Sep 26 2020

FUTURE OF 801 MAGNOLIA AVENUE AND PIEDMONT CENTER FOR THE ARTS

In 2011, the Piedmont Center for the Arts, Inc. (PCA), formed by Piedmont volunteers, proposed to host community art events in an unused City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue. The City of Piedmont supported that mission, subsidizing PCA with a 10-year lease at $1/year in exchange for PCA performing some renovation work and to further community use of the building. PCA has managed the West Wing of 801 Magnolia for the last nine years, renting it out for various arts-related events.

[Editors Note:  Since 1986, the Piedmont Civic Association has been known as PCA.   The PCA references in this article refer to the Piedmont Center for the Arts.  The two organizations are separate.]

PCA now is seeking a 10-year extension of its lease, even though the lease does not expire until June 3, 2021. While PCA has performed a public service by hosting art events, before any lease renewal, the City needs to take time to carefully assess its own needs for building space, the extent of the City’s subsidy to PCA and whether that subsidy efficiently supports arts in Piedmont, and whether community uses of 801 Magnolia should be limited solely to arts.

The City should consider, based on input from its departments and the public, the following:

(1) Will the City need the 801 Magnolia space to facilitate any infrastructure improvements, including relocation of services?  Numerous City buildings require renovation or reconstruction, and services will need to be relocated. Is 801 Magnolia Ave. one potential location? Given that PCA’s lease already runs to June 2021, there is time to figure this out.

(2) Does the City need additional space to provide services regardless of infrastructure improvements? Would the City offer more programs if it had available space?

(3) Given the City’s need for revenue to fill a hole in maintenance funding, the City or a Committee should consider at least: (a) what is the market rental value of 801 Magnolia, as the City changed the zoning code to allow for-profit entities in City-owned buildings; and (b) what revenue could the City earn if it rented out the facility for events when not needed for City use, perhaps subsidizing arts and other community events with lower rental rates? The
differential between such revenue and PCA’s rent (currently $1/year) is the City subsidy to PCA.

(4) If the facility is to be leased to a third party, for what purposes and on what terms?  In 2011, the City Council provided the building rent-free so that, as the Lease says: ““Tenant will use the Premises for the purpose of operating a venue for exhibits, performances, concerts, and other similar events or activities for the benefit of the local community.”  PCA, however, has limited such uses to “arts-related” events. Review of pre-pandemic event calendars on the PCA website shows the space is used quite a bit, but there also are a considerable number of open days and hours within days. Whether there are Piedmont residents (or even City departments) who would like to use the facility on those days, or during those hours, for non-arts-related events is not known. Thus far, the City has not sought public comment on expanding use of 801 Magnolia.

(5) The City Council should be fully informed about not only the extent of the City’s subsidy of PCA (the differential between market rent and PCA’s rent), but also whether PCA is passing such savings along to the persons and groups presenting events at 801 Magnolia. PCA does not post the hourly rental rates it charges to hold an event at 801 Magnolia. If the City’s intent is to subsidize community uses of 801 Magnolia, then PCA’s revenues should roughly equal the cost of operating the facility. Even then, the City should consider whether its own staff, who already manage rentals of other City facilities such as Community Hall, could manage 801 Magnolia at less cost. If the City wishes to obtain revenue from renting 801 Magnolia at a rate greater than its operating costs, it again may sense for City staff to handle facility rentals.

Notwithstanding the City’s need to fund significant infrastructure improvements, the City Council may decide that it wishes to continue to subsidize arts in Piedmont. If so, however, I hope the City will seek and consider public input on how best to support arts and other community events in Piedmont.

Rick Raushenbush, Former School Board Member

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
1 Comment »
Sep 26 2020

It was my honor and pleasure to serve with Conna as co-chairs of the 2006 seismic safety school bond measure, and to experience her leadership skills in that context.  When we began the contentious campaign, I didn’t know Conna well, but learned through it that she is smart, she works hard, she does her homework, and she seeks to understand all parts of an issue before coming to conclusions. Conna engages stakeholders in community conversation: she is always willing to listen, and she actively seeks diverse perspectives and insights.

