Feb 27 2020

Survey deadline – End of February

The City of Piedmont is interested in resident opinions about possible changes to the local building code.

 The City has developed an online survey to hear what you have to say about the possibility of adopting reach codes, which would transition residents off of natural gas heating and increase the installation of solar panels. The survey should take 10-15 minutes, and responses are anonymous. Staff will be collecting survey responses through the end of February. 

As of January 1, 2020, new statewide standards codified by the California Energy Commission (CEC) for building energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions have gone into effect. The new standards include more stringent energy efficiency requirements and solar panel installation for new residential buildings. The CEC is encouraging local governments to adopt local ordinances – “Reach Codes” – in order to meet higher standards for energy efficiency, which help achieve increased savings of energy and money, further reduce emissions, and support jurisdictions in their efforts to meet their Climate Action goals.

Staff is researching ways to reduce natural gas use in buildings and to increase solar panel installations, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase residential resiliency to power outages and other effects of climate change.  Unless residents switch to electric appliances, the City will not meet its Climate Action Plan goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

Staff encourages residents and professionals to take the survey!  For more information, please watch this video.

The City will take community feedback into account as it develops its final reach code recommendations to go to the City Council. The City encourages any interested residents and/or building industry contractors to give their feedback.

For more information, please contact CivicSpark Climate Fellow Justin Szasz at jszasz@piedmont.ca.gov or Building Official Craig Griffin at cgriffin@piedmont.ca.gov.

Feb 24 2020

Time to cast a vote on Piedmont parcel tax Measure T.

The Piedmont City Council has placed before Piedmont voters a parcel tax, Measure T, at the Tuesday, March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary Election to “essentially renew” Piedmont’s long standing parcel tax.  The current parcel tax expires June 30, 2021.

Approval of Measure T requires 2/3rds approval by those voting on the measure. Full text of Measure T proposed rates and ordinance are found at the end of each Alameda County Voter Information Guide.  Measure T is on the last page of ballots. 

The following determinations were made by the City Council:

  • Tax will be for a limited 4 year term allowing voter check on spending. 
  • Language remained the same as prior ballot measures to “Essentially keep the tax the same as current.”
  • Only developed parcels are to be taxed.  Empty vacant lots are not taxed. Empty parcels adjoining developed parcels are not taxed.
  • Tax to “single family” parcels is based on the square footage of the  parcels with larger parcels paying more.
  • No additional tax is added when two or more residences occupy a “single family” zoned parcel. 
  • Piedmont needs to pay for underfunded pension benefits and facility maintenance.
  • Approximately 300 properties straddle the border of Oakland and Piedmont.  If the house is on both sides of the border, the owner pays both Oakland & Piedmont Municipal Services Tax. 

Measure T is a Municipal Services Special Tax and the ballot measure stipulates that funds shall be used for these services:

  • police and fire protection,
  • street maintenance,
  • building regulations, 
  • library services,
  • recreation,
  • parks maintenance,
  • planning and public works

Tax measure proceeds will be deposited into the Piedmont General Fund. There is no differentiated record of how the Special Municipal Services Tax have been spent in prior years.

Piedmont was one of the first cities in California to go before voters following approval of Proposition 13  in 1978 limiting the taxing ability of school, cities, counties, and special districts to raise taxes beyond their 1978 level while allowing an annual 2% increase without gaining approval by 2/3rd of the voters.

Voters can go to their assigned polling location on Tuesday, March 3 and cast their ballot, or if having received a ballot in the mail can place their ballot in the Alameda County ballot box located in central Piedmont near the Wells Fargo Bank, or simply place their ballot in any regular mailbox.  Postage is not required on mailed ballots.

Editors Note:  PCA does not support or oppose ballot measures.

Feb 23 2020

Application Deadline: Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The City Council of Piedmont is looking for talented Piedmont volunteers for vacancies on Piedmont commissions, committees, and appointed positions.

