Apr 18 2014

- Moraga Avenue is reopened after debris removal. -

Shortly before noon on Friday morning, April 18, a landslide carried trees onto power lines and required the closure of Moraga Avenue at Maxwelton Road. By 8 p.m. Friday night, eight hours after the street blockage, the debris had been removed and the road had been reopened. PG&E, their tree contractor, Piedmont crews and a geotechnical engineer were involved in the effort to reopen the road and restore power to neighbors.  The highly trafficked arterial is the major connection between Highway 13, Montclair, Piedmont and Grand Avenue. The cause of the slide remained uncertain, but it may have been the result of a leaky irrigation pipe.

CBS report

City of Piedmont report

Coincidentally, two years ago in mid-April another nearby landslide downed power lines and closed Moraga Avenue between the eastern city limit with Oakland and Maxwelton Road.  Read about the April, 2012 Moraga Avenue landslide.

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Apr 15 2014

- Upbeat Report to the Planning Commission by Consultant -

A part of the City’s Master Plan Housing Element update must include an evaluation of the current objectives with actual accomplishments. At the Monday, April 14 Piedmont Planning Commission meeting, Barry Miller, Piedmont’s Zoning Consultant, presented an interim accounting of how well Piedmont is doing in meeting it assigned housing production targets.

Miller reassured Commissioners about the City’s accomplishments in response to the Association of Bay Area Governments Required Housing Needs Allocation for Piedmont in the 2007-2014 period. In the spotlighted segment of “very low” income housing units, Piedmont actually exceeded its assigned obligation, approving 14 units, with construction completed for 13.

Miller noted the expectation that more units may be completed by the end of 2014, when the final housing production figures will be tallied. The “very low” income second units are exempt from the requirement to provide parking, so they have proved to be the most popular second units for Piedmont homeowners to create.

In other income sectors, housing unit production lagged, probably due to the poor economy, according to Miller. The City exceeded its obligation to facilitate “above moderate” income housing, approving 13 luxury homes. However, only one house was constructed thus far. Excess “very low” income housing units produced may be credited against any other category that falls short.

In May, Miller will present a report on the “Constraints” chapter of the Housing Element update to the Planning Commission. At a June date yet to be determined, a Town Hall meeting on the entire draft will be held at the Community Hall.

Apr 15 2014

- The Magic of Play! – A free public event -

On Wednesday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m., the Piedmont Recreation Department is sponsoring a discussion of its programs in connection with beneficial unstructured child play at the Piedmont Community Hall, 711 Highland Avenue. The presentation by Stephanie Rafanelli will highlight neuroscience research on free play.  Rafanelli, a Piedmont resident, is a school coach and a parent education facilitator for Challenge Success and was a middle school science teacher at Bentley School. The Recreation Department’s Schoolmates, Preschool and Summer Programs will be described and discussed.

“There is fascinating evidence linking unstructured play with brains that are more emotionally attuned, more connected, and even bigger in size. While play has been correlated with academic competencies such as language and math skills, some argue it is even more important in developing a child’s executive functions (self-regulation, focus, perspective, working memory, flexible thinking, and more).”

Event Details

Date: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 from 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Location: Piedmont Community Hall, 711 Highland Avenue
Click to Register: http://bit.ly/1f15wLh

This is an adult only event. Childcare is available online with advanced registration.

Childcare Registration Code: 1001.488* ($10 per child)
For more information, please contact Erin Rivera at: (510)420-3072

Apr 13 2014

- The Success of the Previous Housing Element will be Considered and Evaluated -

On Monday, April 14, the Planning Commission will consider a report on the accomplishments of the Housing Element that went into effect in 2011.  The public is invited to attend and will have an opportunity to speak during this study session at the 5 p.m. beginning of the regular commission meeting in the City Council chamber.

Apr 13 2014

Blair Park has long been the stepchild among Piedmont parks and public areas, ignoring pedestrians, dogs, and regular maintenance.