As we campaigned, Conna regularly reminded me that hearing diverse viewpoints from friends and neighbors helped us better understand the needs of our community. She is equally able and willing to listen to new ideas and perspectives, to thoughtfully consider the merits of an issue, and to stop deliberating when a decision is made and work with all-comers to take action. Throughout the campaign, Conna was passionate for and articulate about our cause: the safety of students and staff in our schools.

I’m proud to have worked with Conna to leave a lasting legacy of safe school buildings in Piedmont. We would be lucky to have her considerable skills and talents, as well as her inclusive leadership ability, in service of the needs of our community. She has earned my vote because I know from personal experience how well-qualified Conna is to provide the kind of leadership our community needs at this pivotal time.

Please join me in voting to elect Conna to the Piedmont City Council.

Dana Serleth

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 24 2020

New Pool Can Serve All User Groups

We’ve known for 20 years or more that the beloved Piedmont pool was wearing out.

I first got involved in 2005, when my kids were small, by joining the board of the Piedmont Swim Club. The antiquated private nonprofit model, with a City-imposed restriction to Piedmont residents and cap on the number
of members, wasn’t a good fit for an obsolescent facility that needed a lot of capital investment.

Following the City takeover in 2011, a thorough and inclusive master planning process developed a practical and detailed master plan for a much larger new facility that can meet the needs of the entire Piedmont community as well as comply with current health, safety and accessibility codes.

Many different user groups use the pool – kids, families, swim lessons, teens and young adults, PHS and private swim teams, middle and high school PE class, adaptive PE, the PHS water polo teams, adult fitness swimmers, and senior water aerobics – and none of these activities can continue in Piedmont without a new aquatics facility. And because of its age and condition, continued repairs to the existing facility couldn’t address all the code issues, would likely involve unplanned closures, would not be cost-effective, and wouldn’t address the accessibility issues or the simple lack of water space for all the currently programmed activities.

The master planning process included an operational analysis by an expert aquatics consultant, which found that the new aquatic center can come close to covering its operating costs by accommodating many more users at the same time. The new aquatic center will have much more water space, including a large shallow area with zero depth entry for babies and smaller kids that’s connected to a “medium pool” area for older kids and lessons. A completely separate competitive pool with a moving bulkhead can accommodate lap swimming and team practice at the same time.

Piedmont needs to completely replace the pool, and Measure UU is the way to make that happen. Please join me in voting Yes on UU to build an aquatic center that will serve the community for another 50 years or more.

Tim Rood
City Councilmember

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
6 Comments »
Sep 21 2020

The “facts” presented by the pro UU swim people aren’t all facts.

Like so many other things in Piedmont, we continually say it’s for the kids or it’s for our property tax values. This time the facts just don’t support that notion.

The numbers I am quoting were received from the City Administrator or the Arguments for UU.

1. The bond issue is for $19,500,000, but there are no bids. That is based upon estimates from 2010-12 inflated to today. It could cost significantly more and there is no source for additional funds.

2. UU estimates the cost per home of the bond issue at $0.75 per day ($274/year). That’s based upon an assessment of under $1 million. According to Redfin, the average price of a Piedmont home last month was $2,420,000! The tax on $2 million is around $540 per year or twice what is advertised by UU.

3. The City budget already subsidizes the pool for around $250,000 per year or $65 per home.

4. Approximately 35% of the pass users are non-Piedmont residents. Non-resident passes cost $100 more (only 11%) than resident passes but they won’t pay anything towards the bond issue.

5. Of the 65% of Piedmont users there are approximately 491 household passes for the pool. That is roughly 13% of the homes in Piedmont. The pass holders are very frequent users so it appears that very few residents actually use the pool but the ones that do, use it frequently. Should everyone pay for the benefit to a very small portion of the population who are avid swimmers?

6. Water aerobics accounted for only 45 passes (families or individuals) and water polo accounted for 51 passes (families or individuals) and we don’t know how many of those are non-Piedmont residents but certainly some are non-residents. Let’s assume that swim team and swim club accounts for another 10% of usage and that it is all Piedmont residents. That makes a total of 23% usage by Piedmont families.