Interested Piedmonters may view the positions and Description of Duties, download the Application for Appointive Vacancy, and/or apply online on the City’s web site at https://piedmont.ca.gov.

Links to information and forms are below:

Notice of Appointive Vacancies 2020

Commission Description of Duties 2020-02-14

Commission Application 2020 (Fillable)

2020-02-14 Volunteers for Commissions

Applications are due to City Hall on or before the deadline of Wednesday, March 25th.

Interviews with the City Council for the volunteer positions will be scheduled for the evening of Monday, March 30, 2020. No appointments will be made without a Council interview.

Piedmonters with questions are invited to contact the City Clerk’s office at (510) 420-3040.

Feb 23 2020

The Capital Improvement Projects program will be considered by the CIP Committee.

CIP Review Committee Agenda, Tuesday, February 25, 2020, 7:00 p.m., City Hall Conference Room, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA

The CIP Review meetings are never broadcast.

AGENDA

Public Forum This is an opportunity for members of the audience to speak on an item not on the agenda. The 10 minute period will be divided evenly between those wishing to address the Committee.

Regular Agenda
1. Introduction of Committee Members and Election of Chair
2. Review of Proposed Work Schedule for the CIP Review Committee for Fiscal Year 2020-2021
3. Presentation of City Facilities and Proposed Civic Projects by City Administrator Sara Lillevand and Director of Public Works Chester Nakahara

Materials related to an item on this agenda submitted to the CIP Review Committee have not been made available for publication. 

Contact City Administrator Sara Lillevand at 510/420-3040 for additional information. 

Feb 23 2020

Committee to consider ways to fund Piedmont facilities.

Extensive plans for the Piedmont Municipal Pool, Coaches Field, Linda Beach Park, and other facilities have been undertaken by the city. A method of funding the millions of dollars necessary to move the projects forward is under consideration at the:

Budget Advisory & Financial Planning Committee, Thursday, February 27, 2020, 7:00 p.m., Emergency Operations Center, 403 Highland Avenue, Piedmont, CA

The meetings are never broadcast and minutes are not kept of the meetings.  Members of the Committee do not file conflict of interest statements.

AGENDA:

Public Forum This is an opportunity for members of the audience to speak on an item not on the agenda. The 10 minute period will be divided evenly between those wishing to address the Committee.

Regular Agenda
1. Review of FY 2019-20 Mid-Year Fiscal Report
2. Discussion of Potential Financing Options for Improvement of City Facilities
3. Consideration of Scheduling Future Meetings

As of this publication, no materials related to an item on the agenda of the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee meeting have been publicly made available. 

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Feb 20 2020

On Feb. 18, 2020 a three to one vote with Councilmember Jennifer Cavenaugh voting no, the new  (Accessory Dwelling Unit) ADU design rules were approved by the City Council. The Council discussion lacked clarity on many issues.  Landscaping in front of garage conversions, translucent windows, fencing, parking, and notice to neighbors were discussed.  Fire safety, driveway access for emergency vehicles, street impacts, enforcement of required landscaping, etc. were not discussed.

Knowledgeable Piedmonters repeatedly asked the Council to require ADU applicants to notify neighbors even with staff having sole authority to make the determination on approval or disapproval.  Required notice of an ADU applicant was rejected by City Attorney Michelle Kenyon as potentially troublesome and a questionable practice while she acknowledged State laws do not prohibit notice to neighbors by ADU applicants.

Some Piedmonters had desired notification to encourage cooperation between applicants and their neighbors, thus allowing opportunities to work out concerns.

The Council majority of McBain, Andersen, and Rood did not require notice.  Cavenaugh voted no.

Importance of adopting appropriate ordinances and requirements

State laws require applications to be acted upon by staff ministerially within 60 days from the date of a completed application.  Ministerially means there will be no public participation and only city staff can make the decision, which spotlights the need to have appropriate objective criteria for ADUs.

