Feb 1 2023

Piedmont, a community of about 10,000 residents, has not one, but two organizations formed to help remove the stain of racism from the fabric of civic life. The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign (i.e. PREC) posts: “We work with allied organizations and individuals to raise awareness about racism and to support policies for racial justice and equity.” The Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (i.e., PADC) describes itself as: “Grounded in principles of racial equity, Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (PADC) works to dismantle systems of oppression, and replace them with policies and practices to nurture a connected and inclusive community.”

It could be argued that Piedmont’s civic life has been sufficiently stained with racism in the past that an unusually vigorous contemporary effort to avoid more appears justified.  The Piedmont Chief of Police in 1924, a member of the KKK, condoned mob violence against an African American family that had purchased a home in the city. As bad, the then City Council used eminent domain to condemn the home thereby forcing the family from the community.  In the 1960’s, the City Council transferred a public swimming pool to a private club to avoid complying with Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that required integration of public facilities.  In the last decade, moreover, several newsworthy incidents of racist graffiti in Piedmont parks and schools have reminded us of the stains on our civic fabric.

The response of the contemporary community at large to this history has been mostly laudable.  A recent report prepared by city staff finds little evidence of segregation in the community. The School District has developed a reputation for fighting racism in all forms and the city supports and participates in much programing intended to encourage an inclusionary culture.  Indeed, the local media describes a remarkable breadth of inclusionary programming offered in Piedmont on Martin Luther Day 2023.

This programming, however, appears lost on a City Council poised to stain our civic life with a not-so-subtle attempt to segregate a Piedmont neighborhood.  A state mandate that California cities allow development of market-rate and low-income housing has led Piedmont to begin planning a whole new neighborhood in Moraga Canyon.  The plan would allow, indeed encourage, construction of 132 new homes including 60 for low-income families.  Problems with this otherwise laudable scheme include that the Council has explicitly left open the option of assigning the 60 low-income units to Blair Park.

Blair’s designation as a “park” comes from the city’s purchase of Moraga Canyon land more than a century ago with bond funding raised to protect open space and wildlife. The park as we now know it, is essentially a former land fill surrounded mostly by high hillsides so steep that no vehicular or pedestrian access to the flatter section via the hills has ever been proposed. The steep hillsides are covered with oak and other native trees that harbor a diverse collection of wildlife protected, until now, by the land’s purchase with park bond funds.

Vehicles and pedestrians access Blair Park only from Moraga Avenue, a high-speed thoroughfare that connects the 13 and 580 Freeways via Grand Avenue. A 2010 EIR prepared for playfields proposed in Moraga Canyon, found a significant and unmitigable safety hazard for drivers entering or leaving Blair Park.  The hazard arises because no location on Moraga Avenue provides the 385-foot site distance Caltrans assumes for safe stopping of vehicles traveling at 35 MPH. More than 15% of vehicles traveling on Moraga Avenue exceeded that speed in 2010. The EIR also noted a similar hazard for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Moraga Avenue and that the likelihood of injuries and deaths would grow with increased attempts to access Blair Park.

Piedmonters appear unaware of the scheme to assign 60 low-income families to a former landfill, cutoff from the remainder of the community by impassable terrain and a high-speed arterial deemed an unmitigable safety hazard to motorists and pedestrians leaving and entering Blair Park.  Of those who know of the scheme, few seem aware that the Council also rejected the recommendations of professional staff, paid consultants, and a Council-appointed citizens committee to allow at least some low-income families to live in central Piedmont near schools and services.  And fewer still know that those experts also recommended that any housing assigned to the Canyon be located on the safe side of Moraga Avenue – an option made even more compelling by moving the now obsolete corporation yard, which the city will have to rebuild under any scheme, to Blair.

If the Council chooses to house low-income families in Blair Park, little time will likely pass before those families attribute their stigmatizing and dangerous isolation to segregationist intent. And decent Piedmonters will likely agree.  Such opinions will inevitably corrode civility in Piedmont.  That corrosion will be made much worse if a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorist suffers injury or death accessing or leaving Blair Park – an event anticipated by the EIR alluded to above.

