Friday, February 27, 2009

Elliot Graham at the Oscars

Oscar nominee and Claremont native Elliot Graham didn't win his first Academy Award on Sunday but had a great time being a part of the big show.

Graham was nominated for Best Editing for his work on the film Milk.

Milk did win in 2 other categories. Sean Penn won the Best Actor trophy and the film won in the Best Screenplay category.

Above is a photo of Graham and his mother, Susan Seymour, a Pitzer College professor, taken before their stroll down the red carpet.

"It was a terrific evening, and I was a proud mom in that august company!" Seymour said.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Follow the money

We're in the final stretch before Tuesday's city council election. The 3 candidates turned in another round of financial data last week. Here's a look at how the candidates stand with their money.

Bridget Healy

Contributions received: $4,429 (during the period 1/18/09 to 2/14/09)
Expenditures: $1,487.71 (during same period)
Current Balance: $10,151.14

Corey Calaycay

Contributions received: $2,248
Expenditures: $8,804.03
Current Balance: $7,748.45

Larry Schroeder

Contributions received: $3,718.12 (including a $1,000 loan)
Expenditures: $3,119.09
Balance: $1,038.68

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For Xavier Alvarez, ignorance is bliss

Disgraced Water Board Member Xavier Alvarez spent the morning in a Pomona Superior courthouse during his preliminary hearing on charges of illegally using public funds. The elected official's defense attorney acknowledged that Alvarez knowingly signed up his ex-wife, Juanita Ruiz, for health benefits between April and November 2007.

But he argued that Alvarez was "ignorant" about what exactly defines a spouse. There was no clear definition of a spouse on the insurance sign up form, the attorney noted. Apparently, Alvarez simply didn't know the woman he divorced in 2002 was no longer his wife!

This is from the same man who used the argument that lying is a protected form of speech while fighting earlier charges of falsely claiming to have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. He eventually pleaded guilty to those misdemeanor charges in a federal court.

When Alvarez signed Ruiz up for the benefits, he used a church certificate as proof, not the civil certificate. "Due to his religious beliefs" Alvarez thought the couple was still married through the church, his attorney argued.

Despite the alleged confusion, Alvarez never bothered to ask the staff at Three Valleys Municipal Water District if Ruiz was a legal spouse or not, according to Three Valleys staffer Kirk Howie, who testified in court. According to testimony from Michael Holguin, a DA investigator working the case, Alvarez no longer lives with his ex-wife but maintains "a friendly relationship" with her, seeing her once or twice a month.

Judge Charles Horan didn't buy into the defense's ignorance argument. "You don't need a legal definition or a bylaw dictionary handed to you to know what a spouse is," he said.

The judge scheduled an arraignment hearing for March 10. The actual trial with jury will not likely come until months after. If he is convicted on a felony count, he could be kicked off the board of directors. Three veterans attended the preliminary hearing. Afterwards, one of the men said the judge should require Alvarez to sit in a phone booth on Garey Avenue that is labeled "liar and thief."

"He is a disgrace to the military and all the men and women who served," the man said.

Not to mention the people who elected him, his fellow board members, and all the staff at the Three Valleys Municipal Water District.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Election endorsements coming up

Be sure to pick up a copy of Saturday's paper. There is plenty of content that will be sure to ruffle some feathers.

On Thursday, the Courier invited the 3 city council candidates to our office. We picked their brains for a while in preparation for our election endorsements. Not everybody is going to agree the editor's choices, so we encourage you to share your thoughts. Write a letter to the editor or post your comments below.

Also we have some great letters from our readers, some nice features and a look at the Claremont Unified School District budget situation and the hard decisions they are faced with, including several staff cuts from the top on down.

Should be a good one!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Election issue: the new police station

The new police station is one of the few topics of interest in this election outside of economic issues.

All acting council members and candidates recognize the need for a new station. We've all heard how the place is too small, falling apart and has the technological capacity equivalent to an Amish farm.

The main job of the Police Commission in recent months has been to pinpoint the best location for a new police station and give its recommendations to the city council. PR work for the CPD seems a far cry from the commission's original mandate, but that's a post for another day.

Back in September, the council wasn't sold on the recommendations from the commission when a presentation was made at a council meeting. The Commission recommended 4 possible sites, its top choice being the Corey Nursery location, just south of the city yard.

But the report didn't offer any financial information about the sites, where the city would have to use eminent domain or financing options for the project. All relevant info for a project with a price tag in the range of $25 to $35 million.

Expect a more detailed report at a future council meeting. My guess is the topic won't come up before the election in March.

Here's where the city council candidates stand on the new police station. We snipped the answers out of our Candidate Q&A (see tomorrow's paper).

