input by professionals and the public. Those deliberations yielded unanimous recommendations to the council by the planning and architectural commissions to deny The Commons.
The decision is about the appeal only, and point by point, the staff analysis shows that the assertions of the of the developer’s appeal are unsubstantiated by the facts. Extensive documentation supports the contested findings of the planning and architectural commissions, including evidence that the commission deliberations were founded in fact, careful deliberation, legal and proper. The commission deliberations included consideration of all advocacy presented for affordable housing and for the market rate housing at this site.
So, it is important for all of us, those who do and do not see The Commons as an appropriate site for housing, to keep in mind that the decision is not about the project; the only decision is about the validity of the specific claims in the developer’s appeals.
As for assertions by some that the council decision now is about people’s right to choose where to live, or the assumption that the council decision now is a fully discretionary decision regarding the site’s adequacy for housing:
Again, not the decision at hand—it’s just whether the commissions’ decisions are legal and well-founded, whether the claims of the appeals are valid.
And most importantly, the site is in State Aeronautic Safety Zones that disallow housing. As such, by law the project should have undergone thorough vetting by the L.A. County Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) for a formal hearing and a formal finding whether the project is consistent with aeronautics laws. Only then should the council have the opportunity to apply its discretion—to the ALUC decision, not directly to the project.
But the city never required an ALUC hearing. Not when it was considered mandatory. Not when it was considered optional. Not after repeated requests by the public. Not after the ALUC staff analysis recommended against the project. But only the ALUC commission hearing and recommendation would have provided the built-in safeguards for full review and deliberation of the legality and appropriateness of the site: greatest expertise for analysis, and if ALUC hearing found against the project, council would need two-thirds majority and specific findings to approve the project anyway.
The only reason the project itself, rather than just the appeal, is being considered at this point, and is treated as if a fully discretionary council decision on the project at this point, is by accepting the inadequacy of Claremont’s compliance with aeronautics laws and procedures, and by mistaking a hearing on the developer’s appeal for a decision on the project itself. While Claremont’s ALUC review process is incomplete, the deliberations of the commissions were thorough, well-reasoned, legal, fact based and complete, with no reason to overturn their recommendations to deny The Commons housing in the direct path of the Cable Airport take-off runway, in State Aeronautic Safety zones that do not allow the project.
We hold these truths
The phrase “making progress” is often used to describe our nation’s perennial challenge to end the racism, bigotry, and white supremacy associated with what has been referred to as “America’s original sin.” However, using the word “progress” consequentially misrepresented the 150 years of suppressed history relating to the murderous racism involving police, civic leaders, and private citizens, which, when exposed, forced committed racists and bigots to increase the roles of institutions, both public and private, and fear based public opinion, to achieve their ends through insidious and ambivalent institutional policies and procedures such as the officially unconstrained use of lethal force and potentially deadly methods of capture and constraint by police during encounters with African American citizens.
I think it is obvious that former slaves and their posterity have yet to realize their unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” or the equal protection of the law as set forth in our Constitution. And although the United States has become a pluralistic society—“a melting pot”—it is replete with examples of the use of violence, poverty, and segregation to marginalize and deny these unalienable rights and protections to whole groups of people on a myriad of grounds, from skin color and ethnicity, to being born a woman or Native American.
Violent events during the last year have reflected a level of dystopia that is so pervasive that it can no longer be ignored or excused. The outrage produced by the videotaped murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, has resulted in the long overdue nationwide assessment of the overly physical and deadly manner our police enforce the law and maintain order. And as a part of this effort, our police commission has been charged with identifying any police department policies, procedures, and sanctioned policing practices that could expectedly or unintentionally deny anyone of their full complement of rights and protections, while assuring us that in all things our police department reflects our values as a community.
However, it would be a serious misunderstanding of the depth and breath of the dystopia that exists, to think that trust in, will replace fear of police by simply humanizing local policing practices and implementing zero tolerance consequences on the misconduct of police officers. And although absolutely necessary, it is by itself insufficient, because it is as clear today, as when in 1961 I observed the police enforced denial of human right in the South, that what I witnessed then, and what as a Nation we are witnessing in 2021, is not the occasional unconscionable behavior of a rogue police officer, or even an entire police department. Rather, they are the actions of a few who act with the protection provided by both intentional and masked forms of racism and discrimination that permit, deny, or ignore the brutalization and murder of African Americans during encounters with police.
