Sep 14 2014

ANALYSIS: Frustration Grows Over Use of $507,325 WW Bond Funds

Where is the public?

A rare opportunity for Piedmont to use $507,325 appears to be lacking general public input.

Will the City Council at their September 15 meeting open up the consideration process for comprehensive public input?

When Piedmont voters approved the East Bay Regional Park District WW Bond Funds tax measure, there was the promise that funds would be available through 2018 to improve Piedmont recreational facilities, a senior center, or parks.  Time has been slipping away as a result of delays.

With the exception of Livermore, which did not vote on the measure and will not benefit from the funding, Measure WW was approved by 72% of voters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in November 2008.  To receive the funds requires no matching funds. Annually, every property owner in a participating jurisdiction, such as Piedmont, is required to pay $10 per $100,000 of assessed property value to provide the WW funds.

Piedmont delays in utilizing the funds originated primarily from staff and others intentions to use the money for night lighting at Coaches Field on Moraga Avenue; however, there was never a specific public hearing on the use of WW money for that purpose. There has never been a general public hearing or workshop on how Piedmonters want their $507,325 entitlement in WW money to be used. Some have likened the lack of early public participation in the decision to the controversial, failed Blair Park /Moraga Canyon sports complex proposal.

Unlike the outreach for Piedmont’s Draft Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, there have been no community meetings or general public outreach to hear from Piedmonters on their preferences. No surveys, no Town Hall meetings, and no public hearings prior to the winnowing down to “five qualifying projects.”

Will Piedmonters be allowed to have a community voice in how to spend the fast approaching deadline for the $507,325 entitlement? 

The task of determining what should be done with the money has largely been delegated by the City Council to their appointed Capital Improvement Program Review Committee (CIP).  This select group of well intentioned members have been meeting to discuss which projects would qualify and have selected five non-prioritized projects.

The CIP meetings have been held in the City Council Conference Room, a small room near the Council Chambers, and at a meeting in the Main Park.  Those who wanted to know what was discussed at the meetings were unable to obtain meeting minutes or view the proceeding from their homes.

Interested residents concerned about Blair Park improvements, long term correction to the dangerously cracked tennis courts at Hampton, and expansion of Coaches Field have been challenged by the decision process.

Mark Feldkamp lends staff support to the CIP meetings.  Suggestions on how to spend CIP money have ranged from curtains in the Community Center to replacing Main Park’s stone walls, daylighting the stream down the center of Dracena Park and drainage issues.  Feldkamp recommended, much to the disappointment of some, that some projects were not advised.  He has encouraged the Park Commission to be present at the September 15 Council meeting to participate in the decision process. 

It is unprecedented for Piedmont to receive $507,325 to spend on unspecified recreation facilities, a senior center, or parks.

Some public frustration is evident from the emails found in the staff report and emails . There are competing interests for sports, beautification, recreation and park improvement. Blair Park’s Council approved plans are not on the list for funding.

The five projects chosen by the CIP committee are listed below.

Partial staff report for September 15 City Council meeting:

Piedmont Community Hall Plaza and $600,000 to $700,000
Connector Pathway Renovation:
This project would replace the broken and stained aggregate concrete in the Community Hall front plaza area with the existing brick paving spokes left intact. The likely material to be installed in place of the concrete would be a cut stone surfacing mortared on a steel
reinforced concrete slab that would aesthetically tie in with the existing stone pavement improvements located throughout Piedmont Park. Staff would propose to install electricity under the slab and install decorative lighting to the specimen Yulan Magnolia
located in the center of the island. This area is used extensively for parties and large functions that generate much needed revenue for the city. The improvements would also include the installation of several removable decorative metal bollards limiting the vehicular damage caused by cars and trucks that now use the plaza as a turn-around and
drop off zone.
The project would also complete the final phase of the Exedra Master Plan as recommended in prior CIP proposals. This portion of the project combines several prior projects, including the installation of a new swings for older children, new lawn area and seating along the bicentennial wall, new walkways that would replace the existing asphalt roadway, lighting along the walkway leading to the Exedra Plaza, modifications to the overlook area including improvements to better accommodate movies in the park and improvements to the driveway that leads to the amphitheater.

