There's No Wall Between Town, Gown in Claremont

Times Staff Writer

The issue was leaf blowers, and the Claremont City Council chambers was filled with residents who wanted the machines banned and gardeners who didn't.

A biology professor described the effects of noise on the human organism, the former head of health services of the Claremont Colleges discussed allergic reactions to dust and a political science professor argued for controls.

"No matter what we're talking about--general plan, air quality, anything--we get expertise from the colleges," Mayor Judy Wright said of the six schools that form the Claremont cluster.

Wright is the third consecutive Claremont mayor who is a faculty wife with a career of her own. The City Council includes another faculty wife, Diann Ring, who has a master's degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate School, and a Claremont McKenna College graduate, Bill McCready. Seven members of the Claremont Colleges' faculty or staff are on city commissions.

Three of the Claremont school board's five members are college employees, and the other two, including board President Paul Held, are graduates of the colleges.

Wright, a historic preservation consultant who has written a book on Claremont, said the spirit of Town Hall meetings that predate Claremont's incorporation in 1907 can still be felt in local government.

"In the beginning, they (elected officials) were all from the colleges," Wright said. "In the 1960s, it started being the wives. Values from 80 to 100 years ago still influence what goes on today. The colleges and the city have a symbiotic relationship."

Ring calls Claremont "a one-company town" and the colleges "the biggest employer."

Like other civic leaders, Wright said Claremont cherishes the colleges, which date back to the 1880s, and works to maintain a small, college-town character.

"Claremont is known as being distinctive, and the colleges are a good part of that," said City Manager Len Wood. "They are important to our image and basic economy."

The six Claremont Colleges and the adjoining business district called the Village form the heart of town. Just as the campuses blend into each other, they also blend into the city, where avenues named Yale, Harvard and College bustle with pedestrians who patronize boutiques, specialty shops and sidewalk cafes.

The more than 1,000 faculty and staff members and 5,000 students who live in college dormitories contribute to the financial health of the Village. Residents, in turn, attend many of the colleges' programs.

"In the beginning, the colleges were the town and the town was the colleges, and that's true to some extent today," Ring said.

David Sadava, a biologist at the Claremont Colleges' Joint Sciences Program and a member of the city's Environmental Quality Commission, said he was performing a typical role when he told the City Council that leaf blowers exceed both city and state noise standards and that their dust causes allergic reactions.

"I was acting as a professional with some knowledge of science and as a commissioner, and I was appearing as a citizen," Sadava said. "That's the kind of interaction that goes on here."

Claremont, with 36,000 residents, has doubled its population every decade since World War II. The first developments in the 1950s were south of the colleges. Building since then has continued north and into the foothills, dividing Claremont into "old" and "new" sections.

Restored Bungalows

Near the colleges, neighborhoods of old homes, many of them restored California bungalows, date to the early 1900s.

The council last week passed an ordinance prohibiting any more drive-through businesses. It will curtail the growth of a variety of businesses--such as fast-food restaurants and banks--that proliferate in other cities.

"We weren't sure we wanted that image for our community," Wright said, calling drive-through services "unnecessary--people can park their cars and walk in."

Except for a few pizza parlors and one chicken franchise, there are no fast-food chains in Claremont, mostly because they don't meet the city's restrictive architectural codes, Wood said. The codes require businesses to conform with surrounding architectural styles.

The only reason the city has the chicken franchise is that it is in a small area recently annexed from the county.

In an earlier move to preserve Claremont's small-town character, voters last year overwhelmingly defeated a developer's initiative seeking a zone change to pave the way for a 340-unit apartment complex.

More than 5,000 of the city's residents are senior citizens, many of whom live in three large retirement homes and are "active seniors," Wright said.

Pilgrim Place, with 320 residents, was founded in 1915 and is believed to be the oldest retirement home in the country, a spokesman said. Mt. San Antonio Gardens and Claremont Manor have a combined population of about 800 senior citizens, and there are several other homes for retirees in the heart of town.

Relationship With Students

"The college students bring their programs to us, and we attend theirs," said Martha Frimand, public relations manager for Pilgrim Place.

The city--with the help of scientists from the colleges--long ago examined its mountain areas for unique vegetation and ecological values and determined that it would protect 3,000 acres of steep slopes at its northern boundary.

About 100 homes are being built on 40 acres near the foothills, among the last level space available.

"Some of the colleges are buying property for future expansion, and some of the residents feel pressured out," Ring said. "It's like a Monopoly game, and we only have Marvin Gardens left."

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