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City council meeting draws belligerence, disagreements

The Claremont City Council approved a resolution affirming the city’s pledge toward diversity during a packed, rousing and tense Tuesday night meeting.

Mayor Sam Pedroza, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder and Councilmember Joe Lyons voted in favor of the resolution, Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali voted against it and Councilmember Corey Calaycay abstained.

The resolution followed an outcry from members of the public who called on the city in December to designate Claremont a sanctuary city. It affirms the city’s commitment to diversity and civil rights, and highlights the fact that the Claremont Police Department would not arrest people based solely on the immigration status.

The resolution was not to designate Claremont a “sanctuary city.” At the recommendation of its attorney, city staff noted the phrase isn’t well defined, as there are multiple definitions.

Nonetheless, many of the 109 speakers who crowded the council chamber passionately spoke for and against a more formal sanctuary city ordinance. Supporters claimed it would help and protect undocumented Claremonters, and detractors warned it would violate federal law and enable crime.

The council chamber was packed nearly an hour before the meeting began. Anti-sanctuary city activists, the vast majority of whom were not from Claremont, held up signs showing victims of undocumented immigrants and praise for newly-elected President Donald Trump.

President Trump has made cracking down on sanctuary cities a priority, and signed an executive order Wednesday cutting federal funding from municipalities who have designated themselves as “sanctuary cities.”

Before the meeting began, supporters and detractors—with members from both camps holding up signs—were debating with each other, which eventually led to competing chants of “Migrant rights are human rights” and “U-S-A.”

At one point toward the end of the meeting, a quick pushing match erupted between Apple Valley resident Raul Rodriguez Jr., who opposed the resolution, and Claremont resident Gustavo Ramirez, who is in favor of equal rights for immigrants, as they tried to block each other’s signs.

As Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor explained in his presentation, the city receives around $490,000 annually in federal funds—$190,000 for the community development grant program, $125,000 for the senior nutrition program, $120,000 from the Federal Transit Administration and the Department of Transportation and $108,000 from the Surface Transportation Program used to pave roadways.

Discussion of making Claremont a sanctuary city began last November, when five of the Claremont Colleges joined other universities around the country to urge the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which identifies students who are not in the country legally. Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver also designated his campus a “sanctuary campus” on November 30.

An anti-Muslim letter sent to the Islamic Center of Claremont (ICC) in November was an additional catalyst for the city to act, Mr. Tudor said.

Public comment, which lasted into the early hours of Wednesday, was contentious, with both sides offering impassioned pleas for and against a sanctuary city.

Many of the students speaking in favor of the resolution implored the council to look into alternative A of the recommendation, which would ask the city staff to develop an ordinance officially labeling Claremont a sanctuary city. Some vowed to register to vote for the March election in Claremont to oust councilmembers were against the resolution.

“It is critical that the city of Claremont join cities and counties in California and the colleges in sending a message to the Trump Administration that we recognize and respect the contribution that immigrants make to the city,” Angela Zambrano, Claremont resident and vice chair of the Latino Roundtable, said. “Most importantly, the city of Claremont is ready, willing and able to defend the constitution which protects everyone in the United States regardless of their immigration status.”

Mellissa Martinez, who’s family has called Claremont home for generations, reminded the council of Claremont’s troubled history, telling a story of how her father was segregated at Sycamore School.

“Claremont is and should always be a sanctuary city. We should never go back in time to when it was a place that segregated people based on where they come from,” she said.

Ms. Martinez related the story of her grandfather, who immigrated from Mexico to Claremont and worked as the first gardener at Pomona College. The Martinez family stayed, she said, with her father eventually completing his degree at Claremont Graduate University and working for the Claremont Unified School District for roughly 35 years.

Many of those against the resolution were markedly combative when speaking to the council. Arthur Schaper, president of the Beach Cities Republicans, shouted into the microphone as he accused the city of multiple Brown Act violations for asking him what city he lived in. After he said someone tried to steal his phone, Mr. Schaper asserted that a sanctuary city would invite lawlessness to the city.

As he was leaving the dais, Mr. Schaper shouted to the jeering crowd, “God bless Donald Trump! Suck it up buttercups—you lost, he won.”

In her three-minute appeal to council, Chino resident Kathlyn Parker recalled the murder of Kate Steinle, a woman killed in San Francisco by Francisco Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported and returned multiple times.

“How many of you want to see your young daughters slaughtered on the streets of Claremont by a seven-time felon who should have been deported five times?” Ms. Parker asked. “That’s right, you don’t, and you don’t figure you will.

“You sit up there in your million dollar homes and expensive schools, virtues signaling at the expense of the underserved and underrepresented communities like Pomona, who will deport illegal immigrants,” she added.

Trevor Losh Johnson, a longtime Claremont resident, offered his position as a homeowner.

“I would like to thank the people of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga who came out here tonight to voice their concerns for my tax dollars,” he quipped. “I hope they [anti-sanctuary city activists] feel welcome here. We are a welcoming community. And I hope we can continue that and extend that welcome to the most marginalized in our communities.”

Councilmember Joe Lyons was adamantly in favor of the resolution, and seemed open to a sanctuary city ordinance, even with the possibility of losing federal funds.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with losing $500,000. It doesn’t have anything to do with the cost-benefit analysis that some have gone through,” he said. “It has to do with our moral and ethical obligation as representatives of the people. That’s what Claremont is about and has been about and is one of the reasons many of us move to Claremont.”

Councilmember Corey Calaycay related his own family’s immigrant story, including his uncle’s long and painful process to come to the United States legally. But he abstained from voting, citing his concerns about casting a vote on behalf of the people.

“When we do a resolution, a concern I have is it is in the name of the 36,000 residents of the city of Claremont, and that is not a fair thing to put all residents on record for something they may not agree upon,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder said he was not against entertaining an ordinance, but also noted that the city would uphold the 14th Amendment, which calls for the right to due process for everyone.

“There were some comments; if this passes we would be overrun with crime, because of the illegal immigrants,” he said. “Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and we’ve been doing this for a long, long time folks.”

Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali empathized with the students and those under the DACA program, but felt uncomfortable in passing a resolution that he felt was already affirmed in the city’s charters. Mr. Nasiali made reference to a line from the classic film My Fair Lady: “Don’t talk about love, show me.”

“I think our love in this city is clear,” he said. “We don’t just talk about it, we show it.”

Mr. Nasiali voted no on the resolution but made a motion for the council to sign an approval of the Bridge Act, a bipartisan bill in Congress that would protect DACA students.

LA County Board of Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger supported the same motion earlier this month. “I feel more comfortable to use the same approach they used,” Mr. Nasiali said. “Instead of passing a resolution that puts us in an awkward position.”

Mayor Sam Pedroza, in his approval of the resolution, talked about his father’s immigrant story, taking a job moving houses from San Diego into Tijuana and back again.

“So, yes, I’m the son of a major lawbreaker,” he said. “I wonder if he ever thought while he was on that roof, holding up these high voltage wires, that his son would become the mayor of a city like Claremont.”

Mr. Pedroza also called out those who warned that federal funds could be curbed.

“Why should we be afraid of our federal government? Is that the intent?” he asked.

The council passed the resolution just before 1 a.m. As soon as the vote was tallied, the room erupted into thunderous applause from supporters, while those against the measure shouted for a recall election.

The council also received a 2016-2017 mid-year budget report from Finance Director Adam Pirrie. Mr. Pirrie told the council the city is on track to meet or exceed full-year projections. More on the budget report will be available in next week’s edition of the COURIER.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com