May 24 2017

Three reports on May 10, 2017 School Board meeting –

by Shannon Yan, Piedmont High School Senior –

On May 10th at 7:00 p.m., the Piedmont Unified School District Board of Education met for its bimonthly meeting to hear from community members and to review topics such as the implementation of Integrated Math 3 and the designs of the new STEAM facilities at the high school. During the announcements, Board Member Cory Smegal read a few lines from her emails with Board Member Dr. Pearson calling the recent anti-semitic incidents “painful” and highlighting the “importance for kids to be upstanders.” Before getting to scheduled topics, the School Board opened the podium to any community members that wished to speak.

Dr. Alicia Gruber Kalamas, whose family has lived in Piedmont for over 40 years, spoke about the 2015 Bird Calling Contest. She detailed how one of the judges, was a close family friend to the 1st and 2nd place winners of the Bird Calling Contest. She told the School Board that they “have two options: a second meeting with those who want more information, or under duress under court order.” Kalamas also brought up Piedmont High’s athletic director, Vic Acuna. After Kalamas spoke, Board Member Swenson  said that she was “tired of the systematic character assassination of Vic Acuna” to which the audience rose to their feet and clapped.

On the topic of anti-semitism, many community members spoke. Police Chief Bowers spoke about how the anti-semitic acts are considered “hate incidents” and not “hate crimes” and the Police Department is currently conducting an investigation. Bowers said he felt for the victims “because growing up, that was [him].” He hopes any students affected will come to the Police Department so that the department can determine if this is a “hate crime.”

Mr. Barnes, a longtime Piedmont resident, spoke from the Jewish community expressing disappointment with the “lack of detail from the Piedmont School administration” and how “middle schoolers are now believing that the act didn’t even happen.”

I agree with Mr. Barnes’s  point about the lack of specificity of what actually happened. The speakers in the assembly largely focused on hate speech and what was said to the victims. Furthermore, by having performing students recite pre-written scripts, it felt staged.

Another topic that was pursued by those present was the firing of Coach Lavdiotis, a longtime basketball coach at Piedmont High. Mr. DeLuca spoke about how he was sad to see Lavdiotis let go and how he believed that he did not get a “fair shake.” Mr. Tate talked about how Coach Lavdiotis contributed many traditions to the Piedmont athletic community such as the Palm Drive tournament and the MLK tournament. On the other hand, Mrs. Elvekrog spoke about how “change can be a force for good” and that “she is not aware of a single basketball player who is in protest of searching for a new coach.”

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by Joseph Chu, Piedmont High School Senior –

The Piedmont Board of Education convened on the evening of May 10, 2017. The meeting commenced at 7:00 p.m. The general purpose of board meetings is to make decisions regarding the School District and include public input as a part of their decisions such as: the budget, education policies, setting District goals, and forming a local education vision. Participating members of the Board for this meeting were Andrea Swenson, Cory Smegal, Amal Smith, and Doug Ireland along with Superintendent Randall Booker and Finance Manager Song-Chin Bendib.

This meeting’s agenda included presenting the 2017 Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award to Hillary Cooper, hearing about the recent reports of anti-semitic, racist and other forms of hateful speech and conduct at Piedmont High School, and the assembly that was held at the high school to initiate student discussion and awareness about these issues. Other items included on the agenda included conducting a second hearing for approving the proposed levy of current School Support Tax Measure A, conducting a second hearing for approving 2017-18 Contract Openers between the District and Classified School Employees Association, a presentation for new math courses that are being proposed to meet the Secondary Math Pathways’ requirements: Integrated Math 3 and Honors Math Analysis, and finally reviewing and discussing the recommended concept designs for Piedmont High School’s new STEAM facilities, auditorium changes, and its projected costs and other concerns regarding its construction.

Announcements of the graduation dates for Millennium High School, Piedmont High School, and 8th Grade Graduation. The Millennium High School Graduation will take place on May 31st at 1:00 p.m. in the Veteran’s Hall. The Piedmont High School Graduation will be held on June 1st at 5:00 p.m. in Witter Field. The 8th Grade Celebration Ceremony will be held on May 31st at 5:30 p.m. at Witter Field.

The most heated items of discussion during this meeting surrounded topics that were not on the agenda of the meeting.  These topics were the recent events of anti-semitic, racist and other forms of hateful speech and actions, the newly appointed Athletic Director, Vic Acuna, and the firing of the former coach of the PHS Men’s Basketball Team, coach Lavdiotis.

Dr. Kalamas, a Piedmont resident, expressed concern for incidents of racism and anti-semitism at Piedmont High School and discontent at what she said was a “delayed and anemic response” on the part of the school board regarding these issues. Kalamas also addressed her own concerns about nepotism and cronyism in the school administration. Board Member Swenson responded with a statement that she was “horrified by the systematic assassination of [the current] Athletic Director, Vic Acuna”.

