Dec 17 2015

OPINION: Parcel Tax Increase, School Traffic Congestion, Paving Project Approved, Increased Rental Rates for Community Facilities

Report on December 7th City Council Meeting

by Piedmont High School Student Olivia Arrabit

    On Monday December 7, 2015 I attended the Piedmont City Council meeting in the Piedmont Council Chambers at City Hall.  The Council meets the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month to discuss their decisions on behalf of the city.  There were six major issues on the agenda, the first was consideration of a report from the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee regarding the Municipal Services Special Tax.

Bill Hosler, Chair of the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee, gave a summary of the report to start the discussion.  The Committee members went around Piedmont looking at facilities to assess how long they would last or how long before they needed repair.  After making observations, Mr. Hosler and the Committee concluded that in order to maintain the city facilities in Piedmont, the parcel tax should be kept and raised up to 50% of its current level to pay for the repairs and upgrades.

After he gave his speech a few of the Council members praised Mr. Hosler on the committee’s comprehensive findings.  Council Member Teddy G. King even said that Mr. Hosler’s paper should be entered into a masters program because it made something so dense easy to understand.

Mayor Margaret Fujioka remarked that the Council may need to consider a 50% increase as too much, but they also have to think about the fact that the tax only comes before the voters once every four years while the City depends on the tax for sidewalks, streets, etc.  Ms. Fujioka said that they should try to increase revenues while decreasing expenditures.

Vice Mayor Jeffrey Wieler used a metaphor about a boat hitting the rocks to describe the current situation.  He said that in order to steer the boat away from the rocks, the captain needs to slightly steer the boat away long before it hits the rocks for if he waited too long, the boat might not be able to avoid the rocks.  His opinion was that it was smart to start cutting back places where we can save money and to start out by only taking a little bit more money far in advance in order to avoid a huge financial problem.  Council Member Robert McBain agreed with this concept. 

The next speaker was Garrett Keating, a public speaker.  In his opinion the 50% increase was far too much, he used the words “arbitrary” and “unsustainable”.  The Council concluded that they will aim to have another discussion regarding the duration and rate of the parcel tax.

The next issue on the agenda was the consideration of the reconfiguration of parking at the intersection of Magnolia and Highland Avenues.  Council Member Paul Benoit proposed to make the area a safe loading zone during school pick-up and drop-off hours insuring that the police will be able to respond to emergencies quicker and safer.

The Superintendent of Piedmont Unified School District, Randall Booker, voiced that there was a lot of concern about this subject because many people had observed double parked cars and overly congested streets during the school day, making it impossible for police officers to pull out of and into their parking spaces.  Both Council Member Tim Rood and Robert McBain agreed with the concern, because both have had or have students attending Piedmont Schools.

The next speaker was Jennifer Cavenaugh, a mother of three children that currently attend Piedmont schools.  She attended the meeting in order to explain the trouble she has faced with that intersection and offer some insight on the topic.  She said that most parents who live in upper Piedmont use the intersection as a “turn-around.” She said she experiences the traffic everyday and feels it is a huge problem.  She also voiced her concern that even if the City prohibited the “turn-around” area, the parents picking up their children from school would just find somewhere else to turn around, causing the same congestion but in a different area.

The Council Members heartily agreed with Ms. Cavenaugh, and responded by passing two motions unanimously that made all of the parking from 400 to 800 Magnolia 30-minute parking and loading zones during pickup and drop-off times.

In my opinion, I don’t think this will end up working.  Of course, in the beginning it will because there will be officers there to enforce it, but once it dies down people will begin to ignore the parking signs because it is more convenient and there will not be as strict enforcement of the rule.  Also, I think that because it is such a specific parking rule, the actual sign will be very confusing, causing most people to honestly just ignore it.

The next issue that was discussed was the Moraga Avenue Pavement Project.  The project aims to repave and repair sections of both Highland and Moraga Avenues.  There were no speakers and the motion passed unanimously.

The fourth issue on the agenda was rental rates of the Community Hall, the Tea House, the Exedra, and the Veteran’s Hall.  Sarah Lillevand, Piedmont’s Recreation Director, told the Council Members that she had looked at other East Bay wedding facilities and looked at what the prices were to rent them compared to Piedmont’s facilities.  She observed that the rental rates for the Community Hall could be much higher for what the clients are receiving.

Currently, the Community Hall is booked a year in advance without any advertising. Lillevand stated that the venue was very desirable and the price should be raised.  Council Member Teddy G. King agreed completely with Ms. Lillevand.  She said that twelve years ago when she got married she paid almost triple the price for her venue, which is why she concluded that the price should be raised as well.  The motion for price increases for the various venues passed unanimously.

The second to last topic that was discussed was the replacement of the Community Hall floors.  City Administrator Paul Benoit explained that there is veneer on the floor now and that it should be replaced with pure oak.  The only concern is that the pre-schools that take place in the basement of the Community Hall will not be able to operate while the floor is being replaced.  There was an idea of using portables, but the Council Members agreed that option was too expensive.  Mayor Margaret Fujioka stated she was concerned it would be too much of a financial investment for something that is only going to last 30 years.  But the other Council members managed to convince her that the value of the building would go up, and would increase cash flow from the rentals once the floor was replaced.  The motion to take the bid of HY Floor Company of $90,000 to replace the floor passed unanimously.

The last topic on the agenda was the proposal for an agreement with Terri Black for recruitment for the position of Finance Director.  There were no speakers on the subject and the motion passed unanimously for the agreement with Terri Black for $27,000 for the recruitment of the new Finance Director.

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

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