Jul 31 2022

OPINION: Better Solutions Need to be Found for Housing

The proposed changes to our city’s core, including building housing on the tennis courts, the grassy strip on Highland Avenue and the relocation of the fire department, would be a travesty and would forever change the character of Piedmont. While understanding the need to respond to the legislature’s mandate, the community would be ill-served by these proposals.

I agree with the observation that moving the fire department to the outskirts of the city would be a detriment to public safety. Additionally, the residents of housing built in Blair Park would not be any more isolated than the residents of Maxwelton Road, Abbott Way, Echo Lane, and Nellie Avenue, and traffic safety concerns would be alleviated by a traffic signal. Rezoning on Grand Avenue to accommodate multi-family housing is logical. The infrastructure already exists, and it would be situated on the only existing street in the city that could accommodate the additional traffic, particularly if restored to four lanes.

The proposal to alter the city center, which has the endorsement of individuals who are not city residents, specifically staff and the outside consultants, is insensitive. Moving the tennis courts away from the high school would be a detriment to the high school and raise its own safety issues. When I attended Piedmont High, PE included swimming and tennis at facilities across the street from the school. The school had varsity and JV men’s and women’s tennis teams. When my daughters attended PHS, the school fielded these teams as well. Is that no longer the case? How is moving these facilities away from the school a positive thing?

We are not Woodside, whose residents are seeking to avoid the construction of housing by prioritizing the needs of mountain lions. Our 1.7 square miles of land already developed. The legislature’s mandate of 587 new housing units amounts to a 15% increase in households. (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/piedmontcitycalifornia/INC110220.)

The only discussion regarding the impact that a 15% increase in student population will have on the schools is this observation in Appendix 6 of the 6th Cycle Housing Element, published in April 2022, which acknowledged the “limited capacity of the schools” to accommodate the anticipated increase in its population due to the proposed housing plan.

Census data belies the claim that school enrollment has declined due to a reduction in children residing in the community. Fully 26.4% of Piedmont residents are under the age of 18. (Id.) Without a deeper dive into the numbers, this would suggest that there are 165 children per academic year which far exceeds that of the current high school per class population. The decline school population has more to do with quality which I found to be disappointing when my children attended the high school when compared to my experience thirty years earlier during a time when the city was far more economically diverse than it is now, so diverse that the girls were required to wear uniforms to mitigate the effects of economic disparity in the student population.

The plan also acknowledges EBMUD constraints pertaining to water and sewage but proposes no solution. I did not see any discussion regarding the impact of that a 15% in households will have on other city services, such as police and fire, in the report. I’m in favor of providing subsidized housing for school and city service employees but not at the expense of the city center.

Perhaps there is a solution that include a reasonable response to the legislative mandate which would include additional units without a major disruption to the city center. The Census Bureau reports that Oakland lost 5,526 residents in 2021 from the previous year. (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/oaklandcitycalifornia.)

There is also a significant amount of unused and underutilized land in Oakland. Perhaps the needs of everyone would be better served by entering into a cap and trade type arrangement with the City of Oakland where the construction of new units would be subsidized in part by Piedmont taxpayers. This is not a nimby proposal; it is a pragmatic proposal intended to ensure that the character of the city center is maintained, and the people needing affordable housing get what they need.

Anne Cobbledick Gritzer

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

3 Responses to “OPINION: Better Solutions Need to be Found for Housing”

  1. There seem to be many misconceptions about allowing for more housing in the city center. The idea that many city residents such as myself support is to conduct planning to figure out how to improve the center of town and add room for housing at the same time. Circulation through the center of town is really pretty bad currently, and many city facilities are aging and need to be either rebuilt or significantly improved. Some city land, like along Magnolia behind City Hall and where the police cars park, is underutilized. We have so many excellent architects, transportation planners, housing and development experts in town that I’m sure we can create a city center that is even better than what we have now.

    Also, I don’t follow the author’s argument about the school aged population. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the population-based estimate of 165 children per academic year, but 165 is well below – not far above – the current high school class size, which the Piedmont High School webpage reports as 215 students for the PHS class of 2022.

  2. I agree!

  3. The civic center is in need of planning. Rezoning the civic center commercial zone to multi-use will bring busier commercial activity and residences to that area. The bike-pedestrian plan calls for a re-alignment of highland through the center of town. The Civic Center master plan called for a two-story community center at 801 with Bonita converted to a pedestrian plaza and a parking garage below elevated tennis courts. So the Housing Element does dovetail with these plans but in coming up with some arbitrary numbers of units has alarmed many. The HE is about housing potential (587) but should also work within the context of the 2009 General Plan.

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