Sep 27 2012

OPINION: What Happens if Piedmont Parcel Tax Fails?

A letter from a member of the Municipal Tax Review Committee on whether vital City services will be cut – 

The wasteful spending of the Piedmont City Council in the last 4 years is indefensible so the proponents of extending the “Municipal Services Tax” (Measure Y on the November ballot) have retreated to their last refuge: predictions that defeat of the tax will reduce “vital services.” Other than claiming that paramedic services will be reduced (a ridiculous idea since nobody, but nobody, would entertain such a cut), their definition of “vital services” is utterly vague. 

In fact, what would the City of Piedmont do if it lost, even temporarily, 7% of its budget? Strangely, those backing Measure Y, including members of the City Council, appear not to have asked our City Administrator, Geoff Grote, that question. Well, on August 8, Eric Lindquist (a fellow member of the Municipal Tax Review Committee) and I did ask Mr. Grote that question and he provided a thoughtful and candid answer. It would be best if Mr. Grote answered that question in public rather than have me characterize his answer. But it is appropriate to say that Mr.Grote’s answer involved no cuts whatsoever that would harm any vital service, by whatever definition. I hasten to add that Mr. Grote favors the additional revenue that Measure Y provides (what city administrator would oppose more revenue?) and he is worried that if the parcel tax loses that long-term ill effects, especially in terms of repairing city buildings, might arise. It is also true that, if our Council got serious about bringing staffing, compensation, and employee pension and health benefits under control, that such long term ill-effects could be entirely avoided.

I join with the majority of the Municipal Tax Review Committee in urging a “no” vote on Measure Y in November. For more information, please visit

Steve Weiner, Piedmont Resident and Member of the 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.  The Piedmont Civic Association does not support nor oppose candidates or ballot measures.

9 Responses to “OPINION: What Happens if Piedmont Parcel Tax Fails?”

  1. In my 30+ years with the City of Piedmont, I have been very careful in expressing opinions about political matters for obvious reasons. However, this case, I think it’s only fair to mention that in the “wasteful spending of the Piedmont City Council in the last 4 years” (to quote Mr. Weiner who is more than entilted to his opinion), there has been a salary freeze for city employees in place all four years.

  2. Dear Mr. Weiner,

    I’m on the YES ON MEASURE Y committee. I think members of the City Council ARE taking steps to reduce spending, but it won’t happen over-night. I was on the Council a dozen years ago, and unless things have changed dramatically since then, Piedmont’s wonderful employees were ALWAYS at the low end of all the payroll comparison studies we did. Our employees work very hard for us, making our City run well, the streets safe, the medians and parks beautiful, the Fire Dept.’s 3-minute response time and the Rec Dept.’s great programs that educate and entertain our children.

    Geoff Grote has done a good job at the helm for almost 24 years. I’m not excusing the undergrounding fiasco, I was as outraged as everyone else, but I certainly don’t think that’s a reason to cut off my nose to spite my face by voting no on renewing the parcel tax.

    May I remind you, Mr. Grote doesn’t make budget cuts, the City Council will have to, and how awful that would be if I were them. Hmmm, let’s see what they might have to choose from that isn’t “vital” (though every single one of them is vital to me):

    The library contract? Some could argue that going to the library is not vital.

    The Harvest Festival! The Fourth of July Parade and Picnic in the Park!! The Tree and Menorah Lighting– No one will miss ANY of those, especially not the kids, I mean the renewal will cost about $350 a year per house!

    I know, a reserve fund…we can live without adding to THAT for four years till we try to get another renewal! There won’t be any emergencies, there never are in Northern California! I mean really, what could possibly go wrong??

    A vehicle replacement fund! No one will mind using County ambulances if ours are out “sick”. So what if it takes a few more minutes! How ’bout if we reduce the number of officers we have on patrol and let Oakland take care of us?? I hear it only takes a couple of hours to get a response to your 911 call!

    One final note, Piedmont’s employees, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, do a GREAT JOB. If you have a complaint about an employee, take it up with Mr. Grote or one of your elected officials. They work hard and are a dedicated bunch and you will usually see them with a smile on their faces.

    So quit picking on them and if you have a particular policy complaint, lay it out specifically and how you would change it and maybe yours would be a better choice!

