Aug 13 2017

No tax deduction allowed for ratepayers paying for city waste services.

Placing the cost of City Waste Services on private home garbage ratepayer billing rather than using the Piedmont General Fund Budget eliminates the tax deductibility of a legitimate municipal service, which should be covered by the Municipal Services Tax. 

How much municipal cost for waste services will be shifted from the city budget to individual residents’ in their required monthly waste removal charges? The recently received Republic Services bid provides no breakout of the cost of providing the city service that is billed to ratepayers.

Questions have also been raised about the ratepayer fees for City services without a benefit to the individual ratepayer, which may be considered an unauthorized required tax.  

Simultaneously, the City Council is moving ahead on considering a change to the City Charter to allow the city to accumulate more than the Charter prescribed maximum reserve of 25% of the annual budget. The city has been experiencing unprecedented increases in excess revenues which have been placed into various city reserve funds. Rather than using existing money for ongoing municipal services, such as city waste removal or the greatly needed pavement of substandard or damaged sidewalks, the city continues to ask for more funding from Piedmonters.

The voter enacted Piedmont City Charter states:

“The Council shall establish a fund known as the General Fund Reserve in an amount not to exceed twenty-five (25%) of the budget for the purpose of maintaining municipal services during periods of reduced revenues to the City, as well as meeting unforeseen contingencies and emergencies of the City.”

Council Moves Forward to Contract with Sole Source Bidder – 

On July 17th, the Piedmont City Council accepted the proposal submitted by Republic Services for waste collection services beginning on July 1, 2018, notably imposing huge rate increases particularly for backyard services and no rate break for seniors or the disabled.

Numerous residents have expressed dismay and shock at the cost of procuring only one bidder and the expensive end result.  It is not unusual for sole source procurement to result in unacceptably high costs. No breakout of the cost to go 30 feet into a backyard versus 100 feet or up many steep steps was offered.

Piedmont resident Alan Kong recommended “a re-procurement … with a non-responsive” penalty or  “a more stringent annual renewal cap.”

Despite the long lead time, a new less complex RFP for Piedmont property owners will not be sent out in an attempt to acquire waste removal charges in line with other communities. Detailed contract negotiations will proceed on the basis of the lone bid by Republic Services.

Concerns over the huge increase in rates for garbage collection have produced suggestions from a range of individuals.

“From what I have read in Mr. Benoit’s report may be indicative of inappropriate discussions by the proposers. In some industries such as sanitation/waste disposal, where there is limited to no competition, the eligible participants will divide territories/cities. Periodically these territories/cities will be redistributed in an RFP re-bid process. It seems odd that 2 proposers declined to bid altogether while of the remaining 2 proposers (Waste Management and Republic), there was a formal “no bid” citing safety. 

“Perhaps a re-procurement should be enacted with a qualifier that a non-responsive proposal will penalize/disqualify that party from future contract award considerations. Or implement a more stringent annual renewal cap (no greater than a legitimate index + X%, annually…and tie the contractor into a 5-10 year term contract with a stringent termination clause).

“However this is resolved, the seemingly damaged party will be the residents of the City of Piedmont. There are easy answers to this situation.” Alan Kong

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“What the City has left out in its online explanation of the process and in response to Mike Rancer’s thoughtful comment, is that Waste Management, which services many Oakland streets right next to Piedmont, wanted to use a different type of cart that matched to a lift on the trucks which would reduce their concern about worker injury. Piedmont did not want to investigate this thinking backyard service would not be possible. The Jan. 17 2017 staff report included my letter and research material; that material has Oakland provider Waste Management’s rate sheet which clearly shows Waste Management providing both curbside and backyard service.”  Rick Schiller

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“Are the City’s requirements asking for something that is far too expensive? Maybe relaxing some of the requirements would result in lower prices, and more competitors for the contract.”  Bruce Joffe

~~~~~~~~

“Maybe the problem is that Piedmont is too small to generate competitive bids or economies of scale. Given that Piedmont is completely surrounded by Oakland, and many of our streets cross the boundary into Oakland, has the city considered talking to Oakland about joining their contract and consolidating services to improve efficiency and lower our cost? It would be the height of negligence if our City Council simply rolled over and accepted this non-competitive bid. ”  Michael Rancer

~~~~~~~~

“Those are enormous rate increases – did Republic provide a quantifiable basis? They admitted they blew the last bid – you have to wonder how good this estimate is. And their flat rate for backyard makes no sense – all Piedmont backyards are not created equal. Staff’s formula may have been too complex for Republic, so make it simple – scale backyard service to lot size.

“Bad month for ratepayers – sewer, garbage and water rates all go up.”  Garrett Keating

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“Rick Schiller is to be commended for the extensive research and persuasive recommendations that he made.

“I hope that the shocked ratepayers will remember this when City Council election time comes around again. As a reminder: “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?”

