Sep 26 2020

FUTURE OF 801 MAGNOLIA AVENUE AND PIEDMONT CENTER FOR THE ARTS

In 2011, the Piedmont Center for the Arts, Inc. (PCA), formed by Piedmont volunteers, proposed to host community art events in an unused City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue. The City of Piedmont supported that mission, subsidizing PCA with a 10-year lease at $1/year in exchange for PCA performing some renovation work and to further community use of the building. PCA has managed the West Wing of 801 Magnolia for the last nine years, renting it out for various arts-related events.

[Editors Note:  Since 1986, the Piedmont Civic Association has been known as PCA.   The PCA references in this article refer to the Piedmont Center for the Arts.  The two organizations are separate.]

PCA now is seeking a 10-year extension of its lease, even though the lease does not expire until June 3, 2021. While PCA has performed a public service by hosting art events, before any lease renewal, the City needs to take time to carefully assess its own needs for building space, the extent of the City’s subsidy to PCA and whether that subsidy efficiently supports arts in Piedmont, and whether community uses of 801 Magnolia should be limited solely to arts.

The City should consider, based on input from its departments and the public, the following:

(1) Will the City need the 801 Magnolia space to facilitate any infrastructure improvements, including relocation of services?  Numerous City buildings require renovation or reconstruction, and services will need to be relocated. Is 801 Magnolia Ave. one potential location? Given that PCA’s lease already runs to June 2021, there is time to figure this out.

(2) Does the City need additional space to provide services regardless of infrastructure improvements? Would the City offer more programs if it had available space?

(3) Given the City’s need for revenue to fill a hole in maintenance funding, the City or a Committee should consider at least: (a) what is the market rental value of 801 Magnolia, as the City changed the zoning code to allow for-profit entities in City-owned buildings; and (b) what revenue could the City earn if it rented out the facility for events when not needed for City use, perhaps subsidizing arts and other community events with lower rental rates? The
differential between such revenue and PCA’s rent (currently $1/year) is the City subsidy to PCA.

(4) If the facility is to be leased to a third party, for what purposes and on what terms?  In 2011, the City Council provided the building rent-free so that, as the Lease says: ““Tenant will use the Premises for the purpose of operating a venue for exhibits, performances, concerts, and other similar events or activities for the benefit of the local community.”  PCA, however, has limited such uses to “arts-related” events. Review of pre-pandemic event calendars on the PCA website shows the space is used quite a bit, but there also are a considerable number of open days and hours within days. Whether there are Piedmont residents (or even City departments) who would like to use the facility on those days, or during those hours, for non-arts-related events is not known. Thus far, the City has not sought public comment on expanding use of 801 Magnolia.

(5) The City Council should be fully informed about not only the extent of the City’s subsidy of PCA (the differential between market rent and PCA’s rent), but also whether PCA is passing such savings along to the persons and groups presenting events at 801 Magnolia. PCA does not post the hourly rental rates it charges to hold an event at 801 Magnolia. If the City’s intent is to subsidize community uses of 801 Magnolia, then PCA’s revenues should roughly equal the cost of operating the facility. Even then, the City should consider whether its own staff, who already manage rentals of other City facilities such as Community Hall, could manage 801 Magnolia at less cost. If the City wishes to obtain revenue from renting 801 Magnolia at a rate greater than its operating costs, it again may sense for City staff to handle facility rentals.

Notwithstanding the City’s need to fund significant infrastructure improvements, the City Council may decide that it wishes to continue to subsidize arts in Piedmont. If so, however, I hope the City will seek and consider public input on how best to support arts and other community events in Piedmont.

Rick Raushenbush, Former School Board Member

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 5 2020

On Tuesday, September 8, 2020, following the Labor Day weekend, the City Council will be updated by the staff on keeping the pool  closed at this time.  A staff report informs the public and Council that the condition of the Piedmont Municipal Pool is in disrepair, including a broken heater and other factors, making it inappropriate for the pool to be reopened at this time.  The City Council will consider the matter at the September 8 meeting. 

