Jun 21 2018

PIEDMONT CITY COUNCIL TO HOST TOWN HALL MEETING ON POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE PIEDMONT CITY CHARTER

Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers

Comments in this article are in response to the City’s public notice and were written by the Piedmont Civic Association aggregating some of the comments by Piedmonters knowledgeable and concerned about the proposed Piedmont City Charter changes. 

The City’s meeting notice was provided by Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit and  John Tulloch City Clerk /Assistant City Administrator, a recently created position,   

Town Hall Meeting – Monday, June 25

“The Piedmont City Council will hold a town hall meeting on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers to receive public input on possible amendments to the City Charter, which may be placed before the voters at the City’s General Municipal Election in November 2018.”

“The discussion of possible Charter amendments began in June 2017 and Council has subsequently discussed the issue at meetings on February 5, 2018, March 5, 2018, April 30, 2018, and June 4, 2018.”

BIG CHANGES TO THE CITY CHARTER

The proposed City Charter changes were devised by the City Administrative staff and the Piedmont City Council to potentially be voted upon by the Piedmont electorate at the General Election in November 2018. For the proposed changes to take effect, Piedmont voters must approve the changes.   All portions of the Charter were not considered in the Charter review.  For instance, Piedmont’s method of borrowing money was not taken up, nor was a clarification on the controversial zoning language in the Charter.  Also, when a mayor recently resigned, the Council  arbitrarily created a new position outside of the Charter called an “Acting Mayor.”   These items and others were not addressed in the proposed changes.

A number or Piedmonters and the Piedmont League of Women Voters had asked the Council to involve the community in the City Charter changes, however all considerations were made at the Council level garnering little public participation and no input from City commissions, committees, or a special committee charged with assessing potential City Charter changes.

ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES

Administrative changes, although de-emphasized in the City’s  presentations on proposed Charter changes, represent the greatest alterations to Piedmont’s form of City Administrator government.  Piedmont has had the City Administrator form of government for generations, and most would agree Piedmont has done well during those many years under the City Administrator form of government. As will be read below, authority historically held by the City Council is being transferred to the City Administrator.

The proposals to change the City Charter would take authority from the City Council and transfer it to the City Administrator.

The Council would retain authority to hire Department Heads, such as the Police Chief, City Clerk, Fire Chief, Finance Director, but the Council could not fire their appointees.  The Department Head termination authority would be granted solely to the City Administrator, presenting a new and different complexity to Piedmont  governance.

The City Administrator in Piedmont, by the current Charter language, has the responsibility for the administration of the City – the day to day operations and administration of the City. The City Administrator reports to the Council on employee performance.  The current Charter language states the Council can direct top managers, however the Charter also makes it clear the Council members are not administrators and  as individuals cannot act to “direct” the managers or the City Administrator.

Taking the authority to direct Department Heads from the Council, as a whole, and bestowings the authority solely upon the City Administrator, is governance commonly considered a City Manager form of government with a directly elected mayor, which Piedmont does not have,.   In Piedmont, the Council appoints from their members an individual to be Piedmont’s Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor has essentially the same authority as the other four Council members other than what is allowed by the Charter or granted by the Council.  In recent years, Council observers have noted more authority has been given by the City Administrator to mayors than the Charter allows without consideration by the  Council as a whole.

 UNLIMITED RESERVES 

The original idea for reviewing the City Charter arose at a Council meeting when it became apparent Piedmont revenues greatly exceeded the Annual Budget 25% limit in the General Fund Reserve. One or more Council members wanted to accumulate larger amounts of money in the General Fund Reserve.  The Charter limit on reserves was intended to stop Councils from excessively taxing Piedmont property owners.

Much of the increase in Piedmont revenues stems from the sale of property resulting in transfer taxes and a higher basis on Piedmont property taxes.  To retain the excess revenues  when the 25% General Fund Reserve limit had been met, the Council has directed the excess  revenue into various newly established reserve funds,  At the same time, the City Council has continued to levy the full voter approved property tax, plus an annual percentage increase regardless of the windfall tax revenues.  The practice of placing excess revenues into special reserve funds has been put into practice without changing the City Charter.