“Politics tends to be forgotten. Writing those quarterly checks is the “gift” that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving. ” Jim McCrea

~~~~~~~~~

“July 14, 2017
Piedmont City Council
c/o John Tulloch, City Clerk

July 17 Agenda: New Republic Services refuse contract.

Dear Mayor Wieler and Council,
It is what it is: one bid from Republic Services. Regrettably the preliminary cost estimates are for substantial increases of 60% for curbside service and 120% for backyard service. Considering the considerable increases, it is most unfortunate there will be no accommodation for seniors over 70. Staff indicated such an accommodation leaves the City vulnerable to legal challenge yet, perplexingly, this specific accommodation is common elsewhere and has not been legally challenged.

The Staff Report states “backyard service would be available to disabled residents at curbsides rates.” What is the mechanism for disabled qualification?
Mr. Benoit indicated, when we spoke at the Linda Triangle opening, that the new contract would include unlimited curbside green waste. This is most appropriate in lush, expansive Piedmont with its many large lots. Unlimited curbside recycling also seems appropriate and is in harmony with Piedmont’s embrace of ecological concerns.”   
Rick Schiller

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“I find it odd and inconsistent that Piedmont finds a senior exemption of backyard service at curbside rates contrary to State law as many Municipalities have this exemption. In Marin County Almonte, Alto, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Homestead, Marin County, Mill Valley, Strawberry and Tiburon provide exemptions for backyard service at curbside rates for (1) any age 70 Senior on signature alone that requests the service and (2) any disabled person with a doctor’s letter. The City of Berkeley has the same two exemptions and lowers the qualifying age to 62 and does not require a doctor’s letter for the handicapped exemption (form and code attached). City of Albany has both a disability exemption and an age 62 low-income discount exemption (see attached p 7). Santa Clarita has an age 60 low-income discount exemption (see attached p 7). No doubt there are many more California cities with an age based senior exemption of backyard service at curbside rates.”  Rick Schiller

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“I think that there should be a provision that someone at age 75 (or pick a comparable age) or older should automatically be entitled to backyard collection at curbside rates. Will some noses get out of joint if they are thought to be “too old” to haul the cans to and from the curb and they don’t feel that way? If so, let THEM opt out of the reduced rates. “ Jim McCrea

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“I have not followed the Piedmont waste issue closely, but I did have a caution that may be useful. The City of Oakland spent a great deal on staff, consultants and public time to craft a detailed and specific RFP that outlined a great number of demands and requirements. Unfortunately, their efforts were rewarded with only one responsive bid from their current provider, Waste Management. This caused no end of trouble for the city ending up with recirculation of the EGO, eventual litigation and very increased rates. The 2016 Grand Jury report covers this problem pretty well. Piedmont should not repeat Oakland’s path on this. Also, collusion between garbage companies is not unknown. ”  Michael Henn

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“Good news- the proposed contract has significant reductions in service levels in that unlimited recycling/composting and individual curbside pick-ups are eliminated from the contract which should lower rates. These services were likely the reason rates were increased so much in the last contract so their elimination now should lead to lower rates. Likewise, the scalable backyard service formula should result in a more accurate (and higher) rate for this service, again leading to a rate reduction for curbside service, the majority of Piedmont’s service.

“Bad news – for recycling, this contract is a serious step backwards. Specifically, the contract calls for a 60% diversion rate, a rate the city had already achieved before the advent of the cart system 10 years ago. And it ignores the 75% diversion rate that council set by resolution – the stretch goal for this contract is 70% by 2028. Many other east bay cities are achieving 75 % and our city has routinely been above 70%. Staff assumes that with the reduction in unlimited recycling, green waste will go to the landfill instead and result in an underestimate of our true diversion rate – this happened in the past. But it won’t now – Alameda County has banned the dumping of green waste in land fills and green waste is now properly sorted and credited. The contract should at least adjust the diversion targets to 65, 70, and 75% at a minimum to maintain the current level of recycling in town. To do the right thing, the contract should set the target at 75% as directed by Resolution 38-08.

“General Plan Goals and Policies: the staff report lists the numerous goals and policies this contract addresses (wish that had been done with chapter 17 revisions) but many are really not related to this service contract. To make true headway with our Climate Action Plan, this contract should require the use of biodiesel vehicles – this is likely the largest source of truck traffic GHG emission generated by the city and the city could achieve major reduction by mandating this in the contract.”  Garrett Keating

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“May I suggest that a requirement be included that the carts be placed back on the curbs after emptying. When the carts are left in the street, as they usually are, they occupy parking spaces where parking is very limited to begin with. I asked the company to include this in its instructions to its drivers, but compliance lasted approximately one week. This is a minor irritation but an irritation nonetheless.”  Susan McCreary

Read prior PCA article HERE.

Read City web page on waste services HERE.

Jan 22 2017

 

Have you read the 535 page staff description of proposed changes to Piedmont’s zoning?  

Rather than simply affecting the commercial and “civic center” zones, this proposal has become a massive set of changes affecting essentially every Piedmont single family residence (SFR).

The changes appear to include:

  • reducing minimum square footage required Single Family Residence lot size by 25% 
  •  reducing frontage – reduced by 33% (90 feet to 60 feet)
  • reducing side setbacks by 50% (to as little as 2 feet (using language that falsely appears to expand the setback!)
