Nov 4 2020

– Regarding the City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue and the upcoming proposed lease to a private group by the City –

Are most residents even aware that the City Council is considering giving away control of the 801 Magnolia Avenue building with little or no notice to its citizens? Because I, for one, am very familiar with all aspects of this building, I do feel a duty to share my observations and ideas regarding its future use.

There is no question that The Piedmont Center for the  Arts has done a fine job of bringing quality live performances and art exhibits right into the heart of our town in the 801 Magnolia Avenue building. Since 2019, the Art Center no longer runs their own programs, but using the building as a “rental venue for the Arts,” they have booked many evenings of great entertainment and interesting art exhibits. These have been popular events which should continue, but control of the 801 Magnolia building needs to return to the City once the Piedmont Center for the Arts’ lease expires in June, 2021.

First of all, the Recreation Department could now make upwards of $260,000 a year of revenue for the City from bookings at 801 Magnolia based on what the Community Center brings in, plus everyone could use it.

Secondly, it was always intended that the Recreation Department could reclaim this City space after the first 6 years; that is how the lease was written. The Art Center was just the interim solution–renovating a public building with private funds at a time when the City could not do so. We raised the money, got all the contractors, managed the project – just put our heart and soul into it and kept our side of the bargain.

A simple “quid pro quo” with $1/year rent as part of the bargain! The reduced rent was NEVER a subsidy for art (See video of Council Meeting, March 7, 2011).  We stated our mission: “to promote artistic endeavors for youth within the Piedmont community,” because we felt such was lacking in our town.

Since the 801 Magnolia parcel was re-zoned in 2017 to allow for-profit commercial entities on this city-owned land, there have been many proposals about what could happen there once the current lease expires, including the best one for a commercial health club providing exercise classes, yoga, massage and physical therapy as well as nutrition services. As a center city building within walking distance of most Piedmont residents, these would be welcomed services. But I would still argue for control by the Recreation Department as the best way to ensure the greatest usage of this public building by the most residents for the highest revenue.

I would certainly not advise extending the current lease because in a dynamic community, situations change over time and the situation of the Piedmont Center for the Arts has certainly changed. Pre-Covid 19, in Calendar Year 2019, the part of the building they control (“the West Wing”) was unused 70% of the time while the other Recreation buildings were in constant use by residents for all sorts of activities. This fact, alone, should argue against continuing the lease of a prime public building to any private group with total power to decide who gets to use it and when.

It would be a different thing if the City just doesn’t need use of this building anymore; in that case, who would care? Further, as the purpose of The Piedmont Center for the Arts has now become a venue operating rentals for the arts, and it no longer “promotes artistic endeavors for youth within the Piedmont Community,” one should ask if it matters to the City, in considering a lease to them, whether this group is a nonprofit anymore.

Since the building is now zoned for commercial use, would the City allow The Piedmont Center for the Arts to operate as a for-profit entity at $1/year rent versus $260,000 revenue from Recreation Department uses or $15,000/month from a health club?

And, of course, the passage of Measure UU has changed the game in the city center, arguing against any long-term tie up of City property. These are big issues and options that the community needs a chance to understand.

With regard to a lease that doesn’t even end for another six months, it is impossible to understand the City’s rush to end all discussion, and, of course, any other options, by just giving away control to this private group.

The City should tell us, “what’s the quid pro quo of this deal” for the community? I just don’t see it! They should allow the current City lease with The Piedmont Center for the Arts to continue until its expiration in June, 2021 after which the 801 Magnolia West Wing would return to the City and Recreation Department jurisdiction.

Nancy N. Lehrkind, Founder & Former President The Piedmont Center for the Arts, Inc.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 3 2020

The following are Piedmont election results as of 9:25 p.m. November 3.  Election results are not final until all votes have been recorded and certified.  The elected candidates are listed in the order of votes gained.  Election results are unlikely to change. 