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Beautification projects are found in most of our parks and street medians, particularly in central Piedmont, but the most visible Piedmont park, seen by thousands of passersby daily, remains in a neglected state. Piedmont public areas are generally regularly maintained and enjoy swept walkways, weed abatement, and regular tree trimming, while Blair Park has received little attention despite its prominence at an entrance to Piedmont on Moraga Avenue.

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For decades weeds have grown uncontrollably, with ivy invading native species. Trees, ill-maintained, have been left to fall apart and present potential hazards to park users and passing vehicular traffic. There are no sidewalks within or bordering Blair Park.  Pedestrians or joggers going to and from upper Moraga Avenue are forced to either dodge traffic, stumble over uneven surfaces, or slog through mud within the park during wet weather. Students residing in the area have no sidewalks upon which to walk.

There is no fence between busy Moraga Avenue and the off-leash dog area in the park to keep dogs or children from running into the roadway.  

Piedmont is currently considering a comprehensive bike and pedestrian plan; the proposed plan offers little to increase pedestrian safety in and next to Blair Park.  The Park Commission, when reviewing the recently approved plan for Blair Park, expressed concern over safe access to the park.

During consideration of a sports complex proposal, many people expressed a love of the natural, open beauty found in the park. Numerous people residing in the Moraga Avenue area requested a well-maintained park with sidewalk access.

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Why has Blair Park been neglected for decades?

The answer goes to what propels many park and public projects developed in Piedmont.  Prior to the recently failed proposal to build the imposing sports complex in the park, no organized group had pushed for park maintenance and improvements in Blair Park.  

Many special projects are found throughout Piedmont parks and public spaces that have reaped the benefits of both public and private funding. Friends of Moraga Canyon settled a law suit with Piedmont over Blair Park issues by requiring $15,000 be spent on a plan to maintain and improve the park. In January, 2014, the City Council accepted Phase I of the Blair Park Landscape Improvement Plan by consultant Restoration Design Group and authorized completion of construction documents for solicitation of bids from contractors.  A land survey noting the boundaries of the park is not available. The plan, while approved by the City Council, has yet to be funded.

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Apr 13 2014

Will Math Changes Reduce Student Options?

As many PCA readers know, the Piedmont Unified School District is developing its responses to California’s new “Common Core” standards for math.  These standards are intended to make math more “rigorous” and “real world” — which will require significant changes within individual courses, and may lead to restructuring of the overall K-12 progression of math classes.  After several listening sessions, the District staff recently shared its first partial draft of proposed changes.  Unfortunately, these could leave many students worse off than under existing sequences.

How Does Piedmont Math Work Now?

Students stay together for math in grades K through 5.  Individual teachers offer varying degrees of in-class “differentiation” to recognize different readiness and abilities, and there are some pull-outs for either enrichment or extra support.  Although the District has moved to increase uniformity, students’ experiences still vary depending on their teachers.

During grades 6-12, the approach changes, to create different multi-year “pathways:”

• Students who’ve done particularly well so far, and do well on a special test right after 5th grade start an “accelerated pathway,” taking 7th grade pre-algebra in 6th grade, with the option of staying on that pathway through  Calculus BC in 12th.  This year 36 6th graders (out of roughly 200) started this pathway.

• Other students take 6th and 7th grade math together.  Most take Algebra 1 in 8th grade and continue through Calculus AB.  Those who need more time and support can decelerate by taking Introduction to Algebra in 8th, Algebra 1 in 9th grade, and then can progress as far as Math Analysis.  This year’s 8th graders are split 85 in Algebra 1 and 75 in Intro.

Numbers vary year to year, but the percentages are roughly 35:45:20.  Students can move up to a faster pathway by taking summer school (or doubling up Geometry with Algebra 1 or 2), or down by delaying a course.

How Does Common Core Change Math Courses?