A simple proposal for “Grand Avenue zoning fixes” appears to have expanded exponentially. If this proposal moves forward, it could potentially significantly increase the density of Piedmont’s residential areas.  It would allow substantially larger structures next to your home . . closer to your home, allow many larger lots to be subdivided, and allow much larger second homes on one lot.
Is there any description in the voluminous city documents of the total eventual impact on our city?  Will these proposals, in combination, lead to a tear down of many old Piedmont homes? Will residents only find out what’s really in this massive proposal after the Council passes it?
Unfortunately, no effective executive summary of the 535 pages is provided, nor any effective notice of specifics in this massive mission creep.
Changes having the potential to transform Piedmont should not be obfuscated within a 535 page document.  It now seems to cover everything from Airbnb rules . . to parking . . . to 4-story civic center buildings with zero (0) setbacks . . . to increasing density for virtually every Single Family Residence lot.   All important issues – and in some cases “hot-button” issues for Piedmont.

The multiple issues encompassed in this hydra-headed proposal should be dealt with separately, with appropriate opportunity for public input for each.

Staff was initially simply working on clean up language in the ordinance and a few zoning changes affecting the Grand Avenue commercial or civic area. Why have Single Family Residence changes been slipped in? Does the citywide impact on single family residences, commercial, and public property make a citywide vote necessary . . . . or at least desirable?

For those who have a few spare days to review it, the 535 page staff report is here:

http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/publicworks/docs/planning/ch17revisions/2016-11-10_report.pdf

The Council will be educated at a Council Study Session on Monday, January 23, 2017 starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber, 120 Vista Avenue.   Live viewing will be from the City website and on Cable Channel 27. The meeting will be video recorded.

Comments can be sent to the Council as a whole at the following link:

citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

Comments and contacts for individual Council members are as follows:

Jeff Wieler, Mayor

jwieler@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 428-1648

Robert McBain, Vice Mayor

rmcbain@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 547-0597

Jennifer Cavenaugh

jcavenaugh@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 428-1442

Teddy Gray King

tking@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 450-0890

Tim Rood

trood@ci.piedmont.ca.us

239-7663

Comments for PCA publication can be submitted at the bottom of this article.

Jan 20 2017

Did you know the City is considering big changes to what you, your neighbors, developers, and the City can construct in Piedmont? Once proposed Piedmont laws are approved, resident concerns can become moot. 

Some of the issues:

  • No surveys of Piedmonters’ preferences
  • Scant public input
  • Short term rentals recommendations (airbnb, etc.)
  • Zone use changes without citizen vote
  • Numerous building rule changes 
  • Reduction in parking requirements
  • Zero lot line construction
  • City Staff review and decisions on projects rather than control by citizen commissioners who know the community standards best
  • Building requirements for public property removed
  • No public workshops
  • Exclusion of public input in staff documents.

Study Session: 6:30 p.m., Monday, January 23, 2017, City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  Viewable from the City website and on cable Channel 27.

Ask your neighbor, friend, or any resident if they are aware of the zoning and building changes being considered for Piedmont and you will likely get a shoulder shrug.  Despite the fact that the Planning Department and the Planning Commission have spent enormous amounts of time reviewing Chapter 17, engagement with the residents of Piedmont has been minimal.  The mammoth amount of documents present challenges to even a hardy observer of Piedmont zoning and construction rules.

Recently, the City Council on January 11, 2017 held a “Study Session” in an unrecorded meeting in the Emergency Operations Center of the Piedmont Police Department.  The purpose of the meeting was to educate the City Council about staff driven changes to Chapter 17 of the Municipal Code. Piedmont residents could not watch the proceedings from their computers or TVs because the meeting was not broadcast or recorded. Relative few residents attended that meeting or other prior meetings.

When is the public going to be educated on the proposals? 

Were hundred or thousands of Piedmont residents expected to go to the Piedmont Planning Commission meetings and wait for hours to be heard or to learn about the proposed changes?  When was the opportunity for an open exchange of ideas between policy makers and Piedmont residents? The residents who attended a Planning Commission meeting often found the allowed 3 minute time snippet for input often ignored rather than engagingly discussed?

Some changes purport to clean up Chapter 17, the ordinance controlling construction in Piedmont, other proposals change rules: allow the City to build whatever it wants on public property, change zone uses without voter approval, increase density, reduce parking requirements, and so forth.

The changes are too numerous and undelineated to list here.  All changes have not been listed by the City in a cohesive and manageable form. The voluminous public documents overwhelm the reader. Rather than small pieces considered in an orderly manner, interested residents are faced with about 500 pages of documents to slog through.  Yet the City presses on without surveying residents or setting up workshops as done with garbage, recycling, and recreation.  No round table discussions, extensive outreach to residents, or on line surveys have been provided by the City.

One speaker at the recent “Study Session” suggested minimally sending a comprehensive and specific letter to all Piedmont residents. An announcement was subsequently sent on January 17 to all Piedmont addresses.  The City announcement is brief and does not alert or inform the recipient of the numerous significant changes proposed.  Readers are directed to the mountains of information online without issues enumerated. The “public hearings” held by the Planning Commission praised in the announcement received little publicity and little public attendance or engagement.

The City relies on unfounded legal documents, an outdated poll, and the obscure generally unknown Piedmont General Plan, which was approved following limited public input with contradictory internal statements and inconsistencies.