Elected to the City Council:

Jen Cavenaugh

Conna McCarthy

Elected to the School Board:

Cory Smegal

Veronica Anderson-Thigpen

Hilary Cooper

Piedmont Ballot Measures:

Measure TT – Increase in real property transfer tax – Failed – by 31 votes

Measure UU – Pool Bonds – Approved – by over 2/3rds of voters

Updates can be found on https://www.acgov.org/rovresults/241/indexA.htm

Nov 1 2020

– Environmental Voting Guide written by Piedmonter Emily Ballati –

Things-are-Heating-Up-Guide-to-Environmental-Voting

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. 
Oct 29 2020

The Mercury News Editorial –

Editorial: Reject Piedmont property tax hike for pool repairs

The Mercury News editorial is copied below:

“Piedmont residents tax themselves to ensure that they have the best schools and premier city government. The average homeowner pays $4,400 in extra taxes for schools and another $635 for city services.

But those taxes also drive up the cost of housing in the exclusive city surrounded by Oakland and further ensure that those with average means will not be able to crack the city’s residential market.

Voters in Tuesday’s election will face two tax hikes. Measure TT, which we have previously recommended voters reject, would increase the city’s tax on property sales to state record-high levels. Now we look at Measure UU, a $19.5 million bond proposal to pay for replacing three old community pools with two new ones. Voters should reject that, too.

Based on the city estimates provided to voters, Measure UU would add an average $263 annually to the tax bill for a home assessed at the city average of slightly over $1 million.

It a bit of a tricky calculation for voters because city officials in the ballot wording obfuscated the projected average tax rate as 2.6 cents per $100 of assessed value rather than an easier-to-understand $26 per $100,000.

It turns out that the city overstated that rate, especially for the latter part of the 30-year tax. The firmer number is that city taxpayers would collectively pay about $1.3 million annually to retire the bonds needed to finance the construction.

To put that number in perspective, the city spends more than that – nearly $1.7 million to be precise – just to cover the interest payments on public employee pension debt. Put another way, most of the pool bond payments could be covered by Measure TT, which is expected to add about $948,462 annually to the city’s transfer tax revenues.

Individually and collectively, the two measures raise a question of, how much is too much? Rather than throwing multiple tax measures at voters, city leaders need to prioritize and look for savings elsewhere.”

Oct 28 2020

I would like to extend thanks to the nearly one thousand volunteers, endorsers, and donors who have come together to support the future of the Piedmont Community Pool.

Passing any measure requires a tremendous amount of effort and money to educate voters about the timeliness, thoughtfulness, and importance of the ballot initiative. Over the last few months, citizens of all ages and areas in Piedmont have volunteered to talk with their neighbors about the critical timing and benefits of Measure UU.

Over 100 donors have contributed to the campaign to provide funds to print flyers and mailers. Student and adult volunteers have spent thousands of hours making phone calls, sending emails, and distributing informational materials door-to-door. Despite the challenges of connecting in person, a comprehensive coalition of city and school leaders, community organizations, and volunteers emerged to support Measure UU. Their message?  A world-class city like Piedmont should have a local pool and all the concomitant programs (lessons, sports, programs) that serve to strengthen our community.

I especially applaud the countless volunteers who have been extra careful about reaching out to their neighbors in safe ways. To minimize direct, in-person exposure, volunteers only conducted phone calls or dropped off flyers with personally written letters detailing why it’s critical to pass Measure UU in November.

One of the most moving letters that I read was from a family that actually doesn’t use the pool at all, but understands the value of building an asset that is appreciated by their fellow citizens: old and young, big and small. Norman Rockwell could not paint a warmer picture of a shared journey.

While our broad political climate has never been more divisive, I am proud to see and say that Piedmonters continue to think and act beyond themselves, always in the best interests of our wonderful community.

Dion Lim, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 26 2020

– Fire Chief Bret Black Announced His Departure from Piedmont Fire Department –

Chief Bret Black intends to leave his position with the City of Piedmont in late November after just over two years as Piedmont’s Fire Chief. He will become Chief of East Jefferson Fire and Rescue in Port Townsend, Washington.

“I have valued my time in Piedmont as part of this team,” said Black. “My fondest memories will be from the relationships and friendships among fellow employees and the community. I feel privileged to have served the residents of Piedmont.”

“The Piedmont community has benefitted from Chief Black’s time in Piedmont,” said City Administrator Sara Lillevand. “His knowledge of the fire service, particularly in the area of wildland fire has helped focus the Fire Department and organization as a whole on this important topic. We will miss his team spirit, sense of humor, and dedication to his profession.”