So, what have PADC and PREC said about the Blair Park option? Nothing. Why have they been silent on a scheme as offensively segregationist as any in our history? But they are not alone in their silence. What do our church leaders, League of Women Voters, and School Board members as well as schoolteachers, all of whom rightly speak out against racism on Martin Luther King Day, have to say about this vessel of ruinous dye about to spill on the fabric of our civic life? Where, in short, are they when we need them?

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
3 Comments »
Jan 31 2023

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing is New for Housing Elements

A new component of the 6th Cycle Housing Element is compliance with state-mandates of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) policy.  That policy states that local jurisdictions must “analyze and address significant disparities in housing needs and access to opportunity by proposing housing goals, objectives, and policies that aid in replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws.”

Addressing the AFFH mandates, the City concluded that segregation is not a concern because all Piedmont neighborhoods have equal access to opportunities (the entire town is a “high resource” area).  Regarding poverty, the City claimed that there are no racial and ethnic concentrated areas of poverty in Piedmont, partly due to there not being sufficient numbers of minorities in Piedmont.

Nonetheless, the City does acknowledge that there are racial/ethnic disparities in Piedmont:

“However, according to the United States Census, American Community Survey (ACS), approximately 25.5 percent of the Piedmont population belonged to a racial minority group in 2019…. According to the March 2022 U.C. Merced Urban Policy Lab and ABAG-MTC AFFH Segregation Report, the most isolated racial group (in Piedmont) is White residents. According to the report, “Piedmont’s isolation index of 0.627 for [non-Hispanic] White residents means that the average White resident lives in a neighborhood that is 62.7% White.

In the City of Piedmont, more than 20 percent of residents are cost-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent or mortgage. Non-White residents are disproportionately impacted by housing cost burden, over-payment, and overcrowding, as well as other burdens…. Latinos experience higher rates of poverty relative to their overall proportion of the City’s population than White residents. Latinos comprise about 4.2 percent of the City’s population, but 7.0 percent of Latinos live below the poverty level, an estimated 33 residents.”  January 12, 2023 memo

And the City acknowledges that these disparities are associated with the western half of Piedmont:

“More non-White residents are located in the western-most census block group of the City Piedmont Census Tracts. The census tract that overlaps this block group also contains the highest amount of lower and moderate-income population at about 11 percent and exhibits the highest amount of over-payment by renters in Piedmont. Further, this western census tract contains the highest level of persons with a disability at about eight percent….. High levels of over-payment by renters in the western census tract and high rates of over-payment by homeowners on both tracts in the City indicates that many residents may be struggling to afford housing costs.”

So given these facts, why is the 6th Cycle Housing Element proposing to put virtually all of the affordable housing in Piedmont’s western-most census block?  The Ace Hardware store and Blair Park literally border with the City of Oakland and are the proposed sites for the high density low and very low-income housing. There are good reasons for increased density on Grand Avenue but by essentially excluding the Civic Center area for affordable housing, the City Administrator and City Council have pushed affordable and denser housing to the western outskirts of Piedmont.  Doing so propagates what segregation and racial/ethnic concentration exist in Piedmont.

City Council can offset this by developing a fair housing plan for Moraga Canyon that integrates the moderate and affordable housing proposed for the canyon onto one site.  Currently 132 units are proposed for Moraga Canyon but there are two basic options – put housing on either side of Moraga Ave (some in Blair Park, some above Coaches) or all on one of side of Moraga Avenue (all at Blair or Coaches).  Co-locating the moderate and affordable housing onto one site would appear to better achieve the “integrated and balanced living patterns” that is the goal of AFFH.

To achieve the AFFH goals, the City needs to seriously consider relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park.  There are safety, transportation, and environmental benefits to relocating the Corporation Yard in addition to the integrated housing.  To date, the City has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge this and housing advocates have dismissed the idea.  Hopefully the consultant will take an objective approach to planning the best housing solution for Moraga Canyon and Piedmont that meets AFFH goals.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Moraga Canyon Plan Consultant 1.17.23

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
3 Comments »
Jan 16 2023

Agenda item for January 17, 2023 –   >council-agenda 1.17.23

Staff report:

“Consideration of a Change to the Regular Meeting Time of the City Council to 6:00 p.m.