Public Engagement During the Election –

Public engagement was frequently mentioned during the recent 2016 Piedmont election, however thus far the public has been largely screened out of the zoning and construction change decisions by indeterminant consideration times, difficult or no broadcast of considerations, unclear documents, and confusing data.  Organization of the material for ready residents understanding has been lacking.

As of this writing, the City has planned no further actions to inform and engage the Piedmont public.  The planning staff is pushing ahead for a prompt adoption of the voluminous ordinance on March 6, 2017.

Is the public intentionally being disregarded by a lack of clarity and opportunities for meaningful involvement?

The following letter from the Planning Director was sent to those who took the initiative to ask to be informed.  The links lead to complexities difficult for most residents to sort through.   _______________________

You are receiving this email because you had asked to be notified of any activity by the Planning Commission or City Council related to revisions of City Code Chapter 17 (the Zoning Code) and/or revisions to regulations of short term rentals.

Notice

As noted on the City of Piedmont’s website, the City Council has undertaken the process of considering a recommendation from the Planning Commission regarding updates to the Planning and Zoning Provisions of the City Code, the City’s Design Guidelines, and Policies and Procedures related to Planning matters in early 2017. The Council held a study session on January 11th and will be holding another study session as follows:

Study Session: 6:30 p.m., Monday, January 23, 2017, City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  [This session is evidently going to be broadcast from the City website and on cable channel 27 as it is being held in the Council Chamber where video streaming is available.]

The City Council will not be taking action at the study session.

Following the study sessions, the Council is tentatively scheduled to take the first step in considering the recommendation for adoption at its regular meeting of March 6, 2017.

      Regular Meeting: 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 6, 2017, City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue

Documents on the City Website

The staff report to Council dated March 6, 2017 [It is unknown why this 522 page report has been produced and dated prior to hearing from the Council or public.], the Planning Commissioner’s Summary and Navigation Tips, and other documents related to this project are available on the City’s website at www.ci.piedmont.ca.us. The webpage also contains links to previous staff reports, meeting minutes, the General Plan, the current Zoning Code (Chapter 17) and the Zoning Map.

Public Engagement

The opportunity for public input is available throughout this process. Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend the study sessions and regular meetings at which the City Council will consider this item. Questions about the project and requests to receive email notification of activities related to Zoning Code revisions should be directed to Planning Director Kevin Jackson at kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us or (510) 420-3039.

Written comments to the City Council on this matter may be submitted by clicking the following link > citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us  or 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611.

Please let me know if you wish to be removed from this email distribution list.

Sincerely,

Kevin Jackson, AICP, Planning Director, City of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611 Tel: (510) 420-3039 Fax: (510) 658-3167

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For more City produced information, click here.

Article updated on January 21, 2017

Sep 27 2016

FREE AND OPEN PRESS – Transparency and Community Engagement

The Piedmont Civic Association website is an open forum for resident exchange of civic commendations, advocacy, opinions, concerns, proposals, and ideas. Our medium, the internet, allows for extensive discussion and opinions, prompt posting of reader comments, and, if needed, corrections.

PCA’s open and free access is the only available media outlet exclusively serving Piedmont residents on civic issues.  PCA has frequently been told by readers that opinion letters sent to other media outlets and informational items were never used by other local media.

PCA attempts to print all civic information submitted by Piedmont residents.   The Piedmont Civic Association editorial policy can be found here.

While encouraging civic discourse and civil exchange of ideas on any side of civic issues, including criticisms and praise of policies, PCA does not allow personal attacks. Every attempt is made to focus discussions on policy, factual information, and civic actions.

For example, in recent weeks, controversy has arisen regarding Piedmont Unified School District employment of a full time Athletic Director responsible for high school athletic programs and scheduling of school athletic facilities.  A number of opinions have been printed here on the subject. PCA welcomes these opinions and is open to receiving opinions on all sides of this issue and all civic issues.

PCA believes that substantive discussions are part of a healthy democracy – open and free exchange of ideas. 

A PCA goal is to keep Piedmont residents involved in Piedmont civic matters: inform Piedmont residents, encourage community engagement, provide transparency to government, and engender civic involvement.

 Readers may comment below on this and every article, for below each article is a place to comment.  Readers may send an opinion, news article, or photos to PCA at the address below:

editors@piedmontcivic.org

Thank you for reading, sharing with neighbors, and commenting.

The Piedmont Civic Association is an all volunteer association of interested Piedmont residents. No dues, no lists, no ads, no exclusion, just civic information provided by Piedmont residents, volunteers who care about Piedmont.

 Comments and letters appearing on the PCA site are unsolicited.

PCA does not support or oppose specific ballot measures or candidates for public office.

Sep 18 2016

Little Public Involvement in Zone Use Changes

The Planning Commission did not make a recommendation to the City Council on whether voters or the Council can make final changes to land uses within zones.