Among the other members of the Piedmont community who offered their own concerns and questions regarding the incidents of hateful speech and actions at Piedmont High School, Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers said that the Piedmont Police Department is committed to working closely with the community to address this problem and to continue investigating these incidents.

Several coaches and athletic professionals voiced their support for reinstating coach Lavdiotis and some expressed their disapproval of Athletic Director Vic Acuna.

Piedmont High School students Victoria Hou and Shannon Yan gave their opinions on non-agenda topics, as well.

Hou addressed the high school assembly that was held to initiate discussion and awareness for high school students regarding the incidents of hate speech and actions. Hou said that she hoped that the School Board would provide more clear and specific information regarding those incidents because she felt there was a general sense of confusion in the student body regarding this topic.

As a senior at Piedmont High School this year, I agree with Victoria Hou in terms of the feeling that the information that was given to students about those serious incidents was not clear and I have heard various stories about what actually happened. I would appreciate it if the school gave out an official statement about what exactly happened so that students and other members of the community can be on the same page about their understanding of these issues.

Yan proposed that the School Board allow high school students to be able to take more classes in  economics and government, since there is currently only one class offered for each of these subjects, both being only a semester long and strictly offered to seniors. Yan said that there are other students who hope to be able to pursue these subjects more fully through additional classes.

After the session for addressing non-agenda topics had closed, the Board moved to its agenda topics.

Hilary Cooper gave her acceptance speech for the 2017 Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award. Piedmont High School AP Art student Tong Zhou presented a ceramic tree that she made to Mrs. Cooper for her service.

Next, the Board approved the tax level increase of 2% for the School Support Tax Measure A, and 2017-18 Contract Openers between the District and Classified School Employees Association.

Following these actions, a presentation was given to the Board about new math classes that would fulfill the Secondary Math Pathways’ requirements: Integrated Math 3 and Honors Math Analysis. Integrated Math 3 would replace the Algebra II class of the traditional math pathway. Honors Math Analysis would cover the topics of Math Analysis as well as AP Calculus, AB’s first semester’s worth of coursework. This class would be part of the accelerated math pathway. A second reading for these new classes will be held on May 24, 2017.

Following this presentation, the board held a discussion about the cost and other logistic details for Option 2B of the series of concept designs for new Piedmont High School STEAM facilities. Cost estimates were based on compiled data from other local related school construction projects that have been happening within the past three years. The Board also discussed potential uses for any surplus from the budget they have for the STEAM facilities construction and the need to demolish and rebuild the current Alan Harvey Theatre, due to it’s multiple safety hazards, structural degradation and need for more seating and restrooms. The Board’s general consensus was that while estimates of cost must be carefully and accurately calculated to avoid overstepping the budget, construction must begin as soon as possible to reduce costs of the project, which are expected to increase as more time passes.

Mrs. Conn was at the Board meeting this evening to congratulate Hillary Cooper for receiving the Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award for 2017. She nominated Mrs. Cooper for this award. Mrs. Conn was also attending the meeting because she heard someone would come to the meeting to complain about the new PHS Men’s Soccer Coach. She had written a letter in support of the new coach and came to this Board meeting to express her support for the new coach. But it turned out that this person with complaints about the new soccer coach never showed up so she didn’t have to say much. She was impressed by how intense the beginning of the Board meeting was, especially around the topics of the new Athletic Director Vic Acuna and also the anti-semitic, racist and hateful speech/actions that happened recently at PHS. Mrs. Conn said that she will continue to write letters and do what she can to support the new soccer coach if more complaints are brought against him.

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          by Trang Le, Piedmont High School Senior

    The School Board meeting held on the night of May 10th was incredibly crowded. Small groups of concerned parents, coaches, and PHS staff spoke in hurried, hushed voices over plastic cups of wine and complimentary cheese outside the City Hall. The small chamber in which the meeting was held only could accommodate a mere 48 people. The small room adjacent to it provided a livestream of the events unfolding, and all the seats in both chambers were taken. Even so, crowds of Piedmont residents stood outside the chamber or sat on the carpet within, looking for answers from the Board of Education concerning the recent occurrences of anti-semitism within PHS and PMS.

    The Board opened with a statement acknowledging the hate speech, informing the audience of the assembly held at PHS that Monday. The Superintendent stressed to the critical audience that the School board prioritized students emotional state above everything else, and that these recent incidents do not define Piedmont. However, this and the complimentary cheese did little to sate the critical audience.