RECOMMENDATION

By motion, approve changing the start time of regular City Council meetings from 7:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and authorize the City Clerk to amend all documents which refer to this time.

BACKGROUND

State law and the City Charter require the City Council to hold regular meetings at a set time, place, and date to ensure the public’s ability to participate in city government decisions. Currently, by resolution, the City Council’s regular meetings are scheduled for the 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month at 7:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

Shortly after the beginning of the pandemic, the Council temporarily adjusted the start of its meetings to 6:00 p.m. to better accommodate the changed work environments of the community, Councilmembers and staff. This change has continued for the duration of the pandemic and received compliments from the community. Staff is recommending that it be made permanent.

Should Council approve this change, staff will update the appropriate documents and publicize the new time.

By: John O. Tulloch, Assistant City Administrator / City Clerk”

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

The time change is a good idea IF City Council maintains the current teleconference access to all public meetings so the public can participate in meetings and comment remotely.  If not, this time change would reduce community participation in public meetings.  The 6:00 time is not optimal for in-person attendance, and it appears the pandemic is not going away.

The traditional 7:30 meeting time was intended to accommodate the family dinner hour and help with homework, late SF commuters and councilmember work schedules.  A 6:00 start time will conflict with much of that but if the public has teleconference access to all city meetings, it can juggle those commitments and still participate in meetings.

Council direction on continuing to teleconference public meetings appears later on Monday’s agenda which is unfortunate.  It would be a more fruitful discussion to have both issues addressed in the same agenda item.  Staff understandably wants the 6:00 start time but that will interfere with prime family time.  A 7:00 start time might be more attractive to younger community members who want to participate in meetings and potentially serve on Council.

Being on the Consent Calendar, this item won’t be open for public discussion unless a councilmember or member of the public requests that it be taken off the Calendar.  That can be done by attending the start of the meeting at 6:00 and requesting this item be pulled from the Consent Calendar.

Attend the Council meeting via Zoom:  https://cdn5-hosted.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_13659739/File/Government/City%20Council/Agenda/council-current-agenda.pdf?v=5Zo1Ykv8r&v=5Zo1Ykv8r

Whatever time the Council selects, hopefully it will stay in the 21st century and maintain public participation in all city meetings through teleconference.

Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
2 Comments »
Jan 16 2023

Hello City Council:

I’ve reviewed the staff report and draft RFP for the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan (MCSP) and submit the following comments and questions. Hopefully you can delve into them.

The MCSP is good planning, but clearly the RFP is being developed to expedite a City application for Measure A funds by 2024.  Perhaps for that reason, the RFP is short on explaining how the plan addresses important city policies.  Table 2 list these policies but the RFP states that these policies “may” be considered and only stipulates that the consultant team will demonstrate “professional experience and knowledge of the personnel general principles and background law applicable to specific plans, land development and affordable housing development requirements”.   There are important sustainability policies outlined in the General Plan and Climate Action Plan and the City should stipulate this a credential it seeks on the consultant team.  Does the team have a sustainability expert like our City does?  Traffic safety is another core credential that should be requested.

The staff report and RFP suggests that additional environmental review beyond the programmatic EIR will be conducted based on the impacts of the specific projects in the MCSP.  That makes sense but is predicated on a robust programmatic EIR which has yet to be released.  Without the programmatic EIR being public at this time, the generalities of that assessment may be used to gloss over specific impacts of the projects at a later date.  One way to alleviate this concern is to assure that the programmatic EIR will have a response to comments process as a project specific EIR does.  Staff should confirm this publicly.  Subsection m. in scope of services should clarify this point as well.

