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Council approves new police cars, user fees, parking fines

The Claremont city council, in its first meeting since the August recess, approved the purchase of 14 new police cars.

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Calaycay pulled the initial consent calendar item for discussion. The cruisers slated for replacement are at the end of their four-year lifespan, Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen said during her presentation.

“The basic premise of the replacement policy is as equipment ages, maintenance, downtime and operation costs increases,” the chief said.

Those costs include increase in operational costs and decreases in resale value, she said, in addition to the end of a 75,000 mile limited warranty. According to a 2009 analysis, the “economic life expectancy” is four years for police cruisers and six years for K9 vehicles.

The cars slated for purchase are eight 2019 Dodge Chargers and six 2019 Chevrolet Tahoes, for a total purchase price of $521,124.44, according to the city. The city also noted the current 2018-2019 budget includes these purchase costs.

Chief Vander Veen noted the current fleet was slated for replacement last year, but it was pushed until this year due to operational costs. The current patrol cars, which are Chevrolet Caprices, are five years old and the K9 Tahoes are six and nine years old, the chief said. Their mileages range from 68,043 miles to 78,514 miles.

Two vehicles have already been permanently disabled and taken out of service, she said. Other cars have also had engine work done under the five-year warranties.

Mr. Calaycay noted the current policy was drafted during an economic downturn, but could be up for an additional review, especially since the current fleet pulled through into its fifth year.

“At the same time maybe four years is a little bit short? I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking there’s an opportunity here to take another look at this policy. After 10 years, it makes sense to look back at your policies and make sure that they still make sense, that there are not new trends and other things that we’re not considering.”

Despite the concerns over cost, the council unanimously approved the purchases. Councilmember Sam Pedroza harkened back to when old Crown Victorias would stall out during patrol, and noted that while this may be a hard and expensive decision, it was needed.

“I trust that we are making a decision here with all the information from our police department that this is a need that we need to look at now,” he said.

Councilmember Larry Schroeder noted that getting an officer to the scene may be “a matter of life and death,” and claimed that since these purchases were already budgeted, it would not make a big financial impact.

Mayor Opanyi Nasiali was in favor of the purchases, but acknowledged looking at existing policy to possibly make some tweaks without endangering the department’s performance. 

“God forbid, they need a police station, we can’t deny them cars as well,” he said.

 

Lyons admonishes COURIER story

Councilmember Joe Lyons took out a consent calendar item regarding two employee group contracts to publically reprimand the COURIER for an article looking at top city employees’ salaries.

The article, titled, “Are city employees paid too much?” went into detail about memoranda of understanding with city employee groups and also posted salaries and benefits of Claremont’s top earners, including City Manager Tara Schultz, Chief Vander Veen, and Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor.

Mr. Lyons called the salaries in question “misquoted” and the headline “misleading.” He said those salaries are at the median of what their counterparts earn in other cities.

“What I want to do here is not convince anybody that they may hold the opinion that government employees are paid too much. I happen to hold a different opinion, and we could discuss that in another venue,” he said. “But what I am here to say is that it was very misleading to have an article entitled, ‘Are Claremont city employees paid too much?’ and then leave half of the story out.”

Chief in point, Mr. Lyons said, was the comparison between Chief Vander Veen’s salary and benefits and those of the LAPD’s former chief, Charlie Beck. Chief Vander Veen’s base salary and total compensation package was correctly stated, he said, but the former Chief Beck’s fringe benefits and side benefits were absent in the article, “unlike the salary that was listed as a total compensation package for our chief of police.”

A better comparison, he said, would have been with La Verne or other nearby cities, where he claimed the salaries were more competitive.

“So with that I just really wanted to let the public know that at least in this councilmember’s opinion, our city employees are certainly not paid too much, that they have been asked to do much more than most, that they continue to come to their jobs with smiles on their faces and a desire to serve the public and they deserve more than just being left hanging as if to imply that yes they are and we should do something about it,” he said.

Prior to Mr. Lyons’ public admonition, the COURIER had not received any requests for a correction to the article, which was published on August 9.

User fee schedule approved

The council unanimously approved an updated user fee schedule and parking violation schedule.

Prior to Tuesday, much of the fees had not been updated in more than a few years, according to Finance Director Adam Pirrie. Some fees had been brought to the council individually over the years, while others hadn’t been updated in as far back as 30 years.

“The result of this approach has been a set of city fees that no longer recover close to the full cost of providing the services to our residents and businesses,” he said.

Last year, the city contracted with Willdan Financial Services to look at the fees and make sure costs are appropriate.  Some of the more notable fee increases were in the Planning and Engineering Divisions.

In Planning, the cost of a parcel map increased from $2,500 to $10,000, a zone change deposit increased from $3,500 to $10,000 and a tentative subdivision tract map increased from $4,000 to $11,200.

The fees were based on hourly work of employees plus the cost of hired consultants. If the actual cost of the work turns out to be lower than the stated amount, the difference would be refunded back to the applicant, he said.

In engineering, many of the fees were for services that were otherwise free. These new fees include a $730 erosion control plan for 10 acres or less, and grading and drainage inspection permit fees ranging from $7,050 to $14,600, depending on the cubic yardage.

Building increases were limited at 50 percent in an effort to avoid overburdening residents with permit fees for construction and renovation projects, Mr. Pirrie said. Some fees have actually been lowered; including business permits from $100 to $70 and land use review fees from $1,250 to $1,018.

Parking fines have been increased from $35 at first offense to $50. Second offenses have jumped from $70 to $100 and third offenses have climbed from $105 to $150. This is compared to the average for first offense parking fines around neighboring cities, which sits at $48.

The council unanimously approved the new schedule and thanked city staff for undertaking the adjustments. Mr. Pedroza said that some of the fees have been reduced as well to cover the full cost.

“It’s important to note that we don’t want the headline to read, ‘The city’s going to raise all fees and costs,’” Mr. Pedroza said. “Some of them have been adjusted to be lowered too.”

The council also approved at a 45-day moratorium on electric scooter rental businesses and approved contracts for the Foothill Boulevard Master Plan. Those will be reported in next week’s COURIER.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com