The following language in quotes is from the City notice followed by PCA comments:

“At its June 4th meeting, the City Council directed staff to schedule a town hall meeting in order to allow residents an additional opportunity to review the changes that have been discussed at previous Council meetings. This is an opportunity for residents to ask questions and express their opinions on the proposed Charter amendments prior to the Council placing a measure on the November ballot.”

Unlike past reviews of the City Charter, there has been no comprehensive look at the entire Charter nor an independent committee focused on the pros and cons of the proposed Charter changes.

Presumably, the Council does not want to put something on the ballot that is likely to be rejected by Piedmont voters.  Yet, the Town Hall Meeting comes after Council decisions have essentially been made regarding proposed changes to the City Charter. The Council must now decide if their proposals will be accepted by Piedmont voters and if it is timely to place the proposals before the voters.  Each time the Charter is placed on a ballot, it incurs cost for the City.

“Because the Charter is effectively the City of Piedmont’s constitution, the City Council wants to receive as much resident input as possible on the proposed amendments.”

The Town Hall meeting will not include a comprehensive discussion and exchange of ideas on the Charter changes – the pros and cons – for each public speaker is typically given only 3 minutes to address even this voluminous subject. Decisions were made by the City Council and staff on the proposals to be considered at the meeting.

Depending on citizen input on the proposals, the Council may or may not decide to place the changes on the November ballot.  The Council could defer action pending further consideration of unintended consequences and/or benefits to Piedmont. 

Some of the proposed amendments to the Charter are as follows: [The order of the City changes has been changed here to prioritize important issues first. The most significant proposed changes were previously placed by the City staff toward the end of their announcement, which might lead readers to assume the administrative changes are minor.] 

  • ” In Article 3 – Administration, several changes are proposed to clarify reporting structure for the Officers of the City (Department Heads). At the April 30th meeting, Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they are directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

This is one of the most important, if not the most important change being proposed to the City Charter. The above statement by the City hints at the split authority of the Council.  For example, the Council would appoint Department Heads, but the Council could not dismiss problem Department Heads, creating confusion and potential problems for the City Administrator, who would be the sole authority in dismissal, “serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

Department Heads in Piedmont have always served at the pleasure of the City Council and could be directed by the Council as a whole, but not by individual Council members.  For example, the Council might direct the Police Chief to step up night patrols: the Council might direct the Finance Director to find ways to save the City money; the Council might direct the Recreation Director to develop more programs for senior citizens. The Department Heads were held accountable to the City Council with advice from the City Administrator.

In meeting identified needs of citizens, the change proposed totally eliminates the Council’s authority to direct Department Heads.  The Council authority would  be transferred to the City Administrator.

Piedmont, as a small city, has thrived under the City Administrator form of government; the City Manager form of government found in other, many larger, cities, with a directly elected mayor, has the potential for creating new problems regarding Council authority and responsiveness to citizens.

  • ” In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.”

The General Fund Reserve limit of 25% originated from concern to not levy more taxes than was necessary to operate the City while providing an emergency reserve during an economic slump or great emergency.  The City Council and City staff in recent years have  diverted excess revenues from the significant property and transfer tax windfall into various fund reserves.  There is no language proposed to limit the Council’s ability to tax property owners.

  • ” In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.”

Bidding requirements are one way to publicly open up the procurement of public services, consultants, contractors, and other City needs rather than continuing with current contractors on a long term basis without going through an open bidding process.  Most  cities and the state encourage open bidding to benefit taxpayers and the community at large.

  • “The Council also directed staff to prepare amendments to several other sections of the Charter to remove outdated provisions and modernize language.”

This part of the City Charter proposals presents many questions for it is largely unidentified.  What  provisions and what antiquated language?  Why not list the outdated provisions? New Department Head positions have been added with no general public notice.  Is Piedmont’s bureaucracy inadequate to serve our small community? Once new positions are added to the Charter, employment cost can be greater and more permanent.

  • ” A modification of City Council term limits to lengthen the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office again from four to eight years after leaving office. (Section 2.03)”

The change listed above is of little impact for the City Council has only had two Council contenders seeking re-election after a 4 years hiatus. One contender was elected, the other was not.  Changing this in the Charter is of debatable value.