Do you support the construction of a new police station? If so, where do you think the best location is and why?

Larry Schroeder

I support a practical, more efficient police facility when financing is available, but not a monument like some cities have constructed. The current facility is cramped, does not meet ADA standards, and does not provide adequate locker facilities for female officers. Financing could come from State and Federal economic stimulus packages.

My preference is that the police facility remains at its current location. The City owns the property, there is adequate space, and people are familiar with that location. The police department also operates an impound yard at the current location which produces revenue that offsets some department costs.

Bridget Healy

Yes. The current site is too small and would require building costly parking either above or below ground and possible relocation of operations during construction.

The Corey Nursery location on the far eastern boundary of the city is problematic. The Towne and Baseline site is more centrally located and we own part of the land. Its proximity to the freeway and the City of La Verne works well for the joint jail, dispatch and practice range operations being discussed with La Verne officials. There is also the potential for partnerships with other public agencies such as the LA County Fire Department.

Corey Calaycay

I acknowledge the need for modernized police facilities due to space constraints and structural issues with our existing police station. An important consideration in site selection, especially with the economics we've already discussed, is potential partnership arrangements that will help reduce everyone's costs. An opportunity exists to partner with La Verne. We may also have an opportunity to partner with Los Angeles County in upgrading its oldest fire station (102 on Sumner near Baseline) to construct a joint public safety facility. If this were to be viable, the proposed site near Baseline and Towne would be optimal.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Photo fun

We were rummaging through some old photos in the office the other day and found a couple of dusty photos of a young Corey Calaycay.

The first one is dated February 25, 1992. Corey was just 21. The one on the right was taken on February 22, 1994, when he was 23.

The shot were taken during Calaycay's early bids for the city council.

In 1990, at the age of 19, he ran and earned 2382 votes. Not bad for a teenager, but not enough to get him elected.

He ran again in 1992 and in 1994 but never broke the threshold. (Perhaps voters were a bit concerned about having someone who looks so young making big decisions for the city.)

In any case, the grown up Calaycay (He's now 38 and has 4 years of council work under his belt) is in the midst of his re-election campaign and appears to be the front-runner.

The COURIER will have a Q&A with the candidates to run in the Wednesday, February 18 issue. Our editorial staff will also be endorsing our top 2 choices later this month.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Activists need better approach

Although the medical marijuana question in Claremont appears to be decided, city council meeting regulars Dave and Darlene Matteson won't give up their fight.

The couple has attended nearly every city council meeting for over 2 years, often addressing the council about the latest updates in medical marijuana news and court decisions.

Clad in their grey t-shirts with a marijuana leaf on the back and the question "Why not Claremont?" on the front, the couple has been the biggest backers of a medical marijuana facility in Claremont.

Dave is a medical marijuana patient, suffering from diabetic neuropathy, which causes him constant pain and violent seizure-like reactions in his arms and legs.

The two have spiced up a couple of council meetings in the past, once bringing in green marijuana leaf-shaped cookies with red sprinkles that council members Sam Pedroza and Ellen Taylor happily snacked on.

Another time Dave Matteson tried to showoff his marijuana vaporize before the council. His demonstration was abruptly halted by then Mayor Peter Yao.

At last night's council meeting, Matteson again raised some eyebrows by waggling a joint in front of the council.

"This is not illegal. This is not a bad thing," he said. "Stop aligning yourself with people like David Dreier, who's one of the biggest thieves in Washington D.C. All I'm asking you to do is do the right thing."

Of course, he didn't light up at the meeting.

While good for a chuckle, I'm not sure if these kinds of tactics are really helping their cause. It seems to me that council members who had sympathy for patients like Matteson in the past are becoming more annoyed by verbal attacks and accusations of "cowardice" for flip-flopping on the issue.

Councilmember Linda Elderkin, who at one time supported having a dispensary in Claremont, has previously told advocates on the issue to find more constructive ways to help local municipalities work towards a solution.

I don't think joint waving at public meetings is what she had in mind.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Suspicious activity

A warning from police:

On Wednesday, February 4, at approximately 1:15 pm, an 11-year-old female Sycamore School student was possibly followed home from school by a male subject. The subject is described as Hispanic, 20-30 years old, 5 foot 10 inches tall, wearing a camouflaged patterned shirt. The suspect stayed 20 feet behind her and did not speak to her.

If you have children, please remind them not to speak to strangers and report any similar suspicious activity immediately to the Claremont Police Department.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pit bull shooting

After a Claremont Police Officer shot and killed a pit bull last week, I got to thinking if pit bulls really are more dangerous than other canine breeds or if they just have a "bad rap", as the pet owner argued.

