Friday, January 30, 2009

Possible Homicide

This just in from the Claremont Police Department about a possible homicide-

On Friday January 30, 2009 at about 11:15 a.m., officers responded to a residence in the 700 block of West Arrow Highway to check on the welfare of the resident after the resident's employer reported that he did not show up for work. Responding officers found inside the residence a deceased male adult, possibly the resident, who appears to be in his 50's or 60's; identification is pending. The cause of death is not yet determined, but does not appear to be natural, accidental, or self inflicted. Further details regarding the possible cause of death will remain undisclosed until further investigation can be conducted.

Police aren't saying anything further right now, but we'll post more information as it arises.

Budget crunch

If you don't have a life, as former mayor Sandy Baldonado once famously noted about residents attending a Saturday city meeting, then be sure to come out to the Hughes Center tomorrow.

The city council will meet in the Padua Room for a special budget meeting.

Corey Calaycay said at a recent candidate's forum that auto sales in Claremont are down a whopping 50 percent. Since auto sales are the meat and grave of the city's sales tax income, the city will be considering further steps to tighten its belt.

Some city services might be on the chopping block. Taxes or fee hikes could be proposed.

If that doesn't entice you, there are usually some bagels, coffee and cookies (unless refreshments got trimmed from the budget). The meeting begins at 8 a.m. and runs until about noon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A slippery slope during tough economic times

The city council did away with deferred compensation benefits for city council members last night. Council members will still have access to health insurance coverage, unlike other part time city employees. They also get a $400 per month stipend and $30 per Redevelopment meeting they attend.

Only Ellen Taylor and Peter Yao spoke out about the issue. No big surprise there, as they are the only active council members taking health benefits.

“Not everybody has a situation where they are covered by insurance, or if they are, they may be paying for it on their own and they can’t get out of their coverage because they’re afraid once they get out of it, they won’t be able to get back into coverage,” Taylor said. “And they may be using that deferred money to pay for the coverage that they are paying for themselves.”

That’s true. We all know that private health insurance is extremely expensive, especially when you get older.

But council members may just sign up for health care through their spouse after leaving the council. Then they could take deferred compensation money (about $40,000 after 4 years) and buy a new car.

I think the latter scenario is what irks citizens the most when the deferred compensation topic pops up. Many people see the council position as a volunteer job and want to believe that city council members have only idealistic reasons for signing up.

Unfortunately, there are some ulterior motives at play. Things like resume boosters (Calaycay, Pedroza), health benefits (Yao, Taylor), influence, control, etc.

Yao downplayed the benefit of getting rid of the deferred compensation. “I think this is probably more a gesture than a cost saving,” he said.

I’m not sure where Yao is coming from here. If all 5 council members were to do the deferred compensation, it would amount to about $50,000 per year. That seems more than just a “gesture” to me.

For now, deferred compensation is off the table for council members. It could always be reinstated in the future when times get better, as Taylor urged the council.

“It is not a wasted benefit for people,” she said. “Just because you don’t need it, doesn’t mean that somebody else doesn’t need it.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Home Invasion

Claremont police have arrested 3 men involved in a burglary attack on a local realtor at his home on West 10th Street.

On Tuesday morning, Vince Gottuso, a well-known and well-like man around town, returned home and interrupted 2 burglars. The men attacked him, causing serious injuries to his face and head.

Around 11:45 a.m., Gottuso's wife returned home to find it ransacked. She did not initially find her husband.

She went outside to call police. When police arrived, they found Gottuso laying on a couch in the home. He had lost alot of blood and was clearly in bad shape.

He was airlifed to USC Medical Center where he is being treated for head trauma.

Reports from his family members indicate that Gottuso is doing much better, but there is a long road to recovery ahead. He is currently in the ICU but is expected to return home within a week.

Kudos to the Claremont police detectives who've focused all their energy on the case over the past 2 days. They've conducted surveillance, interviewed witnesses, processed forensic evidence and quickly made these arrests. We are all be better off and feel safer knowing that these dangerous individuals are off the streets.

Along with burglary and assault with a deadly weapon charges, the 2 attackers could be sentenced on charges of attempted homicide, which would put them away for a very long time.

The COURIER staff wishes Vince a very quick recovery and all the best to his family.

Oscar nomination

Congratulations to Elliot Graham, Claremont High School class of 1994, who was just nominated for an Academy Award for his editing work on the film MILK!

Graham grew up in Claremont and now lives in Seattle.

He has also been nominated for an Eddie Award by the American Cinema Editors.

Graham will be in Claremont this weekend for a friend's engagement party. We'll be sure to catch up with him for a full story to appear in the Wednesday, January 28 edition of the COURIER.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Buying into Claremont

To all Village business owners, if you are at all concerned about your bottom line, be sure to check one of 2 upcoming meetings. The Village Marketing Group and Chamber of Commerce are rallying supporters to implement a new tax, or Business Improvement District, that will affect all businesses in downtown.

The meetings will take place at the city council chambers on Wednesday at 5 p.m. and Thursday morning at 8 a.m.

The BID should receive some support from businesses that have benefited from events like Friday Night Live, with live music that has attracted some much needed foot traffic to the area. Restaurants like Casablanca come to mind.

The BID could generate regular funding for positive events like Friday Night Live and the Art Walk with proven track records of drawing in crowds.

Unfortunately, many in town are still somewhat wary of the city's efforts to promote Claremont after a couple of less than fruitful ideas.

Two winters ago, the city and Chamber organized an 11tth hour holiday marketing campaign that received lukewarm reviews. The campaign was so rushed that organizers had little time to produce any concrete results.

And then there's the branding study.