If the pool was used by ½ of the residents, it would make sense for it to be publicly financed, but why should 100% of the families pay for a pool that is used by less than ¼ of the residents and is used by a significant % of non-residents?

VOTE NO ON UU.

Joe Hurwich, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
4 Comments »
Sep 21 2020

There is no better candidate for City Council than Conna McCarthy Craigie. 

Conna has spent over 30 years in Piedmont, serving both the school and city communities.  She has worked on several parcel tax and bond measures for the city and PUSD.  When her children were no longer in the school system she focused on city issues and concerns. She was appointed to the Recreation Commission in 2017, and the to CIP in 2019 where she was elected chair.

Conna is a team player, and serving for “the greater good”, is in her blood.  All of her past volunteer roles and work experience have more than prepared her to serve on the City Council.  She is a critical thinker and a rational and fair decision maker.  Conna will bring a clear perspective and work ethic to her position.  There is no better Piedmont resident for the job.

Matthew and Margaret Heafey

Sep 19 2020

I am writing to enthusiastically support Conna McCarthy in her candidacy for Piedmont City Council.  I have had the pleasure of working with Conna over the course of many years, from serving on Parent Boards, the Booster Board, and the Piedmont Education Foundation, to recent project collaborations in our respective roles on the City’s Recreation Commission and the City’s Park Commission.

Conna comes from a background steeped in public service and civic engagement.  She is caring, hardworking, and tenacious and will cut to the chase, but also maintains a healthy sense of humor.  Conna doesn’t shy away from asking the tough questions and will make decisions with the best interests of all community members in mind.  I know that she will govern with transparency and be accessible to the City’s residents and take heed of their concerns.  Conna will continue to make Piedmont proud.

Please join me in voting to elect Conna McCarthy to the Piedmont City Council.

Robin Wu, Piedmont Park Commissioner

Sep 17 2020

The first time I met Veronica she was working at Piedmont’s annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration, calmly ensuring that Congresswoman Barbara Lee had a designated space to park and a committed escort to show her into the Veterans’ Hall for her speech. Veronica and her family had just moved to Piedmont from Chicago less than three months before, and here she was, diving headlong into a leadership role directing the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee’s (PADC) signature event. Moving boxes still waited to be unpacked in the Thigpen’s new home yet she was mediating, problem-solving and coordinating this huge organizational undertaking, functioning as if she’d been living in Piedmont for decades.

Pragmatic leadership and decision-making, I would come to understand, are Veronica’s strengths, along with a grand sense of humor and warm, genuine nature.

Over the next two years I got to learn who Veronica Thigpen is as she immersed herself in the work of PADC becoming its co-president the following year and overseeing the organization’s diversity grants, City Council consultations, engagements with the police and recreation departments and continuing PADC’s founding focus, insuring diversity and inclusion in Piedmont schools.

I have worked closely with Veronica as a member of PADC. Veronica’s expertise in organizing, her background in education, journalism and consulting, make her well suited for any leadership role.

Over those three years, I have also come to value Veronica as a real friend. We speak often, especially now at the confluence of a pandemic, a sudden social upheaval and the real tangible impact of climate change. Veronica and I also share the challenges and joys of raising young Black girls, helping them sprint toward and take it upon themselves to become fully engaged as social activist in our evolving Piedmont community. And, I can always rely on Veronica’s sense of humor to provide levity no matter the weight of the moment.

All of these things about Veronica make her the right choice, at this time, for the Piedmont School Board. She will bring a unique perspective that has long been missing from the school board, pushing toward a new Local Control and Accountability Plan crafted to carry out the board’s newly declared commitment to equity and social justice. I stand behind Veronica Thigpen for School Board.

Richard Turner, Piedmont Resident

Sep 16 2020

Voters will select three from five candidates for the Piedmont Unified School District Board.

 All School Board candidates were asked to respond to the following questions in 60 words or less by September 15.

1. Which listed issue is your highest priority and why? –  Funding,  Teachers,  Facilities,  Transparency, Administration,  Achievement,  Equality,  Community Involvement,  Safety

2. What has the School Board done well during recent years?  

3. As a School Board member, what changes would you advocate? 

Candidate responses are listed in the order received.  There has been no editing of the responses.