   Quickly moving on, the Board addressed the recently dismissed Basketball Coach and emails about annual coaching positions. With this, the atmosphere of the room changed to a restless one and it was obvious that their actions roused resentment among the residents. The speaker cards were then gathered, read aloud, and the podium opened to whoever wanted to speak out on the topic of hate-speech and fired coaches.

   The first and most controversial speaker, Alicia Kalamas, addressed both of these and more. She accused the School Board of their “anemic and delayed reaction” to the anti-semitism and racism on the school campuses as well as her emails. She also accused the Board of being racist themselves, briefly bringing up last years’ Bird Calling Contest and claiming it was rigged to knock an African American student from their rightful third place. Her speech was very briefly interrupted to tell her that she was rapidly approaching her five minute speaking limit. Kalamas then finished her speech by addressing a potential firing of the Athletic Director, claiming that she had sent an email some time ago questioning his credentials and employment in the Piedmont Unified School District.  Quickly wrapping up, she finished with a thinly veiled threat of legal action against the School Board if they did not properly address her concerns.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
May 22 2017

The Piedmont Board of Education will discuss and consider the issues and concerns with recent incidences of discrimination on the Piedmont High School campus.  Speaking during the unscheduled public participation segment of the May 10 meeting, students and community members came to the Board expressing deep concern and seeking solutions for the highly distressing and disruptive problems on the high school campus.

 The Board has scheduled the matter for their consideration at approximately 7:30 p.m. during the May 24, 2017 School Board meeting held in the  Piedmont City Hall Council Chambers.  The meeting is open to the public and can also be viewed live from the City website or via Piedmont Cable Channel 27, KCOM.  

READ the agenda for the meeting here.

Below READ the staff report detailing the issues, actions, and potential solutions:

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May 22 2017

City Council Meeting: Monday May 15, 2017

by Lane Manalo-LeClair, Piedmont High School Senior – 

    This past Monday I attended a City Council meeting at the Piedmont City Hall. It was a quiet, chilly evening; I kept my jacket on as I took a seat in the back of the small room. The Piedmont City Council meets on the first and third Mondays of the month, in the City Council Chambers located at 120 Vista Avenue.

    At 7:30 p.m., the members of the Council filed into the Chambers, smiling and laughing with each other. The mayor, Jeff Wieler sat in the middle behind the curved wooden table, with a gavel resting by his right hand. Sitting left of him was Robert McBain, Vice Mayor, and Council member Tim Rood. On the right of Wieler was Teddy Gray King, and her fellow Councilwoman Jennifer Cavenaugh. After a brief joke by Jeff Wieler regarding the Chinese takeout they had just consumed, all rose, faced the flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. As part of the first generation not to say the pledge of allegiance in school, I mouthed the words and tried to speak along, to no avail.

    The first item on the agenda was to pass a consent calendar. This calendar had previously been discussed in the last meeting, but needed a vote. Teddy G. King moved to approve the calendar, and the Council followed suit, voting unanimously to approve the calendar.

    This was my first taste of local government. I was introduced to the idea that one Council member must move on an issue, and another must second, before a vote can take place. All votes that night were unanimous, but I assume a simple majority is all that is required by the Council.

    Next was a public forum, in which citizens get the opportunity to speak up about issues regarding the city to the Council. At this point, Sarah Pearson, the School Board Vice President gave a speech about the recent anti-semitic and racist behavior occurring within the District. She said that the School Board is all for a respectful and welcoming environment, and that they have “commitment to a learning environment that is safe and secure.”  Mayor Wieler thanked her and expressed his support for the School Board and their efforts in this non-isolated issue.

   The next item on the agenda was called the “Presentation of Proclamation Regarding Elder Abuse Awareness Month”. In this presentation Mayor Wieler spoke amiably, thanking the DA’s office for their continued efforts to prevent elder abuse, and prosecute perpetrators of elder abuse. He also recognized June as Elder Abuse Awareness Month. Making his way around the table, Mayor Wieler personally handed over the certificate to the Deputy District Attorney in the Elder Protections Unit. She accepted the award and spoke to the Council and audience, affirming that “elder abuse and neglect still exists” despite efforts to eliminate it. She encouraged the Council to create more community awareness of the issue.

    It was pointed out to the Council and audience that Adult Protective Services, the District Attorney’s Office, and the police department are all places an individual can go in order to report elder abuse. Signs of abuse include dirty clothes, undernourishment, home in disarray, or a change in home appearance, as well as bedsores. At the end of her speech, the Deputy District Attorney encouraged the Council and the audience to wear a purple ribbon in order to spread awareness about elder abuse. To this, Mayor Wieler immediately pinned his own purple ribbon onto the lapel of his suit jacket. Following the attorney, Police Chief Bowers spoke seconding that the police are available to deal with elder abuse cases.

