Dec 17 2017

OPINION: Facts Missing on City Property Lease to Piedmont Post

Findings of the Planning Commission are in error, consequently the decision should be put over to a later date.

Dec. 16, 2017

Piedmont City Council

Dec. 18, 2017

RE:  801 Magnolia Avenue: Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and Lease approval for Piedmont Post newspaper.

 Dear Mayor McBain and Council,

          CUP Findings CUPs require that the “use is primarily to serve Piedmont residents.” The Dec. 18, 2017 Piedmont Staff report states that “The Piedmont Post . . . provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and public engagement” at Finding Two. The Dec. 11, 2018 CUP staff report to the Planning Commission states, this CUP “Should not be decided based on the content of the Piedmont Post.” Therefore, it is valid to examine whether the Post provides a forum as it is not an examination of content.          

          A forum is “A medium (such as a newspaper or online service) of open discussion or expression of ideas” (Merriam-Webster); it is a “Public medium . . . used for debates in which anyone can participate” (Business Dictionary). The Post commonly denies letter space to many Piedmont residents. The Post does not provide a forum by any reasonable and commonly understood definition of what a forum is. Finding Two is in error.

The CUP should be rejected as it does not serve Piedmont residents unless the City’s intent is to not serve all residents. Alternately, the CUP can be sent back to the Planning Commission for further community input on whether the Post does provide a forum.

         Approval of the Lease. The City has not determined if it is appropriate to have a relationship with a commercial media firm by leasing space to it on public property.  A media outlet can move elections; therefore it is critical to determine how closely aligned the City should be to a media outlet. The Post views City Staff, elected and appointed officials as “colleagues.” (Paisley Strellis, former Post News Editor and Writer quote at her July 23, 2016 City sponsored retirement party held on public property); the relationship is unacceptable.           

          Is Council equitably representing residents and getting maximum value?  The Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) at 801 Magnolia Avenue is subsidized by $75,000 to $100,000 annually by taxpayers. Will there be a gift of public funds as a pass-through subsidy to a commercial media outlet? 

          The applicant states the sub-let will be at “top dollar.” What is this amount? How was “top dollar” rate determined? What efforts were made to obtain a tenant other than the Post

          There is a conflict of interest. Given the close relationship of the Publisher/Owner to PCA, this appears to be a sweetheart deal that does not serve taxpayers.

          Deny the CUP and disapprove the sub-let. Minimally, as many families are involved in Holiday celebrations, kindly put this matter over to a later date.

Respectfully, Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident 

Cc: Paul Benoit
John Tulloch 

 Kevin Jackson, Planning Director

 Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.

6 Responses to “OPINION: Facts Missing on City Property Lease to Piedmont Post”

  1. I agree that this deal doesn’t hold up under any objective scrutiny. The staff report on this issue states “Benefit to Piedmont Residents: Residents writing articles, handing in photos,collecting copies of weekly paper for distribution will be able to walk to 801 Magnolia.”

    Why is that a benefit? Having the paper at 801 Magnolia doesn’t help the only stated benefit any more than the current location does. This seems to be the only benefit touted by the application for the Post, however stories are easily sent via email. Encouraging people to drop off physical “stories” at the most crowded area of town is at best, stupid logic and will make traffic and parking worse.

    Without a true “benefit” for Piedmont residents there is no reason to approve the application.

  2. The CUP application, staff report and public testimony are full of inconsistencies as to how this business would be run. I recall a public comment that “90 percent” of the paper content is e-mailed in. Len restates the staff report but the CUP application says that only employees will visit the location, minimizing foot traffic. “Collecting copies of weekly paper for distribution” runs counter to comments at the Planning Commission which stated that distribution of the paper would remain at the cul de sac of of Magnolia. What ever the case, Len is correct,none of this rises to a true “benefit” for Piedmont. And consider the “costs” as well.

  3. To remind folks of a (paraphrased) classic line from “The Treasure of Sierra Madre:”

    Facts? Facts!! We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!!!

  4. “commonly denies letter space to ‘many’ Piedmont residents”. No newspaper publishes all the letters it gets. And define “commonly”. The “forum” argument is pure semantic nonsense. This is about making it difficult for a legitimate Piedmont business to function. It still appears that the various statements all mask the real objection: the editorial opinions of the publisher. Scary.

  5. I don’t think the Post has an editorial page and to my knowledge no public statement has been about the paper’s opinions. Statements have been overwhelmingly about its practices – biased reporting, unequal time. Reportedly the paper will be paying the same rent it is paying in Oakland and 90% of content is e-mailed in. What function of the paper requires that it be in Piedmont? What is scary are comments about freedom of the press and legitimate businesses that don’t acknowledge the paper’s poor practices.

  6. Those who agree with the Post’s editorial viewpoint praise it; those who disagree are offended by the bias. The City in leasing space on public property to the Post carefully avoided any examination of editorial direction and content.

    The City found, in order to satisfy the CUP requirement of serving Piedmont residents, that the Post “provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and public engagement” and legally this cannot be an examination of content or of editorial bias in Post articles.

    So how does one define forum? Should equal space be given to opposing viewpoints, that total space being determined by the Publisher? Or perhaps no space should be provided, so there is no conflict with the “forum” finding.

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