May 19 2011

Opinion: Gift Costs Piedmont $300,000 – So Far

Comment during Open Forum at the Recreation Commission meeting of May 18, 2011:

The Recreation Commission’s contribution is so vital to Piedmont. Our town’s excellent recreational facilities are a testament to the job you do. I have lived in Piedmont for a very long time and there have seen so many additional sports facilities brought on line.  The downside of this expansion is the loss of mixed-use facilities, such as Linda Beach.   Family and passive recreational opportunities have been entirely superseded by organized sports clubs. This change can be easily seen. What is not so apparent are the many hidden financial fees for maintenance, upkeep and especially capital replacement costs.

Later this evening Mr. Delventhal will give a report on the status of the Blair Park proposal. Proponents, as the designers of the project, have had open and intimate knowledge of exactly where the process stands.  Opponents have not been granted access and are kept in the dark. Indeed, Mr. Grote has allowed the critical traffic plans to come and go with no prior notice at both Council and Commission meetings. I am hopeful Mr. Delventhal will provide some insight.

Back to the costs. In September 2009 when PRFO and ELS proposed the Blair Park EIR be undertaken at their expense, they were emphatic that “all development costs would be paid by PRFO.”  On many occasions Clarence Mamouyac has re-emphasized this, as have the media proclamations of PRFO.  Mr. Grote agreed, stating clearly there were no City funds for this development.

As I reviewed Mr. Bichsell’s mid-year financial report on Feb. 7,  I was stunned to see entries on page 8 that included “LSA for EIR $33,844.” At Page 9, column 1 “City Expended to date” for item “LSA for EIR” $99,545.  And then $57,098 for attorney fees directly related to the Blair Park EIR. The total was $190,487.  I say  was because this week, at the CIP meeting, the summary of “Blair Park by Vendors” prepared by staff is $291,418. Another $100,000 has been spent (in the three months from February to May) for a project the proponents have repeatedly stated was their responsibility, and Mr. Grote stated they would pay for it. And yet, at the CIP meeting this Monday a PRFO board member recommended another $55,000 be taken from general funds to defend Blair Park.

After two more letters and two Council Open Forum appearances, Mr. Grote responded to my requests concerning why taxpayers are paying the legal fees of the development. Mr. Grote characterized the attorney fees as “staff function.” I disagree.

Mr. Grote always works carefully to protect the City from liability.  CEQA is complex; there is no California department of CEQA, so attorneys must be brought in for review at critical stages: Scoping, response to scoping, certification, post-certification.  But the attorneys retained by Mr. Grote started billing in September, 2009 with the start of the EIR.  There cannot be review if there is nothing to review.  The attorneys are creating the EIR from its inception. That PRFO and ELS should pay these costs is self-evident, but above that, evidently this EIR is so fundamentally flawed that attorneys are needed from the start to create it.  And still the City of Oakland finds the EIR not meeting any requirement of CEQA. Yet Staff and the Piedmont City Council are about to stake the financial future of Piedmont on this wholly deficient document.

Thank you,

Rick Schiller

(This statement expresses the personal opinions of the author. All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

Leave a Comment