One important EIR consideration is whether an assessment of GHG emissions will be undertaken in the MCSP.   This assessment may occur in the “built out” programmatic EIR so this may not be a factor but without that document, who can say?   To resolve this question, staff should clarify whether these GHG emission calculations are being conducted as a part of the programmatic EIR.  According to state guidance, GHG emissions are to be part of a CEQA analysis: CEQA GHG.  However, based on certain criteria, affordable housing projects under 100 units are exempt from CEQA and staff should clarify this as well CEQA Housing. Indeed, staff should clarify whether CEQA is applicable to all the projects being considered in the MCSP, particularly the low-income housing projects.

The staff report and RFP do not clarify whether the relocation of the Corporation Yard will be studied as part of the MCSP.  The only possible reference to this is that “replacement” of the Corporation Yard be considered.  The City should clarify this in the RFP so as to provide consultants the widest latitude to develop creative proposals for the canyon.  Indeed, this latitude may provide for the subdivisions of parcels and development standards that are attractive to builders of housing at all income levels. As staff envisioned with civic center sites, the City could leverage better housing for the project if the Corporation Yard is moved to less desirable building site in the canyon.

Following are more specific comments/questions to the RFP:

The project timeline on page 5 of the staff report is particularly short on detail.  The City seems not to have identified the type of public process it intend to conduct. 

Under “Specific Plan for Success” there is no mention of field lighting as part of the recreational facilities to be developed.  Is it the intent of the City and this Council not to proceed with the installation of lights at Coaches Field?  There is some precedent for this.

The landscape plan makes no mention that it is to comply with the City’s municipal Bay Friendly Landscape Ordinance which has specific criteria for vegetation and water use.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Moraga Canyon Plan Consultant 1.17.23

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
1 Comment »
Jan 15 2023

Another Consultant is proposed to be hired at an unspecified cost to produce a Moraga Canyon specific plan.

The RFP does not set a price, but … [in 2019]  … the preparation of a specific plan cost an average of $544,237.”  according to ABAG.

On the Council Agenda, Tuesday, January 17, 2023 the City of Piedmont returns to the previously unexamined, controversial legal opinion of the Piedmont City Charter when the City Attorney dismissed the specific language within the Piedmont City Charter of requiring voter approval of proposed zoning changes. Agenda > >council-agenda 1.17.23

 This program requires an amendment to the City’s General Plan and the preparation of a specific plan to accommodate the density and create development standards for the unique site conditions. The required amendments would be reviewed by the City Attorney for conformance with the City Charter and other legal requirements. If it is determined that it is infeasible to develop this site during the planning process, the City will consider utilizing other City-owned properties as alternative sites (see Appendix B).

Funds generated by General Plan Maintenance fee instituted by the City on July 1, 2019 will provide significant funds for General Plan costs – plans and zoning changes. 

Currently, the fee is $0.013 x the construction cost valuation on building permits. The fee  generated $427,000 in FY 21-22 and the City expects a similar amount this fiscal year. The funds must be spent on updates and amendments to the General Plan and other auxiliary  documents (e.g., Climate Action Plan, Zoning Ordinance, Hazard Mitigation Plan, and a  specific plan). The City Council might consider increasing this fee to help cover the rising costs of land use planning.

READ the full staff report in the link below:

Moraga Canyon Plan Consultant 1.17.23

Stay Informed about the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan

After the City adopts a 6th Cycle Housing Element, a key piece of the implementation process will be the creation of a Moraga Canyon Specific Plan. This initiative will study all City-owned land in Moraga Canyon with the goal of creating a detailed plan for how to maintain and improve existing amenities while also incorporating new housing in the area.

The City expects to issue an RFP in late January seeking professional services to lead this process. Stay informed by subscribing to our Moraga Canyon Specific Plan email list.

Jan 15 2023

Piedmont Pool Complex Costs Continue to Rise Beyond the Bond Package Fund Approved by Voters –

The Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization (PRFO) is seeking $2.1 million additional funds for the project.  The City Council will receive an update on the fundraising campaign and authorize staff to develop naming agreements for contributions of $250,000 or greater to the project. Consideration will be at the Tuesday, January 17, 2023 Council meeting. council-agenda 1.17.23

Staff report linked below:

1.17.23

Jan 15 2023

Will the Council revert back to not recording, broadcasting, or archiving video recordings of certain public meetings?  The cost of transparency via video broadcasts has proven to be minimal given the City budget. On the council-agenda 1.17.23

The California Brown Act has been amended and provisions changed.