  •  “An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council to allow the Council sixty days to fill a vacancy. If the Council doesn’t act within those sixty days, a special election would be called to fill the vacancy. Under current provision, the Council has thirty days to make an appointment and if it doesn’t act, the Mayor can make an appointment. (Section 2.05(c))”

A thirty day period in which to fill a vacant Council seat is common for elective bodies.  Waiting 60 days to fill a vacant seat potentially leaves the Council vulnerable to inaction on important civic issues when there are only four members of the Council and a split vote occurs.  There has never been a time when the Council could not fill a vacant seat during the mandated thirty day period.

  • ” A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis. (Section 2.07 (a))\”

Councils throughout the area hold two or more regular Council meetings per month. Language could be proposed to accommodate changes in schedules. 

  • ” The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)”

Prohibition against employment discrimination is the law and does not require a Charter change.  Including the proposed language in the Charter will make no change to how Piedmont handles employment discrimination because Piedmont honorably and consistently follows state and federal laws barring discrimination.

  • ” The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments.”

The Board of Education must take a position on the City Charter changes by resolution. The details of the proposed changes are not noted here.

  • “A marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed amendments is available on the City’s web site at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.   Pursuant to section 9.07 of the Charter, any proposed amendments must be presented to the qualified voters of the City for approval.”

The marked up version has been difficult to follow, making the sweeping changes difficult for the public to understand.

  • “Public comment is invited and encouraged at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.
  • The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.”

The full staff report for the meeting can be accessed > HERE.

COMMENTS MAY BE SENT TO THE COUNCIL MEMBERS AS BELOW:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Betsy Smegal Andersen bandersen@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 Unexpired Term Exp. 11/18
Jun 19 2018

City staff together with Groundworks Office, outside consultants for the Linda Beach Plan, have developed a framework to guide the next iteration of the Linda Beach Plan.

Based on robust feedback from the community, Park Commission, Recreation Commission and City Council on the 35% Linda Beach Master Plan Concept, City staff together with Groundworks Office has developed the following framework to guide the next iteration of the plan.

1. The Skate Spot will be removed from the master plan and a subcommittee of the Recreation Commission will study other spaces in Piedmont to potentially serve this need.

2. The Tot Lot will:
a. be designed to primarily serve children under the age of 5
b. be similar in size to the existing facility
c. keep kids contained in a safe area
d. have natural shade
e. be readily accessible by stroller with adequate stroller parking
f. have access to restrooms and changing tables

3. How and where to best serve the emerging desire for Pickleball in Piedmont will be studied by a Recreation Commission Subcommittee. In the meantime, Pickleball will be removed from the master plan.

4. Two Tennis Courts will remain in the plan but not at full regulation size. North-South orientation is preferred but not necessary.

5. Multi-age recreation opportunities (eg. bocce ball) will be explored for incorporation in the park.

6. Design will emphasize Linda Avenue as the main entry to the park including moving ADA access from Howard Avenue to Linda Avenue.

7. We will continue to examine opportunities for indoor recreation program space.

8. The park will include picnic tables and an area suitable for small gatherings like birthday parties.

9. Significant landscape buffers will be included along Howard Avenue.

10. A stormwater plan will be refined and clarified.

11. The park will be designed such that it can be closed and secured at night.

12. The Master Plan will acknowledge sensitivity to existing trees clearly identifying trees that will remain as well as conceptually noting replacement trees.

The City staff and Groundworks staff are currently working on adjustments to the Linda Beach Park project schedule, but tentatively, the next iteration of this plan is scheduled to be presented at a joint meeting of the Park and Recreation Commissions on September 5, 2018.

1 Comment »
Jun 10 2018

Piedmont’s “new waste disposal contract” with Republic Services relies heavily on the company’s ability to properly recycle garden cuttings, kitchen waste, paper, plastics, glass, etc.  Questions have arisen as to whether Piedmont’s waste is actually being recycled or is merely headed to a landfill site?

Republic Services apparently was sending recycling to China. Recently China has decided to stop accepting it and our “recycling” will end up in landfill. At premium prices!

