The City of Claremont will hold elections this Tuesday, Mar. 8, to fill three of the five seats on the City Council. Under the charter of the Claremont City Council, a councilmember’s term lasts for four years and elections are staggered every two years. Of the three seats up for reelection, only one features an incumbent candidate: Sam Pedroza. Council member Peter Yao and Mayor Linda Elderkin have opted not to seek reelection. After the results of the election are in, the new Council will vote to decide which of them will act as Mayor.
As the election approaches, tensions are running high and egos are on the line—especially when it comes to the budget. Although the current budget is balanced, the city faces a deficit of up to $2.3 million over the next six years due to rising costs in pensions, utilities, and basic services.
Despite cutting 40 percent of the city’s full time staff, reducing 15 percent of public employee benefits, cutting city programming and closing City Hall for three out of seven days, the city still fears budget shortfalls.
“In this economy, budget cutting is part of our reality,” Elderkin said. “The city council needs to do it with a clear sense that what they’re doing is effecting our community.”
Elderkin, who is retiring to spend more time with her family, has served as Mayor of Claremont since March 2010. Before her political career, Elderkin served as Associate Dean of Students at Pitzer College and Dean of Campus Life and Associate Dean of Students at Pomona College.
The other outgoing councilmember, Peter Yao, resigned from the council in December after being appointed to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC). The newly-formed commission is the result of California voters’ 2008 approval of Proposition 11.
The bill changed the process for restructuring voting districts from the traditional practice, where legislators draw political boundaries, to a new system where the job is delegated to a citizens committee. Yao will be one of 14 citizen commissioners on the CRCC, which has been charged with redrawing California’s Senate, Assembly, State Board of Equalization, and Congressional districts based on information gathered during the 2010 census.
“We have to go through a process of redividing California so that all the districts are basically equal in size,” Yao said.
The 14 CCRC commissioners were chosen from a pool of 30,000 applicants based on their fairness, expertise, and diverse perspectives reflective of the state of California.
“Our main focus in drawing the lines is community interest,” Yao said. “We want to keep [cities] together to the maximum extent possible.”
That means mapping districts in terms of commerce, traditions, ethnic backgrounds, and interests. Once the CCRC releases the new voting district map in August, the decision is final and the map requires no legislative approval.
Back in Claremont, the City Council remains in the throes of an impending budget crisis. Whether it chooses to reorganize the pension plans of city employees or restructure the cost of utilities, the City Council will face some tough decisions in the year ahead.
“Each decision the council makes affects the community,” Elderkin said. “When I say each decision they make, [I mean] it’s got to be focused on the whole community. The budget is important, but its not the whole picture.”