City Attorney Michelle Kenyon presented different information. 

Reversing the Planning Director’s no appeal admonition to the Planning Commission, Kenyon stated that although neighbors cannot appeal a Planning staff decisions,  the applicant could appeal a denied application to the City Council thereby opening up an entirely new avenue of consideration previously denied by the Planning Director.

There were numerous areas of  concern not reviewed.  The Council majority ultimately supported having the new ADU Design Guidelines approved rather than having none in place.  It is expected changes and additions will be made in the future. The issue of irreversible legal matters incurred from the time of new rule adoption and subsequent ADU approvals was not discussed.

According to Planning Director Kevin Jackson numerous ADU inquiries have been made since the beginning of the year.

Comments:

  1. My recommendation for story poles was somewhat facetious but given that the city won’t alert neighbors with a simple 3 x 5 postcard, what’s a neighborhood to do?

    This requirement to not notify neighbors of ADU applications comes from City Attorney Kenyon and not planning staff. Kenyon said there is no legal prohibition to notify neighbors but in her opinion it would be “Draconian” to do so. Instead she implied the community would be better served through direct neighbor to neighbor communication. That position is logically flawed – such dialogue is best established through notification and without that requirement many of these neighbor to neighbor exchanges won’t happen and if they do, it will be after the fact.

    More likely her position is self-serving – City Hall doesn’t want to take the phone calls from neighbors about these projects. Recall Maxwellton. No doubt it will be frustrating to have to deal with irate neighbors who aren’t aware of the ministerial ADU process, but that comes with the job. City Hall prides itself on customer service, but maybe it should think more about public service when it comes to ADUs.

    Thanks to Councilwoman Cavenaugh and Planning Commissioner Levine for pushing for public notice.

  2. A thanks to both Councilmember Jen Cavanaugh and Planning Commission Chair Jonathan Levine for their efforts to bring a wider community involvement to this important issue and resident notification.

    My takeaway is based on the comment by City Attorney Kenyon near the end of the ADU Council discussion last night when Jen’s request for minimal resident notification was shot down. City Attorney Kenyon replied that the City is now in compliance. Is Piedmont the last out of compliance City? Highly doubtful. The State ADU Housing Guidelines, assuming the recently passed series of ADU legislations, is only a month away. (City Planner Mike Henn presented this information to Council last night.) Being out of compliance might bring a State letter, but Piedmont is far away from being sued by the State and would have everything in place to immediately pass ordinances to be in compliance once the compliance criteria are known.

    I would like to have more resident notification and involvement with a Town Hall type meeting for the new ADU ordinances and guidelines. Council indicated they will treat the new Chapter 17 modifications and ADU Design Guidelines as living documents that can be amended as needed. Hopefully this will be done with the same swiftness as the very recent ADU implementations have been.

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Feb 16 2020

Former City Council Members and Planning Commissioners Attempted Changes to Proposed Design Guidelines for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) – “Second Units.”

Few Piedmonters have been engaged in the proposed ADU rules despite the impact on all Piedmont properties.

The following are safety matters the Planning Commission and the City Council have not considered.

“The designation of areas may be based on the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety.”  65852.2  (A) State law.

“Off­street parking shall be permitted in setback areas in locations determined by the local agency or through tandem parking, unless specific findings are made that parking in setback areas or tandem parking is not feasible based upon specific site or regional topographical or fire and life safety conditions.”65852.2 (II) State law.

During the Piedmont school winter break, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 7:30 pm in City Hall, the Piedmont City Council will consider approval, disapproval or changes to the Design Guidelines recommended for approval the prior week by a majority of the Piedmont Planning Commission with Chair Jonathan Levine voting no.  See link to the staff report at the end of this article. 