The Planning Commission has considered the Planning Department’s proposals with little resident participation.  In our City of over 10,600 residents and over 3,800 households, a total of only 17 individuals have participated in Planning Commission meetings to provide input that impacts all Piedmont property, resident lives, and long term uses of land in Piedmont.  Former Planning Commissioners and the public in general have noted they were unaware of the considerations.

 Changes proposed are vast and long reaching.   Too numerous to list here, but some changes include:

  • reduced parking requirements
  • interchangeable land uses between zones
  • extensions to buildings
  • intensified use and development in the Civic Center (near emergency services and 3 schools)
  • increased staff consideration and approval of proposals
  • elimination of all building requirements for the Public Zone (This includes all public properties.)
  • changed building standards including elimination of privacy attributes.

Voters Right Eliminated Without a Charter Change –

For decades the application and interpretation of the Piedmont City Charter referred to classification and reclassification as land uses within zones requiring voter ratification. Recent proposals by the Planning Department and opinions by Piedmont’s new City attorney takes away the right of Piedmont voters to approve zone land use changes.

The newly devised legal interpretation allows any use to be in any zone as long as the boundary lines are not moved and the City Council approves the land use change. Required voter approval of land use changes have been dismissed without changing the City Charter.

Unlike recent Recreation Department’s outreach to Piedmont residents, important zoning changes have lacked public input – no round table discussions, well attended public meeting, free exchange of ideas between the Planning Commission and residents, or polls and surveys.

The Planning staff will present an update on proposed changes to Chapter 17 at the City Council meeting September 19, 2016  in City Hall.

The staff report can be read here. 

A PCA article on the questioned legal interpretation of land use changes in Piedmont can be read here.

Aug 25 2016

A problematic new legal interpretation of Piedmont’s decades old City Charter makes land uses interchangeable amongst zones and removes Piedmont voter from their right to decide on land use.

According to the Piedmont City Charter both classification and area of a zone must be submitted to the voters for approval prior to a change. Classification and area are separate and distinct terms in the City Charter; however, this is not recognized by the City’s new legal opinion, linked below.

After Planning Commissioners along with residents requested a written legal opinion on how the Council could find authority in the Charter to allow changes in land use without voter approval, the City finally produced a legal opinion on July 27, 2016.

This legal opinion came eight years after a seemingly extra-legal land use change in a zone from Public to Multiple family residential to allow the development of the expensive townhouses on the former site of the PG&E substation. Thc movement of property from one zone to another and changing the use was accomplished through the General Plan without voter approval as noted in the EIR for 408 Linda Avenue:

“The zoning for the project site is Zone C, Multiple Density Residential. The land use designation for the site was converted from Public/Quasi Public to Medium Density Residential with the City Council adoption of the updated City of Piedmont General Plan in April 2009.” pages 1 & 2

http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/publicworks/docs/408_is.pdf

According to the City Charter* voters have control of land use. 

The City Charter states: “ 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.” 

The size and area “reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area,” are separate from the classification/use. The Charter states, “no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election.”  Classification and area are not synonymous.  According to the Charter both, classification and area must be submitted to the voters for approval.

The Charter further defines “classification” by stating: “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.  This clarifies that classification is specifically the use: “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.” 

The  words “and” and “use” are pivotal in any discussion of voter rights regarding zone area and classification/land use.  City terminology regarding zones states the classification/ land use assigned to the zone – Single family residential, Commercial, Public, and Multifamily – in the City Code, the General Plan, and zone descriptions. 

Piedmont’s former Deputy City Attorney Linda Roodhouse, who worked closely for years with Piedmont’s long time City Attorney George Peyton wrote:

June 7th, 2012 at 2:13 pm   <Context

“Staff is correct on the general scope of the Council’s legislative authority. I was the deputy City Attorney for Piedmont for many years and advised the planning department. I was also the City Attorney in Orinda for 11 years, until 2006. In both cities, I had a major role in the creation of new zoning codes. In Piedmont, the boundaries of a zone and the general land use within the zone are subject to voter approval. The City Council decides the specific rules and regulations within any zone, but the rules and regulations must be consistent with the charter description of authorized uses in a zone.”  emphasis added

 Linda Roodhouse, Resident

A project has now been proposed for the Shell Station on Grand and Wildwood Avenues. The City changed the land use in this zone, the Commercial zone, to allow multiple family residential, without voter approval.  The City Attorney stated the zone change was allowed because there was single family residential in the Commercial zone, so multiple family residential was permitted and the zone land use was changed without voter approval. There is now yet another proposal by the Planning Department to change land use in Piedmont’s Public zone ( parks, open space, buildings, facilities, etc.) to allow commercial/business land uses without gaining voter approval.

None of the present City Council Members, Planning Commissioners, City Attorneys, City Administrative staff, including Planning were involved when in 1980 the revised City Charter was overwhelmingly approved by voters.  Language in the revised Charter perpetuates long held voter rights in Piedmont.  There was never any intention or mention by voters, attorneys, elected officials, or administrative staff, for voters to  relinquish land use control to the City Council through the City Charter, City Codes, or General Plan, and this fact is repeated in all of these documents.

The Piedmont City Charter provides for enforcement and amendments:    

“SECTION 9.06 CHARTER ENFORCEMENT