Read the staff report for the September 8th meeting:  >Pool 92020 Update

Piedmont Municipal Pool

Council Meeting, September 8, 6:00 PM,  Read how to watch and participate in the meeting by clicking the link below:

https://piedmont.ca.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_13659739/File/Government/City%20Council/Agenda/council-current-agenda.pdf

Aug 24 2020

Piedmont voters will decide on November 3 two ballot measures taxing Piedmont properties.  Both measures were approved for the ballot and are supported by the Piedmont City Council.  There is official opposition to both ballot measures. The two measures will be located near the end of Piedmont ballots.

The arguments for and against the measures are linked below.

Each measure has an analysis by Piedmont’s attorney linked below.

Measure TT  increases the Real Property Transfer Tax (RPTT) on the sale of Piedmont residences to fund general City purposes.

Measure UU is a bond to fund the reconstruction of the Piedmont Municipal Pool and build new associated facilities.

Questions on the ballot >  Notice of Election – Measures

Measure TT – Transfer Tax Increase on Real Property Sales

Measure UU – Pool Construction Bonds 

Aug 18 2020
The ultimate goal of the Reach Codes is to force mandatory 100% electrification of homes. As we are in the midst of rolling electrical blackouts because the State power grid has insufficient capacity and rotating outages are a not uncommon disruption, let’s reflect on what a 100% electric home means during a blackout. No cooking, no cooling (or heating in winter), no lights, no charging your Tesla, no internet; those in 100% electric homes will be back to the Stone Age.
.

Going to 100% electricity will stress the State grid further. Except for black swan events like PG&E’s 2010 San Bruno explosion, rolling natural gas outages are unknown. There is a glut of natural gas. Forcing 100% electricity on homes is too much, both from practical and economic perspectives. Electricity is a much more expensive power source than natural gas. Exacerbating this is that Californians pay electric rates 56% higher than the average of other states (source: Center For Jobs and the Economy) on top of our sky high housing costs and nationally second highest gasoline costs. On top of the high costs of the Bay Area, increases are coming as PG&E exits from bankruptcy and will sharply increase rates to comply with court orders to secure its power grid from causing future fires.

The goal of Reach Codes is commonly accepted, of “doing the right thing” by the environment. We all agree with that, however, the Reach Codes are a blanket solution that has many pitfalls and should be rejected in favor of an incentive based system in Piedmont.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Aug 9 2020

Special Civil Service Commission Meeting Monday, August 10, 4 pm

There is one agenda item, New Job Classification for a Sustainability Program Manager, for which there is no staff report.

Civil Service Commissioners:

  • Claudia Harrison
  • David Hobstetter
  • Scott Lawson
  • Sandra Rappaport
  • Michael Reese

Council Liaison: Robert McBain | rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov |(510) 420-3048
Staff Liaison: Stacy Jennings | sjennings@piedmont.ca.gov | (510) 420-3047

Agenda
1. Consideration of a New Job Classification for Sustainability Program Manager

………..

The Civil Service Commission members will attend the meeting via ZOOM Teleconference.

Members of the public can observe and participate in the meeting in the following ways:
– Computer or smartphone: Click on https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88407286316
– Telephone: Dial (669) 900-9128 and enter webinar/meeting number 884-0728-6316

Jul 31 2020

Transfer Tax increase, as proposed, requires only a majority of voters to support the tax rather than 2/3rds required voter approval of identified purposes.

“Our facilities maintenance fund, which was established in 2003 to address ongoing and deferred maintenance of city owned facilities, has very little planned funding within our budget beyond FY 2019- 2020. The committee has recommended in previous budget analyses that in the near term (over the next 5 –10 years), minimum additional funding of approximately $850,000 per year is needed just to maintain the existing condition of City buildings, parks, streets and sidewalks.”  Report of the Piedmont Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee, June 2020.

The lack of steady funding for Facilities Maintenance has been the sole justification offered by the Committee and City Council for the proposed increase in the Real Property Transfer Tax headed for the November 2020 ballot.  The Committee warns the transfer tax will be a flat $2.8M for the next 10 years and recommends raising the tax to bring in $950,000 annually to address the maintenance “deficit.”   Make no mind of the fact that the transfer tax averaged $3.4M over the past decade and is projected to reach $4.5M by 2030.  The Facilities Maintenance fund currently has a balance of $5M and this year’s transfer tax was $3.5M.