Thus Far No Checklist is Available to Clarify Process & Requirements

The Planning Department attempted to provide Design Guidelines to protect existing neighborhood standards and concern for adjoining properties. Consideration of applications for new ADUs is required to be “objective” without subjective opinions from staff or neighbors.  Although requested at the Planning Commission meeting, no checklist has been produced to let applicants and others view a complete list of what is required for approval. Processes were also not specifically provided.

Planning Commission Chair and former Piedmont City Council Member Jonathan Levine has repeatedly expressed concern for neighborhood impacts, notification, clear processes and guidelines reviewed prior to approval. 

Unappealable  Staff Decisions

Staff alone will make unappealable decisions on permitting ADUs.  Typography, street safety, parking issues, fire safety, emergency access, etc., are yet to be resolved. The Piedmont Fire Marshall is given the all important, yet “subjective” task of determining whether an  application for an ADU will be “safe.”  

Inoperable windows, parking, notice, story poles, fences, privacy, neighbors involvement, public notice, curb cuts, light and air were matters brought up at the Piedmont Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 10, 2020. 

During consideration of recommendations, some current Planning Commissioners displayed little knowledge of the new State laws and the difference between the previously approved ordinance and the Design Guidelines they were acting upon. The fact that ADU approval could not be discretionary, appealed, or subjective came as a surprise to some. 

Planning Director Kevin Jackson explained that there could be no notice to neighbors or appeal of the staff decisions.  He stated that the design issues such as required 6′ fences and non-operable translucent windows had been  recommended by staff to protect neighborly privacy in an objective manner. Both measures were changed by the Commission. Jackson argued for prompt adoption of the guidelines with future amendments as identified.

Comments & Suggestions by Former Officials

Former City Council member Garrett Keating suggested requiring story poles be installed prior to staff approval to allow the staff to definitively know where the ADU would be built. 

Former Planning Commissioner Melanie Robertson argued for a number of improvements, including allowing curb cuts to facilitate parking on site. 

Former Planning Commissioner and Planner Michael Henn presented a number of language conflicts within the guidelines. Henn wanted the Commission to wait until the California Department of Housing and Community Development booklet outlining compliance requirements had been provided.  Henn further advocated greater community engagement in determining the requirements to allow increased consideration by Piedmonters.

Piedmont City Council ADU Design Guidelines staff report for 2/18/2020 Council meeting:

https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=16462354

********

Piedmont City Council ADU ordinance previously enacted :

https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=16415861

Click to make comments to the City Council, > citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov

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Feb 4 2020

League of Women Voters of Piedmont Election Forum

Candidates for Alameda County Offices

Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Piedmont City Council Chamber Chambers – 120 Vista Ave. Piedmont, CA 94611

The League of Women Voters of Piedmont will host a Candidates Forum on February 11, 2020 in advance of the upcoming March 3 election. The event will be held in the Council Chambers at Piedmont City Hall and focus on candidates running for Alameda County Offices. This event is co-sponsored by the Bay Area, Oakland, Berkeley, Albany & Emeryville Leagues of Women Voters. The forum will include candidates for the following races:

 Alameda County Superior Court, Seat 2: Elena Condes, Mark Fickes, and Lilla Julia Szelenyi.

 15th Assembly District: Sarah Brink, Jeanne M. Solnorda, and Buffy Wicks. (Ms. Wicks is likely unable to attend; the League has invited her to submit a written statement.)

 Alameda County Supervisor, District 5: Keith Carson and Nick Pilch.

The community is cordially invited to attend this event.

The forum is designed to provide voters with an opportunity to hear from candidates and pose questions. The program will be simulcast on KCOM-TV, channel 27 and be made available for streaming. KCOM viewers are invited to submit questions during the forum by emailing lwvpiedmont@gmail.com. 

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to promote active and informed democratic participation. Visit www.lwvpiedmont.org for more information.

Piedmont League of Women Voters

Feb 1 2020

Is the cart getting in front of the horse ? Adopt the Ordinance then its requirements ?