The provisions of the Charter shall be enforced, with violations punishable in the manner provided by State law and by City ordinance.

SECTION 9.07 CHARTER AMENDMENT

Amendments to this Charter may be proposed by the City Council or by the initiative process, as prescribed by this Charter and by State law.

All proposed Charter amendments shall be presented to the qualified voters of the City at a general or special election. If a majority of said voters voting upon a proposed amendment vote in favor of it, the amendment shall become effective at the time fixed in the amendment or, if no time is therein fixed, thirty (30) days after its adoption by the voters. ” emphasis added

If the City Council wants to change the language in the City Charter, the City Council must place the change on a Piedmont ballot.  Changes have been made from time to time throughout the years.  However in regard to taking away Piedmont voters right to determine land use decisions in Piedmont, no proposal has ever been placed on a ballot. 

The current attempt to change land use in the Public zone to allow commercial uses and the previous yet not implemented change to the Commercial zone to allow multiple housing without getting approval by Piedmont voters demonstrates how land uses are being considered interchangeable from zone to zone.

A ballot measure specifying zoning changes for both size and land use could potentially receive approval by the voters, but the Piedmont electorate are being excluded from these decisions based on the City attorney’s new opinion.

The City’s new legal opinion apparently did not consider the precise language in the Charter and the extensive documented history of placing zoning changes/reclassifications before Piedmont voters.  The new legal opinion appears rely on external interpretations and non-compliance with the Charter.

The Piedmont City Code states in regard to zoning:

SEC. 17.35 CONFLICTING REGULATIONS To the extent that provisions of this Chapter 17 conflict with or are inconsistent with any other ordinance or rule previously adopted, the terms of this Chapter shall control the construction, alteration or other improvements of property, except as to ordinances and rules which are subject to voter approval pursuant to the terms of the City Charter, which are not intended to be modified or repealed by any such inconsistency. (Ord. 488 N.S., 10/87) 

The City Charter Article on zoning is 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.” emphasis added

The Piedmont Civic Association does not support or oppose specific ballot measures.  The Association supports following the Piedmont City Charter.

The Piedmont Civic Association advocates that the Piedmont City Charter, essentially Piedmont’s constitution, be followed and voters’ rights be known and followed.  As to the merits of voter approval of land use proposals being put forward by the Planning and Legal staff, the Piedmont Civic Association supports the Charter and allowing Piedmont voters to decide on what is their right to decide. 

The City has publicly stated the cost to put a ballot measure on a General election is minor. Even so, the City has every obligation to follow the law.  Questions of Charter language intent and definitions, voters must make the determination, and the Council must follow the Charter by putting the matter before the voters in regard to both area and land use in all zones.

The heritage and historic right of voters to determine land use in Piedmont cannot be removed by the new legal opinion.

The City Attorney’s recent legal zoning opinion of the City Charter can be read by clicking the link below:

Piedmont – Memo re Interpretation of Section 9.02 of City Charter

Jul 13 2016

The City Charter calls for the City Council to elect a Mayor and a Vice Mayor. The Former Mayor resigned the position leaving the seat vacant not “absent or disabled.” 

Piedmont currently has two Vice Mayors, Vice Mayor Jeff Wieler, called the acting mayor, and Vice Mayor Bob McBain. Both Wieler and McBain hold the Council elected position of Vice Mayor.

The Council did not rescind Wieler’s election as Vice Mayor prior to electing a second Vice Mayor, McBain, at the July 5, 2016 Council meeting. Two Vice Mayors are not authorized by the City Charter. Additionally, there is no position designated in the Charter as an “Acting Mayor” to fill a vacancy.

The newly coined title of “Acting Mayor” lacks the recognition that “Mayor of Piedmont” presents.

Jeff Wieler should be elected by the Council to be the Mayor of Piedmont with Bob McBain, continuing as the Vice Mayor. 

The vacancy in the Mayor position was created when former Mayor and Council member Margaret Fujioka was elected Alameda County Superior Court Judge in June 2016 and unexpectedly resigned  on June 21, 2016.  Fujioka is not “absent or disabled.” She is no longer on the City Council and has no standing on the Council.  Her former position as Mayor/Council member is vacant not “absent or disabled.”

The Piedmont City Charter states:

SECTION 2.08 MAYOR  Following each general municipal election, the City Council shall elect from among its member officers of the City who shall have the titles of Mayor and Vice-Mayor, each of whom shall serve at the pleasure of the Council. The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council, shall be recognized as head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes and by the Governor for the purposes of military law, but shall have no administrative duties. The Vice-Mayor shall act as mayor during the absence or disability of the Mayor. In case of the temporary absence or disability of both the Mayor and Vice-Mayor, the Council shall select one of its members to serve as Mayor Pro Tempore. Emphasis added.

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The draft July 5, 2016 Council minutes state:

Election of Vice Mayor

City Administrator Benoit stated Vice Mayor Wieler had assumed the office of Acting Mayor, leaving the office of Vice Mayor vacant. He recommended the election of a Vice Mayor to ensure continuity in case the Acting Mayor is absent or otherwise unable to perform his duties. Mr. Benoit indicated that the Vice Mayor elected tonight would serve until the certification of the results of the November 8, 2016 General Municipal Election.

Public Testimony was received from: Dimitri Magganas indicated support for Mr. McBain serving as Vice Mayor.   The Council discussed Councilmember McBain’s leadership skills.

Resolution 62-16 RESOLVED, that the City Council City Council elects Robert McBain to serve as Vice Mayor of the City of Piedmont until the results of the November 8, 2016 General Municipal Election are certified. Moved by King, Seconded by Rood Ayes: King, McBain, Rood, Wieler Noes: None

Oct 22 2015

PCA readers can return to issues long after initial publication to read continuing discussions, new opinions and comments. 