Assume the Committee is right.  If so, then why is there a such huge loophole in the resolution authorizing the tax for expenditures other than facility maintenance?  The resolution notes the dire state of Piedmont facilities: “The increase in such tax is made necessary due to aging infrastructure which is escalating operating costs that outpace the growth of City revenues;” yet goes on to state:

“The tax would apply to the sale of real property until ended by the voters; and revenues from the tax could be used for any legitimate governmental purpose; this measure is not a commitment to any particular action or purpose. The tax is a general tax and shall be approved if the measure receives at least a simple majority of affirmative votes.”

“Not a commitment to any particular action or purpose.”  So the new tax can be used for anything – salaries and benefits, new equipment, project overruns.  The real reason for that clause may be to lower the vote needed for the measure to pass – general taxes only need a simple majority to pass.

Garrett Keating

Piedmont Resident

Jul 30 2020

Piedmont would become the first city in California to require existing residences to make retrofits when spending $25,000 on home improvement projects, including kitchen or bath updates.   Berkeley and San Francisco require all electric for new construction, but not for existing homes.

July 20, 2020 was the first time the Council had considered the proposed REACH CODE ordinance.

In a split vote, three City Council members, Vice Mayor Teddy King, Councilmember Jennifer Cavenaugh, and Councilmember Tim Rood, approved the first reading of the REACH energy program designed to wean Piedmonters off of natural gas.  Mayor Robert McBain and Councilmember Betsy Andersen voted against the first reading of the comprehensive ordinance.    Older buildings undergoing a major remodel or new buildings will be the most impacted by the new ordinance.   The second and final reading of the proposed ordinance was expected for August 3, 2020, however the REACH codes are not on the agenda for that meeting.

On its website for days prior to the Piedmont meeting, the Sierra Club stated,  “All Alameda County residents are urged to join this virtual public meeting to give public comment in support of this electrification ordinance. Building electrification is an essential strategy to curb climate and air pollution.”  Sierra Club speakers did participate at the July 20 meeting.  The Sierra Club opposes cooking with gas, not only in homes, but also in restaurants.

The propane gas industry sent two speakers, and various individuals who helped develop the proposed ordinance encouraged the Council to improve it or adopt the ordinance as proposed. 

One or more speakers were less enthusiastic and raised issues of costs, practicality for life conditions, and concerns over commercial and municipal property not being included.  One speaker stated, “It seems the city should start with their own facilities.” 

Councilmember Andersen questioned why the ordinance had not been reviewed by the Planning Commission stating this would give the residents of Piedmont a greater opportunity to consider and participate in the omnibus ordinance impacting Piedmont homes. Additional, information was requested regarding the cost impact to homeowners.

Mayor McBain was concerned that the $25,000 threshold for ordinance compliance was too low and suggested a higher possible $50,000 threshold.

Rood, Cavenaugh, and King praised the staff for involving the public in outreach to form the comprehensive ordinance meeting Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan goals.  There were no changes made to the proposed ordinance provisions, and the ordinance first reading was approved as proposed by the three affirmative votes.

Unresolved questions raised by the public and council were:

  • What is considered cost-effective?
  • Why wasn’t the Planning Commission asked to review the ordinance?
  • What exceptions are allowed under the ordinance?
  • Why are the exceptions not included in the ordinance?
  • Will the Planning and Building staff be making the exception decisions?
  • Was specific consideration given to Piedmont’s many older homes ill fitted for retrofits?
  • Where would the required heat pump be placed on a property?
  • What happens to homes heated by radiators or radiant heat?
  • Why are City, School, and commercial buildings excluded from the ordinance requirements?
  • Should City facilities set the example first and then require homes to comply?
  • Is a 30 year amortization period realistic for expensive energy improvements?
  • What is the expected cost for required improvements of various ages and sizes of homes?
  • Will homeowners be discouraged from making improvements because of significant added costs or evade city permits?
  • What happens if your furnace goes out in the middle of winter and you do not have time to install a required solar system?
  • How much will it cost to administer the ordinance?
  • How was it determined that $25,000 on improvements, such as a new kitchen, would trigger ordinance compliance?

