Nov 22 2015

Crime Report, Sewer Loan, Interim Finance Director, Holiday Book and Toy Drive

High School Student Hana Elabed reported on the November 16, 2015 City Council meeting.

    On Monday, November 16th, I treked up to Piedmont City Hall in order to hear the City Council meeting. The Council typically meets on the first and third Monday of each month. The meeting promptly started at 7:30 p.m. and ended at approximately 9 p.m. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and hear about things that were listed on the agenda. The agenda included the approval of minutes, the acceptance of the Highland Avenue Parkway Drainage Improvement Project, discussion of the Book Drive, discussion of the Toys for Tots drive, consideration of the appointment of James O’Leary as an interim contract Finance Director, and the 3rd quarter crime report.

    Mayor Margaret Fujioka called the meeting to order and directed everyone to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Mayor Fujioka moved to the consent calendar and Vice Mayor Jeff Wieler said, “I think we need to pull the Highland Avenue reimbursement.”  Mayor Fujioka then entertained a motion to approve the meeting minutes from the last Council meeting and the motion passed unanimously. Next, there was a motion to accept the Highland Avenue Parkway Drainage Improvement Project and Council member Robert McBain moved approval and Council member Teddy G. King seconded the motion. The Council voted unanimously to approve the motion.

    After the Public Forum, the Council went to ceremonial matters. Mayor Fujioka smiled and said, “Tonight, we have two ceremonial matters, both really fun opportunities here in Piedmont.”  Fujioka then introduced two representatives from the organizations that will be receiving donated books. Anne Katz of the East Bay Collective Book Project approached the podium to speak about her organization.  Katz started by saying how pleased the organization is to be working with the City of Piedmont again after getting 900 books last year. She stated, “This year, I expect to quadruple that number at least because we have all three elementary schools who are going to be joining us.” Katz said the organization deals with kids who have never owned a book in their lives and they can’t believe it when you give them a book and they are allowed to keep it. Last year the organization gave away about a quarter of a million books to social service agencies.

Katz then invited Peter Scharass up to the podium to talk about his organization. Scharass states, “Low income kids end up with a big difference between their performance in 12th grade and the performance of higher income kids. There is actually an 80% difference between the two.” He stated his organization is purposeful and evidence based and their goal is to obtain kids books and get their parents to read to them.

President of the Piedmont School Board Andrea Swensen said a few words about her excitement in getting Piedmont involved in the Book Drive for the second year in a row. She held up Cat in the Hat and said, “I brought my favorite book as both a child and a parent.” This year, the places to drop off books are the three elementary schools, City Hall and at a bin at the Turkey Trot, which takes place on Thanksgiving Day.

Mayor Fujioka then talked about her love of the Book Drive and said that you cannot overstate the importance of early childhood reading and getting kids hooked on books. “I want to encourage all of our residents to donate generously.”

I think that this is a wonderful thing to become involved in and I encourage anyone to give whatever they can to these causes. Here in Piedmont, kids are very lucky and privileged and any chance there is to give back, is a something that people should participate in.

    Mayor Margaret Fujioka  then moved to discuss the annual Toys for Tots drive that is sponsored in Piedmont by the Fire Department. Fire Chief Bud McLaren spoke about the drive.  He stated, “This is one of the most exciting times of the year for me, because we are honored to pair up with the United States Marine Corps Reserve and collect toys for underprivileged children in Alameda County that won’t be as blessed as our children are.”

The Fire Department is going to collect, unwrapped, new toys from November 16th to December 21st. They collect for all age groups from infancy to teenagers, however the chief encourages people to bring in toys for older kids because they haven’t gotten a lot of those in the past. There are three drop off locations for those who want to donate toys: the Fire Department at 120 Vista Avenue, the Shell Station at 21 Wildwood Avenue, and Highland Partners Real Estate office on Highland Avenue.

Chief McLaren stated if anyone is unable to drop their toys off, he would be more than happy to come pick them up from you. Piedmont in the past has given more toys than any other community, and the Marines have even had to get a bigger truck to pick up our toys.

