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The following letters and other commentary express only the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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Mar 18 2020

March 18, 2020

Dear Fellow Piedmonters:

This is an unprecedented time in our lives. It is imperative that we work together as a community to try and keep our residents from contracting (Coronavirus) COVID-19.   As Mayor of Piedmont, I implore each and every one of you to follow the Alameda County guidelines to shelter in place, and only leave your homes for essential needs – groceries, pharmacy, gas, banking, and of course walking your furry housemates.

We know Piedmont is a social place, but we ask that all residents, no matter what age, practice social distancing and avoid gathering for social purposes. This is also true at our dog parks and includes distancing your pets. It is not rude to stand 6 feet away, it is the most polite and thoughtful thing you can do for the next three weeks.

This virus is not obvious. It is spreading throughout Alameda County and likely already spreading within Piedmont. It is possible to be contagious without symptoms. Our job as responsible citizens is to do everything in our power to slow down the spread of this virus so we do not overwhelm our healthcare system.

We have many seniors living in our community. Please look out for your neighbors as you would during any emergency. And if you are older than 60 years or have underlying health conditions, please ask someone else to help you take care of your essential needs.

Our city staff is working hard to keep our City website up to date with information and resources and of course our Police and Fire Departments are fully staffed and working to respond to any emergency calls. We need to keep our first responders safe and healthy as well.

You should also have confidence in your neighbors. We are a community of smart, resourceful and compassionate people. With those collective strengths, I am confident we will persevere and meet the challenges in the days ahead.

If we look out for one another, and prioritize our collective health, together we will get through this, one day at a time.

Sincerely,

CITY OF PIEDMONT

Mayor Robert McBain

Click below to read signed letter:

McBain- Letter from the Mayor to the Community – Covid19

Feb 20 2020

On Feb. 18, 2020 a three to one vote with Councilmember Jennifer Cavenaugh voting no, the new  (Accessory Dwelling Unit) ADU design rules were approved by the City Council. The Council discussion lacked clarity on many issues.  Landscaping in front of garage conversions, translucent windows, fencing, parking, and notice to neighbors were discussed.  Fire safety, driveway access for emergency vehicles, street impacts, enforcement of required landscaping, etc. were not discussed.

Knowledgeable Piedmonters repeatedly asked the Council to require ADU applicants to notify neighbors even with staff having sole authority to make the determination on approval or disapproval.  Required notice of an ADU applicant was rejected by City Attorney Michelle Kenyon as potentially troublesome and a questionable practice while she acknowledged State laws do not prohibit notice to neighbors by ADU applicants.

Some Piedmonters had desired notification to encourage cooperation between applicants and their neighbors, thus allowing opportunities to work out concerns.

The Council majority of McBain, Andersen, and Rood did not require notice.  Cavenaugh voted no.

Importance of adopting appropriate ordinances and requirements

State laws require applications to be acted upon by staff ministerially within 60 days from the date of a completed application.  Ministerially means there will be no public participation and only city staff can make the decision, which spotlights the need to have appropriate objective criteria for ADUs.

City Attorney Michelle Kenyon presented different information. 

Reversing the Planning Director’s no appeal admonition to the Planning Commission, Kenyon stated that although neighbors cannot appeal a Planning staff decisions,  the applicant could appeal a denied application to the City Council thereby opening up an entirely new avenue of consideration previously denied by the Planning Director.

There were numerous areas of  concern not reviewed.  The Council majority ultimately supported having the new ADU Design Guidelines approved rather than having none in place.  It is expected changes and additions will be made in the future. The issue of irreversible legal matters incurred from the time of new rule adoption and subsequent ADU approvals was not discussed.

According to Planning Director Kevin Jackson numerous ADU inquiries have been made since the beginning of the year.

Comments:

  1. My recommendation for story poles was somewhat facetious but given that the city won’t alert neighbors with a simple 3 x 5 postcard, what’s a neighborhood to do?

    This requirement to not notify neighbors of ADU applications comes from City Attorney Kenyon and not planning staff. Kenyon said there is no legal prohibition to notify neighbors but in her opinion it would be “Draconian” to do so. Instead she implied the community would be better served through direct neighbor to neighbor communication. That position is logically flawed – such dialogue is best established through notification and without that requirement many of these neighbor to neighbor exchanges won’t happen and if they do, it will be after the fact.

    More likely her position is self-serving – City Hall doesn’t want to take the phone calls from neighbors about these projects. Recall Maxwellton. No doubt it will be frustrating to have to deal with irate neighbors who aren’t aware of the ministerial ADU process, but that comes with the job. City Hall prides itself on customer service, but maybe it should think more about public service when it comes to ADUs.