If you are following a particular issue or item, you can always return to it by using the Search function on the left side of the PCA home page.  When the articles appear, click on the title to see the comments at the end. Once an article is published, it remains on our site where readers often make comments on the article for days, or even weeks.

For example, see the continuing discussions of: Dogs and Dracena Park, Water Use, Parcel Taxes, etc.

Readers are encouraged to provide us with updates, corrections, comments, opinions, or articles.  PCA news, published on the internet, allows corrections to be made after publication.

Comments, updates, and corrections> Submit at the end of each article.

Articles and opinions>Submit to editors@piedmontcivic.org

Sep 20 2015

Piedmont’s Family Oriented Zoning and Short Term Rentals will be considered on September 21 at the Council Meeting – 

Short Term  and Overnight Rentals Are Generally Not  Legal  Under Piedmont Ordinances and the City Charter. 

On September 21, 2015, the Council will consider the issue  at 7:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611.

In May 2015, City staff reported to the City Council that although Piedmont prohibits Air BnB and VRBO type short-term rentals,  they are listed online on several sites. While many cities around the world have adopted regulations, oversight and special taxes on short-term rentals of apartments, homes, condos and second units, Piedmont has yet to respond as AirBNB type rentals continue to operate in violation of existing laws and the City Charter.  

Questions Regarding Voter Participation

The City Charter has in recent years been skirted by changing zoning uses and requirements without voter participation.  This has caused dramatic changes for Piedmont’s previously stable single family residential zoning.  The Charter states:

“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.”

Piedmont Law Does Not Allow Customers to Come to a Piedmont Residence. 

The Municipal Code currently states:

“The occupational use shall not generate pedestrian or vehicular traffic or parking needs beyond that normal to the district or neighborhood in which it is located. No business invitees shall be permitted to visit the premises;”

Piedmont law further states:

“No more than one room in the residence or any structure on the premises where the residence is located shall be used in connection with the home occupation, and under no circumstances shall a garage be used in any way related to such home occupation;”

Renting a room without using another room such as a bathroom or a kitchen is improbable.

 Permits Are Required Prior to Using a Home for an Occupation –

“All of the jurisdictions, like Piedmont, report that many hosts operate their short term rentals ”under the radar”. However, unlike most communities, it is relatively easy for Piedmont staff to identify illegal short term rentals because we have relatively few of them, we have active neighbors who report unpermitted activity, and matching an advertised rental with a specific property is generally not difficult for staff.” Staff report September 21, 2015

Piedmont’s current law  requires a permitting process that includes involving neighbors as well as City determinations for business use of residences. Since customers are not allowed to come to a residence, nor can there be use of the residence for publicity, short term rentals are currently not allowed.

During the discussion and consideration by the City Council on Monday, March 16, 2015, the rental of Piedmont rooms through internet companies, such as AirBnB,  the Piedmont Municipal Code requirement for use of a residence as a “Home Occupation” was not mentioned.

Piedmont’s Home Occupation ordinance states:

“There shall be no advertising, notices, publications or other written or oral means used to connect the occupation with the premises on which it is conducted and particularly there shall be no use of the address of such premises in any way connected with the occupation, provided that this shall not prohibit the use of name cards, stationery or invoices with the address of the premises.”

 “~  SEC. 17B.3 REGULATIONS ~

a. In order to conduct a home occupation on any premises located in Zones A, B, C, and E in the City of Piedmont, an application must be made by the resident proposing such an occupational use upon a form and in the manner prescribed by the City Clerk.

b. In addition to the application form the applicant must submit a rendering of the floor plan of the house showing which room or portion of a room will be used for the home occupation. This drawing should be accurate in its representation of the premises but need not be an architectural rendering.

c. The fee for a home occupation permit shall be non-refundable as set forth from time to time by resolution of the City Council.

d. The applicant or applicant’s representative shall mail to all adjacent residences (as defined in Sec. 17.2) a notice of intent to conduct business, the form of which shall be prescribed by the City Clerk. Said notice will set forth (1) The applicant’s name (2) The address of the proposed home occupation (3) The type of business to be conducted (4) A fifteen (15) day period during which comments on the home a fifteen (15) day period during which comments on the home occupation may be directed to the City Clerk.

e. The applicant or applicant’s representative shall provide an affidavit of service to the City Clerk as proof of satisfaction of Sec. 17B.3(d) above.

f. No home occupation permit shall be issued during the 15 day notification period.

g. Upon completion of the notification period, the application and any

g. Upon completion of the notification period, the application and any comments received shall be reviewed by the Public Works Director and City 17B-3 Home Occupations 17B-4 Administrator who shall determine if a home occupation should be granted under this section based upon the fact that none of the restrictions of Section 17B.2 have been violated or will be violated due to the proposed nature or conduct of the home occupation.

h. All persons receiving a home occupation permit shall be required to have a valid city business license. Lapse of six (6) months or more in a business license shall constitute grounds for cancellation of the home occupation permit.

i. Home occupation permits shall be valid so long as there is no change in the location or nature of the business and a valid city business license is on file in the City Clerk’s office and none of the restrictions of Section 17B.2 have been violated. (Ord. No. 349 N.S., §3; Ord. No. 388 N.S., §3, Ord No. 532 N.S §3, Ord. 709 N.S. §2)” 

Read Piedmont’s Home Occupation ordinance. 