    Second, East Bay Mud District Director Marguerite Young Spoke about the water situation in the surrounding watershed and EBMUD work going on in the area. She reported that the East Bay watershed is 167% of normal; water should not be a problem this year. She mentioned that EBMUD is working to replace pipes in the Bay Area with the average pipe being seventy five years old. The rate at which they will replace them is forty miles per year, or as Councilwoman Cavenaugh pointed out, 400 years to replace all pipes.

    Lastly, Young spoke about a topic close to Piedmont, the Piedmont reservoir. There are plans underway to replace the currently inoperable reservoir with two water storage tanks, which would be completed by the end of 2018.

    Immediately following the presentation, was discussion about the Sewer Rehabilitation Project. This act proposed apportioning $3,467,994 dollars for the fifth installment of seven, to replace Piedmont’s sewage pipes. When completed 80% of the city’s sewage pipes would be replaced. The group D’Arcy & Harty Construction had the lowest bid, but the Council wanted to counter with a higher amount in order to complete the project. In addition, the Council would vote to set aside more money for the surveillance and inspection of the sites. After an associate from D’Arcy & Hardy Construction spoke briefly (in a notably strong Irish accent), the Director of Public Works Chester Nakahara spoke in greater detail about the financing, construction, and community involvement in the project. After deliberations and questions ended, Robert McBain motioned to approve the project, with Tim Rood seconding. The Council unanimously said aye to the project.

    Last, and perhaps the most heated topic, was the new cameras to be installed at the intersection of Grand and Oakland avenues.  For the last few years Piedmont has been home to automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs. This past spring, a new police video camera was used to monitor the new Hampton Park, but it proved to be an inadequate test of the technology. The Council was deliberating setting aside $10,000 from the Citizens Option for Police Services Fund to install a new surveillance camera at the aforementioned site. It would be a fixed camera that recorded over itself every 90 days. If there was a suspect picked up by the ALPRs or a pursuit of a vehicle, the police and the dispatcher could, in theory, access the camera to see where the suspect was going.

    The funding is to test this device’s usefulness to the police, and work out any quirks. Chief of police, Jeremy Bowers spoke in detail about the planned project, citing its potential use to police officers. He also acknowledged the concern for privacy and 4th Amendment rights, promising to look into blurring out faces of passers by in tape used by police.

    After Bowers spoke, there were many questions from the Council. Vice Mayor Robert McBain asked whether there was any evidence that these cameras deterred crime, in addition to their ability to help solve crime. Many members of the audience spoke on this issue. One citizen endorsed Chief Bowers and cited the recent attempt to abduct a child near Havens Elementary School as a potential scenario in which this technology would be useful. Linda Schaefer agreed, saying that Piedmont needed to “up the game.”

    Morty Glick told the Council that people do not feel safe at night in Piedmont, and talked about some families’ attempts to hire private security. He said, “Piedmont, it’s scary these days.”  Susy Struble took the podium for the whole time allotted to her, saying to the Council, “I am confused by the rush. There is no crisis. As Chief Bowers has pointed out publicly, crime is down in Piedmont, and yes, the research on the efficacy of public surveillance is inconclusive.”  Struble argued strongly for the need for a community conversation before any action taken by the Council. Despite Struble’s efforts and a slight hesitation by Councilwoman King, a half-hour later, the motion was passed unanimously.

    I interviewed Susy Struble about the meeting. When asked why she came to the meeting Struble responded by saying, “ [I came] to work to ensure the Piedmont community would have oversight and insight into public surveillance and to stop the pilot surveillance program until the community was given the opportunity to discuss and approve any surveillance policy or implementation.” After the decision by the Council, Struble said she learned that, “The the Piedmont City Council and Police Chief have no interest in genuinely engaging the community on public surveillance.” Promising to engage the public more, Councilwoman King conceded the vote, perhaps angering Susy Struble.

The swing of the gavel signaled the end to the meeting, and people began to file out of the room and mingle outside in the cool May evening. As I walked back to my car I reflected on my first experience in local government. I realized that local government is a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, dating back to the townships in colonial America. I was glad to spend one night as a part of this rich tradition.

Interview with Susy Struble

-Why did you go to the City Council meeting?

To work to ensure the Piedmont community would have oversight and insight into public surveillance and to stop the pilot surveillance program until the community was given the opportunity to discuss and approve any surveillance policy or implementation.

-What issues brought you there?

Public surveillance and the need for community oversight of public surveillance program.

-What did you learn from the meeting?

The Piedmont City Council and Police Chief have no interest in genuinely engaging the community on public surveillance

-What next step will you take to get your concern about the cameras addressed?