Deanne Anderson, the dog's owner, told me, "If she was a Golden Retriever, they wouldn't have shot her."

She may very well be right. But police and witnesses did say that the dog charged at the officer. This was following attacks on 2 other dogs and their owners in Memorial Park.

In the dog's defense, nobody or their dogs were injured by the "attacks," for lack of a better word. Not a scratch or a puncture wound.

It sounded to me like Anderson's dogs were out for a joy stroll in the park, rather than on the prowl for victims, saliva dripping from their exposed teeth. Being adolescent dogs (a 3-year-old and a 2-years-old), the 2 were showing the smaller dogs in the park who's boss, as some dogs tend to do.

I don't want to downplay the severity of the incident, or the fear that the victims legitimately experienced. Two big pit bulls on the loose can certainly be intimidating, especially when they are trying to bite your dog. "They seemed ferocious," one witness said.

But back to the question, are pit bulls more dangerous than other breeds?

According to this New Yorker article, pit bulls have historically been bred for dogfighting and therefore have higher levels of aggression and a lower tolerance for pain.

"Most dogs fight as a last resort, when staring and growling fail. A pit bull is willing to fight with little or no provocation," the article states.

But the article goes, "When we say that pit bulls are dangerous, we are making a generalization, just as insurance companies use generalizations when they charge young men more for car insurance than the rest of us (even though many young men are perfectly good drivers)..."

The article concludes that, "The strongest connection [for bad dog behavior] of all, though, is between the trait of dog viciousness and certain kinds of dog owners. In about a quarter of fatal dog-bite cases, the dog owners were previously involved in illegal fighting. The dogs that bite people are, in many cases, socially isolated because their owners are socially isolated, and they are vicious because they have owners who want a vicious dog."

"The junk-yard German shepherd—which looks as if it would rip your throat out—and the German-shepherd guide dog are the same breed. But they are not the same dog, because they have owners with different intentions."

The article also discusses government reactions to pit bull attacks and how profiling pit bulls can relate to profiling terrorists.

Back to Claremont and the Memorial Park incident. Anderson is clearly a loving dog owner who was crushed to learn her pet was killed in such a violent way.

I am certain she did not raise her dogs to be nasty, and both she and her neighbor told me the female Harley was the good natured one of her 2 dogs.

Is there any way this could have been avoided? The police officer had a taser gun on his belt along with the pistol. Why not just taser the dog? Or if need be, shoot the dog once, rather than 4 times. I would think a single pistol shot would immobilize the dog without ending her life.

I don't want to be too critical of the officer, who was forced to make a split second decision with his own safety at risk. But as an animal lover myself, I wish there was some way the killing could have been avoided, while making sure the dogs did no further harm to others.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reflections on the Landrum shooting

Reporting on the 10 year anniversary of the Landrum shooting was in some way a very difficult story to cover.

The incident was so emotional and disturbing for a community that always seems to strive for perfection.

One reason the Landrum incident was so distressing was that the event exposed some of the hidden imperfections within the city that nobody wanted to acknowledge or even knew existed. Imperfections like transparency in government and how city leaders should respond when faced with a real crisis.

The fact is, nobody truly knows what happened that night 10 years ago, except Officers Kent Jacks and Hany Hanna, who were involved the shooting. Everyone else was just caught up in the aftermath.

I interviewed Karen Rosenthal, who was not mayor when the incident happened but was throughout much of the aftermath. As the voice of the city, Rosenthal was certainly in a difficult position and struggled with being thrown into that role during the crisis.

Rosenthal cried while I interviewed her. Her emotions, which still exist today, personify how lasting an impact the incident had on the community, and all the raw emotions that it invoked.

The greatest criticism of Rosenthal throughout the aftermath was for being insensitive to Landrum and his family and making public statements about his character and personal life that many felt were irrelevant.

Does it matter that he fathered 2 children to 2 different women at the age of 18, as she brought up during our interview? Even going so far as to call him a “rapist, by the legal definition” because the women were underage.

I don’t think so. The young man died under circumstance that could possibly have been avoided. His personal life, aside from any criminal record that he may have had, should not be judged or criticized.

By bringing up these points in public and in statements to the media, along with her "dripping contempt she showed for protesters at public meetings", as one observer noted, Rosenthal made herself appear callous, and likely cost her another term on the council.

When Glenn Southard named the officers Employees of the Year award and released the criminal record of Obee Landrum, he displayed his intent to take an extremely defensive stance over the issue. This did not sit well with those close to him and observers in the community.