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Unintended Consequence of Promoting Second Units in Piedmont –

To provide affordable and low income housing in Piedmont, City policies have promoted second units, granting variances and retroactively allowing apartments in homes. The City has sought and gained awards for this approach to providing for low income and affordable housing. However, rather than becoming rental housing for full time lower income families, these new units have proved ideal for AirBNB rentals. As online short-term rental services have mushroomed, these housing options have opened Piedmont to a commercialization never seen before and according to staff, in most cases without payment of Piedmont’s rental income tax to the City.

From the City’s view, although the one-time weekend renter does not occupy any seats in Piedmont schools or request city documents, the second units are not providing affordable or low income housing for permanent residents, as intended by City policy. Meeting goals for housing units are defeated by the transfer of housing to short-term rentals as a hotel or bed and breakfast.

As Piedmonters commercialized their properties, Piedmont’s desire for low income and affordable housing has been partially undercut by some property owners’ desire for increased income by converting their house or second unit to short time rentals.

Staff states in their September 21 report:

“Piedmont does not have the tourist draw of beaches, shopping or entertainment venues the cities with the largest problems have. In fact, based on reading reviews left by people who have rented Airbnb listings in Piedmont, they tend to be in town for local social events such as weddings and anniversaries, or regional events at UC Berkeley.”

In the staff report there is no assessment of safe, convenient, lodging near Piedmont.  For those residing in Piedmont, it is generally known that finding safe, nearby lodging can be challenging, making Piedmont homes and second units desirable and potentially in high demand for short term lodging.

Full time Landlord Duties May Be More Onerous than Occasional Weekends –

Piedmonters with second units often consider being a year-round 24- hours-a-day landlord too great a nuisance. Some have opted to rent for few days only when it is convenient through online services instead, knowing that parents bringing their students to Berkeley or Mills College won’t be doing much cooking, complaining in the middle of the night, withhold rent, or exercise the right to “repair and deduct” and they will be gone in a couple of days. AirBnB vets the renters and collects the payment for the hosts.

Express your opinions and ideas. Alternatively, you may watch the City Council hearing on KCOM, cable 27 or by logging on to the city’s website at www.ci.piedmont.ca.us: on the right hand side of the homepage under the “City Council” heading, click on the “Online Video” link, then click on the “September 21, 2015” heading, click on the “Video” or “In Progress” link, and start watching!

Written comments may be sent to the City Council, c/o Piedmont City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611 or by email to: jtulloch@ci.piedmont.ca.us. Correspondence received by the City Clerk is considered part of the public record.

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“Additionally, as a means of reaching as many Piedmont residents as possible, staff was directed to continue to work with the press to make sure that there was high level coverage, and to continue to send direct notices and reports to the email list of people wishing to participate in the discussions.” Staff report dated September 21, 2015.

Read the entire staff report here.

Editors’ Note:  PCA is on record requesting all City public notifications, press releases, agendas and agenda staff reports, thereby allowing PCA to inform our hundreds of readers of City news. PCA was not included on the recent notification list regarding short term rentals as were some other media outlets. 

Jan 24 2015

With Superintendent search surveys and forums a plenty, the question remains – What do Piedmonters expect and want from their schools?

Taxpayers, parents, and empty nesters have trusted that Piedmont schools are doing the best they can with significant homeowners taxes in addition to community donations.

Piedmont schools are excellent by most standards, but they can be even better in meeting ever changing educational needs.  Many readers, associates, community members, teachers, students, and parents may not make it to the scheduled forums or even fill out the still available > survey on the Superintendent search.

Various suggestions for future improvements and changes to the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) have arisen during the search process. Some of these are:

–  Increased transparency in policy decisions –

Rather than after the fact, parents, school employees, and the Piedmont community should be brought into decisions early on through open and free expression of ideas. Censorship of speakers, particularly teachers and students, is not appropriate at public PUSD meetings. (See Student report on the 12/10/14 PUSD meeting.)

 Broadcast of budget processes on the City’s cable station KCOM and Piedmont website 

The Piedmont School District’s pivotal “Budget Advisory Committee” meets without being recorded or broadcast and is largely away from public view.  To be informed on school budget issues, a person should not have to be physically present at a meeting.  Affordable recording and broadcast methods are available.

–  Focus on teaching rather than buildings –

In recent years, there has been a continuous stream of needed school building improvements.  Increased attention on teaching each student according to their needs should be the priority.   Technology should play a roll in teaching along with increasing students’ technological skills. When there are teacher performance problems, the District should be ready to assist teachers.

 Improved communication between school and home –

Numerous nearby and distant school districts have adopted internet communication systems that inform students and parents of assignments, test dates, behavior problems, overdue homework, and academic issues on a daily basis.  In Piedmont, teachers are not required to report their homework assignments on line. Individualized student information is not always available for students or parents. Conferences between teachers and parents are often elective rather than a standard.

  Schools comparisons made on an equal basis –

Some students leave Piedmont schools. What are they looking for in another school? Is Piedmont keeping up? Although Piedmont is a unified school district, comparisons should be made to other high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools on an individual basis.