I already have community support and links to the EFF, ACLU, and the Oakland Privacy Group. I will continue to build community support, watch what related state laws are in development (e.g. SB 21), and start a public campaign

-Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m happy to send you my statement if that would help

Statement by Struble: 

I remain deeply concerned for many reasons, topmost of which is the absence of genuine public engagement. Piedmont citizens should have a say in how they and their families, their children, their daily activities, are watched, if at all.

The implementation of broader public surveillance – which the pilot project represents and indicates is the plan – is significantly different from the somewhat more limited implementation of license plate readers. As I recall, many residents raised deep reservations about that program, but it was made palatable to the community by the City’s assurances that no personally identifying photos were being taken. That is not the case here, and the fact that these proposals and the policy were put forth without public engagement is really a betrayal of trust.

Public surveillance cameras cannot be considered in a vacuum – because they don’t operate in a vacuum. There are multiple, complex contexts in which this policy and related proposals must be considered. There will be more surveillance tools available and more opportunity for data to be combined, shared, stolen, and misused – and to be used for evidence-based public policy reasons. But we need to have this community conversation — and have it often, because this is a constantly changing area. This is also why we need a surveillance policy that is independent of the technology platform. There are myriad surveillance technologies available, as Chief Bowers indicated, more than just surveillance cameras, and the community deserves a say in how they are used.

I don’t believe Chief Bowers has presented a case for why public surveillance is the solution that’s better than alternatives available to us.

I am confused by the rush. There is no crisis. As Chief Bowers has pointed out publicly, crime is down in Piedmont, and yes, the research on the efficacy of public surveillance is inconclusive.

 Some examples: A recent review from a Commissioner of Alberta, Canada found the consensus amongst empirical studies to be that video surveillance has little effect on violent crime, and only a small positive effect on property crime. This positive effect on property crime, moreover, was substantially less than the effect of improved lighting.Also unclear is the effect of the extent to which criminal activity was simply displaced to non-surveilled areas. Finally, given the cost of deploying, maintaining, and operating such systems, no data exists to demonstrate that video surveillance is a more effective use of public resources than traditional law enforcement. Even the Oakland police department has stated “there is no conclusive way to establish that the presence of video surveillance cameras resulted in the prevention or reduction of crime.”

The City should embark upon an adequately long process of community education and engagement *before* any implementation of a public surveillance program, pilot or not – and note a “pilot” is still a working surveillance system. I say adequate time because the community needs ample time, particularly working parents with multiple obligations. Public surveillance poses complex legal, technical, and social issues that require a good amount of education and even more robust discussion. There are areas where state and federal law are silent, inconclusive, vague, and/or pose areas of possible conflict. For example: is the community prepared to hand over any and all data to the federal government? Under all circumstances? That’s a pretty interesting question at any time, but perhaps especially now.

I very respectfully encourage the City Council to educate itself on these issues. They aren’t as simple, as hopefully some of Jen’s [Cavenaugh] questions around public records requests brought to light. Oakland’s City Council did a great amount of self-education before it took any action and worked very closely with the community – so did Berkeley, so did BART, so did Providence RI, and the list goes on. I respectfully suggest that Piedmont follow suit.

 Public surveillance might be something the Piedmont community supports, perhaps across the board, or perhaps only in some cases under certain criteria — or perhaps not at all — but we deserve a say in whatever happens.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
May 22 2017

 Heated School Board Meeting Airs Personnel Dispute and Hate Incidents –

    The Piedmont School Board met at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10th, in the City Council Chambers. Though the agenda of the meeting was to go over logistical policy for Piedmont schools, such as reviewing tax allocations from the H1 Bond Measure or evaluating math classes for the Common Core curriculum, the first hour of the meeting was dedicated to heated commentary from the community about the Athletic Director, Victor Acuna, and the current hate incident controversy at the high school.

    Concerned community members argued both on Acuna’s behalf and against him. Some of the controversy surrounding the new Athletic Director is attributed to the non-renewal of the former coach of the Piedmont High School Boy’s Basketball team of over two decades, Coach Lavdiotis.

    Since Lavdiotis’ contract was not renewed, some community and regional individuals sparked disagreement with Victor Acuna’s dismissal of an upstanding community member and beloved coach.  One speaker in particular, Alicia Kalamas, Piedmont resident, brought up Acuna’s personal life, pointing to custody litigation and his previous position at a high school in Arizona. However, other community members supported Victor Acuna, saying that his decision was justified, and that Coach Lavdiotis may not be the best coach for the Piedmont High School Boy’s Basketball team any longer.

    Board trustee Andrea Swenson expressed her frustrations with the Acuna controversy, stating that she is tired of the character assassination of the Athletic Director, which she feels is perpetuated by The Piedmont Post; she received a standing ovation for her comments in support of Acuna.