READ the 2020 Ordinance 1st Reading of Ords. 750 & 751 NS Reach Codes & Energy Audit Policy

Piedmont staff described the specific proposed requirements as follows:

  • Newly constructed low-rise residential buildings, including new detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs), must use all electric building appliances.
  • Projects proposing an entire new upper level on a low-rise residential building, or that increase a low-rise residential building’s total roof area by 30% or more, are required to install solar panels on their roof.
  • A housing renovation on a low-rise residential building, that costs $25,000 or more, will require the applicant to include one item from a list of energy efficient insulation or electrification fixes (renovations of $100,000 or more must include two). Multiple items are cost-effective.

The City Council also considered other amendments to the Building Code and policy changes that, while not Reach Codes,  help reduce natural gas use. They are:

  • An application for an electrical panel upgrade must include space in the panel to accommodate future electrification of all building appliances.
  • Kitchen and laundry area renovations must include electrical outlets to allow for future electrification.
  • Requiring completion of a Home Energy Score or Audit (homeowner’s choice) when listing for sale of a property or submitting an application for a design review permit.

Proposed Title 24 amendments (“Reach Codes”), the City Council were considered at the July 20 Council meeting. The first reading was on July 20 and the second reading was expected on August 3, yet is not on the agenda. 

At its regular meeting on July 20th, the Piedmont City Council considered the first reading of an ordinance implementing reach codes, which are amendments to state’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards and state Electrical Code which are designed to promote efficient building methods in homes in Piedmont. The Council considered an ordinance requiring home energy audits under certain circumstances. Click to read the Agenda Report for this item, which includes the proposed ordinances, as well as links to background documents and details on the public outreach. The agenda report and Ordinance 750 N.S. were updated and posted effective July 15, 2020. The update includes typographical corrections in the report and the inclusion of amendments to City Code section 8.02.020 in the ordinance.

The Council was slated to take this issue up at its meeting of July 6th, but due to the importance of the issue and the lateness of the hour, decided to continue consideration to its July 20th regular meeting when a first reading of the ordinance was approved.

These measures are being proposed because Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0 calls for the community to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions from the building, transportation, waste, and wastewater sectors, combined, from about 38,000 metric tons of CO2e in 2017 to just 9,800 metric tons in 2050. Currently, a large percentage of Piedmont’s emissions come from natural gas appliances in buildings, especially gas furnaces and water heaters. To meet CAP goals, the Piedmont community must decrease natural gas use in buildings by improving insulation, and by switching out natural gas appliances for electric appliances powered by renewable energy.

Read complete City of Piedmont press release here.

First Reading approved by the City Council >  – 2020 Ordinance 1st Reading of Ords. 750 & 751 NS Reach Codes & Energy Audit Policy

Jun 30 2020

At a Special City Council meeting on June 29, the Council listened intently for hours to staff reports and numerous swimmers about the closed Pool operation and maintenance needs. Opinions varied: close the pool and let Piedmonters know how important an updated pool is, close the pool and put in commercial businesses to increase sales tax, repair the pool and let swimmers continue to use the pool, etc.

COVID-19 has made pool use complicated, but the Recreation Staff has devised ways to make limited use of the pool if allowed to reopened under County approvals.

An ongoing long term issue has been water leaking from the pool.  The solution was indicated as a new pool.

The Council by consensus directed the City Staff to return, as soon as possible, with further information on costs and options for reopening the pool, even if on an interim basis.

Jun 30 2020

Council Seeks Ways for Both Real Property Transfer Tax and General Obligation Bond on November Ballot.

At the Special Council meeting on June 29, 2020, the Council met a complicated set of financing options to deliberate.   After several hours of considering the pool closure and alternatives, a lawyer, financial advisor, Director of Finance, City Administrator and the Council attempted to provide a way of financing improvements to City facilities.