Council plans to approve an ADU ordinance on Feb. 3, and some time later consider what the “objective” standards for approved ADUs will be, therefore leaving both applicants and neighbors without clear and specific requirements regarding safety and other issues.

Concerns over regulations have arisen over applications for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) being exclusively and “objectively” considered by staff.  

Before completion of the Piedmont ADU approval requirements – Design Review and safety regulations – the Piedmont City Council is being pressed  to act promptly on adopting a new ADU ordinance on February 3, 2020 at 7:30 pm in City Hall.

Major components of an “objective” review by staff have been shown to be incomplete. Items such as Design Review specifications, safety regulations etc. have not been put forward for Council consideration prior to the proposed second reading and adoption of the ADU ordinance.

A key, legally, allowed, qualification for ADU approval is safety – traffic, pedestrian, access for public safety services, distance from roadways, fire safety, terrain, etc.

Fire Safety:

With climate changes increasing fire conditions in California, fire safety in Piedmont requires prevention of barriers to fire fighting.  Strict avoidance of challenging conditions that would interfere with controlling fires is  necessary for protection of all in the move to densification of our small city. 

 The practice of asking the Fire Chief or Police Chief to determine safety issues appears not to be an identifiable “objective” practice.

The following is the staff suggestion for fire safety standard:

“5.03.03 FIRE SAFE CONSTRUCTION 1.Construction of any ADU or JADU shall be designed to meet fire safe construction and vegetation requirements as determined by the Piedmont Fire Marshal.”

Should Piedmont require ADUs to meet California Fire Code, and National Fire Protection Association Standards?  Piedmont has self-excluded certain fire safety standards.  Will the Piedmont Fire Marshal accept the California Code and National Standards?  Has the Council considered any exemptions?

What document will an applicant for a new ADU receive upon arrival at the Public Works counter in City Hall?  

Planning Commissioner Jonathan Levine pointed out, when voting no on the proposed ordinance, that no applicant document /checklist had been provided to the Commissioners during their consideration of the ordinance. Also, no such document has been provided to the City Council.  Viewing the document informs the Council and the public how the ordinance will be implemented and allows consideration of its objectivity.

Is the approval criteria objective?

Staff has pointed out the necessity of  “objective” criteria for new ADU applicants; however, while seeking approval of an ordinance requiring  compliance by ADU applicants the material provided by the staff to the City Council does not supply a full criteria package. 

 February 3, 7:30 pm – Council consideration of the ADU ordinance. See staff report below.

https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=16415861

The Planning  Commission is scheduled to initially consider the specific requirements on February 10, 2020, leaving open time between the adoption of the ADU ordinance and the completion of the requirements. The Planning Commission staff report and agenda on ADUs Design Review fall after the February 3 Council proposed final adoption of the incomplete ADU ordinance. 

The proposed “Design Review” process to be considered by the Planning Commission is linked below:

https://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_13659739/File/Government/Departments/Planning%20Division/Planning-ADU-Report-2020-02-10.pdf

To make comments to the City Council, click > citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov

Jan 30 2020

State laws ending single-family zoning have a great impact on Piedmont’s parcel tax system and method of supporting city services.

Piedmont, one of California’s most heavily taxed cities, proposes and taxes three housing units on single-family parcels as though there was just one household  – with no commensurate parcel tax to cover the public service needs (parks, recreation, library services, police, fire) of the additional families.

On March 3, 2020, Piedmonters have a renewal of the City parcel tax on their ballot, Measure T,  found at the end of Piedmont ballots.  As written, Measure T does not distinguish between a one family dwelling unit on a single-family parcel and a parcel that has two or three dwelling units on a single-family parcel. 

New State laws impacting “Single-family” residential parcels are intended by the State of California to result in many new dwelling units in former single-family zoned housing by adding one or two units – up to three residential units – on a single parcel.  The March 3rd parcel tax, Measure T, does not reflect this new reality as parcels will be taxed on the basis of one residence on a parcel in the “Single-family” category.