    Other non-agendized items that community members spoke about were the hate controversies at the high school. Earlier that week, members of the Piedmont High School community and the Piedmont community at large learned of anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic incidents at the school through a student-held assembly.

    Multiple community members spoke about the hate incidents. Police Chief Bowers spoke about his role in addressing the hate incidents. He stated that since none of the eight victims have come to the Police Department about the hate incidents, they cannot be classified as hate crimes. Still, he asserted, the community must come together and protect the victims during this time, and that he sympathizes with the victims of the incident. Other community members also discussed the anti-semitic incidents in front of the Board, conveying their concerns as parents and asking for accountability and answers.

    When I addressed the Board about the hate incidents, I also mentioned the issue of accountability and transparency. I spoke about my experience as a student watching the high school’s assembly and the lack of details or clarity that the assembly provided. I walked the Board through what specifically was going through my mind as I attended the assembly, and how I had to ask around afterwards for details on the incidents, confused and unaware. Concluding my speech, I requested the School Board to explain what exactly was happening with the anti-semitic incidents so that the students knew about what horrible things were going on within our student body. As a student, I was and still am confused about the discriminatory incidents at the high school due to a lack of a clear explanation from the administration. I believe that the administration should have a transparent conversation with the members of the community in order to resolve things, as opposed to keeping the incident under wraps.

    After comments from the audience, the Board continued with the agenda, which involved recognizing Hilary Cooper for Volunteer of the Year, which included working to pass Measure A parcel tax and reviewing two possible math courses for Piedmont High School, Integrated Math 3 and Honors Math Analysis.

     I spoke to Michael Brady, Director of Alternative/Adult Education, who expressed his support for the math courses. Mr. Brady, who was there to give a presentation to the Board on the H1 bond program, told me that it was a relief to hear about the courses.

    “It was very nice to see closure on the math instruction,” Mr. Brady told me, “because it is the culmination of literally years of work.”

    Mr. Brady also expressed his support of the community members and their concerns.

    “People can speak about non-agendized items because it’s a part of the democratic process. People can speak to the items not on the agenda and have the ability and freedom to do that.”

    The School Board meets every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Though they have an agenda, any member of the community can become involved in deliberations by expressing their concerns to the Board at the beginning of every meeting and when agendized items are considered.

by Victoria Hou, Piedmont High School Senior –

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
May 3 2017

Students express disappointment in the decision process –

As reported > here, “PUSD has announced a groundbreaking ceremony on May 18 for the Wall of Honor at the Chris Stevens Memorial library, which will house a database recognizing past and current service members from Piedmont.”

According to reports, the installation in the library did not receive School Board consideration nor approval because funding was coming from outside sources.

Perhaps unknown to the School Board, a controversy over the installation existed amongst students, who wanted the matter publicly aired and considered based on a process prior to approval of the project by the Superintendent.

In an editorial published April 26, 2017 in The Piedmont Highlander, Piedmont High School’s student newspaper, the editors agreed to the following statement:

“As an editorial board, we once again feel that the school has decided to enact something that would directly impact the student community without adequate input from students. If we were to take a poll about the Wall of Honor (which we urge the administration to do) – not even just asking if students support it, but if they have every heard of it – we estimate that more than half of the student body would have no idea what we are even referring to. This lack of information concerns us, and it should concern students, teachers, and the community alike.”  The Piedmont Highlander

A statement made by a prior Piedmont Highlander Editorial Board stated:

“Proposals like these should have a standardized process for approval in order to fully consider the nuances and create opportunity for thoughtful community feedback.

“As part of a standardized process, a set of criteria needs to be established. One criterion that we should consider is whether a campus display honoring graduates should honor them only for activities that directly involve the school. PHS generally does not recognize its graduates for their service to society — no matter how admirable – and it would be highly impractical to honor every graduate who leaves a positive impact on the world.”  The Piedmont Highlander

Apr 6 2017

Alameda County is seeking applications for residents for the Civil Grand Jury. The Civil Grand Jury is the County’s citizen watchdog group investigating local government operations and citizen complaints.  

Download the application for here and submit it by April 15, 2017.

For more information on what the Civil Grand Jury does, see description here.

Please contact Cassie Barner at (510) 208-9855 with questions about the Civil Grand Jury.

Mar 22 2017

Student wants community to have more information on District Bond activities along with developing good programs for healthy relationships. 

When Sarah Pearson called the Piedmont School Board meeting to order at 7:04 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8th, there were more people sitting behind the dark wooden semi-circular desk than in the audience. The School Board meets to discuss and shape the future of Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) every other Wednesday evening, unless a special meeting arises or the Wednesday falls over a school break. At this meeting, the three main items on the agenda were updates on the H1 Bond funding measure passed in June of 2016, the Healthy Relationships curriculum at the high school, and suicide prevention measures.