The Community Pool was considered primarily for a bond measure, however many roadblocks arose on the timing and advisability.  The cost for a new Aquatic Center has been roughly estimated up to twenty million dollars.

Some wanted public safety needs to be on the ballot separately from the recreation facility improvements, while others wanted all desirables together on the ballot.

Complex financing mechanisms were suggested from Certificates of Participation to lease back of City facilities. Problems with a bond measure preparation and timing appeared to be disappointing news for the Council, most of whom seemed unfamiliar with the various financing mechanisms.

It was noted that Piedmont would receive a AA+ rating for bonds, as “the City does not hold any debt.”  No mention was made of the money currently borrowed from the State to finance Piedmont’s sewer rehabilitation projects.

The Real Property Transfer Tax (RPTT) increase was discussed and is likely to be approved for the ballot.  Council members noted the RPTT  is levied only at the time a property is sold bringing them to believe the one time expense would be acceptable to voters.

A poll was professionally conducted to determine if voters would likely approve the taxes, and the poll showed passage would be difficult to pass at the 66 2/3 rds level.

Facing a tight August deadline for putting any tax measures on the November ballot, the Council will consider the measures at upcoming meetings.

Jun 29 2020

Recreation projects should be separated from fire and police measures.

Because of COVID- 19, ballot measures in November will not allow for full community discussion of City projects and needs.

Letter sent to the Piedmont City Council:

Based on the survey results and the limitations to public participation brought on by the pandemic, November 2020 does not seem like an appropriate time to put these two initiatives on the ballot, especially the facilities matter.

Every indication suggests a second wave of the pandemic will occur in the fall and these questions should not be put before Piedmonters under constraint.   “Robust resident education will be needed” – that will be a very difficult undertaking during the pandemic and should not be rushed or forced.  The typical forums available for voter education like League of Women Voters, house parties, clubs – won’t be available or will see reduced participation.

And, if put on the ballot, can the public outreach activities staff had planned before the pandemic go forward – it gives the appearance of city staff campaigning for the ballot.  Council should do as it did with the public safety contracts – postpone these ballot questions until more normal conditions return. Two years from now has the added advantage that three council seats – a majority – will be up for election, allowing for the community to send a clear signal of whether it supports these initiatives.

The polling results indicate that well over 60% of Piedmonters consider facilities as excellent, good or average.  The City Administrator concluded that Piedmonters do not clearly understand their facility needs but is that true?  Piedmonters are familiar with the facilities they use and see – recreation and park facilities – and not with the ones they don’t – the police and fire buildings.  The polling results indicate that most Piedmonters like what they see and it’s really up to the city to explain why these facilities need replacement.  Piedmonters understand the maintenance issue with the pool – it has been studied and discussed for years.  The proposals for the pool, Linda Beach and Coaches are for replacement, not maintenance, and looked at this way, the results could indicate that residents do not want these replacements.  To determine if that is the case, it would be better to have the public safety facilities and recreation facilities presented as separate ballot initiatives.

Finally, at a Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) meeting I attended, the Assistant City Manager/City Clerk indicated that General Obligation bonds might require two votes under the City Charter. The BAFPC suggested a way to avoid two votes would be to establish a Community Facilities District (CFD). I think the staff report is inaccurate when it states the BAFPC “favored” CFD bonds, though it did support a parcel-based tax assessment compared to an ad valorem one:

“The Committee recommends pursuing a parcel-based tax assessment. This is preferable to an ad valorem tax given that the facilities to be funded include primarily (or potentially exclusively) essential public services buildings benefiting all Piedmont residents.”

I think it is inaccurate to conclude that the facilities to be funded are primarily “essential public services”.  While I’ve enjoyed the recreation facilities in Piedmont, it is clear that not all residents utilize these facilities, especially so over the next 30 years as Piedmont “ages in place”.  Police and Fire are, of course, essential, so again, consider placing the public safety facilities and recreation facilities on separate ballot initiatives.

Garrett Keating, Former Member of Piedmont City Council