It therefore follows that to expect success in addressing this issue, it is absolutely necessary to perform an equally thorough and comprehensive assessment of our city’s policies, procedures, and governance, and our community values that include inclusivity, embracing diversity, and promoting socioeconomic equity.
In this regard, and based on my experience as councilperson and the unparalleled level of our civic engagement, I think we are ready, and I hope willing, to take on this challenge; and it is my hope our council will take definitive steps to accomplish this end. One such approach would be to charge the newly reactivated Commission on Human Relations to design and implement a plan that would intake and assess information provided by the council, commissions and committees, staff, and the public, in order to identify any systemic and structural biases that would limit or deny any individual’s free and equal exercise of their human and civil rights within our community.
And finally, I wonder how it is our nation that built on the premise “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” has justified excluding so many from the definition of “all;” has made “created equal” a relative term based on circumstances of birth; and transformed “unalienable rights” into something parsed out or taken away at the discretion of the powerful or the dominant culture. We certainly can and must do better as a Nation, and we can and must assure ourselves that ourCommunitylivesbyitsvaluesofinclusivitydiversityandsocioeconomicjusticefor all.
Reject Commons’ appeal
Concerning The Commons appeal: Clare Properties hired former City Manager Tony Ramos and Valerie Martinez of VMA Communications to create a false narrative that this development is about low-cost housing, and that opposition to The Commons is simply people who are against low-cost housing. This is NOT the case at all. I favor healthy low-cost housing very much; therefore I oppose The Commons project because it is offers unhealthy and unsafe housing. The development is in a no-build airport zone, one-third mile from Cable Airport. Adults and children living there, whether in low, medium or high-cost housing, will be exposed to all the environmental dangers of a very busy, small airport with a flight school of amateur pilots. Who will warn potential buyers that their children could suffer memory loss and learning disabilities from the loud intermittent noise of old planes (some from World War II) taking off and then circling overhead? Who will tell them that they are exposing their children to lead from the fuel used by these planes? Who will tell them that their children, and of course their adult loved-ones as well, could suffer with asthma, emphysema (and worse) from the air pollutants that studies document near small airports? Who will tell them that the biggest “park” cutting across the development is not really a park but is actually the emergency landing strip for the airport, required by law? If they are told, it will be in small print at the end of a very thick document. Will they even notice any warning?
Note that building there will also open the city up to numerous lawsuits, especially since the unanimous ruling against the project by the city planning commission, and the recommendation of city staff against the Appeal, were based on careful study of the advice and regulations of local and state agencies that oversee airports and airport area land use, such as the L.A. County Land Use Commission, the Department of Transportation, etc.
The job of the government of the people is to protect us. That’s why governments require masks in pandemics, shirts and shoes in restaurants, and no residences near airports. I ask the city council to make the morally and legally right decision, upholding the decision of the city planning and the city architectural commissions, and turning down each item of the Clare Property appeal.
Rev. Dr. Tina Blair
Response to Trumark Homes VP
We are writing in response to the April 23rd, 2021 dated article “La Puerta is an Opportunity for all of Claremont” by Eric Nelson, a vice president from Trumark Homes which referenced flyer distributions and other volunteer activities of the Keep La Puerta Public grassroots efforts with which some neighbors are proudly involved.
It is important to consider the context of Mr. Nelson’s opinion piece: The Planning Commission held a meeting, and Mr. Nelson presented his plan to the commission and residents of Claremont on April 6th, 2021. This meeting had an unprecedented 165 participants who listened to all the information from Trumark. Mr. Nelson stumbled on some commissioner’s questions. His article is a follow-up to that meeting, which attempts to create a false narrative. We are writing to address the article on three fronts.
Firstly, Mr. Nelson’s main argument that La Puerta has been a dusty lot for 40 years is plain wrong; the city website says that it was used for adult classes until 2013. Moreover, the La Puerta Sports Park, which would be significantly reduced in size, has been in vibrant use by kids and families all over Claremont continuously during that time. We and other residents see La Puerta as a beautiful, green open space.
Secondly, Mr. Nelson emphatically claims that his only goal is to improve the parks and the community. Obviously, this isn’t the case: Trumark is an off-shore company and one of the largest public companies in the world (also known as the Daiwa House Group.) They have an interest in developing the La Puerta area because it can generate a healthy profit for them.