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/09/568797388/recycling-chaos-in-u-s-as-china-bans-foreign-waste

“Western states, which have relied the most on Chinese recycling plants, have been hit especially hard. In some areas — like Eugene, Oregon, and parts of Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii — local officials and garbage haulers will no longer accept certain items for recycling, in some cases refusing most plastics, glass and certain types of paper. Instead, they say, customers should throw these items in the trash.”

The Piedmont Civic Association made an inquiry to Piedmont’s provider, Republic Services in Richmond, asking about the destination of Piedmont’s recyclable waste.  There has been no response.  Our email, which was copied to the City Council, is below:

~~~~~~~

PCA

PIEDMONT CIVIC ASSOCIATION

June 1. 2018

——Media Inquiry—–

Republic Services

3260 Blume Drive, Suite 100

Richmond, CA 94806

piedmont@repsrv.com

Manager: Richmond, California, Republic Services

RE: Actual disposition of Piedmont, CA recyclable waste

Recently, the Piedmont Civic Association was informed, as validated by the New York Times on May 29, 2018, that much of Republic’s collected recyclable waste is going to landfills rather than going to reuse.

We are asking what is the disposition of Piedmont recyclables including glass, paper, plastic, etc.

The residents of Piedmont have exceeded their goals set for recycling waste materials and keeping reusable materials out of the landfills.

Please promptly reply to our inquiry so we may include your response in the forthcoming article on our well established website:

www.piedmontcivic.org

Thank you,

PCA Editors

editors@piedmontcivic.org

 

1 Comment »
Jun 10 2018

Flawed process for changing the Piedmont City Charter has produced new issues and unknown rationale.  Concerns have focused on such proposals as: Unlimited reserve funds, changes to management of employees, elimination of Council bimonthly meetings, elimination of posted notices, and questionable designations of City officers. – 

The following letter was sent to the Piedmont City Council –

TO: City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov
RE: Comments Regarding Proposed Changes to City Charter June 3, 2018

Dear City Council:

I am writing to oppose the proposal to amend the City Charter, for two reasons: 1) process, and 2) substance.

PROCESS

I respectfully submit that the process is flawed and should be revisited. Here are some thoughts in that connection:

First, what is the problem we are trying to solve? Although the June 4, 2018 Staff Report states that the City Council has been discussing changes to the Charter since June 2017, it does not contain reasons for the proposed changes. Without a “statement of the problem,” how does the Council know what changes need to be made? And if we make changes to solve undefined problems, might the proposed changes create unintended consequences?

Second, what are the pros and cons of the proposed solutions to the problem? The Staff Report does not provide pros and cons, or alternative solutions to address perceived problems with the current Charter.

Third, shouldn’t workshops be held to determine the level of public support for the changes before they are submitted to Piedmont citizens for a vote? Deciding to put the Charter changes on the ballot without adequate public input is a backwards process.

SUBSTANCE

In addition to having serious concerns with the process the Council is following in this regard, I also have some substantive issues and questions:

Section 2.03. Because the Staff Report does not indicate what problem this “out of office” change attempts to solve, it’s not clear that this change is needed. If there is indeed a problem to be solved, and there’s public support for such change, a corresponding change should be made in Section 7.02 concerning the School Board.

Section 2.07 would delete the current requirement that the Council meet at least twice a month, and instead would only require that the Council meet “regularly.” This is totally inadequate. While I can understand that a twice monthly meeting requirement might be out of step with what is currently considered good governance and might make it difficult for some otherwise qualified candidates to serve on the Council, this change goes too far and could allow meetings only every other month, or quarterly. At a minimum, this section should provide for regular monthly meetings.

Section 2.08 states how the Mayor is selected. Should we consider having the Mayor be elected by the voters, as in many other communities?

Section 2.12(D) would eliminate the requirement to post ordinances on bulletin boards, in favor of using the City website. To ensure that citizens know they should look on the website for ordinances, I suggest that the City also be required to post a notice describing the ordinance (if not including the entire ordinance) in one or more newspapers of general circulation.

Article III’s changes are problematic. First, I’m not sure it is a good idea to give the City Administrator so much power without Piedmont having a citizen-elected Mayor to partner with the City Administrator. If public input indicates support for giving the City Administrator the power to manage and dismiss all City officers, but having the Council keep the authority to eliminate or consolidate these officer positions, then this Article should be overhauled completely (for instance, deleting from the Charter the listing of City officers, since if the Charter states that the City “shall” have certain officers, it’s unclear that the Council could eliminate such positions without an amendment to the Charter).

