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Some Must Pay Fee to Use Parks : Recreation: Groups from outside Claremont must buy permit to gather in certain areas. Detractors say policy is racist.


Rejecting charges of racism, the Claremont City Council decided last week to charge large groups and out-of-towners for reserving prime park spots to guarantee their access to them.

For two years, the city has been crafting a policy to give Claremont residents primary access to the city's 15 parks after complaints from constituents that their parks were being overrun by large groups and outsiders. The majority of large groups using the picnic spots come from out of town, city officials said.

But some residents have labeled the action as "institutional racism," saying the largely white college town is trying to exclude people from the surrounding, mainly minority, communities. Claremont is 76.1% white; its southern neighbor, Pomona, is 71% minority, according to the 1990 U.S. Census.

The fee system requires any large group--defined as 50 or more people--that uses designated prime areas such as picnic tables to have a city permit or face ejection. Those without a permit will be given a warning until next July. City residents must pay $35 for a permit; non-residents must pay $80.

For smaller gatherings, residents can reserve a spot at no charge; non-residents must pay $45. The smaller outside groups can use the space free if they don't reserve it, but must take the chance that it will be open.

Claremont is not the first to take such steps. Similar practices prevail at Arcadia's Wilderness Preserve and San Marino's Lacy Park; La Verne is considering such a policy.

"It's a separatist action of institutional xenophobia," said Robert Herman, who lives next to Memorial Park. "We're going to go over to a group and say: 'You can't be here. You have to go over to that part of the park.'

"That's uncivilized. It's like saying to someone: 'Go and sit in the back of the bus. . . .' It's Jim Crow all over again with leave the good table for us."

But several council members said residents were paying for the parks through landscape and lighting assessments and increasingly were being kept from using them because more large groups from outside the city were using the most desirable spots.

"I've heard some anecdotes of small families from Claremont who've gone to a park and found outside people have taken over the park," Mayor Algird G. Leiga said. Leiga dismisses the charge of trying to keep minorities out as spurious and said the policy really concentrates on large groups. "If a large group comes from Beverly Hills, Arcadia or wherever, we are going to charge."

Of the 67 large groups that the city knows used Claremont parks from May, 1993, to May, 1994, 51 were from out of town, according to the city Parks Department.

Councilwoman Judy Cody said large areas of the parks will require no reservations and will be open to the public.

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