Nov 4 2012

OPINION: Where are the Benefits Going?

Rewarding Friends and Punishing Critics –

Organized opposition to Piedmont’s parcel tax makes it very clear that the City Council presides over a divided electorate.  This divide opened only in the last 5 years after two decades of relative harmony.  Why?  Because many Piedmonters believe that the Council majority allocates benefits to friends at the expense of the rest of the community.  Under circumstances still unexplained, the Council provided utility undergrounding to the city’s most exclusive neighborhood at a cost of $2.3 million paid by the remainder of Piedmonters. The Council also gave a $2 million subsidy to sports lobbies by building a soccer complex at Havens School, paying consulting and legal fees for a private scheme to build another soccer complex in Moraga Canyon, and assuming responsibility for a swim facility.  And city staff, despite the recession, continued to enjoy benefit packages that two Council-appointed committees reported we could not afford.

Mere profligacy might not have evoked organized opposition, but resistance emerged when the Council majority began using its privileged position to punish those who questioned pork barrel politics. The Council spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars for lawsuits to intimidate homeowners who resisted utility undergrounding.  Council members used their access to the local newspaper to attack citizens who dared criticize subsidies to sports lobbies, and to chastise voters who spoke out against the failed sewer surtax.

Now this abusive and divisive Council wants 66% of Piedmont voters to extend the city parcel tax.  The Council, however, continues to give voters new reasons to reject the tax.  The Council majority allowed those who wrote the ballot argument in favor of the tax to falsely claim that the Council unanimously endorsed the tax.  Council members have kept opponents of the tax from speaking at Council meetings, resumed attacking critics in public fora, and tried to extort support by threatening to cut police and fire services if the tax fails. The Council shamelessly persists in this extortion despite the fact that proceeds from the tax since the last extension have gone for undergrounding utilities in our wealthiest neighborhood, subsidizing private sports clubs, and pursuing vicious legal action against homeowners.

The Piedmont City Council, in short, continues to behave in ways that make it unfit to manage the proceeds of a voluntary surtax.  Those proceeds have become nothing more than a “slush fund” used to reward friends and punish critics. The residents of Piedmont deserve better governance and should withhold this tax until we get it.

 Ralph Catalano, Piedmont resident

Editors’ 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 or oppose candidates or ballot measures.

4 Responses to “OPINION: Where are the Benefits Going?”

  1. Thank you, Ralph, for talking about the elephant in our community living room.

    It’s extremely uncomfortable and off-putting to suggest our city’s elected officials, who also happen to be friends and neighbors, have made and continue to make ill-advised decisions. But these decisions have become so galling because they smack of cronyism. And, unfortunately, this perceived divide regarding “who gets to decide the best interests of our city,” is eroded further by irresponsible and, at times, incendiary news articles and opinion pieces, serving no purpose other than ripping a dissenting individual’s integrity to shreds.

    Thank you, Ralph.

    Denise Bostrom

  2. The paranoia on exhibit in both the above opinion and comment is truly breathtaking. Really, it was cronyism for the city to aid in the development of the Havens sports field? Until this letter I’ve not heard anybody express a complaint with that. The city had to complete the undergrounding project, and litigation to recover that money is pending, and it was a resident who lost the vote on the other undergrounding project in his district who sued the city, not the other way around, and the public swim club is doing better without the private club operating it, but these facts are simply not accepted by writers like those above, because they don’t fit in their agenda. What I have observed is that some city council detractors have gotten used to the non-agenda part of the council meeting, where they are free to take pot shots at council, toss dirt on the council floor, make absurd and insulting comments and accusations, and threaten to sink essential measures, like Measure Y if they don’t get their way on unrelated matters, like Mr. Catalano did, because they know they can do so without council response. Out in the real world, where people can and do disagree with them, they find it intolerable. What hypocrisy! I don’t know what is going to happen with the municipal services tax but I certainly hope people use their heads and vote to continue it. We will all suffer without it.

  3. One correction to the above comment, Council may respond during open forum; the former City policy was in apparent violation of the Brown Act §§54950-54963. A Sept. 6, 2012 letter I put in to Mr. Grote addressed this issue. After my letter the policy changed and Council may now briefly respond but not discuss non-agenda items. Unfortunately Council has taken to asking residents questions during open forum and then Mr. Chiang has not allowed resident response.

  4. Karen – I find your charge of hypocrisy pretty hollow, let alone inaccurate. Ray and other “detractors” have been out in the “real world”, using public web sites, house meetings, letters to the newspapers, public forum and public comment to make their arguments about the parcel tax. Anyone can respond in any of these forums and to Ray directly if they want – many did. They have not abused the public forum at Council meetings and, in any event, Council members have taken it upon themselves to shoot back with equal venom so your characterization of what transpired in Council Chambers is just wrong.

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