Cory Smegal – School Board Candidate

1. My top priority is our students – both their learning and mental health.  This fall, distance learning has improved. There is a consistent schedule, clear assessments and accountability.  We must not lose sight of the fact that distance learning is very hard on students’ mental health. We need to create opportunities for our students to make safe in person connections. 

2. Recently, I’ve led our Board advocacy efforts.  Beyond this current pandemic, the biggest problem for California schools has been and will continue to be serious underfunding.  Piedmont has become active in raising awareness of this issue, meeting with state representatives, working with the Alameda County Coalition and hosting a week of events to get the state to fund education now.    

3. During my term, I’ve advocated for clear communication and improved public outreach.  It is critical that all stakeholders understand what is going on and how decisions are being made.  There is definitely more work to be done to enhance communication and promote participation in the process.  Cory Smegal 

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Hilary Cooper – School Board Candidate

1. Students and their safety is my highest priority.  When we think about returning to the classroom, we must prioritize safety and let science drive our decisions.  Some schools have already applied for a K-6 waiver and that will afford us the opportunity to learn from each other and implement best practices.

2. Our school board has a proven record of supporting innovation.  They voted to adopt a one-to-one connected learning program, providing Chromebooks for each student.  They have supported innovation through groups like Piedmont Makers and the Wellness Center.  Most importantly, they supported the STEAM building through Bond Measure H1.  Our district’s forward thinking mindset enables us to address challenges.

3. Our district needs to build on what we’ve learned during distance learning to advance our curriculum and instruction. Our teachers have learned to use technology more effectively during this time, and that should continue. While we work hard to get kids and teachers safely back in the classroom, we shouldn’t settle for “returning to normal,” but reach for better together.    Hilary Cooper

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Jason Kelley – School Board Candidate

1. Community involvement is my priority because it leads to excellence in all the other listed areas. Our community is filled with parents and residents who have expertise in each of these areas, and a school board that welcomes input from community stakeholders ensures the best possible outcomes.

2. The School Board and Piedmont’s amazing educators have done a good job during this most difficult time in pivoting school from in-person learning to distance learning. Changing conditions have required flexibility and hard work. There is always room for improvement, but Piedmont’s students have been provided with a more robust at-home program than many others in California.

3. I advocate greater transparency. Parents and other Piedmont residents should be able to understand how and why the School Board is making the decisions it does, especially as it grapples with how and when to re-open schools. The community needs to see that it is being protected, and parents should know how their children’s educational needs are being met.  Jason Kelley

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Veronica Anderson Thigpen – School Board Candidate

1. I have three priorities:
–  Maintaining excellence in education throughout the pandemic and beyond.
–  Elevating equity as a core value in every classroom, in every school, across the district to ensure that students are served across the spectrum of learning needs.                                                                          – Creating more spaces and structures for students voices so they feel welcomed, heard, understood, empowered and engaged.

2. A centerpiece of achievement is the new high school STEM facility, expected to open this school year. The project is a much-needed revamp of the aging PHS campus. It took years of site development planning plus a successful public financing campaign. Currently, phase two of the project is underway and will result in a new performing arts and theater facility.

3. I would seek opportunities to include community and youth perspectives in decision- making. Recently, I experienced the efficacy of this approach when I engaged with community advocates from the PADC and the Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign (PREC) along with teachers, youth and district administrators to craft racial and educational equity policies that now have widespread buy-in.  Veronica Anderson Thigpen

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No responses were received from School Board Candidate Hari Titan.

Sep 16 2020

Voters will select two from four Piedmont City Council candidates.

City Council candidates were asked to respond to the following questions in 60 words or less by September 15. 

1. Which issue listed below is your highest priority and why? Services,  Recreation,   Transparency,   Planning, Equality, Infrastructure,  Administration, Environment,  Safety,  Funding,   Community Involvement

2. What are the most successful areas of Piedmont governance? 

3. What would you endeavor to improve if elected to the City Council?

Responses are listed in the order received.  Responses were not edited.

