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New leadership at city hall, council mark a year of change in Claremont

From a new council to upcoming city projects, 2018 proved to be a year of change for Claremont. Some longtime familiar faces departed, with fresh leadership heralding a new era for the City of Trees.

 

Elections

The end of 2018 saw three longtime councilmembers leave the dais, and three new faces taking their places.

Opanyi Nasiali and Joe Lyons both retired, opting not to seek re-election. Sam Pedroza initially pulled papers for a re-election bid, but ultimately decided not to see re-election after 11 years on the council.

That paved the way for six candidates vying for three open spots. After months of spirited forums—and an impressive 73 percent voter turnout—Jennifer Stark, Jed Leano and Ed Reece won council seats.

But it wasn’t necessarily over on Election Day. The gap between Mr. Reece and  Zach Courser was razor-thin, at one point shrinking to just 21 votes. It took the certification of the results by the county on November 30 to call the race, with Mr. Reece beating Mr. Courser by just 53 votes. 

Measure SC, the second attempt to fund a new police station, had momentum going into the June 5 election day, but it just didn’t garner enough votes to pass.

The SC election season was contentious. Strong feelings on both sides were traded back and forth for months, and Mr. Lyons even lambasted COURIER editor Kathryn Dunn in a column after Ms. Dunn suggested ways to get SC passed.

In the end, roughly 59 percent of Claremonters voted in favor of the $25 million bond measure, but it was well short of the 67 percent needed to pass.

The city regrouped months later, with Mr. Nasiali convening another 15-member Police Station Citizens Advisory Committee (PSCAC) to hammer out another possible bond measure. We won’t know until 2020 if the third time will be the charm for a new police facility.

 

City Management

The first months of 2018 saw Tara Schultz take over as Claremont’s new city manager. Ms. Schultz, who came to Claremont from Alhambra, took over for retiring former city manager Tony Ramos. She hit the ground running by helping to balance this year’s budget, which was facing a $3.4 million shortfall. Ms. Schultz will be tasked with tackling a $1 million shortfall next year.

The city also saw a changing of the guard in the Community Services Department. Chris Paulson was announced as the new community services director in November, replacing Roger Bradley, who left for a position in central California. Like Ms. Schultz, Mr. Paulson came to Claremont from Alhambra.

This year also saw Maureen Aldridge retire as CEO of the Claremont Chamber of Commerce after 29 years on the job. Randy Lopez is interim director as the Chamber continues its search for a permanent director.

 

Transportation

The Gold Line took center stage throughout 2018. The billion-dollar project took a hit toward the end of the year, when it was revealed that the project would be split in two—from Glendora to La Verne and from La Verne to Claremont—after bids came in higher than expected and ballooned the overall cost of the project by nearly $600 million.

If the Claremont leg of the project gets funded by August 2021, the city won’t see the light rail service until 2028.

Claremont will be keeping one rail service running for the foreseeable future. In January, the Metro board of directors recommended keeping the Claremont Metrolink station after it initially authorized a study weighing the pros and cons of eliminating the station.

 

City development

A makeover of Claremont’s main east-west thoroughfare, Foothill Boulevard, began in November. The $16 million project, much of which is being funded by the gas tax, will add more lanes, landscaping, bike lanes and other amenities to beautify the boulevard. The refurbishment will be completed later in 2019.

Throughout the year, plans were made that will change the face of Claremont. The Village South Specific Plan is currently underway after the council passed the goals and guiding principles this year. The plans were met with resistance from representatives of Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), who objected to certain parts of the principles disallowing institutional use.

The longtime Griswold’s Hotel, which sat empty in central Claremont for years, was torn down to make way for a multi-story residential development. Construction is still ongoing. The Pooch Park reopened in March, after months of refurbishment. Claremont’s four-legged citizens were finally able to enjoy their park.  

Parking took center stage in the latter part of the year after it was revealed that the city was looking into a parking management program, part of which included paid parking, in the Village. The news was met with swift and overwhelming resistance from the community, and the city took the plan off the table in December.

 

Community

Local news around town ranged from the heartwarming, to the bizarre, to the tragic. Four teenagers from La Verne were hailed as heroes when they tackled a purse-snatcher while walking through the Claremont Village.

The Village was shaken in March by a house explosion on 12th Street, which gutted a beautiful Spanish-style home. Ron Podojil, the home’s owner, plans to rebuild on the property, according to minutes from the city’s architectural commission.

Tragedy struck several times throughout the year in Claremont. Mark Manlapaz, the city’s senior park ranger, was murdered while working at his other job at Cal Poly Pomona. The city paid tribute to him during a vigil at the Hughes Center in June.

The Claremont community mourned Leslie Pray, after she was struck and killed by a motorist while riding her bicycle up Mills Avenue. Police allege the driver, 61-year-old Sandra Wicksted, intentionally struck Ms. Pray in a random attack. The community held a candlelight vigil and placed a “ghost bike” at the site of the accident to represent cyclists killed by cars. The  ghost bike still remains. Claremont native Taylor Meyer was murdered while traveling with friends in Mexico. A vigil celebrating the life of this remarkable 27-year-old man drew hundreds of locals to the CHS baseball field.

But some Claremonters showcased the power of the human spirit. Two brave brothers, 12-year-old Morgan Law and his 5-year-old brother Benji Law, rescued their mother Susan Law from drowning in the back yard pool this past summer. They were later given top honors by the city and the police department, and were even honored at a Los Angeles Chargers football game.

Longtime favorite Yiannis closed its doors in August after 57 years in Claremont. New restaurants opened, like Ramen Lounge, Crème Bakery and Gus’s Barbeque.

The Claremont Library re-opened in November after several months of renovations, showing off its new and improved refurbishments to a packed crowd.

And, after spending most of 2017 in planning and process, Pomona College broke ground on its new museum at the tail end of last year. Throughout 2018, the city’s oldest college made huge strides on construction of the Musuem of Art.

Much of the news in 2018 set the stage for the years to come, from the police station committee to new councilmembers to new restaurants bringing exciting flavors to the city. Here’s to a vibrant and successful 2019.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com