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Police station commission holds final meeting, crafts new plan

After nearly a year, the committee tasked with crafting a third police station package for voters held its final meeting July 10. 

The Police Station Citizens’ Advisory Committee (PSCAC), a 15-member body created by former mayor Opanyi Nasiali in August 2018 in the wake of Measure SC’s defeat, hammered out a plan that it hopes will appeal to Claremont voters—a 30-year, $17.5 million parcel tax to retrofit and expand the existing building at 570 W. Bonita Ave. to 26,000 square feet.

The parcel tax will be based on the square footage of house or building on any parcel in the city, different from the last two measures, both of which failed at the ballot box in 2015 and 2018.

It was a long and contentious road to get to this point. The committee, chaired by vocal SC critic Matt Magilke, at times expressed differences over aspects such as the price of the package, whether or not to use the city yard building as a possible station and the idea of contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. 

Two $15,000 studies to see if the current station could be retrofitted and if the city yard building was a feasible option were both rejected in 2018 by the previous city council, delaying the committee by several weeks. As one of its first orders of business in 2019, the current council approved the funds for the studies.

Through those studies, IDS Group, the firm tasked to see if the station could be retrofitted, said the 10,000 square-foot station could be rehabbed and expanded to 26,000 square feet for around $18.4 million. During Measure SC committee meetings in 2017, another architecture firm, WMM Associates, claimed the station could not be retrofitted.

At the July 10 meeting, some committee members took issue with the $17.5 million price tag, which was introduced at the prior meeting on June 26 by Mr. Magilke.

Committee member Joyce Sauter sent a letter on July 1 to City Manager Tara Schultz and the committee castigating the amount and saying the number “has no basis in hard data,” citing a lack of attention to non-sworn officers, calling it a non-factual “wish list” for the committee chair and claiming “there is a lack of data that residents want this cheap way out.”

Mr. Magilke said the number was the amount to be presented to voters through the parcel tax, and the rest of the cost of building the station—quoted at roughly $20.3 million in the draft report—would be funded by the city’s general fund and other outside sources.

The city is also still trying to find grant funds to pay for roughly $2 million in seismic improvements to keep the existing station safe in the short term. Ms. Schultz told the committee that they have not yet been successful in securing the funds.

Richard Chute proposed a provision in the overall cost of the bond—if the city cannot find funding for seismic improvements, the $2 million should be added into the cost for a total of $19.5 million.

The committee argued about the numbers, at one point prompting committee member Aundre Johnson to walk out of the meeting.

Mr. Chute’s idea fizzled out as the meeting progressed, and the committee adjourned, sticking with $17.5 million.

The committee also narrowly voted out a provision that asked for a request for proposals (RFP) from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for policing services. The idea of replacing the Claremont Police Department with the sheriff has been a contentious issue not just within the committee but among some community members as well.

Committee member Anthony Nelipovich argued the decision should come down to which department would be more cost-effective. Jim Keith argued that vital services the police department provides, such as a deep knowledge of the community and the Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program, would not exist if there were a new sheriff in town.

Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen emphasized that, as a city employee and as a resident, “I’ll tell you that you will not get better service than you’re getting now,” and noted certain investigative tactics, like automated license plate reader cameras, could be cut to save money.

“We can maybe provide that quality of service at a cheaper price, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said. “So just know what you’re asking for.”

Ms. Sauter, who voted in favor of the RFP in a previous meeting, revoked her vote, and Mr. Keith called for another vote to take out the provision altogether. The motion narrowly passed, 7-5.

While the pricing, financing method and bond lifetime have been secured, the timeline of when this package will make its appearance on the ballot is up in the air.

Originally targeting a March 2020 vote date, the committee opted to push it until after November 2020, in part due to a proposed assembly constitutional amendment (ACA-1), which could lower the voting threshold for special use parcel taxes to 55 percent and could reach ballot boxes next year.

Currently, special use taxes need at least a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Measure SC failed to reach that mark in 2018, even though it garnered a 59 percent majority. If ACA-1 doesn’t get to the ballot, the committee reasoned, the police station measure would move forward to the next available election.

The committee will present its report to the city council at next week’s meeting. Committee member Jess Swick has been tapped to speak before the council.

Mr. Keith noted at the end of the meeting that while the committee didn’t agree on everything, it was important to move forward.

“I hope that we do our best to defend the outcome and to defend the necessity for the police station,” he said.

—Matthew Bramlett