OPINION: Elect Bennett Rea to City Council for the pragmatic, forward-looking leadership Claremont needs

A photo of a smiling bearded man in a blue button down is overlaid onto an organge background. Text around him reads "Sunrise Claremont Colleges proudly endorses Bennett Rea for Claremont City Council District 5."
Sunrise Claremont Colleges endorses Bennett Rea for Claremont City Council District 5. The Claremont Colleges chapter of the nationwide Sunrise Movement supports Bennett for his commitment to climate change, environmental and racial justice, police accountability and housing affordability. (Courtesy: Sunrise Claremont Colleges)

This article was written by Ben Reicher on behalf of, and in consultation with, the leadership team of Sunrise Claremont Colleges, a chapter of the nationwide Sunrise Movement.

Wherever you’re currently living, municipal elections probably aren’t the main political topic on your mind for this Nov. 3. However, for those registered to vote in Claremont, the upcoming elections for city council really do deserve your attention, due to the City of Claremont’s change last year from at-large elections to a geographic district-based system. This means that votes from Claremont Colleges students, faculty and staff could prove decisive in races for Claremont City Council — in particular for District 5, which includes the Pomona College campus.

In light of this unique opportunity to make our voices heard, we at Sunrise Claremont Colleges strongly urge a vote for Bennett Rea, our endorsed candidate for Claremont City Council District 5. Bennett is a first-time candidate who we know will bring the compassionate and responsible decision-making that our community badly needs in this time of hardship. He is running on a strong platform that emphasizes the issues that matter most to our organization’s members, and to much of the 5C student body: climate change, environmental justice, housing affordability, racial justice and police accountability.

As the Claremont Colleges chapter of the nationwide Sunrise Movement, our foundational goal is to push our federal government to take progressive and decisive action on global warming. Our large-scale goal, however, does not preclude our caring deeply about our adopted home in Claremont — or our recognition that there is great potential to make the city a better place to live for all residents through action on the municipal level.

As Bennett describes himself on his website, he has personally experienced financial instability, with his parents’ home being foreclosed upon as a child, and having graduated college with student debt at the height of the Great Recession. He has held a wide variety of jobs, including as a bartender and the owner of a highly successful event space (Greenbar Distillery, a carbon-negative distillery). Additionally, he has volunteered with organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles Food Policy Council and Planned Parenthood. He lives in Claremont with his wife and young daughter.

Our support for Bennett stems from his commitment to think small and act big; to enact targeted and specific policies that address the complexities of Claremont, and have the potential to meaningfully improve residents’ standard of living.

“[My platform] is the boldest progressive platform out there, certainly for Claremont City Council. … You can tell a lot by the way someone speaks, if they’re really fighting for the same things that you are. And we’ve got a real opportunity here to make a big impact on Claremont,” Bennett said in an interview with Sunrise Claremont Colleges.

Bennett wants to improve the city’s response to COVID-19 by subsidizing child care programs; strengthening the city’s support of organizations like AgingNext that provide vital assistance to senior citizens; ensuring the city provides public mask dispensers to better protect the unhoused and all Claremont residents; and deferring payments on licenses, fees and rent for small businesses. On income inequality, Bennett’s platform calls for income-based fines and fees to reduce low-income individuals’ economic burden, providing financial literacy advice and job training programs for free through the city, no new taxes on households with an annual income of less than $200,000 and repealing the city’s overnight parking fee to end the criminalization of poverty.

Furthermore, his platform would address local housing unaffordability by mandating at least 40 percent affordable units for new housing developments like South Village (Claremont’s Inclusionary Unit Requirement sets a minimum of 15 percent for new residential developments). He would eliminate the restrictive zoning in some parts of the city that perpetuates income-based and race-based segregation, to ensure that the city meets its goals under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment. Bennett and his wife are themselves renters, and Claremont is about 35.5 percent renter households.

“[Under RHNA, Claremont needs] 1700-plus units by 2029. A lot of that has to be affordable housing to bring in small businesses that are going to keep the economy going, to bring in consumers that are going to feed into those small businesses,” Bennett said.

On climate and environmental justice, Bennett wants to hire a full-time arborist and sustainability coordinator to better maintain the City of Trees and PhDs; refund groups like Sustainable Claremont that have been deprived of city funding due to the pandemic; institute an anti-idling ordinance; and promote transit-friendly housing, electric shuttle service and improved bike lanes to reduce car dependence. This would not only reduce climate-warming emissions, but also help improve dangerous vehicular air pollution that disproportionately affects District 5 due to its proximity to the I-10 highway. 

Finally, on police reform, Bennett supports shifting certain duties and funding from the Claremont Police Department towards unarmed professionals better equipped to carry out these tasks, specifically for tasks involving the homeless or mentally ill individuals. Bennett supports giving disciplinary authority to the city’s civilian police commission; and reinvesting some of the money currently going to police (which currently includes 52 percent of the city’s general fund) to rehabilitative programs to ensure access to housing, education and job training. 

Throughout his campaign, Bennett has been a dedicated listener to the needs and voices of students, not only at the 5Cs but also at Claremont High School and Cal Poly Pomona — understanding that the issues that most closely affect students are also those with the greatest potential to shape Claremont’s future development.

“The idealism, the drive, the determination that you all have fuels our campaign. It fuels our campaign to fight for racial justice and economic equity and climate justice and affordable housing — all things that will allow college students to be safer in our town, to remain in our town and be able to afford it here once they graduate, to access services and be heard while they’re here,” Bennett said.

If you are registered to vote within Claremont District 5, you can help put Bennett into office this Nov. 3; with mail-in ballots already having been sent out in California, you will have the chance to vote prior to that date as well. Sunrise Claremont Colleges is proud to give our endorsement to Bennett Rea.

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