Claremont’s large and well-established senior community plays an important role in shaping the character of our town. Mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on our senior community must be our number one priority. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many seniors have felt unsafe to leave their homes because of high rates of noncompliance with state and county mask mandates. We must all do our part to ensure that Claremont's seniors are protected.
While the city must continue to explore additional revenue sources like new businesses, it must also find a way to cut costs in response to its structural deficit. Claremont provides more services in-house than do many other cities in the region, which greatly increases the city’s pension obligations. Currently, the city has over $60 million in unfunded pension liability. This is why the California state auditor ranks Claremont in the bottom 20% of California cities in terms of fiscal health. The city has gotten to the point where it must consider alternative methods for providing city services. By contracting out certain routine tasks, the city could save millions of dollars per year and maintain quality service. We could use these savings to invest in our community in various ways, while not saddling our children and grandchildren with a rising debt for which they will pay the price.
The housing crisis exists across California, particularly in our urban centers. It is estimated that LA County alone would need to create more than 500,000 affordable units to meet demand. To put it simply, Claremont could never do enough to solve this problem. There are housing projects already underway in Claremont to increase the housing supply. The council should look at maximizing the number of affordable units in these projects. To make currently unaffordable housing affordable, it needs to be subsidized. The current budget crisis and the city’s allocation of $1.75 million (half of the Housing Successor Fund) to support the affordable housing project on Baseline Road limit the city’s ability to subsidize additional housing. There is an alphabet soup of programs on the federal, state, and county levels that contribute to housing funds. Receiving funds from these programs is a highly competitive, time consuming process. While I will fight for these funds to support our housing needs, eliminating the housing crisis will require a much more cost-effective approach for creating housing, including working with our neighboring cities in San Bernardino County, where land is cheaper, rent is more affordable, and the development process is less controversial.
While we attempt to increase the amount of affordable housing, we must also preserve the character of longstanding residential neighborhoods. The city must act on state-mandated housing goals by developing parcels along some of Claremont’s main roads. Such projects are more likely to receive expedited approval from residents and city officials than are more contentious developments located deep within residential neighborhoods. These projects also would have the benefit of allowing for more low-income and transit-oriented housing.
We must reimagine the concept of a first-responder, which requires narrowing the scope of policing. Armed police officers should not be responsible for responding to most of the calls they currently do, such as traffic hazards, accidents, and general disturbances. Next, there are many situations in which police officers simply do not provide the most effective response. These are the vast majority of situations involving the unsheltered, mental health interventions, domestic disputes, etc. The most appropriate first-responders for these situations would be medical professionals, counselors, and social workers. Cities the size of Claremont generally cannot afford to provide these services, so I will work with other cities and the county to develop a first responder program for non-violent, low-risk situations. If we increase the supply of more appropriate resources for low-risk situations, demand for police officers will naturally decline. We will accomplish the same goals, but cheaper, more effectively, and more humanely.
Over the past several months, communities across the country have been reexamining the actions and procedures of their local law enforcement agencies. The City of Claremont, despite the low number of complaints against its police department, still must participate in this movement to correct injustices that exist in law enforcement. Although the Claremont Police Commission has formed several ad hoc committees to address issues of policing and community engagement, I will make these committees and a civilian use-of-force committee permanent. I will also insist that our police department adopt and fully implement Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait policy initiatives, which would improve trust between the department and our surrounding communities.
The Claremont Club
The Claremont Club, which closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, must be preserved as a permanent resource for our seniors, families, and children. For 47 years, thousands of Claremont residents relied on The Claremont Club for its state-of-the-art athletic facilities, including an exercise program dedicated to those suffering from paralysis. Its summer camps and barbecues attracted families from across the community. It provided a communal atmosphere, allowing members to develop friendships with others whom they may not have met outside the Club’s environment. The role it played in the community is unmatched by any other institution in our city. If necessary, I will lead the fight in Sacramento and Washington to secure the funds necessary to purchase this valuable community treasure for continued public use.
Transportation - First/Last Mile
With the Gold Line’s arrival to Claremont in the next decade and the construction of the massive Village South mixed-use development adjacent to the new Gold Line station, accessibility will be a major concern of the next city council. Ensuring that the Village expansion enjoys a walkability factor is crucial for creating a viable first/last mile transit environment in which pedestrians, particularly those in South Claremont, can easily access the Village and its rail stations.
Homelessness and Mental Health
We need to prioritize unsheltered individuals who are mentally ill. LA County is both the homelessness capital of the nation and the mental health crisis capital of the nation. If you total the number of mentally ill people in LA County and LA County-adjacent San Bernardino County cities who are homeless or on the verge of being homeless, you have a population roughly the size of Claremont. These individuals have the worst outcomes on the streets: they have the greatest odds of being killed by police, and they wind up in our jails, prisons, and hospitals, which costs so much more than it would cost to house them in residential low-level care homes. We need a better, longer-term solution than just subsidizing homeless shelters and dispatching city resources to give unsheltered people supplies like food and tents.
We need to increase our ability to house unsheltered people with mental illness. There are SSI-rate state-licensed adult residential facilities across LA County that house the mentally ill for a fraction of what assisted living facilities charge. The SSI reimbursement rate—the amount that these places charge—is only $1,069 per month, compared to the $3,000 to $6,000 per month that assisted living facilities charge. Unsheltered people who are mentally ill generally qualify for SSI given their extremely low level of resources and their mental illness. They could use these SSI funds to pay for rent at a board and care home, which provides shelter, meals, medication management, and transportation to and from appointments. They would also receive Medicaid as part of SSI enrollment.
Our thinking on this issue has been so short-sighted. Homeless shelter operators receive twice the amount of money that board and care home operators receive. Yet, homeless shelters are a two-to-three day solution, whereas a stay at a board and care home averages about five years.
Many of these SSI-rate board and care homes are closing in LA County and elsewhere because the state has decided not to invest in these facilities. Board and care home operators have to pay their employees’ salaries, the cost of food and supplies, utilities, etc.—just like any business owner. But, over the last 5 years, the SSI reimbursement rate from the state has increased approximately 5%, while minimum wage has increased 35%. Board and care homes simply cannot afford to pay their employees anymore. While we must increase the minimum wage so that we can chip away at rampant income inequality, board and care homes cannot pass the cost on to the consumer because the state sets the price that board and care homes can charge.
Currently, it is much more profitable, especially in LA County, for an owner of a board and care home to sell their land than it is to continue housing the most vulnerable members of our society. We must invest in these SSI facilities by raising the rate for SSI reimbursement so that we can keep these facilities from closing, and so we can greatly increase capacity.
Even while someone’s SSI application is being processed, which can take months, the county will pay for the individual to be housed (interim assistance). Once the application is accepted, SSI will reimburse the county. This will require a hands-on approach to work with our unsheltered population—to get them to accept the offer of housing and assistance.
You can also learn more from my interview with Russ Binder on Claremont Speaks