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Claremont City Council confers on, sets priorities at annual workshop

Ideas and plans about water issues, commission term limits and infrastructure plans were outlined for 2016 on Saturday, January 23 during the Claremont City Council’s annual priorities workshop.

The meeting, convened at 8 a.m. Saturday morning in the council chamber, was a decidedly casual affair—a few councilmembers were dressed in less formal button-ups and t-shirts.

City Manager Tony Ramos reviewed a number of major, if familiar, undertakings the council will be looking toward in the coming year. High on the list is the litigation against Golden State Water over the city’s water system, continual attention toward the ongoing drought and El Nino, the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, the creation of a new public safety facility, the upcoming Gold Line extension through the city, the 2016-2016 budget, and various economic development opportunities.

Overall, there were seven council priorities—economic development, financial stability, local water issues, public safety, quality of life issues, sustainability and urban forest management.

Not all items throughout the packet were addressed during the relatively short meeting—rather, items important to the councilmembers were picked out and discussed.

Early in the meeting, councilmember Opanyi Nasiali picked out a specific bullet point about revitalizing the Youth Activity Center and the Teen Activity Center regarding its focus on the “whole child, including social, emotional, educational components.”

“I don’t know what ‘whole child’ means,” Mr. Nasiali said. “And I don’t know if it’s the government’s responsibility to deal with the children’s emotions. We’re not psychiatrists.”

Much of the council, including Mayor Pro Tem Sam Pedroza and Councilmember Joe Lyons, disagreed with Mr. Nasiali’s assessment.

“I want to make sure that, although that is Councilmember Nasiali’s position, that’s not the voice of the council,” Mr. Pedroza said. “I feel like our programs, our youth and family masterplan, all those are reasons why Claremont is set apart, because we are approaching it in a more holistic manner.”

Mr. Ramos and Director of Human Services Anne Turner elaborated on the meaning of the “whole child,” which includes supporting children alongside the school district in academic pursuits, as well as helping kids to find their identities in a non-judgmental environment.

Mr. Nasiali said he “did not want to be misunderstood,” and clarified that he did not want to take anything away from the services of YAC and TAC.

“I support the activities and the educational services that you are providing and we should do more of that,” Mr. Nasiali said. “I just don’t want to promise that we’re going to deal with kids’ emotions.”

He went on to suggest that should city staff come in contact with a child in the community who is “out of control,” perhaps the city could refer the family to a specialist.

Moving on, Mr. Pedroza, after concurring with the council priorities outlined on the agenda and claiming that “we’re on the right track,” made a quick clarification on the water issue priority, which initially stated the issues with Golden State Water “ranging from acquisition to protesting rate increases.”

“When we’re talking about local control over the water system, it’s for local control. It’s not just a rate issue,” Mr. Pedroza said.

Later in the meeting, Mr. Lyons expressed a desire to add language in the “local water issues” priority to be more a “forward-looking, on both in our management plan and our water usage in general.”

Other topics include the emphasis on community policing, the implementation of public art and housing for the homeless at the local level.

During public comment, Claremont Heritage president David Shearer noted that adding a “heritage preservation element” could strengthen the city’s “Quality of Life” priority.

“It appears the city council is tackling other values—such as sustainability, water and pubic safety—head-on, but the impact our culture heritage has on our quality of life and how it relates to our sense of place seems to be getting less attention,” Mr. Shearer said. “I encourage council to take a look at that and maybe add that as another priority.”

The council, in addition to Mr. Ramos, agreed with Mr. Shearer’s comments.

“I think what we’ll do is add a section under quality of life, and we are consistently looking at our historic preservation, we understand how important that is in our community and not for a moment I don’t want anyone to think it’s gone by the wayside,” Mr. Ramos said. “It is a huge part of quality of life.”

The council’s comments, as well as the public comments, will be taken in and digested by the city staff, and the necessary changes will be made and presented at a future city council meeting, Mr. Ramos said.

Ultimately, the council was pleased with the items outlined in the priorities.

“I want to repeat a statement I heard from a movie: ‘We have worked so hard at being lucky,’” Mr. Nasiali said. “I think we should continue to do that.”

Also put forth to the council for discussion was an update to the council norms to include term limits for commission members and council-appointed committee members.

The plan put forth outlines a term limit of up to eight years for commission or committee members, after which they are no longer eligible to serve, and prohibits individuals from serving on commissions, committees and special council appointments at the same time. The council may vote to extend the term for a commission or committee member if their knowledge is vital for the continuation of a project.

No discussion on city council member term limits came up at the meeting.

The council praised the new norms, with Mr. Pedroza commenting, “It’s exactly the way we discussed it.”

Another discussion item up for review is the creation of a new council priority focusing on infrastructure and transportation. The new priority comes during the beginning stages of the new Gold Line light rail coming through the city, as well as the planned implementation of the Foothill Boulevard master plan.

According to the agenda, many of these items fall under the increasingly large “quality of life” priority, and adding a new priority would increase the importance of these upcoming projects.

“This is to all my professors in urban planning at UCLA—Yes, this is exactly why we study this stuff,” Mr. Pedroza said. “This is one of the most exciting priorities and I’m really happy that we’re discussing it because it does affect so many aspects of quality of life here in Claremont.”

“As an urban planner, this is one of the reasons why I ran for council. I get to use my experience,” he added.

At the tail end of the meeting, Mr. Lyons brought up a possible new priority for consideration, one that would conscript citizens as city volunteers to “incorporate their best ideas to the city,”

Mr. Ramos responded that Mr. Lyon’s idea “sounds amazing,” but needed more time to digest it and look at the legality of the idea.

“There is a lot for me to analyze here, and I’ll break it apart and address this issue,” Mr. Ramos said.

The council unanimously approved the comments made toward the priorities agenda, after which Mr. Calaycay and Mr. Ramos both thanked the city staff for putting the agenda together and the public for coming in at such an early hour.

—Matthew Bramlett

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