Chief Black’s professional firefighting career began with Skywalker Ranch Fire Department in 1997. A few years later he relocated to the Clovis Fire Department in the Central Valley. Mr. Black rose through the ranks from firefighter, engineer, captain, training officer, to battalion chief. He began work as Piedmont’s Fire Chief on October 1, 2018.

Chief Black will remain with the City until November 30th and a nationwide recruitment process for a new Fire Chief will commence immediately.

Press Release – Oct. 26, 2020
Oct 25 2020

The City Council Is Not Being Open And Transparent About Measure UU. If They Were, Residents Would Have Received This Measure UU Letter.

Dear Piedmonters,

Before you vote on Measure UU, we thought there were a few things we needed to tell you. We did tell you that the City has no outstanding General Obligation Bonds, but we didn’t mention that we have LOTS of debts – $7 million in sewer loans, $13 million in Post Employment Benefits Payable, and $26 million in Pension Benefits Payable.

Oh, and if our pension portfolio returns only 6.15% instead of the estimated 7.15% (you can get 7.15% on your investments in today’s crazy market with bonds yielding close to zero, can’t you?), our Pension Benefit Liability alone increases to over $43 million.

Speaking of deficits, did we mention that our General Fund – that is, unrestricted money that the City can spend on anything – has a deficit of about $9 million?

We also glossed over the fact that the ordinance we passed estimates that the total cost of the “improvements” is $23 million, but that it allows us to issue $19.5 million in bonds. Guess who is paying for the difference?

We also haven’t mentioned it, but by reading the City Council minutes for the last six months, you can see that we know about the major deficiencies in our ability to deliver essential public services – the Police Chief, Fire Chief, and City Administrator are all on the record as saying that we do not comply with the Essential Services Act, that the fire station may sustain major damage in an earthquake, and that it may cost up to $51 million to fix these problems. That’s why we are looking at creating a Community Facilities District (aka Mello-Roos) to make it easier to issue bonds backed by another special tax on Piedmont homeowners in the near future. And because we generally ask for the maximum amount, it will probably be for the full $51 million.

Finally, we haven’t mentioned that 100% of Piedmont citizens rely on our Police and Fire Departments, while an estimated 25% of citizens use the pool.

So, if we had placed two bond measures on the November ballot – $50 million for Police and Fire, and $20 million for a new pool, we knew what would happen. Citizens would vote to maintain essential services, but they would turn down the pool.

After spending $56 million in 2006 and another $66 million in 2016 on School District Bonds (all that money is gone, and they still haven’t finished their projects), $10 million per year on Measure G, $2.6 million per year on Measure H, and $2.4 million per year on Measure T, citizens are getting a little tax weary. After all, aren’t our property tax rates some of the highest in California?

So, think carefully before you vote on measure UU. We’ll see you soon with our new $51 million bond request. You will HAVE to vote yes to maintain city services, but you can vote NO on Measure UU.

Andy Wasserman, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 15 2020

When the City took over operation of the pool in 2011, I was asked to help design how the pool would operate.  The system we came up with generated twice as much revenue as other public pools and saved the City a lot of money.  I spent over a thousand hours in that effort.  I was motivated to do so for two reasons: I wanted to be sure the City’s operation of the pool was a success and I was concerned that, if the pool got too expensive, the City might lose interest in it.  I brought those same concerns to the discussions that led to the current pool proposal.

We need to build a pool that meets the needs of the schools as well as the rest of the community.  Under the facilities sharing arrangement between the City and the schools, the schools get to use the pool just as the City gets to use the schools’ gyms and sports fields.  We are the same taxpayers who would be called on to fund a school pool.  It makes no sense to have two pool facilities, one for the schools and one for everyone else, across the street from each other.

It’s time to have one facility that works for everyone—designed so the Piedmont swim team doesn’t have to rent additional space in other communities and spend hours a week commuting to practice; designed so the high school water polo and swim teams don’t have to practice at night or commute to other pools; designed so kids can both play and have swim lessons after school, all with lap swimmers having room to swim and finally being able to swim their laps when they get home from work at night.

It’s not too expensive.  The bond measure is about financing, not cost. You can’t bid the project until you have detailed construction drawings and no one would pay to have those drawings done until they knew they had the financing and the project would proceed.