Section 4.03 proposes to eliminate the 25% ceiling on the General Fund Reserve. This proposal is outrageous. Piedmont’s taxes are much higher than those in comparable cities. Many (those on fixed incomes, or young couples, for instance) struggle to afford the current rates. While keeping adequate reserves is important, there’s been no case made by Staff or the Council that the City needs more than 25% in reserves. The cap should stay.

Section 4.10 governs franchises. It’s unclear what this section is intended to cover. Is this a section that should be considered for updating or deletion?

Section 4.11 proposes to eliminate the requirement that all public projects be competitively bid. This is unacceptable. A requirement to competitively bid ensures that public funds are spent wisely. Competitive bidding should be the rule, and deleting this language opens the door to wasting public funds.

Article V. If the Charter is being examined fully, the Council might consider whether most of the provisions of Article V belong in the Charter, or could instead be moved to an ordinance. While the updating of Section 5.02 is admirable, the law keeps changing. To eliminate the need to constantly update the Charter, it might be easier to simply say that the City will not discriminate on any prohibited basis.

Sincerely,
Kathleen Quenneville, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. 
7 Comments »
Jun 10 2018

End of the year letter …

Dear Families and Community,

It’s hard to believe the school year has come to an end! As we reflect on the 2017-18 school year, educators across the District are feeling great pride in the academic and social-emotional growth of students. Together, let us celebrate students’ hard work and engagement in their learning process.

Please click on the following link for a year-end report that highlights many District initiatives from this year. The District’s ultimate goal is to provide an extraordinary education for all students. Each initiative furthered this goal in one of the following ways: updating and refining our curriculum and instruction; promoting deeper levels of student engagement, critical thinking, and inquiry; providing a safe, appropriate and inclusive learning environment for all students; or adapting our administrative practices and structures to better meet the needs of students and better support educators.

I would like to thank our teachers, staff and administrators for their incredible dedication and for all they do on behalf of our students. They are making a remarkable team of professionals who continually strive to improve teaching and learning. I would also like to thank the many organizations, families, and volunteers who partner with the District to enhance and expand opportunities for our students. I am grateful for this breadth and depth of community support for public education, and proud of what we have accomplished together this year.

Have a wonderful summer!

Sincerely,

Randall Booker
Superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School DistrictMay 31, 2018

Jun 10 2018

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING ON INTENT TO ENTER INTO CONTRACT  FOR CONSTRUCTION OF  ENERGY CONSERVATION FACILITIES

The Board of Education of the Piedmont Unified School District (“Board”)
shall hold a public hearing to authorize the award of one contract for construction of energy conservation facilities. (“Contracts”) Pursuant to the provisions of California Government Code Section 4217.12 (a), the Board will determine whether it is in the best interests of the Piedmont Unified School District to enter into the Contracts.

Date: June 13, 2018
Hearing Body: Piedmont Unified School District Board of Education
Time: 7:00 p.m., during a Regular Board of Education meeting
Place: PUSD District Office, 120 Vista Avenue, (Board Room)

Jun 5 2018

Piedmont’s Short-Term Rental Ordinance Requires Immediate Action to Avoid $1,500 or $5,000 Fine

On May 7, 2018, the City Council approved a short-term rental ordinance requiring operators of Air BNB type rentals within Piedmont to obtain a permit from the City beginning on June 6, 2018.  Owners or tenants of single-family dwellings must obtain a permit to operate hosted or non-hosted short-term rentals. The rental dwelling must be the owner or tenant’s primary legal residence.

The following limitations apply:

  • Short-term rentals must be a minimum of two consecutive nights, but not more than thirty days.

  • Short-term rentals may be rented for a maximum of sixty days per calendar year.

  • Short-term rentals may not be rented for events, parties or gatherings.

  • Only single family dwellings may be used as short-term rentals. Accessory dwelling units and multi-family dwelling units are prohibited from use as a short-term rental.

  • Revenue generated by short-term rentals is subject to the City’s rental tax.

  • Residents operating a short-term rental without a permit or in violation of the ordinance will be subject to a $1,500 fine for the first offense and fines of $5,000 for any subsequent offenses.

The  Short-Term Rental Permit Process