Hampton Park Improvements (Harris Plan) $1,500,000 (construction costs only): [Phased approach not encouraged by staff.]
The Master Plan was approved by the Park & Recreation Commissions and City Council in 2007. City Council approved funding for the completion of the construction documents that are due by November 2014 and possible bid in January 2015. The Landscape Architect has recently submitted the 30% Design Development working drawings.
Public support from the Hampton Park improvements has been strong and staff is exploring possible private funding opportunities. This project could be broken into phases, depending on the budget constraints. Project phases could include the refurbishment of all of the hardscape areas including the tennis, basketball and handball
courts. This in conjunction with the improved drainage in these areas could serve as one phase. Another phase could include all improvements at the baseball field, including all new drainage system, turf, new warning track and site furnishings. The Landscape
Architect is prepared to package the construction drawings and bid documents that would be compatible with the proposed construction budget. A decision will be needed to address what items would be in each of the construction phases.

Dracena Park, New Entrance $300,000 to $350,000
at Park Way and Dracena Avenue:
Develop an in-house master plan for a new entry patio and walkways at the corner of Park Way and Dracena Ave. The construction of the new pedestrian bridge at Dracena Park has brought to the forefront the need for a new pedestrian entrance and gathering spot at this corner of Dracena Park. The existing connector walkways to the new bridge are in need of a complete over-haul. The existing landscaping should be enhanced and an efficient irrigation system installed.

Renovation and Rehabilitation of the Recreation Building $100,000 to $150,000:
The existing structure is very antiquated and a Master Plan is needed to make better use of the existing space. As part of an overall Master Plan, staff proposes to relocate the registration and main offices downstairs to the first floor. This arrangement would be more user-friendly allowing the public to have direct and unimpeded access to
Department staff. The construction would include not only renovated office spaces but also provides improvements to the existing HVAC systems, lighting and internet services. The Recreation Department provides a wide variety of city functions and the working environments should meet these needs, allowing staff to efficiently serve Piedmont residents.

New Play Structure at the Recreation Center $75,000 to $100,000:
The existing play structure is antiquated and is in need of replacement. A new play structure would provide ADA access for all users and would invite and encourage a safe play environment. The design would have areas for all age groups encouraging the children to use their imagination as well as providing physical challenges. This play structure is in a prime central play location that serves numerous groups on a daily basis.

Read the staff report and emails for the September 15 City Council meeting agenda.

The Council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont. The use of WW Bond Funds falls well into the agenda of the September 15 meeting. Home observers can tune into Channel 27 or go to the City website on line to view the proceedings.

One Response to “ANALYSIS: Frustration Grows Over Use of $507,325 WW Bond Funds”

  1. The text of Measure WW states:

    “To continue restoring urban creeks, protect wildlife, purchase/save open space, wetlands/shoreline, acquire/develop/improve local and regional parks, trails and recreational facilities, shall East Bay Regional Park District be authorized to issue up to $500 million in general obligation bonds, provided repayment projections, verified by independent auditors, demonstrate that property tax rates will not increase beyond present rates of $10 per year, per $100,000 of assessed valuation?”

    The criteria developed by the CIP Committee to select eligible projects:

    1. Is the project “shovel ready”?
    2. Does the project require an extensive CEQA review process? (Note: a yes answer is considered bad).
    3. Has the project been fully vetted and likely to be supported by Piedmont residents?
    4. Does the project enhance revenue generation for the City of Piedmont?
    5. Are there possibilities for a public/private partnership that the City has used so successfully in the past?
    6. Is it possible to phase the project?

    For the Blair Park project, eliminated from eligibility by the CIP Committee, a majority of those questions can be answered yes and the requirement that passive open space generate revenue seems inappropriate given the intent of WW. For several of those WW eligible projects, a majority of the questions cannot be answered yes. The “shovel ready” criteria seems to have been used to eliminate the most innovative WW proposals (Blair, Coaches Expansion, Aquatic Center improvements) but if one reviews the completed WW projects in other municipalities, projects of much larger scale have been completed within 3 years, the amount of time Piedmont has remaining to use its WW funds.

    The Hampton Field Improvements is the most likely project to be supported by Council. That will be a phased project with Phase 1 consisting of resurfacing of the tennis and basketball courts. The current cost estimate for Phase 1 is $485,000, leaving little WW funds for other projects. Phase 2 will upgrade the playfield at an estimated cost of $1.13M.

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