May 13 2016

Witter Field Access Lights Wanted for Safety, Lorita Avenue Trees, Interview with Nancy Kent

On May 4, 2016, I attended the Piedmont Park Commission meeting held in the City Council Chambers within City Hall. As soon as the conversation among the Commissioners tapered off, Chairperson Jamie Totsubo called the meeting to order at 5:30 p.m. Everyone stood solemnly. Briefly remembering elementary school blackboards and the faded 1970s American flag half furled on a stick, I joined in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Beginning the meeting were seniors from Piedmont High School, speaking during the Public Forum. The Commissioners were particularly attentive, half bemused at civic duty incentivized with gradebook points, but all genuinely wished to hear proposals.

In a terse forty­ five second speech, Alex Chueh and I proposed to add lights around the softball field near the dog park ramp by Wildwood Elementary School. Alex introduced the two of us and briefly outlined the possible locations for a new electric light, similar to the new white lamps replacing flickering orange sodium flames. Explaining the need for lights, I mentioned that students often return in the dark after sports practices as they walked near the park’s exit, especially when Daylight Savings Time ends. Some Commissioners nodded at the mention of students and Daylight Savings.

After answering a few questions, we exchanged the podium with Kalen Davison, also a senior, who proposed that the nets at the Beach tennis courts be raised to regulation height. Following Davison, PHS seniors Kaelli Thiel and Madison Tenney suggested adding a water fountain to Dracena Park.

Once Public Forum ended, Chair Totsubo introduced the main item on the agenda ­ the Lorita Avenue tree debate. As each speaker rose, the slight silence before speaking gave the otherwise commonplace topic the atmosphere of a performance.

First, residents Maggie and Lannie Spencer explained how ginkgo trees could replace the agapanthus flowers at the end of the cul­ de ­sac, emphasizing that they did not want “total uniformity” as to tree choice. Anne Hall, another resident, added that the trees should not develop potentially problematic roots ­and reminisced that she was quite young when the great trees were planted.

Suddenly remembering Twelfth Night ­ “when I was a little tiny boy…” I remembered a story about the pine tree my dad planted outside his lawn when he was very young, and how it still flourishes, a rare pine tree in that stretch of Indiana, a tree with significance as part of his Chinese name.

As the main item stretched into the 6:00 p.m. hour, some others suggested crepe myrtle at the end of the street, instead of trees. PHS Senior Devan Joseph, also a Lorita resident, succinctly supported planting ginkgo trees, “to make the whole cul­ de ­sac aesthetically pleasing.”

After Joseph’s speech, the discussion’s direction shifted and­ most of the speakers began to favor the trees.

Perhaps from my own experience, when a younger person speaks among many adults, somehow, the adults subconsciously agree with the youth, as a reflection of themselves. But without too much philosophy, once resident Andrew Coleman agreed to water the plants efficiently in this State of drought, the Commission seemed to be convinced.

Public Works Supervisor Dave Frankel spoke briefly about the botanical upsides of male ginkgo plants, including their slow growth rates, particularly in the Bay Area clay soil, and the lack of smelly fruits. Soothing as popular educational PBS shows, the tree lecture was the final piece of information needed to convince the Commission.

All Commission members, ­ Betsy Goodman, Jim Horner, Jonathan Levine, John Lehanan, Brian Mahany, Patty Siskind, and Chair Jamie Totsubo ­ approved the motion for new trees.

For the next hour, the commission addressed ongoing updates, including the Linda Kingston Triangle power from PG&E, and updates on Hampton Park. To lighten the detail ­heavy presentation, Chair Totsubo suddenly asked for recognition of the East Bay Garden Club’s Arbor Day celebration, and the PHS Jazz Band’s performance. A vague comment about students sent all but the PHS seniors into long laughter. At around 6:50 p.m., the meeting adjourned.

Interview with Nancy Kent, Parks and Projects Manager

At the end, Alex and I interviewed Nancy Kent, the staff liaison for the Commission. She spoke on how she began work with the City in a volunteer function, and through her voluntary role, she naturally transitioned into City government. Briefly outlining her concerns about water conservation, she highlighted the Commission’s role in Piedmont’s xeriscaping and rainwater reusal.

Kent ending by explaining to us the importance of local government in even the smallest issues, I noticed that everything ­ from the largest policy issues in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court ­ to even the swimming pool debates in Piedmont ­ can profoundly impact most people’s lives. Policy and politics often have less of an impact than the daily issues people debated in the Park Commission. We are lucky to be able to determine government at every level, through public discussion and debate.

Sam Cheng, Piedmont High School Senior

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

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