Short-term rental hosts must pay an application fee of $300, have met all safety requirements, provide several city ordinances to tenants, and pay rental income tax to the City on the gross receipts from the rentals.

Short-Term Rental Permit Application

The application requirements include: proof of residency, proof of insurance, every online listing of the rental including personal webpages.  If a building inspection is necessary, there is an additional fee of $200 added to the $300 application fee. Download and complete the five page application here.

For more information, contact the Piedmont Planning Department at 510/420-3050.

Jun 5 2018
     In reply to Superintendent Booker’s response to my recent article “A Costly Mistake”, the salient issue is whether or not the high school can get by without adding eight portables for a period of three years. I am not an educator, but I can add and subtract.

    The high school now has 39 designated classrooms on the campus, two of which are used for other purposes. A normal school day includes seven periods. The Administration building currently has 8 classrooms used by 12 teachers for a total of 52 periods a day, nearly 100 per cent utilization of the 56 total periods. When the Admin building is demolished, there will be 31 classrooms remaining on the campus with a total of 217 teaching periods in each school day.

    The PHS Staff Directory provides the specific classroom and number of periods assigned in that classroom for each member of the faculty. My tabulation shows that at present the Math Science building has a surplus of 8 periods, the Library has a surplus of 18 periods, and MHS has a surplus of 28 teaching periods. If the district temporarily cancels out ceramics, MHS will have a surplus of 32 periods. Total underutilization will then be 58 of the 217 periods, six more than the 52 needed to accommodate all of the teachers on the staff including those displaced by demolition of the Admin building. The 31 remaining classrooms will be no more heavily used than are the existing classrooms in the Admin building — and for 1.5 years under my proposal instead of 3 years.

    Making enhanced use of the library conference room and subdividing just one of the existing classrooms into 4 smaller seminar rooms would provide additional flexibility. The PHS principal’s office can be conveniently relocated across the arcade to the rooms now occupied by the teacher’s lounge and teacher’s resource room in the library. Teachers might, in fact, benefit by sharing the student lounge with the students. And storage space, even if temporarily rented, is relatively easy to provide.

    Other issues may need to be resolved, but the high school can get by without adding eight portable classrooms, and the district could proceed now with the demolition of the Admin building. That much is indisputable.

William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jun 2 2018

Piedmont City Council to Consider Proposed Charter Changes June 4, 2018, 7:30 p.m. City Hall:

If the City Administrator’s requests to change the City Charter are approved, the City Council could take a back seat in Piedmont’s governance.

Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit proposed eliminating the long-time appointment power of the City Council in the City Charter. 

The City Council has always appointed and hired key administrative positions – Police Chief, Fire Chief, City Clerk, Finance Director, Public Works Director, etc. However, the Council told Benoit on April 30, 2018 they wanted to retain the Council’s hiring authority per the City Charter.  Yet Benoit apparently convinced the Council that he, the City Administrator, should be the sole individual authorized to fire or terminate key managers, taking authority away from the Council in an unusual change to Council authority.

Readers will find the administrative changes repeatedly diminish the authority of the Council forfeiting their authority to the City Administrator.

The form of government proposed by Benoit is usually termed a City Manager form of government joined by a strong mayor, which Piedmont does not elect.  Oakland has a City Manager form of government as does Alameda and Astoria, Oregon, where Benoit was employed for many years prior to coming to Piedmont. Each of these cities have a separately elected Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor is elected from within the Council  by the five Council members. 

Many are familiar with Oakland struggles, but perhaps less familiar with Alameda’s recent troubles when the Council terminated their City Manager over a hiring situation. Piedmont has not had such disruption and the City Council has worked collaboratively when selecting officers such as the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and others.  It has been stated that it is better to have 5 members of the Council selecting  the City officers rather than one unelected person – the City Administrator – making the selections and terminations.

Despite pleas for an independent committee to study and evaluate proposed changes to the Piedmont City Charter, none was formed by the City Council.  The Administration driven proposals have moved forward following a Council Study Session.  

This PCA article points out some of the critical issues, but as with any City Charter the devil is in the details, of which there are many.  The Council, apparently, will be presenting forums after they decide what should be placed on a Piedmont  November 2018 election ballot to seek required ratification