Capturing all that is Claremont in one simple marketing slogan goes against the essence of what makes the city so special. No matter what an outside consultant firm comes up with to "define" Claremont (at a price of $100,000), it's hard to believe it will capture all that we have to offer without damaging our image by oversimplifying or commercializing the city.

Plus, the fact that Claremont would be following in Upland's lead on branding (Find U, See something different, Discover Upland), probably has turned Claremonters off to the idea that much more.

To be fair, the city and Chamber are making efforts to attract out-of-town shoppers to Claremont, which is exactly what Village West needs to be successful.

Perhaps the BID can get the ball rolling to that end, and restore some more faith back into the City's and Chamber's business sense.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tough times don't deter council spending

City Manager Jeff Parker’s salary was the hot issue at the city council meeting last night. The city council awarded Parker a 3-percent cost of living adjustment ( $6,150) and a one-time 4-percent “pay for performance” bonus ($8,200). His salary is now $211,150, up from $205,000 last year.

Corey Calaycay did not support a bonus or the COLA increase.

Peter Yao only supported the cost of living increase but felt a bonus was not a responsible move right now.

“We put together a budget just a few months ago, 6 months ago, and we're not meeting the budget in terms of revenue coming in,” Yao said. “... I voted against [the bonus] simply because of the fact that I don't have money in the budget and I don't know where that money is coming from, and to spend money that I don't have isn't part of my job.”

Ellen Taylor, Linda Elderkin and Sam Pedroza weren’t so concerned about spending money that’s not available and voted in favor of the increase.

One might think, as a couple of speakers at the meeting touched on, that in the toughest economic times since the Great Depression, that the city council would put some added emphasis on fiscal prudence.

Nobody’s doubting Parker’s performance over the past year (save for a certain bulldozing incident), but when businesses are closing, auto sales are tanking, and city jobs and services might be threatened, the city should probably tuck away every dollar it has.

Parker did volunteer to hold off on the COLA increase for the first 90 days of 2009 while the city negotiates contracts with employee associations. The COLA increase is not being offered to city employees right now, and other benefits could also be taken away.

Tough times call for tough decisions. Let's hope our city council makes the right ones with our tax dollars.

Monday, January 12, 2009

There's good news and bad when being a known quantity during election time

An interesting question came up at Bridget Healy's campaign kickoff party, held in the highly acoustic halls of the Packing House on Sunday.

It came from resident Ken Corhan, whose been following Claremont politics for years.

“There were some tense moments with [city] staff, and you were here for some of that. How would you approach being a council member to avoid those kinds of tensions?” he asked.

Healy responded, “I think the current council has done a really good job of alleviating some of those tensions and working together to improve, and I will continue in that vein. I think it's well prudent when we look at the current council that working together and listening to each other is the key.”

I talked to Corhan after he asked the question. He was referring to the tense political environment after the Landrum shooting in 1999 and what appeared to be an unresponsive city staff to the council's and community's concerns.

He said that he was satisfied with Healy's response to his question. “She seemed to answer the question genuinely,” Corhan said.

Healy is in a unique position in this election. As the former assistant city manager in Claremont for 18 years, she is forever linked in many eyes to the previous regime alongside her longtime colleague Glenn Southard, and all the good and bad that came with it.

Her previous role in the city has earned her a strong support base. Among the crowd of supporters at her event were notable Claremont names like Sandy Baldonaldo, Karen Rosenthal, Helaine Goldwater, Ellen Taylor and Hilary LaConte.

But it might also earn her a dose of dissent. I have heard people saying that a vote for Healy would be a step back into to the past and a move in the wrong direction.

Her supporters would say that having Healy on the council is bringing the best from the past into Claremont's future.

It will be up to the voters to decide on March 3. Make sure you're registered.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Are the Council elections non-partisan? I don’t think so.

Election fever is underway. For all the election junkies out there, the COURIER City Beat will have plenty of coverage, interviews and opinions about candidates and their fight for every last vote in the weeks to come.

Candidate Larry Schroeder kicked things off on Friday by speaking to the Democratic Club of Claremont. Schroeder is a retired finance director for Glendora and Lakewood. As far as his platform, he wants to push economic development, sustainability and responsible budget management.

In 2007, former Councilmember Jackie McHenry, who was running for re-election at the time, made a big stink about the DCC inviting only party-affiliated candidates to speak to their members.

Regardless of what they said, the Democratic candidates in 2007, Linda Elderkin, Sam Pedroza and Michael Keenan, got the club's unofficial endorsement. The same holds true this time around for Schroeder. They're Democrats after all, and the DCC wants Democrats in positions of power.

“You have to take into account a person's party and their ideas on various things,” said DCC President Bob Gerecke at Friday's event. “We don't give endorsements, but we urge our members to support fellow Democrats because we share the same ideals.”

The problem, according to McHenry, is that city council elections are supposed to be non-partisan. McHenry said her political leanings are plenty liberal, but as a registered Independent, she never got invited by the DCC to share her positions with potential voters.
In any event, the other candidates, Corey Calaycay (Republican) and Bridget Healy (Independent), were not invited to speak at the DDC lunch. They will have their campaign kickoff events on Sunday. Calaycay at the Claremont Place from 2 to 4 p.m. and Healy at the Claremont Forum in the Packing House from 3 to 5 p.m.

Schroeder will have his kickoff event at his home at 619 N. Indian Hill Boulevard. It's also on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. I will try to be at all 3 places at once.

As the least known of the 3 candidates, Schroeder will have his work cut out for him. To be successful in this election, he may need the wisdom offered by his fortune cookie from Captain KJ, where he spoke to the DCC at their monthly meeting.

“Cut through organizational impediments and get some real work done.”

For complete stories on Schroeder, Calaycay and Healy's kickoff events, be sure to pick the Wednesday, Jan. 14 edition of the COURIER.