With all the poor decisions that he made during the crisis, it calls to question his decision-making abilities on other, less important issues. The city of Claremont may very well be better off without him.

As far as the police, it's hard to say if racial profiling was ever an unwritten policy or a regular practice. Councilmember Sam Pedroza once said after doing a ride-along with police that he felt it was more profiling based on the type of car rather than who was inside.

Regardless, "perception often makes something a reality", as another observer noted. And there was certainly the perception in the community that racial profiling was a very real thing amongst the police. The Police Department was forced to react to that perception and made positive steps to re-building its standing in the community.

Has the city moved on? Yes. Is Claremont a better place? I certainly think so.

Claremont’s civil society rallied to improve on its weaknesses. Let’s hope that if another crisis hits this city, that we will respond better in the future.

Watch out for scams

Scam warning to all homeowners. I've received a couple communications about a scam from a company called Property Tax Reassessment. A letter sent out to homes by the company details your assessed property value and the amount that could be saved in property tax annually.

The Los Angeles based company is asking residents to send in $179 as a service fee to complete a property tax reassessment. Don't send them your money! The County Assessor's Office will provide this service for free.

Also, this warning from the Claremont Police Department:

In November, 2008, a 79-year-old Claremont resident received a telephone call from a person claiming to be her grandson. The caller told the resident that he had been arrested for a DUI traffic collision in Canada and needed to have $5,000 wired to bail him out. He asked her not to tell his parents as he wanted to do so in person after release. He gave her instructions on how to go to a WalMart, deposit the funds, and obtain a wire transfer reference number. He called her later and obtained the reference number which allowed him to get the funds. The caller's voice was not inconsistent with her grandson and she believed it was him.

The caller telephoned the resident again stating he needed an additional $3,500 to pay a passenger in the car for lost wages to avoid a lawsuit. The resident made a second wire transfer as requested. Her grandson spoke to her a few days later and it was discovered to be a scam.

Claremont residents have also been victim to the "Canadian Lottery" scam. In this one the caller states they are a Canadian Lottery official, that the victim has won a large amount of money, usually several hundred thousand dollars or more, and that they need only pay the taxes to have the money delivered to them. Again the victim is asked to wire several thousand dollars to Canada. If the victim falls for the initial scam a frequent follow up is that the messenger with the money is stuck at the US border and needs a sum of money wired to cover US Customs charges.

The callers on these scams are very good at what they do and sound very convincing. It is sometimes difficult for the police to convince victims that they been victimized as they are sure that the next wire transfer will result in the big payoff. Any time you are called and asked to wire money out of the country you should be very suspicious. If you are asked not to tell someone about the situation or told that time is of the essence it should further alert you to a possible scam. If you are ever in doubt don't send the money. If you are tempted to send money call your local law enforcement agency for advice or how to detect a scam. They may already be aware of the one you are about to be a victim of and be able to save you a lot of money.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Water rates hearing

A note of correction for COURIER readers. In today's issue of the paper, one headline reads: "Hearing set for Saturday on water rate increases." The hearings are scheduled for Thursday, February 5 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Hughes Center. (Reporters don't usually write the headlines and sometimes things get muddled.) We apologize for the mix up.

The city hopes to see plenty of residents show up for the 2 meetings. The more people speaking out, the bigger impression it will have on the PUC.

The following are some issues brought up by the city as to why the California Public Utilities Commission should not approve a proposed 37% water rate increase by Golden State Water Company over the next 3 years.

* The proposed overall rate increase is more than 35% higher than current rates.
* An overall rate increase is unreasonable in the current state of the economy, with people losing jobs, facing foreclosure and not being able to afford higher utility bills.
* The Wrightwood pipeline project being built in another town located far from Claremont. Because of the regionalized rate structure, citizens of Claremont will subsidize the pipeline project through their rates, but receive no benefit from it.
* GSWC is not establishing the required connection between the cost of the proposed conservation measures and the benefit/savings to local communities. Citizens care deeply about conservation, but want to see conservation measures implemented properly and effectively.
* Return on investment sought by GSWC is unreasonable in this economic climate. GSWC shouldn't be making a higher profit, when other businesses and citizens are merely trying to stay afloat.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Homicide victim's name released

Claremont Police have released the victim's name in the city's first homicide investigation since 2006.

Alan Henry Lindley, 60, was found murdered in his home on the 700 block of West Arrow Highway. Police estimate the time of death between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning last week.

Lindley was discovered on Friday, January 30 after his employer notified police that he did not turn up for work.

Police will not disclose the nature of his death "pending further investigation," according to a press release.

Anyone with information about the nature of Lindley's death should contact the Claremont Police Department at (909) 399-5411.