David and Goliath
By Tommy Purvis
Let the blueprint sketched out by the Claremont Taxpayers for Common Sense serve as an example on how to beat special interest cash at the ballot box. Despite being outspent by the “Yes on Measure CL” supporters by an astounding 25-1 ratio, the group of activists won 60-40 percent on Election Day.
The defeated bond would have allowed Claremont Unified School District to borrow $95 million from the city for maintenance and technology updates.
The measure would have cost property owners in the district $45 per $100,000 of assessed value for 30 years—and it would have been imposed on taxpayers that still owed $39 million in debt for a similar bond called Measure Y that passed in 2000. The tax squeeze made residents in south Claremont feel like they were being squeezed out of their homes by the local elite, a group of well-connected residents that the blog Claremont Insider describes as “goofy, too-serious power types that run most of the town’s service organizations, charities and city commissions” and are affectionately called the Claremonsters.
No doubt, the group of concerned taxpayers that formed two months before the election to defeat the measure had their backs against the wall. They faced $25,000 donations to the opposition from both WLC Architects in Rancho Cucamonga and Piper Jaffray, an international investment bank from Minneapolis. The backers of the measure even sent out a flier with a uniformed Claremont police officer complete with do it for the kids propaganda.
The grassroots group organized against the onslaught with weekly house meetings, city-wide weekend canvassing, farmers’ market outreach, visibility rallies at key intersections and a town hall forum to discuss their concerns over the measure. Weeks before the election, the group paid a little over $1,000 for inserts in the Claremont Courier.
“We are a group of Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians that came together for a common goal weeks before the election,” says 35-year-old Donna Lowe, the group’s spokesperson. “We never discussed politics outside of Measure CL. We were united against the school board raising taxes and the flow of outside cash that backed our opponents.”
While the victory was a blow to service contractors that stood to profit off Measure CL, that doesn’t mean that Claremont Unified is not in need of upgrades.
The Daily Bulletin reported that to deal with overcrowding, classes were being held in converted closets. Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services, says that there are numerous leaky roofs in need of repair and other maintenance concerns after years of funding being diverted from the state to make up budget shortfalls.
“We are looking at our options and formulating another plan to meet those needs,” says Shoemaker.
Perhaps the needs of Claremont Unified and the concerns of tax strapped homeowners can find common ground. All have been invited by Claremont Taxpayers for Common Sense to meet Monday, Nov. 29, at Wine Merchants, located in the Packing House, to move forward.