To begin, Max Miller, Millennium High School’s Vice President spoke on behalf of the Piedmont High and Millennium High community, updating the school board on upcoming events. From the annual Falcon fundraising dinner switching the style of catering to the upcoming plays at Piedmont High School (PHS), both campuses were bustling with spring time activities. After Miller spoke, a community member read a speech without telling the audience or school board it’s origins. When he finished the excerpt, he asked everyone if they knew where it was from. Stumping the entire room, he revealed it was written by Pericles over 2,000 years ago, noting it’s parallel to the Gettysburg Address by the 16th President Abraham Lincoln. This non sequitur speech segwayed into the Board updates from all five board members present. Recalling all the meetings they attended, each school-related meeting had anywhere from one to four school board members in attendance. Superintendent Booker talked about the search to find a new PHS principal.

Sam Williamson spoke after the updates about the memorial service for his kindergarten teacher which was held simultaneously in the Veterans Hall. He passed around a picture of himself with his teacher; she will be missed by all her students and the entire Wildwood School community.

The first item on the agenda addressed the budgeting strategy the District will take to build a new building and an update on the lengthy process to find a contractor. Chris Delong spoke on behalf of his firm that was hired by the District to look into the process of getting state funding to help construct the new science building. Delong presented his ideas, hoping to be rehired by the District to continue his work with PUSD. Having worked years in Sacramento, Delong knows first hand the tedious work it takes to tap into the seismic construction fund, and he wants to help Piedmont with that task. The Board unanimously rehired his firm after questions by School Board members Amal Smith and Andrea Swenson.

Michael Brady updated the Board on the successful search for a construction firm. The new firm has outstanding references and consistently showed they can both work with a time limit and budget. However, I think that this H1 funding measure needs more transparency. The Piedmont community deserves more updates about how their money is being spent and what exactly is being done to ensure the building of new science buildings. Whether that’s through the Piedmont Post, or an email, the District should do a better job conveying their progress.

The next item, also presented by Brady, showed the School Board PUSD is following the new laws Governor Brown passed surrounding “Yes means Yes” legislation and Healthy Relationships education. Brady touched on the contents of the law, the Healthy Kids survey to be taken in April throughout middle school and high school, and what work has already been done to address these standards. One facet of the survey that was brought up by both Smith and City Council member Jen Cavanaugh was the decision not to question middle schoolers about their sexual activity. Brady and Booker believed that more thought needed to be put into these questions before throwing them on the survey.

City Council member Cavenaugh took time to speak with me after the meeting about the importance of healthy relationships. She expressed, “I am passionate about creating a community that values healthy relationships.” After the District sent an email out that afternoon reflecting much of what Brady said at the meeting, Cavenaugh sent an email to School Board members that very evening, then brought her notes to the meeting and spoke about the importance of starting the discussion about healthy relationships at a young age. Cavenaugh will continue to work within the Healthy Relationships Committee to ensure Piedmont plays it’s part in educating its students.

I spoke out at this meeting about weaving the healthy relationships discussion into our English classrooms through a diversification of the curriculum.

The next school board meeting will be on March 22nd at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers and is open to the public.

by Danny De Bare, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Mar 19 2017

According to former Mayor Alice Creason, the “revision” of Chapter 17 of the City Code includes zoning language and intent contrary to the 1980 voter approved Piedmont City Charter requiring changes of use/classifications and zone sizes to be approved by Piedmont voters. Voter approval for proposed zoning changes is not being sought by the City Council.

On March 17, 2017 Creason submitted a notarized declaration to the City Council and others showing the correct interpretation of the City Charter, as approved by voters.  See detailed explanation below.

Creason a former Piedmont mayor (1982-84), Planning Commissioner (1976-78), liaison to the Planning Commission, participant in the development of the revised City Charter (1977 – 1980), and Council member (1978 -1986) states that the City is not adhering to the intent and actual language of the City Charter which requires Piedmont voter approval for specific zoning changes. The City Council has been or desires to change uses within Zone B (public) and Zone D (commercial) without Piedmont voter approval.

In a cover letter to the Council, Creason states that the City Council can:

  1.  Submit the proposed zoning changes to Piedmont voters for approval OR
  2.  Revise the City Charter to allow the Council to make the desired changes without voter approval.

The Creason cover letter to the City Council can be read by clicking > img023 .

The Creason Declaration explaining the City Charter intent and required voter approval can be read by clickingimg025.

The opposite interpretation by Piedmont’s new contract attorney can be read by clicking > img026 .