~~~~~~~~~~~

Below are various changes noted by City staff as substantive.  Readers will note in the full draft linked below there are many other important issues.

   The pros and cons of the changes have not been presented by staff.

Important administrative changes of the Charter were listed last in the staff report linked below. The order has been changed here. 

  • ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROVERSY: Council would hire top managers, but could not fire them. In Article 3 – Administration – Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they will be directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.
  • The Council acted against the recommendation of the City Administrator and decided to retain their long held ability to select and appoint (hire) Department Heads per the current Charter requirement appointments for Department Heads, while letting the City Administrator be the only individual who fire the Department heads.
  •   ISSUE: The Council relinquishment of their ability to also terminate (fire) Department Heads –  the Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, City Clerk, etc. presents potential new problems for the City Council authority.
  • New positions have been added to the list of permanent City of Piedmont positions.  The number of  Department Head employeeswill be permanently placed in the City Charter potentially making it more difficult to consolidate or eliminate positions. 
  •  ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL;  NO LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF RESERVE FUNDS. In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.
  • Elimination of the amount of money the City can place in reserve, while continuing to tax property owners has been one of  the more noticed proposed changes to the City Charter.  The original goal of limiting reserves was to control taxation without a purpose. In recent years, the Council and Administration has circumvented the limitation by building up reserves in numerous specials funds presenting a bountiful amount of money stored by the millions for special purposes.   The change appears arbitrary. 
  • ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL: BIDDING and PURCHASING:  In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.
  • Many City service providers are currently not obtained through a formal bidding process. Regardless of cost to the City, old friends, contractors,  and work companions often continue for years without ever going through a formal procurement process.  Some suggest Piedmont has not always performed due diligence with the millions of dollars spent for outside services and have suggested stronger language rather than more relaxed requirements. Piedmont adopted a stronger procurement, liability and project policy led by the League of Women Voters of Piedmont.  There has been no comment on the impact of the proposed Charter change to the policy. 
  •  
  •  The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)  This makes Piedmont Charter language compliant with U.S. and state law without impacting Piedmont’s current compliant practices.
  • The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments. There is no validation provide for the Board of Education position on the Charter change. 

POLITICAL: LIMITING SERVICE BY FORMER COUNCIL MEMBERS.  The proposal would increase the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office from 4 to 8 years after leaving office.

 Only two Council members have in the past 3 decades attempted to be re-elected following 4 years of ineligibility.  One former Councilmember was not re-elected, another was elected, but recently resigned over a scandal.  A local newspaper’s publicity for those two candidates influenced the election more than the candidates’ efforts.

POLITICAL: HOW LONG SHOULD THE COUNCIL HAVE TO FILL A COUNCIL VACANCY.   An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council would be extended to allow the Council 60 days rather than just 30 days to fill a vacancy.

 Recent history has proven the Council has been able to readily fill numerous Council vacancies within the allotted 30 day time period. The intention of the Charter was to expeditiously fill a vacancy for a full Council composition of 5 members rather than unnecessarily remain at 4 or fewer members. 

  • CONTROVERSIAL: WHEN TO HOLD COUNCIL MEETINGS A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis.

    Change could be arbitrary. 

    Residents often plan their public participation schedules around knowing when the Council will meet  – the first and third Mondays of each month. With recent changes to the Zoning Code, not knowing when the Council will next meet to consider a matter opens up conflicting issues. From high school students to public participants, having regularly scheduled meetings, a standard for most cities,  is beneficial.  If three (the required amount) Council members cannot attend a regularly scheduled  meeting, then the meeting would fall to the next day or week. Going on the City Council is known to require certain meetings per month thus allowing the Council and public set dates for planning purposes. Scheduling of matters can be crucial to the consideration of many issues and the orderly functioning of government.  Reducing the frequency of Council meetings puts them at a disadvantage in providing the leadership the citizenry expects of their elected officials.

