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Candidates try to break from the pack during latest forum

The six Claremont city council candidates continued to make their cases in front of a full-house crowd Monday night.

The League of Women Voters of the Claremont area held the forum in the multi-purpose room of Vista Del Valle Elementary, with dozens of Claremonters looking to hear from the candidates less than a month from election day.

Mike Ceraso, Zach Courser, Jed Leano, Douglas Lyon, Ed Reece and Jennifer Stark all fielded 12 questions from moderator Cynthia Ruhle on a number of topics, including the budget, town and gown relations and the city’s urban forest.

The first question centered on what major challenges would face Claremont in the next two years, and how the candidates would address them. Most of the candidates noted the budget and upcoming structural deficit would be a notable future challenge.

Mr. Ceraso, however, said the divide between north and south Claremont would be a big challenge. He mentioned the current city council doesn’t spend enough time in that part of the city.

Mr. Leano noted that making cuts to balance a budget affects a number of issues in Claremont, including dealing with parks and urban forests, sustainability and quality of life.

“What it means in a larger sense is that while we’re trying to close this gap, we are fundamentally hindered from improving our community for the future,” he said.

Mr. Courser highlighted a number of issues, including increasing transient occupancy tax rates for the city’s hotels, the incoming Gold Line and Village South. What Claremont needed, he said, was someone who could “sweat the details” and be forward-thinking.

“That’s what I want to do on the city council,” he said. “Because without that vision, we’re just reacting. And we need more, we deserve more than that in Claremont.”

When asked if Claremont needs a new police station and how she would accomplish that, Ms. Stark said all city employees, including police officers, deserve to work in safe facilities. She defended the general obligation bond, the financing mechanism for Measure SC, calling it the more secure method with lower financing fees.

“I believe doing a parcel tax just so the Colleges have to pay more is cutting off our nose to spite our face,” she said.

Mr. Ceraso said the city needed better outreach strategies if they wanted a police station measure to garner enough votes to pass, and that includes more outreach into south Claremont, where voter turnout was lower.

Mr. Courser added that the two failed police station ballot measures are examples of a lack of vision and planning on behalf of the council. They need to work harder, he said, to reach out to the public about the needs of a new police station.

The candidates were also asked about what to do about Claremont’s signature feature—its trees. Many of the candidates noted the lack of an official arborist on staff exacerbated the current problem. The open arborist position was eliminated as part of balancing the budget earlier this year.

Mr. Courser claimed that as temperatures rise and water costs go up, it’s on Claremont to work harder to preserve what it has, and that includes planting trees that “fit with this climate.”

Mr. Lyon remarked the Urban Forest Master Plan would be a “tong term solution” to the tree issue, but noted that over-pruning from hired landscapers and a lack of water contributed to the trees’ decline.

“It’s going to take a long time to bring our urban forest back to what it was, but it can be done,” he said.

One audience member asked what the candidates’ experiences are with municipal budgets.

Mr. Reece touched upon working with city budgets through his IT company, ISN Global. He claimed his company saved Claremont more than $100,000 in the early 2000s.

“I think there’s an opportunity to do that within the city, and use that experience to help guide our fiscal vision for our community,” he said.

Mr. Lyon cautioned that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have someone with a lot of city budget experience on council, because “their perspective tends to be annually.”

“What you want from a city council is a multi-year vision, a multi-decade vision for where the city is going to go, and then if the city budget is headed in that direction,” he said.

Housing was also discussed, as one audience member asked about how new developments could maintain the identity of Claremont while also addressing issues such as building more single-family homes and low-income housing.

Mr. Reece touched upon new state rules about accessory dwelling units (ADUs), better known as back houses, as an opportunity for the city.

“I think we need to get ahead of the curve on the ADUs and start to put in our own vision of what an ADU looks like in Claremont and how to support that housing need,” he said.

Mr. Leano added the housing issue in Claremont requires nuance, as well as attention paid to other aspects of a development, including traffic and the preservation of green space.

“These are the questions that we should be asking in conjunction with square footage plans and zoning maps,” he said. “Because those are the things that make Claremont beautiful.”

A question about improving the relationships between the city and the Colleges revealed disagreement from some candidates over the Pomona College Museum of Art.

Mr. Lyon called the topic a “touchy subject,” and noted Pomona’s insistence on building the museum hurt the town-gown relationship. Ms. Stark emphasized that the land where the museum is being built has always been owned by Pomona College. 

“While there was a verbal agreement about not moving [Renwick House] to the other side of College, those need to be made into policy, and the policy is the city’s job to create,” she said.

The final question was the kicker: why do the candidates consider themselves a leader?

Ms. Stark said she wants to lead by listening, communicating and understanding. Mr. Ceraso said he thinks of himself as a leader beacuse he is willing to fail and to take risks. .

Mr. Reece claimed being a leader means building consensus on a vision and putting community over self, something he was willing to do. Mr. Courser said a leader makes sure whatever solutions you come to serve a broad section of the community.

Mr. Leano said he has a vision for what Claremont can be, and can inspire a new generation of young people to also want to lead. Mr. Lyon said leadership is about developing a long-term plan and executing it, illuminating the path forward for Claremont.

Election day is Tuesday, November 6.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com