Actual zoning language in the City Charter below:

ARTICLE IX. General Provisions

SECTION 9.01 GENERAL PLAN The City Council shall adopt, and may from time to time, modify a general plan setting forth policies to govern the development of the City. Such plan may cover the entire City and all of its functions and services or may consist of a combination of plans governing specific functions and services or specific geographic areas which together cover the entire City and all of its functions and services. The plan shall also serve as a guide to Council action concerning such City planning matters as land use, development regulations and capital improvements.

SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM The City of Piedmont is primarily a residential city, and the City Council shall have power to establish a zoning system within the City as may in its judgement be most beneficial. The Council may classify and reclassify the zones established, but no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election. No zone shall be reduced or enlarged and no zones reclassified unless a majority of the voters voting upon the same shall vote in favor thereof; provided that any property which is zoned for uses other than or in addition to a singlefamily dwelling may be voluntarily rezoned by the owners thereof filing a written document executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury stating that the only use on such property shall be a single-family dwelling, and such rezoning shall not require a vote of the electors as set forth above.

 Read the > City Charter 

Mar 2 2017

In a unanimous decision on Thursday, March 2, the California Supreme Court ruled that texts and emails sent by public employees on their personal devices or accounts are a matter of public record if they deal with official business.

“A city employee’s communications related to the conduct of public business do not cease to be public records just because they were sent or received using a personal account,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the court.

Read the court decision here.

Read more.

 

Jan 8 2017

Do residents have an appropriate opportunity to be heard during Planning Commission and City Council hearings?

For weeks Piedmonters have noticed the story poles that seem to double the height of a house on Moraga opposite the Mountain View Cemetery.  This proposed enlargement has struck some as controversial.  However, it was approved by Piedmont’s Planning Commission and the neighbors’ appeal was denied by the City Council. Council found no procedural error and denied the appeal of neighbors objecting to building an additional story on top of a house.  The construction will more than double the size of the house.  The Planning Commission action was upheld on the basis that no error had occurred in the process when considering the house extension application.

The objecting neighbors thought their view was supposed to be protected but were told that Piedmont only protects views which are “panoramic”, not the ridgeline view from the Ronada house.  Most Piedmonters do not have “panoramic” views, but value their views of hills, parks, or the Olmsted landscape of the cemetery, etc. Since few Piedmont homes have “panoramic” views, this limited view protection  is a benefit for only a minority of Piedmont property owners. Chapter 17 requires consideration of any proposed constructions effect on “… neighboring properties’ existing views, privacy and access to direct and indirect light …” but does not  limit consideration to “panoramic” views.

17.2.79: View. “View” means an existing significant view involving more than the immediately surrounding properties, including, but not limited to, any of the following: city skylines, bridges, distant cities, geologic features, hillside terrains and wooded canyons or ridges. (Ord. 656 N.S. 8/05)

Piedmont has a narrow appeal process that eliminates an evaluation by the City Council of the full merits of an application.  The appeal ordinance has been publicly challenged for an inability of the Council to fully consider various aspects of the Planning Commission actions. If there was an error during the consideration process by the Planning Commission or the City Planners, the responsibility of identifying any such errors falls on an objecting appellant who is required to pay approximately $700 to seek justice and right the error.

Reimbursement by the City to appellants for their expenses including the City fee or their legal costs because of an error or omission by the Planning Commission is unknown and has not been announced.

Appellants face a difficult task when presenting their case to the City Council. The judgement of the Planning Commission in applying Piedmont laws and the actual judgement of the decision cannot be considered.  Time limits imposed, although not found in Piedmont law, further restrict the public or opposing party, typically neighbors, to present their concerns.

At the December 19 appeal, Planning Commission Chair Eric Behrens and Planning Director Kevin Jackson explained to the Council that the applicant had made some adjustments in their plans, but the applicant indicated they could not lower the second story by 4 feet. The vote by the Planning Commission was unanimous as was the City Council’s vote.

To read the full staff report on the appeal click below:

12/19/16 – PUBLIC HEARING Regarding an Appeal of the Planning Commission’s Decision to Approve with Conditions an Application for Variance & Design Review at 108 Moraga Avenue

Given the significant responsibility and credibility bestowed upon the Planning Commission by the City Council, every detail, fact, and public point becomes vital to any decision.

The City is currently looking at changes to the ordinance known as Chapter 17 governing construction in Piedmont.  Some proposed changes are controversial, but the major complaint heard in the City revolves around no knowledge and no timely engaging community meetings to discuss changes or gain adequate input from the residents.

Under proposed changes governing construction in Piedmont, a greater number of applications will fall under the jurisdiction of the Planning staff rather than the Planning Commission further removing the public from open hearing processes.