Amendments are also proposed to a number of other sections of the Charter to remove stated outdated provisions and modernize language. Click to read a marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed Charter amendments.

READ the full STAFF REPORT > HERE.

Citizens are invited and encouraged to comment at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA  94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.

The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.

For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.

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May 31 2018
A Costly Mistake

On November 8, 2016, following a well-orchestrated campaign, 73% of Piedmont voters supported a $66 million bond issue to modernize and add classrooms to the high school campus, which includes the Millennium High School.

Subsequently, the Board approved selection of an architectural firm (HKIT) and proceeded with a plan focusing on two major projects: a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) Building that is expected to cost $37.5 million, and a new Alan Harvey Theater costing $16.3 million. Together these projects, including necessary demolition, account for 81.5% of the $66 million bond and will take about three years to complete, during which time the schools will be without a theater. The STEAM building includes 19 classrooms, and the theater adds a drama classroom. Eight existing classrooms will be demolished, so the net gain will be 12 new classrooms, a 30% increase in the number of classrooms but with no new teachers added and only a modest increase projected in high school enrollment. The balance of the bond money will be spent on modernizing existing classrooms and other needed improvements on the campus.

In sequence, the approved plan is to demolish the theater in the summer of 2020, and construct a new three-story STEAM building on its site. When STEAM is completed, the existing Administration Building will be demolished, and a replacement theater with a drama classroom will be constructed on its site.

Well before the election, Superintendent Booker established a Facilities Steering Committee to report directly to him. This committee, a mix of school staff and Piedmont residents, reviewed the Facilities Master Plan prepared by QKA Architects that included a list of needed school projects that totaled an estimated $137 million, twice the district’s current bonding capacity. Hence, the list had to be cut in half. The committee then decided that the highest priority should be given to the high school and its need for more and better classrooms. After thoughtful deliberation, the committee decided on three site plan options for consideration, and these were the only options open for discussion at three Town Hall Meetings held in April, 2017.

At some point in the process, the committee was told, mistakenly in my opinion, that if the Administration building was demolished before the STEAM building was completed, the high school could not function without first installing eight portable classrooms at a cost of $5 million. This effectively eliminated one of the three options, and ultimately led to the Board’s adopted plan. Board President Sarah Pearson said, “One of the reasons rebuilding a new theater [on the site of the Administration building] became such an attractive option was because of the cost of interim housing and not having much space. It was the most pragmatic decision — not to put money in portables.”

The fact is that a careful review of the high school teachers and their assigned classrooms showed that the school could function perfectly well without the need for costly portables during construction.

My detailed analysis found that of the 39 designated classrooms, eight in the Administration Building are nearly fully utilized, but the remaining 31 are typically underutilized. In fact, one designated classroom is now being used for storage and another for school publications. There would be some minor inconveniences, but these are far outweighed by the multiple advantages of constructing a new STEAM building on the site of the existing Administration Building, and a new or revamped theater at its present location.

Total construction time and campus disruption would be cut in half from 3 to 1.5 years, a significant saving in construction cost escalation.Moreover, there is no immediate need to replace the theater. ADA access and other suggested improvements could be made at a cost of less than $10 million. Only minor structural upgrade is needed. If theater replacement is deferred until additional bonding capacity is available, first phase funds would be available to address the much-needed Middle School upgrades, a rational trade-off.

In December 2017, I sent an e-mail to the Board and staff outlining in detail how this could be accomplished. To date, I have received no substantive reply, except a comment by Dr. Pearson that it is too late to make these changes. I do not believe this. It took only about 4 months for the construction documents for the Alan Harvey Theater to be prepared in 2014. Similarly, HKIT could most assuredly revise the construction documents needed for the two buildings in a relatively short period of time. They would not be starting from scratch. Even if the two projects have already been submitted to the State Division of Architects — and I don’t know that they have— it is not too late to consider revisiting the issue and make these siting improvements given the multiple advantages of time and cost.

 William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
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