Nov 19 2016

Opinion: City Council: New Energy Source and Increased Density in Piedmont

City-wide notifications of the significant zoning changes are needed before ordinances are adopted by the City Council in January, 2017.

Piedmont is on the brink of two significant changes that will fundamentally alter how residents maintain and modify their homes.  One change is seamless and could go virtually unnoticed by residents.  The other change is controversial and could significantly alter how residents enjoy their private and public property. 

The first change is how you will get the power to run your home. 

First, there are two kinds of power sources – non-renewable (fossil fuels, natural gas) that generate green house gas (GHG) and renewable (solar, wind, hydro) that doesn’t.  Like most cities in the East Bay, Piedmont gets its power from PG&E and most of that power is non-renewable.  And because of global warming, like all cities in California, Piedmont is required to reduce it’s GHG 15% by 2020 and 40% by 2030.  
To address this urgent need, cities in Alameda County have banded together and formed the East Bay Community Energy Authority, whereby all 14 municipalities decide to direct rate-payer revenue to either buy or develop renewable power for their residents.  You will still get a PG&E utility bill and pay for energy transmission but your bill will show that your utilities are provided through the new Energy Authority.  Feasibility studies have shown that your utility bill could be slightly cheaper than that provided by PG&E and will certainly have a greater percentage of renewable energy.  Piedmont residents will automatically be enrolled in the new Energy Authority but will be given multiple opportunities to decline and stay with PG&E at no charge. 
By joining the authority, Piedmont will take significant strides towards reducing it’s GHG output.  Extensive background information on the new Energy Authority is available at  Three Piedmonters with energy expertise have offered to answer questions from residents: Councilmember Tim Rood ( Alex DiGregorio ( and Justis Fennel (

The second change deals with how you remodel your home. 

If there’s one thing Piedmonters take possibly more seriously than global warming its their home remodel or that of their neighbors, governed by Chapter 17 of the Piedmont Municipal Code. City Council is about to adopt major changes to the code and unlike your energy bill, you won’t be able to decline so you better get your two 2 cents in now. 
Chapter 17 revisions are being undertaken to modernize the code, reorganize it logically, and address development changes called for in the Piedmont General Plan, a community survey and planning process conducted in 2009 to guide city growth (I was on Council at the time).  Over the past year, the Planning Commission has held public meetings on various topics (second units, new technologies and many others) but attendance has been sparse.
Proposed changes to the code are voluminous but can be summarized in two words – increased density.  For the average resident, the proposed changes should be viewed from two perspectives – that of your property and that of your community.  From your property’s perspective, the new code allows accessory structures (structures up to 15 feet high and 400 square feet – garages, hot tubs, patios) within the 5 foot setback so long as it is within 35 feet of the rear property line.  As long as the structures are not habitable, you and your neighbor can build right up to the property line.  You might also see wireless communication hardware out your front window.  The new code allows for co-location of wireless communication facilities in all public right of ways (think street poles) at the discretion of the Planning Department Director.  Previously, wireless installations required a hearing at Planning and Council but it is not clear under the new code how or if residents will be notified of wireless installations outside of their homes.
From the community perspective, your street may become more crowded. The old rule that you can’t add a bedroom without adding off-street parking is eliminated.  The new code allows up to four bedrooms to be added as long as there are sufficient uncovered spaces in the driveway.  The code now accepts tandem driveway parking but practically this will increase on street parking in the neighborhood. 
The biggest community change you will notice is in the Grand Avenue business corridor and Civic Center.  Here multi-use, multi-story development is being allowed with no required street setback nor off-street parking for businesses under a certain size.  In particular, the Shell Station at 29 Wildwood has been highlighted for this development.  Staff’s rationale for these permissive code terms is that they will foster pedestrian-friendly development – if you can’t park there, you’ll walk there.  That may be true for the Civic Center but not for the Grand Ave corridor – more Oaklanders will walk to shops there than Piedmonters.  Staff cites successful multi-use development just down the street in Oakland but fails to acknowledge the public parking lots and slant parking that support that.  Better neighborhood and city planning analysis is needed before these changes are adopted. 
There are many other changes to the zoning code so visit to see the full report.  The report is lengthy and cumbersome – it may be easier to email Kevin Jackson, Planning Director, at, with your questions.  And the city should implement a city-wide notification of these changes before they are adopted by City Council in January.
Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member
Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.  Emphasis added for ease of reading. 

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