Connie Herrick –  City Council Candidate

(1.) Safety is always the highest priority for our citizens. Every City decision always factors in the safety of our person, homes, streets and schools. Our City is chartered to ensure our emergency preparedness and provide critical support services. Safety has to come first for the other listed priorities to function. We decide the ranking of other priorities through our vote.

(2.) It is impressive what we accomplish with a volunteer City Council and a small City staff. We are proactive, strategic in our vision and able to execute on complex issues. Our citizens receive a good return on their tax dollars and enjoy a high quality of life due to excellent City services. And we interface well with our neighboring cities. 

(3.) I would like to see more visually based ways of communicating to support public outreach about our City issues. An easy-to-understand chart with pros and cons or short 2 minute videos are more effective than reading through voluminous reports and meeting minutes. Offering our citizens interesting, visually based, executive level summaries will get them more engaged and better informed.     Connie Herrick

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Conna McCarthy – City Council Candidate

(1.) Public Safety services, including evaluation of existing infrastructure and emergency preparedness, are a primary concern. We rely on first responders to arrive quickly when we need them. Our emergency communications technology must meet new state and federal standards. In the event of an emergency, we need safe operating facilities. When a major seismic event occurs, we want to be ready.

(2.) Piedmont residents value Piedmont’s strong fiscal management. We must continue to exercise fiscal responsibility to maintain high quality services. We must continue long term financial planning that ensures current services are being paid for in the current year, and that funds for known future obligations, including retirement commitments and facilities maintenance are set aside on a current basis.

(3.) We are a built-out city. Space will always be a premium. City-school collaborations are necessary. For a community with limited recreational facilities, parks and open spaces we are at our best when we collaborate to bring services and programs to our residents. I favor city-school partnerships where feasible and when the partnership improves the quality of life for Piedmont residents.    Conna McCarthy 

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Jennifer Cavenaugh – City Council Candidate

(1.) As a City Council Member for the last four years, I have made it my priority to balance fiscal responsibility with a commitment to improving Piedmont’s aging infrastructure and enhancing public services.  We are a small city with limited resources and staff, and it is essential that we budget conservatively and address past unfunded liabilities, including our streets and sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities. Essential long-term investments will ensure a beautiful, sustainable city for our kids and grandkids.

(2.) The Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee has been a tremendous asset. I found my colleagues on the committee to be smart, hard-working, dedicated financial professionals who offer comprehensive, detailed analysis and recommendations. The work of this committee has provided independent budget oversight, transparency and in-depth understanding of city finances; by implementing recommendations of this committee the city consistently strengthens its financial position.

(3.) As a Council Member, I intend to leverage my deep community connections to engage and promote diverse perspectives, develop mutually beneficial solutions, and increase equity and inclusiveness. I am actively involved with many community organizations to hear their perspectives and support their efforts including Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign, PUSD School Board, Piedmont Connect, League of Women Voters, Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee, Piedmont Community Service Crew, Appreciating Diversity Film Series, and many others.      Jennifer Cavenaugh

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3 Comments »
Sep 16 2020

Reopening of Witter Field September 16, 2020 –

Consistent with public health orders issued by Alameda County that are intended to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Piedmont Unified School District has reopened Witter Field for community use.

Individuals can access Witter Field from the Wildwood Avenue steps, Piedmont Middle School’s “PE Hill,” or the El Cerrito pedestrian gate. The Windsor Avenue gate, Wildwood Elementary School playground, baseball and softball fields, batting cages, and Witter Field House restrooms will remain closed.

Individuals must wear face coverings, maintain at least six-foot social distancing from others who are not part of the same household or living unit, and avoid all social interaction when sick with a fever, cough, or other COVID-19 symptoms.

The District previously closed Witter Field due to widespread and persistent lack of compliance with the Alameda County order at the Field, and similar issues led the City of Piedmont to close the Linda Beach Playfield, as noncompliance poses a serious public health risk.

Witter Field is an important community resource and the decision to reopen the facility was made based on supportive public input. The Field will remain open as long as users comply with the public health orders issued by Alameda County.

Questions or comments? Please contact Director of Facilities Pete Palmer at ppalmer@piedmont.k12.ca.us