    The next agenda item was consideration of the appointment of James O’Leary as Interim part-time Finance Director and an engagement agreement with Regional Government Services. The previous holder of this job, Erick Cheung, is resigning to take a position involving less commute time and no night meetings. City Administrator Paul Benoit recommended James O’Leary, who has an extensive background in finance as Assistant Finance Director for the City of San Leandro and San Bruno. Benoit pointed out that since O’Leary’s former employers asked for him to come back, that is a good sign. O’Leary stepped up to the podium to express his excitement for starting this new job and the challenges he hopes to overcome. Fujioka asked O’Leary, “Will you be working on another assignment the same time you are working with Piedmont?” to which O’Leary responded, “No, I will only be working with Piedmont.” The motion to hire O’Leary passed unanimously.

 Next was  consideration of actions regarding Phase 5 of the sewer rehabilitation project. Fujioka asked, “Can you clarify if we are reimbursing the state or the City of Piedmont?”  Chester Nakahara, Public Works Director stated, “The loan we are getting is from the California State Water Resources Control Board, so we are repaying the loan to the state.”

To date, the City has completed 35% of the design documents for Phase 5 of the sewer project. The project is going to end up replacing about 6 miles of sewer line and the projected cost of that work is about $3.8 million. Mark Obereld was introduced as the head engineer for the project. The City submitted the initial application to the state a few weeks ago and so the process has started. The staff is anticipating that Phase 5 will start in October 2016 and will be complete by October 2017. After Phase 5 is complete, 80% of the City’s total sewer system will be new. The other 20% will be completed in Phase 6 and 7.

Fujioka made a remark about the non-specificity in the title of the loan proposal and City Attorney Michelle Kenyon stated, “The state really frowns on people making edits to this and it is almost impossible for the state to agree to edits.” Jeff Wieler stated, “Wouldn’t it be a waste of time to have the City Attorney pursuing changes for the state bureaucracy? I would be opposed to using resources to try and negotiate with the State of California.” Fujioka stated, “My theory is that it never hurts to ask.”  The motion for the sewer loan was approved  unanimously.

    The last item at the meeting was the third quarter crime report from the Chief of Police, Rikki Goede. The City of Piedmont has seen a 1% decrease in crime since the prior quarter. The Chief encourages people to make sure to lock their cars every night because the car burglaries rate has gone up. Also, do not leave any valuables or anything of substance in the car. The Chief also encourages people to wait by the ATM until their transaction is fully complete because people can steal your code and get money out of your account.

There has been a decrease in speeding because of the new speed limit signs inserted on Oakland and Highland Ave. The Chief also encourages people to make their house look lived when they go out of town. She wants students to know that the police officers are not there to just get them in trouble, but more there for their safety.

“I think that the officers need to make more of an effort to develop relationships with the students because they are in our lives a lot.”

Fujioka stated, “It’s a new day in Piedmont for increasing public safety”.

Close to the end of the meeting Vice Mayor Wieler stated, “I would like to commend the high school students for actually sticking it out through the entire meeting, most of your colleagues don’t do that. I think if you approach the City Clerk, he’ll make a note saying that you should get extra credit.”

 After the meeting, I introduced myself to Councilwoman Teddy G. King who has recently become a part of the Council and I had the opportunity to ask her a couple of questions. When asked why she wanted to join the Council she said, “I have a strong belief in public service and when given the opportunity I ran for public office. I wanted to put more things in place in order to protect the kids better. Honestly, I ran because Councils have historically not had any women with kids in the school system, it tends to be more empty nesters or men.”

I found it gratifying that King took the initiative to run for City Council for the reasons that she had. King stated that there are many things on her agenda to bring up to the Council, but on the top of her list is “improving recreational opportunities and I am very happy that the City is finally talking about improving Hampton Field again,” King noted, “I think it is going to be difficult for me and my colleagues to find the funding for that and it will take some political heavy lifting”.

Overall, the meeting was a very interesting thing to attend and it was fascinating to be able to meet the mayor and other councilmembers. I look forward to attending more in the future.

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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