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City must cut budget to layout balanced plan

The city presented a balanced budget to the council on Tuesday, but it came after $3.4 million in cuts.

The presentation only outlined the budget for 2018-2019. The city typically presents a two-year plan, but in order to balance the budget this year, the city split the years in anticipation of future shortfalls.

City Manager Tara Schultz stressed that the city is financially secure, but noted it would face a deficit of around $1 million next year and $1.8 million in 2021-2022. City officials thought it would be “more prudent” to release a balanced budget this year and then look later at what it can do to curb upcoming deficits.

Overall, city revenues topped out at $46,559,198, of which nearly $26 million constitutes the city’s general fund, according to Finance Director Adam Pirrie. Total expenditures amount to $48,774,178, of which $24.4 million was from the city’s general fund.

Ms. Schultz and Mr. Pirrie both said that when city staff went to work on this year’s budget, they initially faced a deficit of about $1.4 million for 2018-19, which included CalPERS retirement, landscaping costs, payments to Golden State Water Company and personnel increases.

After submittals and requests from different departments, Ms. Schultz said that deficit grew to $3.4 million.

Thus began the process of nickel-and-diming down costs to cover the shortfall. Mr. Pirrie broke down everything that was cut, scaled back or moved from the general fund to meet the goal.

Two open staff positions that had yet to be filled were removed entirely—the arborist and an assistant planner. Those two staff positions alone saved the city $220,000. The planning department currently employs approximately five full-time employees plus interns.

Resident Bob Gerecke asked the city how the elimination of the arborist position would affect the city’s urban forest. Community Services Director Roger Bradley said that two staff members are already certified arborists, and there wouldn’t be much of an impact, save for reallocating work to existing staff.

“At this point, we still plan on carrying the workload forward,” Mr. Bradley said.

An open management analyst position was also removed at a savings of $109,000 annually, and an administrative assistant was moved to part-time saving $44,000, Mr. Pirrie said.

A part-time police records clerk position was removed and front counter hours at the police station were reduced for a saving of $22,000. The city also reduced hours at the Hughes Center front desk saving $35,000.

A temporary stop to treatments for the polyphagous shot-hole borer, a pest that has been affecting numerous trees in Claremont, saved $315,000.

“That’s a treatment that can be deferred for a year without significant impacts to our urban forest,” Mr. Pirrie said.

The council approved the budget unanimously. Councilmember Sam Pedroza lauded the city for balancing the budget this year, but asked for more community input as next year’s budget is scrutinized.

“We’re like real thin, we’re really close, he said. “It’s always a miracle how staff pulls that off, especially in these tight budget years.”

Village South goals approved

despite protest from KGI

The council also approved the goals and guiding principles for the upcoming Village South Specific Plan, but not without protestations from representatives of Keck Graduate Institute (KGI).

The goals and principles are regarded as the foundation for creating the Village South plan—the city and developers will use them for guidance as they move forward.

This is the second time the goals and principles have been presented to council—back in April, the council voted 4-1 to send the documents back to the commissions for further review after finding both the architectural and planning commissions could not come to a consensus over certain parts of the documents.

A joint commission meeting was held on May 21, Community Development Director Brad Johnson said, which resulted in changes to the language.

Some of those changes include doing away with potential five-story buildings in favor or building heights that match the existing Village and Village Expansion plans, and an entirely new principle outlining the desire for historical preservation, an obvious nod to the KGI-owned Vortox property.  

But one revision caused uproar from KGI. Amid the goal outlining a mix of uses, the commissions added language prohibiting institutional-residential uses (i.e. dorms), and permitting further institutional-educational uses only to upper floors and for office use.

Some commission members advocated for these restrictions in part because of fears of “college creep,” Principal Planner Chris Veirs said to the council.

The current zoning for the Vortox area is business-industrial, and Keck would have to apply for a conditional use permit (CUP) for institutional use, the city said.

KGI President Sheldon Schuster, who spoke at public comment, called the new language “restrictive.”

“We also think in some ways it won’t allow us to use the kind of educational outside and team-based activities that would really merge with what the city wants in terms of open spaces,” he said.

Claremont Colleges Services CEO Stig Lanesskog called on the council to take no action on the document unless KGI’s input is fully considered.

“I think what you want is a real partnership with the owners, and at this point we’re not there yet,” Mr. Lanesskog said.

Sue Schenk urged the council to approve the documents, noting that further details would be hammered out as the specific plan is created, and said that KGI representatives have not made their concerns known during previous commission and council meetings.

“This is the first time they have come to express their opinions,” she said. “It’s a little late.”

In the end, the council was sensitive to KGI’s situation, and emphasized there would be future opportunities to give input when the specific plan is created, in addition to the option of applying for a CUP.

“We know that there is still more to be done, the specific plan is a document that still needs to be prepared,” Mayor Opanyi Nasiali said. “KGI people, please sit at the table so that you can have your voice heard.”

When reached on Wednesday, Mr. Schuster said he was “disappointed” the documents were passed.

“These arbitrary conditions will prevent us as a significant owner in the plan area from using the property in a reasonable way that is economically viable,” he said in an email. “As a nonprofit institution, we can only consider the highest and best uses for this project which will benefit our students and help keep their tuition affordable.”

He also disagreed with the assertion that KGI had not been involved in the process thus far.

“We have been engaged from the beginning of this process over a year ago, from the first community workshop to multiple commission and council meetings, met with numerous community members as well as countless meetings with city staff and consultants. Still, our concerns were not taken into consideration,” Mr. Schuster said.

He noted the college is now in a “holding pattern” after the documents’ passage.

“We do not want the location to sit undeveloped like the dirt lot across from the packing house,” he said, “but the principles voted on last night, despite the overwhelming support from our community, are prohibitive.”

More on Tuesday’s council meeting will be published in next week’s edition of the COURIER.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com