While we don’t have any particular objection to large off-shore corporations pursuing a profit, we do believe that we, as property owners, should move slowly rather than hurriedly when making fundamental and irreversible decisions about how our community is developed. We believe that deliberate (ultimately good) decision-making stems from having transparent access to information and processes. It is difficult to trust the city or Trumark when they don’t appear to share those goals.
Thirdly, Mr. Nelson is attempting to rewrite history by suggesting that the only reason property owners were concerned is because of flyers distributed as part of volunteer work with the Keep La Puerta Public grassroots efforts. The primary goal of these flyers was to make residents aware of the city dommittees’ and Mr. Nelson’s meetings; in fact, he should thank our efforts, as they helped populate a platform for him to directly address the most concerned residents over Zoom.
These property owners and residents showed up concerned; they listened to Mr. Nelson’s presentation, and they left in various shades of worried, upset, and outraged. Mr. Nelson had failed to take the opportunity to collaborate with residents, hear their concerns, educate all stakeholders, and ultimately find creative solutions, compromises to advance the development of our beautiful city.
It is sadly telling about Trumark’s mindset. They follow up with severe negative backlash in the press against community members, such as our neighbors, as a direct response to substantially increased resident participation in this proposed development. While there may have been hope and opportunity to hear many genuine opinions of Claremont residents, it appears to have resulted in a tone-deaf follow-up plan. We surmise Trumark’s plan is to bulldoze through any opposition using any means necessary.
We shouldn’t and will not accept vice president Eric Nelson’s (Trumark’s) approach of painting a false narrative and trying to go around the residents, or behind their backs, just because he might find our opinions and participation inconvenient. We also shouldn’t be surprised—just read the feedback and corporate praise on his public LinkedIn page: “Eric will always go over, around, through, under any obstacle to any challenge, to meet the team’s goal(s).”
We won’t sit by quietly and be treated simply as an obstacle. If the city and Trumark change the dates of any meetings regarding La Puerta, we know the Keep La Puerta Public effort will be there, ready to notify residents and property owners via flyers each time those dates change and provide related information.
Barbara A. Conaway, Jack W. Conaway, Jr., Rick Thompson, Judy Moyer, Don Moyer, Helaine Goldwater, Don Skaff, Kathlyn Murie, Anita Washington, Joyce Sauter, Frederick Domingue, Tattiana Washington, Wilbert Jackson, Steve Goldwater
Reopening this may not be best idea
In a response to Steven Felschundneff’s piece titled, “Country advances to least restrictive coronavirus tier,” I am excited about the opening of California and cannot wait until the day the world opens, but I am still worried about what this could lead to. In the past as the Los Angeles area has moved among tiers to a less restrictive tier, people become more and more comfortable and begin to not follow the COVID-19 protocols as much as they used to which leads to the spread of the disease. Due to this, there have been a few times where Los Angeles has had to move back into a restrictive tier. While there are millions of people vaccinated in Los Angeles, there are also millions of people that are not vaccinated that are still in danger of contracting the virus. I really do want the world to open, and I do not have all of the information that is presented to our elected officials that make this decision, but I am not sure that opening up this much this early is the best idea.
Open our schools
I believe education is a Claremont value.
We know from infectious disease experts and public health officials that schools are safe places. On March 1, district teachers and staff began receiving vaccines through a special district clinic. And L.A. County has entered the yellow tier.
Yet Claremont’s youngest children still lack access to their schools. Elementary students have the greatest developmental need for in-person education. But the board of education and the district, in restricting in-person elementary school to only 2.75 hours a day, twice a week, have left most of our youngest children to teach themselves for the majority of each of the other 3 school days.
Small children cannot teach themselves. Worksheets and apps cannot replace school. And keeping children off campus deepens existing inequities in our community. Children need school, to develop socially and emotionally, and to learn and grow.
CUSD can bring children back to the classroom now. An April 16 agreement between the District and the Claremont Faculty Association states that desks can be moved 3 feet apart, with Plexiglass shields if necessary. But this has not been implemented, and our schools remain, for the most part, closed.
The lack of urgency from the board of education and the district is bewildering. We must work swiftly to bring children back to school 5 days a week.
The shared mission of the Claremont Board of Education and school district is to provide public education for Claremont’s children. I call on our board members and our district to honor that mission and open our schools.
parent of 3 CUSD students
Deny Commons’ appeals
While housing needs are front and center for many in Claremont, our architectural and planning commissions didn’t deny The Commons based on housing needs. The Commons was voted down by our commissions based on concerns about public health and safety, design, and compatibility with our general plan. We as a city are legally obligated and should remain laser focused on the commission findings when considering this appeal. Inclusion of affordable housing shouldn’t trump our commissions reasons for denying this project.
