Feb 1 2023

OPINION: Where Are PREC And PADC When We Need Them?

Piedmont, a community of about 10,000 residents, has not one, but two organizations formed to help remove the stain of racism from the fabric of civic life. The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign (i.e. PREC) posts: “We work with allied organizations and individuals to raise awareness about racism and to support policies for racial justice and equity.” The Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (i.e., PADC) describes itself as: “Grounded in principles of racial equity, Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (PADC) works to dismantle systems of oppression, and replace them with policies and practices to nurture a connected and inclusive community.”

It could be argued that Piedmont’s civic life has been sufficiently stained with racism in the past that an unusually vigorous contemporary effort to avoid more appears justified.  The Piedmont Chief of Police in 1924, a member of the KKK, condoned mob violence against an African American family that had purchased a home in the city. As bad, the then City Council used eminent domain to condemn the home thereby forcing the family from the community.  In the 1960’s, the City Council transferred a public swimming pool to a private club to avoid complying with Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that required integration of public facilities.  In the last decade, moreover, several newsworthy incidents of racist graffiti in Piedmont parks and schools have reminded us of the stains on our civic fabric.

The response of the contemporary community at large to this history has been mostly laudable.  A recent report prepared by city staff finds little evidence of segregation in the community. The School District has developed a reputation for fighting racism in all forms and the city supports and participates in much programing intended to encourage an inclusionary culture.  Indeed, the local media describes a remarkable breadth of inclusionary programming offered in Piedmont on Martin Luther Day 2023.

This programming, however, appears lost on a City Council poised to stain our civic life with a not-so-subtle attempt to segregate a Piedmont neighborhood.  A state mandate that California cities allow development of market-rate and low-income housing has led Piedmont to begin planning a whole new neighborhood in Moraga Canyon.  The plan would allow, indeed encourage, construction of 132 new homes including 60 for low-income families.  Problems with this otherwise laudable scheme include that the Council has explicitly left open the option of assigning the 60 low-income units to Blair Park.

Blair’s designation as a “park” comes from the city’s purchase of Moraga Canyon land more than a century ago with bond funding raised to protect open space and wildlife. The park as we now know it, is essentially a former land fill surrounded mostly by high hillsides so steep that no vehicular or pedestrian access to the flatter section via the hills has ever been proposed. The steep hillsides are covered with oak and other native trees that harbor a diverse collection of wildlife protected, until now, by the land’s purchase with park bond funds.

Vehicles and pedestrians access Blair Park only from Moraga Avenue, a high-speed thoroughfare that connects the 13 and 580 Freeways via Grand Avenue. A 2010 EIR prepared for playfields proposed in Moraga Canyon, found a significant and unmitigable safety hazard for drivers entering or leaving Blair Park.  The hazard arises because no location on Moraga Avenue provides the 385-foot site distance Caltrans assumes for safe stopping of vehicles traveling at 35 MPH. More than 15% of vehicles traveling on Moraga Avenue exceeded that speed in 2010. The EIR also noted a similar hazard for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Moraga Avenue and that the likelihood of injuries and deaths would grow with increased attempts to access Blair Park.

Piedmonters appear unaware of the scheme to assign 60 low-income families to a former landfill, cutoff from the remainder of the community by impassable terrain and a high-speed arterial deemed an unmitigable safety hazard to motorists and pedestrians leaving and entering Blair Park.  Of those who know of the scheme, few seem aware that the Council also rejected the recommendations of professional staff, paid consultants, and a Council-appointed citizens committee to allow at least some low-income families to live in central Piedmont near schools and services.  And fewer still know that those experts also recommended that any housing assigned to the Canyon be located on the safe side of Moraga Avenue – an option made even more compelling by moving the now obsolete corporation yard, which the city will have to rebuild under any scheme, to Blair.

If the Council chooses to house low-income families in Blair Park, little time will likely pass before those families attribute their stigmatizing and dangerous isolation to segregationist intent. And decent Piedmonters will likely agree.  Such opinions will inevitably corrode civility in Piedmont.  That corrosion will be made much worse if a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorist suffers injury or death accessing or leaving Blair Park – an event anticipated by the EIR alluded to above.

So, what have PADC and PREC said about the Blair Park option? Nothing. Why have they been silent on a scheme as offensively segregationist as any in our history? But they are not alone in their silence. What do our church leaders, League of Women Voters, and School Board members as well as schoolteachers, all of whom rightly speak out against racism on Martin Luther King Day, have to say about this vessel of ruinous dye about to spill on the fabric of our civic life? Where, in short, are they when we need them?

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

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

5 Responses to “OPINION: Where Are PREC And PADC When We Need Them?”

  1. Never has anyone stated that only low income housing will be located in Blair Park. If high density housing is located in Blair Park, it should be mixed with the medium income housing. The traffic engineers will need to design safe ingress and egress for autos as well as safe crossing for pedestrians. The safe crossing from the North side of Moraga Ave(“safe side of Moraga Ave”?) will also need to be addressed at Monte Ave and Mesa Ave, since pedestrians(especially children) are not likely to walk all the way to the traffic signal at Highland Ave in order to cross Moraga Ave.

  2. Never has anyone stated that only low income housing will be located in Blair Park. The future of Moraga Canyon, which includes Blair Park, will soon be decided in the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan.

  3. Ralph Catalano is absolutely correct, and I applaud his insight, perspective and righteous indignation for zeroing in on this looming mistake that will haunt Piedmont for years. It’s very likely that instead of a mix of low- and moderate-income housing, the City will end up with 60 low-income units by themselves in an isolated, unsafe part of the City. So much for Piedmont’s laudable goal of integrating diverse housing throughout all neighborhoods.

  4. It has been firmly established during the past arguments relating to the proposed development of Blair Park that crossing Moraga would be clearly dangerous to pedestrians, especially children, bicyclists and drivers. That is the easy part of the current debate. What Professor Catalano correctly emphasizes is the question of why the various entities who should be expressing their concerns and outrage remain rather silent.”First, they came for others…”.

  5. I am not sure what to make of Chris’ claim that “Never has anyone stated that only low income housing will be located in Blair Park.” The record includes the following facts. City staff, paid consultants to the City, and a Council-appointed citizens committee all recommended that any housing proposed for the Canyon be located on the Coaches Field side. The Council rejected that recommendation and added Blair Park to the housing element as a potential site for housing. The stated reason for doing so was that the City needed to identify a site in order to qualify for county support of low-income housing.

    Housing any families in Blair Park would seem, from a public health perspective, ill-advised given the well-understood and unmitigable safety hazards such a scheme would create. Putting low-income families there would add a racist overtone to what would otherwise appear simple incompetence.

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