Eight questions for eight candidates: Larry Schroeder
Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder is running for re-election to the Claremont City Council. A member of the council since 2009, he is banking on his decades of experience in the public sector to guide Claremont to the completion of a number of city projects.
I’m running for the same reason I’ve run the last couple of times—I feel I have the knowledge and experience to help Claremont along. I was a banker for 10 years. I was finance director in two cities. I spent 26 years as a municipal employee and I learned a lot. After I retired, I finished my doctorate degree in public administration. I’ve taught public finance and budgeting at both University of La Verne and Cal Poly Pomona. I’ve done consulting with various cities, and every time I do some consulting with a city, I find out what went wrong there and bring it back to Claremont, which is good for Claremont.
This time, particularly, we have the issue of the water company. That’s a big driving force as to why I’m running. I know when I leave the council there’ll be unfinished business. But the water in particular, I’d like to see through at least for four more years, to see how it goes.
Should the city appeal in the eminent domain trial over the water system?
We’re going to have a special council meeting on January 31 at 6 p.m. to discuss whether we should appeal this or not. And if we do, if our current legal team—or another legal team—should handle the appellate hearing, it will go before a three-panel judge, not just one judge. Without revealing anything that was said in closed session, we spent about two-and-a-half hours with our attorneys and I’m convinced the judge did not make the correct decision. He held Claremont to a much higher standard than the law allows. And I feel that right now, if we were to appeal, we would probably prevail.
As a councilmember, I have to keep an open mind until I hear everybody’s testimony and it comes to a vote, and I certainly shall do that. We’ve spent over $6 million, and if we quit now we would be liable for some attorney’s fees. I think the water company may have overinflated their costs—that remains to be seen, too. So if we do the appeal, it also makes sense to put maybe another half million dollars into this to do the appeal and protect that $6 million and the expense of paying back the cost.
In July 2016, the council rejected funding to build a bridge over Indian Hill Boulevard to accommodate the upcoming Gold Line, a move some have said was made too quickly. Do you regret going so fast on rejecting the bridge?
No and, as I recall, we had a very tight timeline [February 2017] for the Gold Line. They offered us $23 million to build a gigantic wall—two gigantic walls—and fill it with dirt to put the Gold Line over. I do think it was rushed, but it was rushed due to the Gold Line wanting an answer right away. There didn’t seem to be time to go to the commission for it. But we did have some public comment a couple of times on the Gold Line—it was presented to the Village merchants and a couple other organizations, and then we did have discussion at the council meeting when it was decided. It would have been nice if we could have done something like a ribbon of concrete on some pillars that brought the Gold Line over Indian Hill, but they only offered the $23 million, which would only pay for the two walls filled with dirt because it’s the cheapest way to go. They wouldn’t give us any more money than that, and that would mean trying to float a bond issue for a much more expensive project. We didn’t feel that would be acceptable for the people.
We’re going to move the Metrolink station past College Avenue, because the Metrolink sitting in the station lowers the gates on Indian Hill now. If we move it back that far, it won’t lower the gates. The Gold Line plays by different rules; by sitting at the current station where the Gold Line would be, it wouldn’t lower the gates on Indian Hill. And, of course, along with that, we’re going to do some traffic studies to see how we can relieve the flow of traffic around that area.
The current council has been in place for a number of years. Some say the relationship is too “chummy.” How do you respond to those claims?
It’s a good thing that the council respects each other, and they do have a tendency to get along. We don’t always vote together, and we certainly irritate each other sometimes. It’s kind of like your extended family; you sometimes get mad, but you get together and go on from there. In my day working in the public sector, I’ve seen councils who were so at odds with each other, one councilmember was suing the other four. That is not a good thing. So you can have extremes both ways. I think we’re kind of in the middle now.
David Oxtoby is leaving Pomona College in June, and he is seen as the last true link in regards to city/college relations. What can you do to mend town and gown relations after his departure?
What I would like for us to do is reinstate the quarterly lunches we used to have between the city and the Colleges. We had the chief executive officer of the Claremont University Consortium and two presidents meet with the mayor, another councilmember and the city manager; we would rotate the city councilmembers and they would rotate the presidents. We would sit down once a quarter and break bread. We had an agenda, but we didn’t have to stick to it because it wasn’t an official council meeting. I think it was great for relationships. I don’t know when that fell off, but I’d like to do it again because there’s nothing like breaking bread and talking things over with people. It’s a more informal situation, so you can be a little more open. I think it’s good.
I don’t think our relationship is fractured. Just because we disagreed on not moving a historic house and not putting in the building as it’s designed now on College Avenue doesn’t mean we’re fractured. It’s just another sign that sometimes the council doesn’t agree with each other.
We’ve noticed you didn’t have any pet projects during your last council term. Do you have any specific projects lined up for your next term, if you’re re-elected?
Well, certainly we want to finish up business with the water. We need to be very aware of the budget, that’s a priority for me. And make sure we’re constantly on top of that—getting the quarterly reports and watching them very close, because the council is ultimately responsible for that.
To support the police is a big project for me. I think council can support the police by making sure they have the resources to do their job. And I think as a citizen, I can— and everybody can—help the police out by, “See Something, Say Something.” There are so many things we can do as individual citizens to help out the police.
A lot has been said about the role of commissions in regards to the Pomona College Museum of Art. It seemed, to us, that the city had decided on the museum before the commission had a chance to make a recommendation. Do you think the city’s commissions hold value?
The commissions have always played a vital, but advisory, role in the city council. When I was on the Community and Human Services Commission, I felt that the commissions were heard. There were times when I know we were a little back-and-forth with the council, but I think the commissioners are heard. Also, we’re a fairly small town, as things go. Everybody knows where I live and knows my email address and how to get a hold of me.
We also have the mayor-commissioners meeting once a month, where the mayor and one of the councilmembers meet with the heads of the commissions to talk about what’s going on, if we have any problems. We try to keep an open dialogue. There is always room for improvement, but we do take those commission recommendations seriously. If we didn’t have commissions, we would be having a council meeting, if not every week, a couple times a week, because they do a lot of the vetting of these issues for us. We don’t necessarily rubber-stamp every recommendation, but we do take them seriously. I don’t think the commissions should feel that they’re left out or not listened to.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about Claremont?
I don’t want to disappoint anybody, but I’ll tell you a secret: there is no magic wand. Even if we did, what if we could fund every project? That still wouldn’t solve our problems, because people would still say, “Okay, are these problems—even though we have all the money in the world—worth doing, and if they were, which would we do first?”
That said, I think what makes Claremont great is citizen participation—in the government, in the schools, in the nonprofits. Even when we hold events, people show up and they participate. They share ideas and work things out—same thing with the council when we disagree. We move ahead making it better every day, guiding the change that is inevitable. Change is going to come, and all we can do is guide that along. We just need to keep in mind how much we love the character of the city and work towards preserving it.