The increased cost estimate from 2016, when the conceptual design was initially approved, simply reflects that it will be built at least six years later, and, in fact, it is in line with what we understand other neighboring communities are doing.  When you are arranging for financing, you need to build in room for interest rate fluctuations and other contingencies.  Measure UU is simply authorizing bonds.

You don’t have to issue or spend all the bonds that are authorized, but you have to be sure the bond cap is high enough to more than cover the anticipated cost, because you can’t go get more bonds approved in the middle of the project.

The City Council didn’t prioritize the pool over public safety, by putting the pool on the ballot.  The fact is our infrastructure is old and needs to be addressed.  The pool is on the ballot because there already was a plan to deal with the pool, which had been analyzed, researched, and discussed for years.

The public safety issues just came up.  We don’t know enough about them and there isn’t a plan to deal with them yet.  It isn’t a question of picking one over the other.  If Piedmont is going to be the community you moved here to live in, we have to address them both.

The question is simple: does Piedmont want a pool or not?  If we do, it makes no sense to build an inadequate pool.  It’s time to have a community pool that finally meets the needs of the whole community.

Join me in voting YES on Measure UU! 
.
Jon Sakol, Piedmont Resident
Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 12 2020

 Endorser Forum:  Pool Bonds, Measure UU:  Wednesday, October 14, 6:00 – 6:30 p.m.

This forum will be on YouTube. The City of Piedmont is legally not allowed to use public resources for political purposes. Prior to the forum, the Piedmont League of Women Voters endorsed  Measure UU.

>Submit Questions Now

Join the League of Women Voters of Piedmont for a virtual Election Forum featuring proponents and opponents of City of Piedmont Ballot Measure UU. Measure UU authorizes the city to issue bonds to reconstruct the Piedmont Community Pool. Each side will be given two minutes to present an opening statement, followed by a question and answer session where each side will have one minute to answer each question. Submit your questions concerning Measure UU now or during the event.

  • When: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 from 6pm to 6:30pm
  • Where: Livestream on the LWVP YouTube channel
  • Who: Official Representatives in favor of and opposed to Ballot Measure UU

You may submit questions during the livestream by using the YouTube comments or anytime prior to or during the event by completing the anonymous form below or sending an email to lwvpiedmont@gmail.com.

For more information about Measure UU, review LWVP Pros & Cons.

Oct 11 2020

Piedmont Measure TT increases the “flat rate” property tax  on  sales of all Piedmont homes and properties. Measure TT officially states, “this measure is not a commitment to any particular action or purpose.” 

The 35% tax increase will be levied as a percentage of the property sales price adding thousands of dollars to the cost of selling a property in Piedmont.  With a low bar for passage (one vote plus 50%), if approved by a simple majority of Piedmont voters, TT will become effective on all property sales in Piedmont on July 1, 2021.  Read official details below.

Proponents and Opponents use different terms to argue that TT would or would not establish the highest transfer taxes in California. 

TT Proponents rely on the handful of California cities such as Oakland and Berkeley that have created “stepped” graduated transfer taxes based on the sales price range in their cities, and then compare the highest tax rates for the highest priced properties with Piedmont’s flat rate.  Berkeley’s median house value is 1/2 of Piedmont’s and Oakland’s median house value is 1/3 of Piedmont’s, so their steps do not fit the Piedmont range. (See Alameda County median values here). 

TT Opponents claim TT is the highest California “flat” transfer tax because more than 90% of California cities have flat rates under $2 per $1000 compared to Measure TT’s proposed flat rate of $17.50 per $1000 .  (See California city Transfer Tax rates here .)  Note: Alameda County adds an additional amount to the transfer tax.

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Proponents state the money will be used by the City of Piedmont for essential services, and the tax is comparable to some other cities. “The proposed tax increase will provide necessary funds for maintaining and improving city facilities, streets, sidewalks, and parks.”  Proponents claim that opponents are wrong to state that Piedmont would have the highest Transfer Tax.

Opponents state Piedmont will have the highest “flat” Transfer Tax rate in California and will take away homeowner profits.  “Voters must demand accountability measures before passing such a high homeowner tax.” Also, Piedmonters just approved a City parcel tax for  municipal purposes, and Measure TT does not identify specific uses. 

Click each item below to read official information on the measure, liens, bankruptcies, etc.:

*The “City Attorney’s Impartial Analysis of Measure TT” is provided by Piedmont’s contract City Attorney.