Dec 7 2017

Baffling Council Meeting

    The December 4th, 2017, Piedmont City Council meeting started with a lovely ceremony recognizing the Piedmont High School’s men and women varsity cross country teams, and quickly descended into incomprehensible tedium. Although the purpose of public council meetings is, at least theoretically, to allow the citizens to participate in and check the power of the government, these meetings have astoundingly little transparency.

    After the ceremonial matters, which were moved up on the agenda so the cross country teams could go back home, the Council moved on to the Consent Calendar, a portion of the meeting in which the Council votes on (and largely approves) items that are uncontroversial and uninteresting to the public. That’s all fine and good, but that simple explanation is never actually given to the public attending the meeting; I saw many confused faces in the audience.

The agenda, given online, is also fairly difficult to parse, simply because of the bureaucratic language used. As part of the Consent Calendar, the council discussed the setting of fines for specific code violations, things like permit issues, individuals leaving their property in their yard, and other minor aesthetic breaches. After that scintillating episode, it was time for the Public Forum for items not related to the agenda, which in this case, mostly meant Civics students attempting to get an “A” on the very assignment this article is for. The disparity was honestly pretty funny; personally, I attempted to make a joke and had my bit fail spectacularly.

   Multiple students spoke about actual issues, such as lack of stop signs on a certain blind corner, or Piedmont’s status as one of the only Alameda county cities that is not a sanctuary city. Unsurprisingly, there was also a slew of Civics students talking about traffic around the school.

   Once the Public Forum was done, the first thing on the official schedule was the issue of refunding bonds. As a seventeen year old with little (read: no) financial experience, this was fairly difficult to follow, but apparently few others could parse it either, because there was only one public comment for this section.

   One woman asked how much the process would cost the city, as well as homeowners, and the response was that the $29,500 would come out of bond proceeds, and thus not cost the City anything. Again, I really had no idea what was going on for that part. Those three bond assessments were voted on (three aye votes, one abstention, and one recusal).

   The next agenda item, and final one that I was present for, was the Piedmont renewal of its contract with Richmond Sanitary Services. This was by far the most difficult thing to make it through, and I actually had some interest in the topic before the dull droning of various city staff thoroughly killed any attention span I had.

   Essentially, because Republic Sanitary is the only one being considered for the contract, and because Piedmont does such a stellar job of caring for its residents, Richmond Sanitary is not planning on renewing its contract without more money. That seemed reasonable to me, especially because I happened to know beforehand that, in the past few years, Piedmont residents have been foregoing curbside pickup in lieu of a service in which the collectors can bring one’s cans down from wherever they may be.

   The issue is that that on premises or backyard service is predominantly meant for those who physically cannot bring their own cans down to the curb, either the elderly or the disabled, and so it was priced for a small subset of customers.

   Currently, about half of Piedmont residents use the on premises service, and the company is not being paid adequately for it. This was another technical issue that was mostly commented on by city staff and other professionals involved in the process.

   The public, far from being uninterested, was instead just lost in the hour of commentary on an issue that, in my admittedly unprofessional opinion, probably could have been abbreviated. I do understand that there isn’t really a good solution to the disconnect between the Council and the public, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about it without offering any real solutions. After all, that’s what democracy is about, right?

by Sylvie Srinivasan, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

One Response to “Baffling Council Meeting”

  1. Sylvie, you are wise beyond your years. You would enjoy Walter Isaacson’s “Benjamin Franklin.” Keep up the editorials.

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