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Candidates show enthusiasm at first candidate forum

Four candidates for city council introduced themselves to the Claremont business community Tuesday.

The early-morning forum occurred during the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Business Over Breakfast, and questions ranged from cutting down on commercial burglaries, fiscal responsibility and town and gown relationships.

The candidates who attended the forum were Jed Leano, Michael Ceraso, Jennifer Stark and Ed Reece. Zach Courser couldn’t make it because he was recovering from surgery, but moderator Beatrice Casagran read a statement from the candidate at the beginning of the forum.

In the letter, Mr. Courser emphasized that his largest concern was the city’s current financial situation, and pledged to bring his track record as a traffic and transportation commissioner and years of working with city staff to the city council.

“I promise to bring enthusiasm, diligence and a spirit of collaboration to city government,” Mr. Courser wrote.

Candidate Douglas Lyon was also absent, and told the COURIER he did not receive an invitation to attend. Claremont Chamber of Commerce CEO Maureen Aldridge admitted the Chamber had sent the invitation to the wrong email address.

“It was a mistake on our part. I apologized to him and he did understand,” Ms. Aldridge said. “If we do anything else, obviously we will make sure we have the correct email address.”

Mr. Leano, an immigration attorney who is vice chair of the Community and Human Services Commission, claimed the number one issue facing the city was how to balance the budget while still being forward-thinking.

“I believe Claremont is ripe for the passing of the torch to a new generation of leadership ready for the next set of challenges,” he said.

Mr. Ceraso, a recent Pitzer College graduate and co-founder of community organizing group Winning Margins, noted he would focus on improving sustainability, balancing the budget and improving relations with the city and the Colleges. 

Ms. Stark, a member of the Traffic and Transportation Commission and co-founder of Claremont Canopy, said she was “motivated by a deep sense of indebtedness to the town I grew up in, and a real appreciation for the town I raised my children in.”

Mr. Reece said he wanted to provide a decade of experience as a business owner and a Claremont resident “to provide and deliver a clear, coherent and coordinated vision for our community,” he said.

The first question gave candidates the opportunity to talk about top issues facing the city today. Mr. Leano identified the police station and the city’s unfunded CalPERS liability as two of Claremont’s top issues, and Mr. Ceraso noted homelessness, the budget and small business growth.

Ms. Stark stressted that the budget was a top issue, in addition to the police station and “social, cultural and environmental sustainability.” Mr. Reece focused on business issues, given the forum’s audience; he noted parking issues in the Village, drawing outside revenues into Claremont, Village expansion and what the next set of challenges in the Village are.

Regarding the police station and how it would be funded, Mr. Leano said if the next committee put a square footage parcel tax forth, he would be in favor of it. He was in favor of scaling down the project, but emphasized that Claremont needs a jail.

“We don’t have an adequate size of police force to be driving people to other jurisdictions just to put people in a cell,” he said.

Ms. Casagran asked the candidates about commercial burglaries, something that has plagued local businesses for the past few years.

Ms. Stark said, “working together and listening to each other and finding ways we can support each other and look out for one another’s best interests,” would be a way to look into crime prevention.

Mr. Reece, the current chair of the Police Commission, said it would take a partnership between the businesses and the police to help prevent break-ins.

“That includes unfortunately those businesses that don’t have burglar alarms—having those cameras that are functional and working in those businesses, not keeping cash in the businesses,” he said.

Parking in the Village was also discussed. Mr. Ceraso said he is “leaning very closely to metered parking” as a response to the impending congestion when the Metro parking garage is built.

“I’m open to looking at different ways to generate additional revenues for the city,” he said.

Mr. Leano suggests the city needs to also look at alternative modes of transportation into the Village, including mass transit and improved bike lanes.

“The problem is that everybody is going to drive into the Village with their car, and that is really the root cause and something we should be looking at,” he said.

The candidates also talked about the relationship with the city and the Colleges, and what can be done to bridge the gap. Mr. Ceraso suggested the city and the Colleges, like other institutions such as Harvard University, conduct an annual report on how they impact the local economy. Mr. Reece proposed an “innovation hub” to bring in the talent from the Colleges into the city.

Ms. Stark said the city needs to appreciate the Colleges individually, as opposed to a single entity. “It’s like a marriage, sometimes you have to get along, and let go of the rest,” she said. “We need a really good date night.”

When Ms. Casagran asked her about her approach to the city’s fiscal policy, Ms. Stark lauded the city’s financial employees said she is “committed to learning more about finance.”

“I don’t have a solution, except for looking for more ways to enhance our revenue as a city, and that would be also supporting our businesses and looking into other ways to create more revenue sources,” she said.

The candidates were also asked about how they could help the homeless in the city while also balancing the health and safety needs of businesses and residents. Mr. Reece, who indicated was homeless while he was a teenager, said he got out of the cycle when he became gainfully employed.

“I think that is one way we can do that,” he said. “Make sure we have an opportunity for job training, an opportunity for those that are homeless to gain gainful employment.”

Mr. Leano drew applause from the crowd when he stressed that homelessness is first a mental health issue. He said the city should look at getting the maximum funds available from Measure H.

The last question struck at the heart of what the audience wanted to know: how would the candidates be a councilmember for all businesses in Claremont?

Mr. Leano said part of leadership is feeling comfortable with someone representing you, and emphasized listening to constituents.

“What your concerns are, as a business owner, as a parent, as a homeowner, I have them too, every day,” he said.

Mr. Ceraso touted his expertise as a community organizer in pledging to bring every part of Claremont together.

“I plan to have the energy to connect and engage with business owners from every part, having sit downs, having those met and greets, having those coffees, and listening to the concerns of our residents,” he said.

Ms. Stark called for networking and collaboration. “We’re unique but we’re together,” she said.

Mr. Reece noted he had a unique perspective of operating his business in all three corridors, from Base Line to the Village to South Claremont. He pledged to work with businesses so they are “thriving, not just surviving.”

“I think we’ll all work well together and get to that point,” he said.

The next candidate forum hosted by Active Claremont will be at 7 p.m. on  Thursday, September 20 at the Hughes Center.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com