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Eight questions for eight candidates: Michael Keenan

Claremont resident Michael Keenan is hoping to bring his knowledge of sustainability and the environment to the city council. Mr. Keenan’s aims are to make Claremont a charter city, claim eminent domain over both the water and the electrical systems and do more to fight climate change.

Why are you running for city council?

We’re at a point where we’re going to go toward the “sustaina-stupidity” side, as I call it, or we’re actually going to do sustainability. My last election, I got some traction on the climate argument, which I changed because the words get politicized. It’s about how the energy is flowing, and it hits the other life cycles. The one cycle that’s bug-a-booing us is the carbon, or the greenhouse gases.

My little thing about why am I even running in a campaign on this pale blue dot is because we’re heading toward losing the sage, the plants and us. Congressman George Brown was the chairman of the science committee. He’s who we would need right now, and he held those hearings in ‘84 and it’s all there. So all this denial only makes it more of an emergency now. I think we can better respond if we become a charter city because we could legislate action.

 

Could you go into more detail about the benefits of a charter city?

We’re a general law city, so we have a council-manager setup. The way it’s going now, these guys are just dragging it. I called for eminent domain five years ago or more—10 years actually. Like they say, we lose $80 million to the stockholders, well 10 times 80, I would have made us $80 million already.

That’s an example for the water, but it could be for the energy too, because I called for eminent domain on the grid. We’re paying all these expensive fees for these plants we’ve overbuilt. So why should we be a part of the system anyway? Whereas being a charter city, there’s chapter 9 of the charter that has to do with public utilities. That’s where we get the authority to do that. And as it turns out, there’s a synergy between energy and water. You do something with the water and you save on energy. So there’s a nexus that we could take advantage of, but it means knowing exactly what’s there.

The problem with our general plan is the greatest weakness is on the very bottom of the plan—it’s called metrics. We don’t have them. We don’t know what the per capita water consumption per individual versus the per capita energy use per individual. I’m on the sustainable committee, and when we do this so-called annual report, half of it is okay in terms of the city has their record of what they’re doing, and the rest is “everything else.” Well “everything else” is a generalization.

 

How could the city do more in terms of sustainability?

For one, I think they should remove themselves from any relationship with Southern California Edison, because they’ve taken over our policy process that Corey [Calaycay] claims is “citizen-driven.” They had a resolution a month or two ago about energy efficiency, and the basis of that whole thing is AB811—solar energy legislation. But you never see the word “solar” ever mentioned. That means we’re being told what to see and what not to see. They’ve basically hijacked our policies for just one policy, to the exclusion of all the others.

We made some motion on the waste, but I wouldn’t include it. There’s these big turning presses that could squeeze out the water, and then go take the waste—it’ll compost or whatever mixes quicker—and then the water gets into a well. We should have a recycling thing too, right? And that water, every drop counts.

If you want to claim there’s climate change, it’s monsoon weather we get from Mexico. That’s new to our natural history. So then say you’re up on it, well the thing is you have to do mitigation and adaptation. And they almost want to get rid of the environmental impact report—they slowly knocked that down to being feckless over the administrative time.

But here’s where we need to reinstitute the commission on environmental impact. They would review all the impacts. I want to reinstitute that, because it’s a lot of information that is not fair to give to planning or architectural. They have their mission and goals and focus that they have to be aware of. And I think those people who live in town, we can do a lot of things with the people we have in our town.

 

Do you agree with the city’s decision to appeal in the water trial?

I actually clued in around 2005 because of what Glenn [Southard] was trying to do to hook us up with the regional setup. But Albert Quintanar and I started looking at that and we thought hey, what’s going on here? So by 2006 I’m heading up to Felton FLOW (Friends of Locally Owned Water) above Santa Cruz, and the Felton people took me out to breakfast and laid it all out. That was when the rate appeared to drop too, because I noticed that any water saving we do, we don’t get it credited into our watershed or on top of our local water sale. No, they get the credit and turn around and sell it and we have to import more expensive water.

So they would base allocations based on how many people you had in your town. And they all had to go in and submit that together and give them the amount they could use. Well, if we saved any of the regional water, guess who got the credit? And it was millions of gallons. So I looked at it and I thought, why aren’t we making money if we save the water for ourselves instead of giving it to people who didn’t really save it. They just want it so they can turn around and sell it. I thought that was a scam. So from then on, I’ve been dead set on kicking this posse out.

I don’t think we should back off of Golden State because we’re not the only ones. So all these other Davids are going after Goliath, and if we back out now we’re going to let down any attempts to make water use public. So I’m not for giving up.

 

Do you think Claremont made the right decision to pass on the Gold Line Bridge?

Larry [Schroeder] is right on this; it was kind of rushed. There wasn’t enough time to present alternative methods. I tried to make the one street at the end of the packinghouse, making that a thruway or going under, or putting a parking garage on the other side. We could use it anyway.

The police response becomes an issue because of the number of times the gate’s going to come down. My feeling is, if we’re going to do a police station, we could have a satellite police station closer to the freeway, because a lot of criminals smash and dash and get on the freeway and go. Plus, we have the first floor of the city yard building, which could be all detectives.

 

Do you think the commissions have enough say in the process when projects are vetted? Do you think they should have a larger role?

Well, what it is is how staff presents it. It has to be neutral. That’s what the problem is. Brian [Desatnik] doesn’t present it that way to the staff, so that lady [Marta Perlas] left because, “Oh, we’ll all vote yes because it doesn’t matter anyway.”

We’re asking people to be a commissioner on their own time. I saw one incident with the tennis courts at the Colleges. That plan went through the architectural commission, the planning commission and the city, and they had to save so many trees. Those trees were already selected. And they went in and bulldozed them all down. I got that from the inside, so I went and raised a ruckus.

We have Bob Perry; he’s an expert on environmental landscape. We are lucky to have that guy. There’s the quality we can bring to bear, but is it being brought to bear, I guess is the question. But if you make recommendations, and you got somebody on the inside fudging it all up, well it causes a lot of dissention. And that’s what we’re being left with. 

 

Do you agree with the city’s resolution reaffirming the commitment to diversity? Do you think we should go further?

Even my best experts are holding back when it comes to “Dear Donald.” So when I see people that have given reports to five presidents and are holding off on this guy, I think maybe I should wait and see what’s going to happen. It looks like they’re even going to go after people that are already standing in line, have some kind of adjudication in the process going, and they’re on their own recognizance. And the facts show that people that are given that kind of temporary status—they obey the law, they want to be law-abiding citizens.

For now, we don’t need the spotlight. We can cash out on the budget for now while we can. Let’s hold our cards for now, because we can do an emergency meeting and we can roll it out in no time.

 

If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about Claremont?

What I’ve been continually asking for—and the League of Women Voters backs me up on this—is one sustainability page for the “do-it-yourself” crowd, that you can map. You can pull up your parcel and calculate your solar production. And you can pick your thing based on efficiency and calculate out what’s going on.

I can put a watershed together that shows what it looks like underground. I’ve got all the data from all the wells, and I can actually do a dynamic that shows where the water goes from ear to ear, where it got deeper and how long it took. That’s all possible too. I actually called for a water conservation plan regarding the watershed when I was first on the board. My vision may just be too far ahead of everybody else. There’s a lag.

—Matthew Bramlett

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