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Editor's Notes: We need leadership, vision to fund the new station

Measure SC got its name last week. It’s my understanding the city requested the letters “SC,” which was approved by the LA County Registrar-Recorder late last Thursday.

The committee—Partners for a Safe Claremont—has been formed, but it hasn’t been particularly active other than launching the Facebook page and holding a meeting or two. Hopefully, we’ll hear more from them soon.

The police station ad hoc committee did an admirable job scaling back the budget and design of the proposed station. The projected cost is now $25 million over 25 years made up by $23.9 million in bonds plus the city’s contribution of $1.5 million from its general fund. It’s better, but will need to be improved upon to get everyone on board by June.

The decision by council to go with a general obligation bond isn’t sitting well with many people. We can’t ignore this fact, because the fastest way to see Measure SC get defeated is to tell voters what’s good for them.

Compromise and consensus are fundamental to successful governance, and unfortunately the council’s 4-1 vote in December to approve the GO bond financing did not reflect the good work done by the committee.

A survey conducted by the committee found that of 37 respondents, 28—more than 75 percent—preferred a parcel tax. Eighteen people wanted it based on square footage and 10 preferred a flat tax. Only eight of the 37 people surveyed said they wanted a GO bond. It’s a small sample, but I do believe the results showed a clear preference. The committee was split, voting 7-5 to go with a GO bond. That isn’t overwhelming support by any stretch.

Despite the survey results recommending a parcel tax, the council still felt the GO bond was the way to go. How they got to that decision is unclear to me. Councilmember Sam Pedroza remarked that “Claremonters don’t like parcel taxes. It’s a history lesson that we need to heed.” Perhaps so, but in this instance, residents were pretty clear about what they wanted.

Regardless, we’re here now with a $25 million bond measure set for a vote in two months. How can the committee rally enough support for the two-thirds needed for its passage?

First, the Claremont Colleges could pledge $5 million over 25 years, or the life of the bond. For simplicity, and because CEO Stig Lanesskog sat on the ad hoc committee, we’ll include only the seven Colleges that are part of the CUC.

The Colleges haven’t announced what their contribution might be, but Mr. Lanesskog intimated at previous meetings he felt $750,000 would be appropriate.

The seven institutions in the CUC are Keck Graduate Institute, Claremont Graduate University, Pomona, Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Pitzer and Harvey Mudd.

The CUC’s $5 million contribution would amount to $714,285 per college over 25 years, breaking down to $28,571 per year per institution. That doesn’t seem particularly unreasonable considering the other tax exemptions enjoyed by our local colleges.

Four to five percent of a college’s endowment—money donated to a university—is spent each year on expenditures that relate to educational objectives. Some donations will have strings attached, but generally speaking a college can use the four percent in any way it sees fit.

Endowments by college are: Pomona College, $2.17 billion; CMC, $784 million; Scripps, $343.2 million; Harvey Mudd, $303 million; CGU, $158.5 million; Pitzer, $137 million; and Keck Graduate Institute, $62.3 million.

Using the most conservative four-percent expenditure allowance, CMC, for example, can spend up to $31,360,000 per year from its endowment. It seems to me offering a safe city to entice students and faculty to Claremont would be a major selling point for any school.

Instead of a flat $28,000 per year per school, perhaps the CUC could divide the payments based on the size of each institution’s endowment.

Soliciting a $5 million contribution from the Colleges may seem ambitious, however, this level of cooperation isn’t without precedent. When we decided to purchase Johnson’s Pasture in 2006, the Colleges offered $2.5 million toward the $12 million bond obligation to purchase the 180 acres. If memory serves, Opanyi Nasiali played a major role in securing those funds. What’s holding up finalizing a deal for the police station?

Part two of my compromise falls on the city and will require a serious commitment by the council. Rather than offering $1.5 million from the general fund up front—we need that money to pay off other obligations like CalPERS and the water trial—the council should revisit the four-percent increase to the Landscape and Lighting District assessment they approved in June.

The LLD was passed at around $92 per assessment unit in 1990 as a temporary tax to cover maintenance costs of landscaping and street lighting in Claremont. Every city council has consistently voted to increase it ever since.

Property owners now pay $169.63 per assessment unit, or 11,550 square feet of land. The LLD’s budget of $3.75 million funds landscaping, city rights of way, street lighting and other issues within the city’s public areas. 

These costs could be offset through grants, volunteerism and most importantly by having the city take a hard look at how it spends money. Sustainable Claremont has been active with its tree-planting events, Caltrans gave $5.7 million to revitalize Foothill Boulevard, and Southern California Edison is responsible for most of our city streetlights. The money is there if we look hard enough.

The most compelling argument for reducing the LLD, even for 10 years while we finish paying the Johnson’s Pasture bond, is to build a sense of community. If residents knew their LLD payments would be reduced from $169 to, say, $99, it could be enough to secure the votes needed to pass the bond.

A gesture of this scale would demonstrate to residents that they aren’t in it alone and that the city doesn’t expect them to regularly pick up the tab when, like now, we’re faced with replacing an aging building. The council owes it to Claremont homeowners to at least make an attempt in good faith to reduce the financial burden.

We need to build our police a safe and appropriate station. There is no question it’s long overdue. But I also want to believe we are a community that will come to consensus through discussion, effort and sacrifice—from residents and the city.

We need strong leadership now more than ever. I call on any councilmember to lead the charge and work closely with residents who aren’t feeling represented. Let’s examine real solutions and get Measure SC passed.

—Kathryn Dunn

editor@claremont-courier.com

[CORRECTION: CMC'a annual endowment expenditure as beeen corrected to $31,360,000. We apologize for the error in the print edition.]