Dec 10 2017

OPINION: Planning Commission Should Deny Permission for Newspaper to Lease Subsidized City Property

Dec. 10, 2017

Piedmont Planning Commission
c/o Kevin Jackson, City Planner

Re: Dec 11 CUP Hearing, sub-let 801 Magnolia Ave by Piedmont Post.

Dear Chairman Ramsey and Planning Commissioners,

The taxpayer funds used to purchase 801 Magnolia Avenue, renovate the deteriorated property and provide low/no cost space to the Piedmont Center for the Arts (“PCA”) has been money well spent. The July 11, 2016 Staff Report recommended the change to allow commercial use: a beverage service or local newspaper. A beverage service would provide a complimentary benefit to PCA visitors. However, a newspaper is not politically neutral as a beverage stand is and the violation of our Constitutional rights is serious. Leasing space to the Post has involved rezoning public property in violation of the Charter and violations of our State and Federal Constitutional rights to be free of government support for a partisan point of view on matters of public importance.

The Piedmont Post has provided community benefit in its reporting of non-political issues such as art, entertainment, culture and life events. Regardless, for critical Civic issues the Post is Piedmont’s own Fox News. This particularly partisan newspaper provided a weekly forum for our recently disgraced and resigned Mayor Wieler, supported the failed Blair Park sports field, will not provide equal space to opposing resident viewpoints, sought to distort facts in support of the failed 2012 sewer surcharge tax; and has disgracefully attacked our School Board. The Post has a right to take, and disseminate these partisan positions but not from City property. That is a clear violation of our Constitutional rights.

While the First Amendment allows the Post to commonly distort and omit facts to the detriment of many residents, good government requires that the City treat all residents equally. Sub-leasing to the Post on public property violates that essential equal treatment. This public property is paid for and subsidized equally by all taxpayers.

PCA Board Vice-President Nancy Lehrkind has stated the lease will be “at top dollar.” We are entitled to see the terms of the sub-lease and the City is obligated to disclose them before approval is given for the CUP application. What rent will the Piedmont Post pay? What assurance do we have that this is not a below market rent? Will comparable space at 801 Magnolia be made available on comparable terms to other parties who wish to communicate their public positions on matters of public importance? What assurances does the City have of this from PCA? Is this assurance in the City’s lease with PCA? Where is the space and what are the terms?

The applicant states: “#9. Benefit to Piedmont residents: Residents writing articles.” As the Post has denied many resident articles and letters that do not support the Post’s editorial agenda, the Post is not consistent with #9. The intent of Sec 17.020.010.B.7 is to allow commercial use which will serve the residents of the City. By denying print space to a significant number of residents, the Post and this application by PCA are not in compliance with the City Code.

The Post does not comply with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics that “. . . public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues (and) strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty.”

In important civic issues, matters that require a City Council resolution, the Post acts as the Media Outlet of City Hall and falls far short of the Journalist Code of Ethics. City Hall’s support of the Post threatens local democratic government.

Former Post City Editor Paisley Strellis verified the partisan mission of the Post on its June 29, 2016 front page: “I consider many members of the city staff and the city’s elected and appointed officials to be colleagues.”

Having the Piedmont Post located on public property directly behind City Hall is an affront to decency and good government.

The CUP should be denied.


Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

5 Responses to “OPINION: Planning Commission Should Deny Permission for Newspaper to Lease Subsidized City Property”

  1. The author wants the city of Piedmont not to lease space on its property to a potential tenant based on the potential tenant’s opinions. Since the Piedmont Post is a well respected business in Piedmont and is not going anywhere anytime soon, it would seem a great advantage to having this institution located right across from city hall where one can keep an eye on it.

  2. Once again, Mr. Schiller has made a succinct argument on a matter of importance to the community. I fully agree. Thank you for taking up the torch!
    With regards,
    George Childs, Piedmont resident

  3. Thank you George. The City is fast-tracking this and it will be heard in one week on Dec. 18 before City Council. They no doubt plan on approving as the City Code was changed to allow this in violation of the Charter, which requires a City wide vote for a change of use. Perhaps if enough speakers appear in opposition?

  4. The building was in fine condition before the City forced out the tenants in 2003.

    801 Magnolia was built as a Christian Science Church and had a diversity of sub-tenants over the years. I had my research library in the former nursery school for many years and the Piedmont Post also had its offices in the building as well. There were often musical offerings in the chapel.

    It served useful functions without City and bureaucratic interference and without City funding. Then the City Administrator Geoff Grote got the City to buy the property and evicted the tenants.

  5. Not true that 801 Magnolia was in great shape and I think the Church voluntarily put the building up for sale. I think the current volume of artistic offerings well exceeds what was offered by the Church.

    Rick mostly critiques the paper for its performance, not its opinion. How good a “watchdog” of City Hall will the paper be when it’s landlord is the city? As to the paper being a “well-respected business”, that’s a matter of opinion.

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