Common Core’s designers intend that no student should skip any course, since they’ve designed each course to have less review material and more new material than some of the present courses.  Instead, they suggest that students’ progress can be adjusted by “compressing” or “expanding” courses to vary the pace of instruction: compressing to provide 3 years’ worth of information in 2 years, or even 2 in 1; or expanding to stretch 1 year into 2, or 2 years into 3.  The designers leave states and schools to decide when and if to create these pace-based pathways.

What’s Being Proposed for Piedmont?

Piedmont staff have issued their first draft of a proposal to phase in changes to Piedmont’s math offerings, beginning with 6th grade changes during next school year (2014-15).  In this draft:

6th grade – all students would stay together (no acceleration/compression), with additional effort to offer in-class differentiation, enrichment and support

7th grade – higher-readiness students might start a compressed track (e.g., 7th, 8th, and Algebra 1 in 2 years), or compression might be delayed until high school while all students stay together

8th grade – higher-readiness students might or might not be on a compressed track; presently there’s no proposal to replace Intro to Algebra for students who need more time and support, so all students may stay together

High School – generalized commitment for faster track to reach Calculus BC, and to develop appropriate pathway for slower track.  No firm proposal, but latest example compresses 2:1 in 11th grade (Algebra 2 and Math Analysis) and/or in 12th grade (compress Calculus AB and BC into one year)

What’s Risky About This Proposal?

Although there’s no way to be certain how a new program will work until it’s implemented, the draft proposal has several risky features:

• None of us have found any national, statewide, or Piedmont data supporting the suggestion that deferring “pathways” helps math outcomes.  In contrast, we know that Piedmont’s accelerated pathway students have achieved very high results every year (grades, test scores, and some reporting by graduates about their college experiences), middle pathway students have done well, and students on the slower pathway have struggled to meet statewide standards.

• Every year without pathways is another year when students at all readiness levels share the same classroom – so teachers must not only revamp their courses to meet Common Core standards, but would have to differentiate their intsruction to meet the widest possible range of math readiness and learning styles.  And students would have to accommodate classmates with readiness levels very different from their own.  This isn’t impossible, but math differentiation in Piedmont’s existing courses is still problematic after years of efforts, and it’s likely to be harder rather than easier next year.

• Delayed compression means that less-ready students would not receive “expanded” courses until spending more years trying to keep up, and accelerated students would be taking 2-for-1 math in 11th grade, which is already the toughest year for most Piedmont students

Parents are working with the District and each other to reduce these risks by continuing to improve the staff proposal.  To learn more, you can visit the District’s Common Core webpage at http://www.piedmont.k12.ca.us/curriculum/common-core, or the latest version of a presentation used in public meetings, atwww.piedmont.k12.ca.us/communications/common-core-math-implementation-faq.    In addition, the Piedmont Advanced Learners Program Support group has also accumulated information, and is distributing on online petition (which attracted 130 e-signatures in its first 3 days) asking the District to reconsider its options – athttp://piedmontalps.org/math-petition.

Please take the time to learn more, offer your views through the online petition, or write the School Board or Assistant Superintendent Randy Booker.  As of this writing the Board has provided no guidance on this important issue, so your views can help the process.

Jon Elliott, Piedmont Resident

Editor’s Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

Apr 6 2014

On Saturday, April 5, one block of Vista Avenue in front of City Hall became a street fair for public safety with two jumpy houses, free hot dogs & chips, and “Sparky” the firefighter mascot.

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An emergency preparedness kit was displayed in a car.

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The family fun had a serious purpose with experts and information on disaster preparedness and public safety. The “Safety House” trailer stressed fire prevention and offered methods for improving residential structure survival of earthquakes.

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Firefighters showed off their quick response (down the pole!) responding to an emergency. Also in the emptied fire station garage, were displays, experts and informational brochures on disaster preparedness and fire prevention.IMG_0650

 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) exhibited earthquake hazards, and PG&E brought exhibits on electrical and gas emergencies.

The fair was a joint effort of the Piedmont Fire Department and the Piedmont Public Safety Committee. Fire Chief Bud McLaren, Police Chief Rikki Goede and former chair of the Public Safety Committee Michael Gardner were present.

