November 30, 1990 - From the November, 1990 issue

City of Claremont: A Small City Case Study

Most of The Planning Report is typically devoted to covering the larger cities of our region-not only Los Angeles, but also the Santa Monicas, Pasadenas, and Long Beaches of L.A. County. But much of the action in Los Angeles County land-use takes place in its smaller cities—in the Montebellos, the El Segundos and the Baldwin Parks.

To examine the unique challenges facing smaller cities, The Planning Report this month traveled to one of the most interesting small cities in the county—Claremont. The presence of the five Claremont Colleges has helped create a small community with high-quality development. Yet its location at the eastern end of L.A. County places it on the edge of the tremendous growth of the Inland Empire.

Kenneth Bernstein of The Planning Report discussed Claremont with Sharon Wood, who has served as Claremont’s Community Development Director for the last seven years.

How do the planning challenges of a small city such as Claremont differ from those facing the larger cities of our region?

That’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit since I’m Vice-Chair of the SCAG Planning Directors Committee. I’ve found that most of the participation on regional issues is from larger cities, and they don’t understand the differences.

The biggest difference is that smaller cities don’t have the same resources to understand or implement regional plans. The Air Quality Management Plan, for example, has a number of things we should have started already but we simply don’t have the resources to devote to it. Smaller cities also don’t have many projects of the magnitude that require review for conformance to the regional plans.

What words would you and the citizens of Claremont use to describe the qualities you are seeking to promote in Claremont and that characterize the city?

“Aesthetics” would be one word. “Citizen participation” is also critical. We have a very strong commission system with five citizen commissions appointed by the Council—environmental quality, traffic and transportation, architectural, community services, and the human services commission. Even beyond serving on commissions, Claremont citizens have a tradition of participation in civic affairs.

“Trees” would be another word—everyone who comes here comments on them. And I think “quality,” in architecture and design, is very important to people and that’s why we have an architectural commission.

It’s interesting that you mention architectural review. In Los Angeles, design review boards have been controversial, with architect Kurt Meyer arguing last month in The Planning Report that such boards restrict architectural diversity and infringe on First Amendment rights. What is the view in Claremont?

We haven’t had such strong concerns in Claremont. Our architectural commission is very well established—it’s been in existence at least 15 years. It reviews commercial, industrial, and multi-family development, as well as projects in the historical single-family district. There’s a section of the zoning ordinance spelling out eight to ten criteria for judging projects. In the downtown area, which we call “the village,” there’s also a design plan which was adopted by the Council containing a set of guidelines.

What the Commission mainly examines is compatibility with existing development. We don’t have an architectural “theme” like some cities—San Dimas, just to our west, has an Old West theme, and La Verne has everything done in tile roofs.

Claremont has a variety of styles and we take pride in being architecturally eclectic. Though you don’t want to put a post-modern development next to an historic bungalow, our architectural commission actually encourages more architectural diversity.

People here see that architectural review works, and they realize that Claremont looks as good as  it does because we’ve had architectural review.

What are the attitudes and trends on growth in Claremont?

Growth actually isn’t much of an issue within Claremont because we’re virtually built out—the only areas still vacant are in the Northeast area of the city and in the hillsides.

In the few remaining vacant areas we get subdivision proposals for 65 houses, whereas Rancho Cucamonga gets subdivisions of 1200. Most of the development activity consists of college projects, a few redevelopment sites in some commercial and industrial areas of the city, and some small infill sites.

We do feel the pressure from cities to the east of us that are growing very rapidly, as their baffle goes through our streets to get to employment centers to the west.

What are you doing about these transportation problems?

One interesting development is that the City Council has come out in support of the extension of the Foothill Freeway through Claremont, even though this would have negative impacts on the City, and divide it into two sections north and south. But we realize that because of the growth to our east. Baseline Road and other local streets are only going to get worse.

Are you also considering regional cooperation to address these issues?

Yes. Most of our regional efforts are closely linked with transportation. We have worked closely with the City of La Verne on widening Baseline Road, mainly to accommodate growth to the east of us. Claremont has spent some of our own city dollars for this widening. Four cities in the region—Claremont. Pomona, San Dimas and La Verne—have formed a Pomona Valley Transit Authority, which runs a dial­a-ride service and a transportation service for seniors and the disabled. And we also have created the Foothill Transit District, which has assumed intra-regional transit routes from RTD.

Another important example of regional cooperation is a regional group called “Clout” which is now working with SCAG on a demonstration project for jobs-housing balance using market incentives.

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We’re also excited about the commuter rail. Claremont will be a stop on the route from San Bernardino to Los Angeles. We have purchased the old depot in the Claremont village which we hope will become our transit center.

How are the demographics of Claremont changing?

They actually haven’t changed very much. It remains predominantly white, with a very small percentage of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. I’m certain that along with the rest of the region,  Claremont will see more diversification in the future.

What are you doing in Claremont to address the affordable housing problem?

Single-family housing in Claremont is more expensive than in some of the other cities in this area. But if you look at our numerical needs from SCAG, it shows that our need for market-rate housing is greater than our need for low-and moderate-income housing.

We have a large apartment stock, and even though most of the units are not federally-assisted, most of their rents fall into levels that would meet the guidelines for low-and moderate-income housing. So I think our affordable housing problem is not as great as in some other cities.

Still, we are working at it. A few years ago, after receiving complaints from tenants who suffered from large rent increases, the Council adopted a rental guidelines resolution. This policy falls short of rent control, but does offer guidelines on how much and how frequently rent may be increased, and how much notice should be provided.

Though these guidelines aren’t law, landlords generally comply with them, and we are able to use the guidelines to do some negotiating with the landlords.

What role do the Claremont Colleges play in shaping the city’s development? Are they, like UCLA or USC, constantly pressuring to expand?

The Colleges are a valuable resource to the City, but what you’ve described is happening here to some extent Claremont McKenna College has purchased land in an old neighborhood that used to be part of a barrio—the college has demolished some houses and is talking about expansion of recreational facilities that would change the character of part of the neighborhood.

The Claremont Graduate School is bumping up against a residential neighborhood, and they want to demolish some of the houses for new facilities and convert some of the others to institutional uses. There is also the possibility of the creation of a new college, perhaps with a Pacific Rim orientation.

What do you see as the main issues for Claremont during the rest of the decade?

Economic development is one big issue. In the past, we didn’t scramble for development as aggressively as some other cities, but our Redevelopment Agency has been more active recently. We have two redevelopment project areas, one in the downtown village area that also includes the auto center by the freeway. The other is along Foothill Boulevard, containing some shopping centers that will need rehabilitation soon, and the City’s most significant amount of vacant industrial property.

The redevelopment agency is also our best source of funds to address affordable housing, with the 20% set-aside. Right now we have a senior citizen project about to start construction, but after that the focus will be on family housing.

Another major issue will be implementing our hillside plan, which provides for leaving the vast majority of the hillside land as open space, and clustering the residential development in a few, flatter, more accessible areas.

In January, the city entered into an option agreement to purchase 1345 acres or hillside property. We are preparing a specific plan to govern residential development of about 145 acres, which will be sold to a developer. The proceeds from that sale will cover our costs and provide an endowment to preserve 1200 acres as permanent open space.

What lessons can be drawn from your experiences in Claremont for other cities?

The attention to detail that we have in Claremont, even though it takes more time, is well worth it. Also, we have had City Councils with vision, willing to adopt policies that are important for the future. Our City Councils have supported their predecessors’ policies on major issues and projects, providing a steady vision and commitment.

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