VIEWPOINT" 'We the people' and supporting Claremont civic life
by Joe Lyons
As we begin a new decade filled with many challenges on all fronts, particularly those created by our collective failure to approve Measure CR in November, I am compelled to speak out on the state and fate of our city.
In doing so, I hope to put in stark relief the far more serious impacts to our community than the simple loss of a much needed and sustainable revenue source—impacts that make it imperative that every resident of Claremont give serious thought to the future of our beloved community.
I have on two occasions addressed the city council to express my disappointment in our failure as residents of Claremont to pass Measure CR. In so doing, we the people failed in our duty as citizens to provide our newly- elected city council majority with a financial resource that would help them meet the fiscal obligations and challenges they were elected to address.
And to be clear, Measure CR should not have been about coercing our council to adopt a balanced budget, because as a municipality there is no option but to “live within our means,” or of eliminating waste and becoming “leaner and meaner,” as these austerity measures have already been implemented during the last three budget cycles. Nor should any vote have been cast to register opposition to pending issues before our current council, or disagreement with decisions taken by past councils. And it should not have been used as a referendum on our community’s unsuccessful attempt to own and manage the water resource beneath our feet.
Rather, it was about providing our council with the sufficient means to: 1) maintain the level and kind of public safety provided to us, our businesses and visitors, and 2) to continue the unbroken investment in the numerous quality of life and public service enhancements that make Claremont a destination worth visiting, a desired location to start a business and most importantly, the community we call home.
And yet, in the public debate and published letters and comments leading up to the final vote, what Measure CR should not have been about became the reason(s) a small but sufficient majority of Claremont residents denied our newly-elected council, and all future councils, a revenue source that would help pay forward our community’s inheritance.
And herein for me lies the cause of a far greater concern for the integrity of our community, a threat which since the 1980s has been perniciously undermining the belief of good people, that good governance should be the end game, and not its elimination by drowning.
This clear and present danger to our core understanding of good governance is something I thought we were immune to experiencing in Claremont, by virtue of our city’s unique heritage of open and inclusive participatory governance.
And yet, here we are 40 years after its inaugural utterance as a guiding principle of national policy, that a small but vocal group of Claremont residents have methodically and strategically advanced the notion that “government is the problem,” and elected officials and public employees are the cause.
With nothing to suggest any redeeming economic, social or environmental value to the visionless policies it has spawned, they remain steadfast in their efforts to shrink and starve government—our government, the city of Claremont. To their credit, they have contributed to the failure of two super majority-requiring bond measures to construct a new public safety facility (Measures PS and SC), and in November, the simple majority-requiring Measure CR.
Notwithstanding that each measure could and should have failed if the discrepancies and deficiencies were as real as claimed by the opponents. However, the need to use subtle and effective rhetoric that generates confusion, doubt and uncertainty regarding the the facts that define the need, and by inference brings into question the veracity, integrity, and competency of our councilpersons and city staff, speaks to an objective other than an honest appraisal of the facts.
And although motive is always difficult to assign absent being voiced by its holder, further proof is available in the results of the two advisory committees composed of our fellow residents that were formed to address the public safety bond measure failures. These well intentioned efforts by our city council were designed to arrive at a consensus regarding the specifics of a measure that would likely receive voter approval.
And to the council’s credit, and in keeping with the spirit of inclusion of all viewpoints in the process, those voicing the strongest opposition were not only included, but significantly influenced the outcome. The first addressed Measure PS, with Measure SC being the failed product of that effort. In its turn, a new Police Station Citizens Advisory Committee was formed, concluding its work with a report and non-consensus approved recommendations that were presented to the current council, who decided to delay moving forward with a new bond, pending the outcome of Measure CR.
And with hammer and nails in hand, these same small number of our neighbors who “won” in November, have already volunteered to serve on the Council Budget Working Group in order to help our city council and staff find ways to live within the already inadequate means to do all the things we expect of them.
And before concluding, one additional proclivity of those who operate from the opinion that “government is the problem” is to find fault with almost everything that the government does, and to suggest oversimplified alternative solutions to complex and highly regulated issues. Just saying “no” or not paying a bill are not options when attempting to address issues over which our city council has little or no jurisdiction.
As a former mayor and city councilperson who served during most of the last decade, I must acknowledge with great pride and privilege the opportunity I had to serve with now retired and former Mayors Opanyi Nasiali and Sam Pedroza, and incumbents Mayor Larry Schroeder and former Mayor Corey Calaycay.
In all matters discussed and acted upon from the dais, and when representing our city in the exercise of their extra-municipal duties and assignments, each demonstrated a commitment to the highest principles and single-minded integrity and dedication to the best interests of our city and community.
The enviable history of Claremont’s civic life includes its adoption and steadfast commitment to a simple set of political processes that encourages an exceptional level of public participation that promotes transparency and accountability. This, in turn, has provided our community with a continuous source of well-qualified and dedicated candidates of the highest integrity to counsel and conduct the business of we the people, the residents of Claremont.
Our three newly-elected councilpersons, Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Stark, Jed Leano and Ed Reece are products of this process, and have demonstrated themselves persons of the highest integrity and unquestionable commitment to “faithfully discharge” their duties as councilpersons.
They have fulfilled one of their shared campaign promises to identify potential revenue sources and solutions that will preserve the quality of life and level of public safety past generations invested in to our benefit.
Our responsibility to them is to respect their request to approve the collection of a three-quarter cent sales tax on transactions that take place in Claremont, for the sole use of Claremont. Anything less would mean that we do think that “government is the problem,” and the solution is to shrink and starve it of the resources necessary for our city and community to thrive and prosper.
The choice to reconsider the request is up to us. Are “we the people” ready to fulfill our responsibility to those we elect to assure our safety and quality of life?