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Mar 30 2014

Arbor Day Celebrated at Ramona/Ronada Triangle Project

The triangular pedestrian parklet at the intersection of Ramona and Ronada Avenues will be dedicated on Thursday, April 10 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in celebration of Arbor Day. The celebration, open to the public, will feature speakers, tables, food, drinks, and music.

Long triangular peninsula reduces width of one of City's biggest intersections

Long triangular peninsula reduces width of one of City’s biggest intersections

The project was initiated by Ramona and Ronada residents concerned about the safety of young children crossing the overly large intersection. Neighbors noted the lack of any crosswalks had been a problem for pedestrians and the excessive width attracted teenage daredevil teenage drivers, who spun their cars in “donuts”. Landscape architect Kimberly Moses developed a conceptual design that she and her neighbor Anne Marshall presented to the neighborhood and the Capital Improvements

Flow-through rain garden design is low maintenance

Flow-through rain garden design is low maintenance

Projects (CIP) Committee. All the neighbors contributed to a garage sale at the homes of Hedi and Paul Gerken and Sherrie and Mark Arrabit that raised $1200 for the project. Neighbors presented the project to City staff, the Beautification Foundation and advocated it to the City Council.

Over the years of neighborhood advocacy, the Gerkins were ever vigilant. When Public Works staff arrived one day and started chalking an island in the middle of the intersection, Paul Gerkin  intercepted the crew and relocated them to paint the peninsula chosen by the neighborhood. It remained just a painted outline for several more years while City Councilmember Garrett Keating helped keep the project alive.

Finally, the project was funded, with $107,354 CIP Funds, $1200 from the Ramona and Ronada garage sale, and $30,000 from the Beautification Foundation for a total project budget of $138,554, including $10,000 project management and $11,687 (10%) contingency funds. Parks project manager Mark Feldkamp prepared the final park plan details for bidding.

Crosswalks and new triangle help pedestrians cross the intersection

Crosswalks and new triangle help pedestrians cross the intersection

On April 30, 2013 three bids for the construction were received, ranging from $116,870 to $151,032. The low bidder, Cleary Brothers Landscape, Inc, was awarded the contract by the City Council on May 20, 2013.

On January 21, 2014 the Piedmont City Council noted that Cleary Brothers’ construction was completed under budget. The neighbors continued to play a central role. Marshall and Moses together with Parks Commissioner Nancy Kent accompanied Feldkamp on the visit to the nursery to select Mediterranean plants, appropriate for Moses’ flow-through rain garden concept. Chester Nakahara, Director of Public Works, told the Council that the intersection improvement had reduced traffic speeds improving pedestrian safety.

Neighbors  Mike Bott, Hedi and Paul Gerken, Anne Marshall, Jennifer Osgood, Jonathan Gerken, Kimberly Moses, Sherrie Jewett with Rue, Alisha Lewis with Rooney and Grace Sanford gathered in their parklet in advance of the dedication.

Hedi Gerken, Paul Gerken, Anne Marshall, Jonathan Gerken, Jennifer Osgood, Kimberly Moses, Sherrie Jewett & Rue, Alisha Lewis & Rooney, Grace Sanford

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Mar 23 2014

When the City Council considered the appointment of a chairperson for the Public Safety Committee at their March 17 meeting, various council members recalled conducting their selection of commission and committee members in Closed Session.  However, Piedmont’s Acting City Attorney Michelle Kenyon informed the Council that the Brown Act, California’s sunshine law, had no exception for consideration of appointments to committees or commissions, including a chairperson, to be held in a Closed Session.

Kenyon’s legal opinion was questioned by Vice Mayor Jeff Weiler, who informed Kenyon that the Council had always had their deliberations on applicants in Closed Session. Councilmember Bob McBain stated that the interviews were held in a de facto Closed Session.

Weiler probed Kenyon to opine on whether the Council had previously been breaking the Brown Act law, but she declined, stating she did not have all of the facts.