NEW REQUIREMENTS:

If members participate remotely using the just cause or emergency provisions, the following additional rules apply:

• The legislative body must provide a way for the public to remotely participate in the meeting and must provide notice of how to access the meeting and offer comments

• The public must also be permitted to attend the meeting in person

• The body cannot require public comments to be submitted before the meeting but rather must be allowed in real time.

• Remote members must participate through both visual and audio (i.e. cameras and microphones on)

• Before any action is taken, remote members must disclose whether any other people over 18 years old are present in the room at the remote location and the general nature of the member’s relationship with the individual

 

Editors’ Note:  The Piedmont Civic Association has long advocated maximum adherence to Brown Act applicable public meetings such as commissions, committees, and City Council.  The Piedmont City Charter prescribes these meetings are to keep minutes, which has not been adhered to for even critically important Council appointed committees such as the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee. 

The Public Safety Committee during the COVID protocols was newly recorded and live streamed.  Some meetings, the Annual City Budget Workshop and the interviewing of candidates for City Council, commission and committee appointments have historically not been recorded, broadcast, or archived leaving access to only those present at the meeting.

Transparency and accountability are important to the public and should be maximized by the City Council by improving the archiving of recordings, providing minutes, and live streaming of public meetings.

READ the staff report linked below:

Changes to Brown Act and Next Steps 1.17.23

League of California Cities – report > https://www.calcities.org/news/post/2022/12/15/brown-act-changes-are-coming-to-cities-in-2023.-here-is-what-to-expect

Jan 14 2023

MONDAY, JAN. 16, 2023 – 11:00 – 12:30 PM 

PIEDMONT HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE <New location

800 MAGNOLIA AVENUE

Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We hope to see you at Piedmont’s 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, presented by the Piedmont Anti-Racism & Diversity Committee (PADC) and the City of Piedmont.

This year’s event will take place on Monday, January 16th from 11 to 12:30pm at the Piedmont High School’s Alan Harvey Theatre, 800 Magnolia Avenue. Featured speakers include:

  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee
  • Piedmont Mayor Jen Cavenaugh
  • Corrina Gould of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust
  • Kate Schatz, co-author of Do the Work: An Anti-Racist Activity Book
  • Dr. Calyborne Carson, founding Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute at Stanford University.
Jan 14 2023

The City of Piedmont encourages residents to take steps to prepare for the ongoing storms:

  • Clear basement drains, gutters, and outdoor debris around your property
  • Check submersible pumps and sump pumps to make sure they are working
  • Have flashlights and spare batteries on hand in case of power outages

During the storms, use extra caution when driving and call to report issues:

  • Fallen trees, clogged drains, and other infrastructure damage: Call (510) 420-3050 during business hours (8:30am-5pm, M-F) or (510) 420-3000 after hours
  • Downed power lines: Call (510) 420-3000
  • Sparking or smoking power lines: Call 911

Dec 21 2022

Attached is a press release providing anticipated key dates for the City’s Housing Element update in January. Staff expect to bring Piedmont’s 6th Cycle Housing Element to the Planning Commission for review on January 12, 2023 and to the City Council for adoption on January 30, 2023.

Additionally, staff intend to issue an RFP in late January seeking professional services to lead the preparation of a Moraga Canyon Specific Plan. Once a consultant has been selected, the Specific Plan process is expected to take 18-24 months to complete. The City has created an email list community members can subscribe to for updates about the Specific Plan. Also attached is an informational poster about the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan that we shared with community members at the Housing Element Open House in November.

12.22 Poster+3+Moraga+Canyon+Specific+Plan+Study  Map

Morga 2022-12-20 Housing Element Update Key Dates in January Press Release