    Patty White

  3. P.S.: This opinion is entirely and completely mine alone. It in no way, shape or form reflects the thoughts, words, actions, etc, blah, blah, blah of the YES ON MEASURE Y Committee. No one on the Committee read or knew I was going to write this before I did, so if you have a complaint about it, you have a complaint with ME, NOT THE YES ON MEASURE Y Committee. Is that clear enough? I wrote as a resident, NOT a representative of the Committee. I stated I was on the Committee to “put all my cards on the table”, so to speak.
    Patty White

  4. I honestly don’t see the point Mark [Delventhal] is trying to make. Steve [Weiner] is welcome to his opinion and I suspect he is referring to undergrounding, Blair Park and lawsuits when he speaks of “wasteful spending”. The salary freeze is the consequence of a drop in city revenues but more importantly, the lack of adequate funds to pay for the pensions associated with those salaries. Absent adequate funds to pay the pensions, it seems prudent to freeze salaries, as pension cost are directly related to salary at retirement. I suspect Steve would credit this action by Council.

  5. In response to Recreation Director Mark Delventhal’s comment:

    Steve Weiner’s comments have nothing to do with staff compensation or your department. It’s commendable how well you and your team run the department. Great programs, happy and healthy participants and strong financial numbers. A real model for others to follow.

    Take a look at all the City’s failures that you know so well to see what Steve is referring to. We don’t need to avoid the facts: millions of dollars have been wasted on ill-conceived and badly managed projects over the past 6 years. When is enough going to be enough? Imagine what you could have done with the millions in your department? New facilities and program … Additional hiring … even salary raises!

    A little bit of restraint and accountability from the Council and your senior colleagues could have saved Piedmont from these recent disasters. That’s what Steve is saying.

  6. Oct 1 response to Patty White comment at PCA re: Steve Weiner letter

    In response to Patty White, I have a few specific policy complaints. I want the City policy of providing false ballot information to stop. For the failed Measure A sewer tax the City stated that the EPA, by the 2011 Stipulated Order (“SO”), was requiring mainline replacement and in a specific time frame. This basic City argument is false as shown by a reading of the 2011 SO, confirmation in this specific regard from the EPA Compliance officer for the 2011 SO and recent internal City emails between Mayor Chiang and Chester Nakahara.

    Now with Measure Y we have the City admitting the conclusion of the ballot argument in favor of the tax is false. The Council has not unanimously recommended the Parcel Tax, no such resolution was passed. Many complaints about the Measure Y ballot misinformation have not been addressed by both City Council and Geoff Grote. Geoff Grote has decided the City will do nothing about this and suggested that residents go to court to correct the matter.

    Who do I complain to about City authored ballot misinformation? My specific policy change is transparency and honesty at City Hall.

    On Nov. 16, 2009 $296,000 was taken from the Sewer Fund to repair Crest road during the undergrounding. Two years later resident investigation revealed the stated repair was never done; $275,000 was then transferred from the general fund to repay the sewer fund. This transfer of funds is conclusive that the sewer fund should never have been used. Who do I complain to about Council’s unwillingness to investigate the taking of public funds?

    Who do I complain to about the Council and Geoff Grote investigating themselves concerning the undergrounding millions lost? My specific policy change is to have an independent third party investigate the undergrounding and the Crest road transfer of funds. This request was made multiple times during the “investigation” and met with silence.

    The Council’s own audit sub-committee recommended seven specific risk assessments for “construction and capital projects.” We then had the largest capital project in our lifetime, the Blair Park Sports fields. The Council’s Audit subcommittee and echoing LWV risk assessment recommendations were ignored. Who do I complain to about the unlimited taxpayer liability, the same issue that lost millions on the undergrounding? My specific policy change is for the Council to follow its own and the LWV’s risk assessment recommendations.

    Who do I complain to? Only the ballot box remains and this is why I’m voting No on Measure Y.

  7. Patty raises a point about city employee salaries that I think needs clarification. In a salary comparison of the following cities -Brentwood, Mountain View, Livermore, Pleasant Hill, Hillsborough, Alameda, Corte Madera, Benicia, Foster City, Mill Valley, San Rafael, Saulsalito and Emeryville – prepared for City Council in 2006, Piedmont management and public safety salaries ranked between 9th and 11th on the list of 14. In a salary comparison of the following cities – Hillsborough, Larkspur, Los Altos Hills, Mill Vallley, Moraga, Orinda, San Marino, Saulsalito, and Tiburon – prepared by the MTRC in 2011, the Piedmont positions ranked 4th from the top on the list of 10. Both analyses can be found on the city website,

  8. To Garrett’s point, why on earth would Piedmont compare its salaries to much larger cities like Alameda, San Rafael, Livermore and Emeryville? The working conditions are hardly comparable. The Municipal Tax Review Committee comparison cities are small, affluent and largely residential – much better comparisons.

  9. Explained to me, the 2006 comparator list of cities is a mix of similar-sized cities and cities within Alameda County, compiled through negotiations with the bargaining units. Population and service levels vary widely. The MTRC list consists of 10 cities with an average population of 10,000 and similar demographics to Piedmont. Historically, Piedmont has tried to maintain salaries 5% below the median of the 2006 list.

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