Long-Time Residents Feel Impact of College Expansion

Margaret Ramirez Dean, 77, has lived in the house her father built off of Claremont Blvd. and 6th Street since she was 10 years old. Now residing with her husband and daughter, Dean speaks fondly of her house as a home full of rich and happy memories. So when she received not one, but two, letters from Claremont McKenna College (CMC) several years ago expressing interest in purchasing the property she lives on, she did not even bother responding.

“They asked me if I was interested in selling because they had just bought the property in front of me,” she said. “But I wasn’t… and that’s as far as it got. I couldn’t leave it; I would have to be forced to.”

Dean is a resident of the Arbol Verde neighborhood, the Mexican-American community residing in Claremont and the neighboring cities of Montclair and Upland since the emergence of the citrus industry over a century ago. She and others living in “El Barrio”—as the neighborhood is referred to by community members—may be affected by CMC’s Master Plan, a 25 to 30 year expansion plan that provides a framework guiding future land use and development of the college. Several residents living close to the 5Cs have voiced their apprehension that the college's expansion will adversely impact their community.

“Our concern is a complete takeover of the Arbol Verde by CMC… that it’s not going to stop [after the Master Plan],” said Al Villanueva, chair of the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee and a long-time resident whose family has lived on the Claremont-Upland border for five generations.

However, CMC Vice President for Administration and Planning Matthew Bibbens stated the Master Plan does not include development plans regarding property the college does not already own.

“The whole purpose of the Master Plan is to clarify these boundaries and uses,” he said.

The Master Plan, Bibbens explained, was developed by CMC to help the college conceptualize its long-term interest to increase student enrollment and possibly build new academic, residential, and athletic facilities. While CMC has not made any specific decisions for this process, plans include expanding eastward and relocating the athletic fields to allow space for prospective construction of additional facilities.

“The big idea of this Master Plan is to complete the acquisition of this land in the east and to provide a relocation of these fields that will then free these athletic spaces up for either more informal space or additional facilities,” Bibbens said.

According to Bibbens, CMC already owns all property in the Arbol Verde area north of Harwood Place in Claremont, for which it has a 25-30 year development agreement with the city. In addition, the college owns a significant number of residential units and houses south of Harwood, which are made available to faculty and staff for housing. He stated that Arbol Verde serves as an important college resource for providing affordable housing opportunities for faculty and staff in “a very high cost of living environment.”

However, Bibbens emphasized that the Master Plan does not say anything about purchasing property not currently owned by the college, explaining this process occurs naturally.

“What happens is over time, when houses are put on the market and if we have an interest in acquiring it, we’ll acquire the house,” he said.

According to Villanueva, many people—especially those with long family histories in the area such as Dean—are dead set against selling property to the colleges. Villanueva feels that CMC is “going after the traditional part of the community,” the heart of which he said is now represented in the cities of Upland and Montclair.

“They have been cunningly purchasing properties over 20, 30 years,” he said. “Some of the purchases in my mind are questionable.”

Villanueva also expressed concerns about the gentrification of areas around the 5Cs traditionally belonging the Mexican-American community through continued expansion, a process he called “social genocide.”

“They ignored that Arbol Verde is a Mexican-American neighborhood. They’re going to completely ignore the Mexican-American community,” he said. “We’ve been here for 100 years, and I’ve seen Mexican-American families been displaced… they’re destroying the spirit of the people.”

He and other community members expressed these concerns about the Master Plan, as well worries over the vagueness of its development process and inadequate dissemination of information to residents, at a public scoping meeting held by the City of Claremont on April 4. The Master Plan, reviewed and approved by the CMC Board of Trustees in the spring of 2010, was submitted to the City of Claremont a year ago. The plan is currently undergoing a review process during which the city produces an Environmental Impact Report for the plan. While the primary goal of the April 4 meeting was to allow for public comment on this report, it also provided a venue for any other concerns such as the ones voiced about the impact on Arbol Verde's cultural and historical resources.

Bibbens acknowledged that these concerns exist among the community, and reiterated CMC's commitment to maintaining a cooperative dialogue to ensure the planning process is carried out appropriately.

“I think we’ve had good success in establishing with dialogue and cooperation with them, and I look forward to continuing that through this process,” he said.

Villanueva expressed similar hopes of forming a working relationship with the colleges with the goal of establishing mutual respect, complimenting the Claremont Planning Committee for working with the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee in the process related to the Master Plan.

“We’re willing to make a deal with CMC so that… we [can] live side-by-side as community and college, that we can co-exist as a community,” he said.

Dean, though she stated she first felt nervous after receiving letters from CMC, feels unthreatened by the Master Plan. She said that she intends to live the rest of her life in the house and hopes to leave the house to her daughter. However, she recognized that the expansion of the colleges and its impact on their community are inevitable.

“You can’t stop progress,” she said.

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