Piedmont is financially impacted by the new housing requirements made at the state level increasing densification. Piedmont’s system of supporting itself has for decades been based on taxing single-family properties in Piedmont containing one single-family residence/household on a parcel.  

Many California cities have increased their sales taxes to gain needed revenue.  Piedmont, zoned primarily for “single-family” residences, has relatively little commercial property and thus very little opportunity for increased sales tax revenue. Voter approved parcel taxes in Piedmont, property transfer taxes, and increased property valuations have allowed Piedmont to prosper.  

Those parcels with the newly allowable 3 housing units on their property will pay no more for the densification of their properties despite windfall income without additional  taxes for the service needs of additional families.

READ the Measure T Tax Tables for Piedmont Basic Municipal Service>HERE.

Increasing the number of households in Piedmont will require additional services – street safety, parking, fire protection, public schools, city administration, public open spaces, police services, etc. – without commensurate increases in revenue. 

Push for more affordable housing in California.

In 2019, the population outflow from the State of California was more than 200,000 citizens relocating to other states.  The figure reported by the US Census Bureau is 203,414.  While California is expected to lose a Congressional Representative after 2020, Texas may gain three Congress persons due to dramatic population increase.

“In the 1970’s citizen activists [in CA] created urban growth boundaries and land trusts to preserve open space and delicate coastal habitats.” Following Prop 13, “Cash hungry cities opted to zone for commercial uses, which would generate sales taxes, instead of affordable housing.” (New York Times 12/1/19)

With the press of political demands for more housing, the State of California has taken a dramatic step to remove restrictions on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).  When ADUs are added to single-family zoned parcels, many requirements have been eliminated: setbacks, floor area ratios, view protections, parking, owner occupancy, public participation, notification, and other factors.

School taxes.

In November 2019, Piedmonters voted overwhelmingly by over 82% to tax individual parcels.  Every parcel has the same tax basis of approximately $2,700. An additional tax based on square footage of living space is also added to individual parcel taxes.  The taxation needs for the school parcel tax were based on expected student populations.

READ the approved 2019 Piedmont School Parcel Tax Measure HERE.

Unlike San Mateo, the Piedmont City Council accepted the new State laws and has shown no effort to enforce the City Charter which gives Piedmont voters the right to have a say in what happens to Piedmont’s zoning.  Further, the Piedmont City Council took no action or policy position on the various housing initiatives put forth in Sacramento that take away local laws even though the legislation was contrary to Piedmont’s City Charter.

Piedmont’s Charter was written to guarantee Piedmont voters the right to control many aspects of the City including elections, finances, budgets, police and fire departments, public schools, public borrowing, zoning, etc.  

 Charter cities in California have lost significant local authority over land use and public participation in decisions. 

The recent court decision in a San Mateo County Court to uphold and acknowledge San Mateo’s City Charter regarding a housing project could eventually impact Piedmont.  The San Mateo Court decision does indicate a judicial act protecting Charter City rights.  

The Piedmont City Council per the City Charter has the responsibility of enforcing the City Charter and putting before Piedmont voters recommended changes to zoning – single-family, multi-family, commercial, and public zones, yet nothing has been placed before the voters.  Other City Charter changes and amendments were on a recent ballot and approved by Piedmont voters.

Piedmonters for over a century held control over land use decisions, police and fire services,  public schools, parks, etc. through the City Charter.

Affordable housing in Piedmont

In Piedmont, the abandoned PG&E property on Linda Avenue next to the Oakland Avenue Bridge, was noted in Piedmont’s General Plan, as an optimal location for affordable housing – close to schools, transportation, stores and parks.  Disregarding Piedmont’s General Plan and Piedmont’s City Charter, the City Council permitted a number of market-rate townhouses to be built on the former PG&E site without including any affordable housing and illegally rezoning the property from public usage to the multi-family zone without a citizen vote on the rezoning, as required by Piedmont’s City Charter. 

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