The Brown Act is the backbone of public involvement in public decisions. The Brown Act details what can and cannot be discussed in Closed Session, what agendas must specify, when agendas must become public information, and requires prompt reporting of action taken in Closed Session.

“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Ralph M. Brown Act

http://www.brownact.4t.com/

Recently, some Council watchers have noticed the Brown Act being more closely followed in Piedmont.  Agendas now include more specific descriptions of what is being discussed by the Council in Closed Session.  Also, the legally required reporting of action taken in Closed Session has become more explicit and timely.

Previously, undisclosed Closed Session discussions and actions alarmed some residents during consideration of the Blair Park sports complex development. Only through a public records request were facts and actions revealed. A legally binding agreement between the City and Piedmont Recreation Facilities Organization (PRFO) had been approved without notice to the public. The City Council had been meeting with attorneys representing project proponents PRFO in Closed Session.

http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2013/07/14/brown-act-compliance-issues-continue/

http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2011/10/29/city-attorney-responds-to-pca-articles-on-brown-act-disclosure/

Charges of Brown Act prohibited serial meetings by council members have been made in the past.  Violations can occur when an external “point person” speaks to more than two council members and relays the information amongst the majority or three council members. Council members are prohibited from collaborating with more than one other council member.  Chains of communication, relaying information one member  to another, are also not allowed.   With specific exceptions, the law requires decisions impacting the public to be considered in public to allow the public to provide input on decisions, view considerations, and have access to information upon which decisions are based.

http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2013/07/01/opinion-council-violated-brown-act/

Workshop for Council and appointees ?-  

Piedmont has new Council members and soon newly appointed committee and commission members. A suggestion calls for a workshop involving all elected and appointed individuals to be conducted by the Acting City Attorney on the Brown Act, the City Charter, adopted Rules of Parliamentary Procedures, and Conflicts of Interest. 

Updated 4/9/2014
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Mar 23 2014

- In a novel Piedmont proceeding, the City Council deliberated publicly as to who should be the chairperson of the now permanent Piedmont Public Safety Committee (PSC). -

The PSC resolution adopted by the Council on January 6, 2014 calls for the Council to make a selection of the chairperson. (See Council minutes )  The resolution is unusual because the chairpersons of other Piedmont commissions and committees are chosen by the group, rather than the City Council. Additionally, the term of the chairperson of the PSC is three years, rather than a typical one year term for chairpersons.

Acting City Attorney, Michelle Kenyon’s instructions on the long established sunshine law, the Brown Act, prohibited the Council from moving the committee and commission selections to a Closed Session.  The selection process was awkward, as the Council for years had become accustomed to discussing and choosing among the committee and commission candidates outside of public view in “Closed Sessions”.  (see PCA article) .

The PSC charge requires the chairperson to participate in the selection and interviewing of prospective new members of the Committee. As the interviews for the Committee are to be held on March 31,  the Council moved ahead with the selection of a new chairperson.

Sue Lin, current PSC member and applicant for the chairperson position, stated the current chairperson, Michael Gardner, completes his term at the end of March, leaving a question of the necessity to replace him prior to the interview and selection date on March 31.

The Council discussed the two candidates, Sue Lin and Lyman Shaffer, giving both high praise and exclaiming how fortunate it was to have two experienced and capable individuals interested in becoming chairperson of the PSC. There were no negative comments made about either candidate. Statements by the Council emphasized the need to further develop emergency preparedness and increase collaboration with the schools.

Council member Teddy King made a motion to appoint Lin as chairperson for which there was no second until Mayor Margaret Fujioka asked Counsel Kenyon if she could second the motion. Upon permission, Fujioka seconded the motion. She then called for the vote, which failed with Rood, McBain and Weiler voting no.  A second motion to approve Shaffer as chairperson passed with aye votes from Rood, McBain, Weiler, and King. Fujioka voted no to the Shaffer appointment.

http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2012/03/31/council-appoints-residents-to-commissions-and-committees/