In order to overturn the commissions’ denials and approve the developers appeal (and the zoning change from commercial to residential and the city-wide increase to allowable sound levels), council will have to prove our commission findings wrong and that the development is consistent with the entirety of 12 findings in our zoning code. Council will also have to over-rule our commission findings that this project is not consistent with the general plan, is incompatible with the surrounding development, has inconsistent internal design, and is not consistent with environmental protections.
The developer’s 11th hour concession to designate four of the ten required affordable units as low income (keeping six as moderate income) has persuaded some housing advocates to support the project. And while the affordable housing concession may have fueled some good thinking about requirements for future developments, this has not solved the problem that the County Airport Land Use Commission, the State Aeronautics Handbook, and the Cable Airport Compatibility Plan all have described and designated this area as incompatible with housing due to high noise levels and other risks factors. The fact remains, there are safe and suitable sites for much needed housing in Claremont —Monte Vista and Foothill in the Cable Airport Departure Zone is not one of them.
While some may be willing to forgo the expertise of aeronautic experts and compatibility plans and remove the safeguards in our zoning codes and general plan to see a few new affordable units in Claremont, many more are concerned that the public health and safety impacts and the related liability of this decision would fall not on the developer but the homeowner—or perhaps even the city itself through future litigation. Allowing this appeal would set a terrible precedent where developers will feel emboldened to eschew the opinions of our committees and suggest we put zoning and general plan consistency, design and density, environmental protections and public safety concerns aside, in trade for affordable housing concessions in future developments.
Claremont has a history of integrated and sustainable planning that aims to protect and enhance social, economic, and public and environmental health. Focusing on any one of these goals without concern for the others is shortsighted. Let’s do the right thing here too. Councilmembers should uphold the good work of our commissioners, listen to our region’s aeronautics experts, and follow the staff recommendation to deny these appeals.
AB 1177 recreating BankCal
Despite the existence of a broad array of banks and credit unions, we have a serious problem in California—one in four households in the Golden State are either unbanked or underbanked. This means approximately eight million Californians either don’t have a bank account or they may have an account but are unable to maintain sufficient funds in the account to avoid a broad range of fees for virtually any service they need, and may not qualify for even a debit card that does not carry fees for its use. For the unbanked or underbanked, many cannot even cash their hard-earned paychecks without paying a substantial fee.
Our system of banks and credit unions, for many years, has failed—and failed badly—to deal with this major problem of addressing the needs of our fellow Californians. That’s why we need AB 1177, a bill being considered by the state legislature, to establish a public program called BankCal that partners with existing banks and credit unions to specifically address the needs of this underserved population.
Critics of AB 1177, also known as BankCal, argue that program duplicates what is already being offered by credit unions, but the staggering number of Californians who are paying up to 10% of their paychecks in banking fees and interest simply to access their own money, says otherwise.
In our modern world having access to adequate banking services is a social and public necessity, not a luxury or a mere convenience. A people’s government, with leaders who are responsive to the needs of their constituents—must guarantee that everyone, especially the very poor and underserved or those so often discriminated against, have access to basic and necessary services.
It’s time we stop blaming the unbanked and underbanked, and implying that the reason why they pay high costs for banking services is due to either their own ignorance or of their failure of initiative to avail themselves of those services. The main problem is neither a lack of information nor a lack of initiative, but rather a lack of money and the predatory practices of the financial industry. Too many Californians simply cannot afford to pay the service fees that the credit unions and the banks charge. After all, the banks expect to make a significant profit, and even the credit unions need to generate income from their fees to help support their other activities—whereas a public program can provide the needed services as a free public service.
I am reminded of our postal system. There are some who view the postal system not as a necessary social service to which every American should have affordable and convenient access, but rather as something that should be privatized, if not even make a profit. These are typically the same people who opposed “free” public K-12 education. They fail to recognize how our entire society benefits or could benefit from our people having these public services. We are seeing the same attitudes now with regard to our health care system as we try to fight the pandemic and witness the totally inappropriate and unfair burden being borne by the poor, women, and people of color as they get sick, die, and suffer disproportionately to their numbers in the population. Providing adequate banking services is a social responsibility of any decent, humane and economically efficient society—and AB 1177 is a partial recognition of that fact.
California State University, Los Angeles Professor Emeritus of Economics and Statistics