    Thanks to Councilwoman Cavenaugh and Planning Commissioner Levine for pushing for public notice.

  2. A thanks to both Councilmember Jen Cavanaugh and Planning Commission Chair Jonathan Levine for their efforts to bring a wider community involvement to this important issue and resident notification.

    My takeaway is based on the comment by City Attorney Kenyon near the end of the ADU Council discussion last night when Jen’s request for minimal resident notification was shot down. City Attorney Kenyon replied that the City is now in compliance. Is Piedmont the last out of compliance City? Highly doubtful. The State ADU Housing Guidelines, assuming the recently passed series of ADU legislations, is only a month away. (City Planner Mike Henn presented this information to Council last night.) Being out of compliance might bring a State letter, but Piedmont is far away from being sued by the State and would have everything in place to immediately pass ordinances to be in compliance once the compliance criteria are known.

    I would like to have more resident notification and involvement with a Town Hall type meeting for the new ADU ordinances and guidelines. Council indicated they will treat the new Chapter 17 modifications and ADU Design Guidelines as living documents that can be amended as needed. Hopefully this will be done with the same swiftness as the very recent ADU implementations have been.

Jan 28 2020

Reminder of Meetings on January 29, February 12 and 26:

Hello Friends:  Passing on this notice for a public workshop this Wednesday, January 29 at 6:30 pm in Community Hall. [See video produced by the City of Piedmont HERE.] Long story short – the city is looking for ideas on how to reduce natural gas usage in town as part of its Climate Action Plan.  The basic concept is to make it easy for residents to electrify their homes – add solar panels, replace NG appliances with electric ones, facilitate installation of EV charging stations. Staff has some very specific proposals that while good, won’t apply to many homes in town.  So come learn about the latest in home electrification technology and bring your own ideas.  Mine – I want a curbside charging station and a solar-panel hot tub!   Can’t do that in Piedmont unless we implement these 21st century codes so now is the time to be creative.
Can’t make it Wednesday?  There are more workshops in February (read below).
Did you know that one-third of Piedmont’s climate impact comes from gas in our homes?
Did you know that the City is exploring ways to reduce this impact – through REACH codes, which can help us make collective progress toward reducing gas usage? 

About 30 Northern California cities have already adopted REACH codes to address emissions from buildings. REACH codes mainly focus on converting appliances to high-efficiency, electricity-powered ones, and encouraging solar and energy efficiency measures. Thanks to East Bay Community Energy, most of us are already purchasing electricity that is from 100% renewable sources. But now we need to actively encourage the replacement of conventional natural gas-powered furnaces and water heaters with high-efficiency electric heat pumps, gas stoves with induction ranges, gas-powered clothes dryers with efficient electric dryers, and so on. Building codes will have a role in this, as well as education, incentives and other policies.

The Piedmont Reach Codes implemented this year will set the tone for Piedmont’s commitment to taking action during this critical decade in the effort to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and we could end up being a leading role model for other small, residentially-dominant cities.

Will you be part of the solution? Decisions will be made over the next few months – join the conversation and spread the word!

The City is hosting a series of workshops, and we’re hoping this will be an opportunity for residents to speak up in support of taking strong action, both with the building reach codes and, more generally, with moving urgently towards full implementation of Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan 2.0. Please come weigh in on what you think would be a good path forward for Piedmont, one that balances the needs of residents and commercial properties with the imperative of phasing out the use of natural gas and other greenhouse gas emitting substances.

A Community Forum aimed at residents, on Wed., Jan 29th from 6:30-8:30 pm at the Community Hall (711 Highland Ave).  Staff will present code suggestions that they think would be good to implement. This presentation will focus on the need to make Piedmont a low-carbon, resilient community and the ways these codes might help us get there. Please join and spread the word!

Two workshops aimed at building industry professionals (same workshop repeated twice) on Wed., Feb 12th from 1:30-3:30 pm and 6:30-8:30 pm at the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) conference room at 403 Highland Avenue. If you know any green-minded industry professionals, please encourage them to attend!

Two workshops for residents (same workshop repeated twice) on Wed., February 26th at 1:30-3:30 pm and 6:30-8:30 pm at the EOC conference room, which will be more of a deep dive into the proposed code.  Connect encourages residents to attend both the January 29th event and this workshop, if possible.

P.S. If you haven’t already, please make sure to join the Piedmont Climate Challenge: piedmontclimatechallenge.org

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Jan 26 2020

In the face of the deepening climate crisis, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to three important City-wide workshops here in Piedmont.

While building codes may seem like a dry topic, California cities can play an important role in reducing our carbon emissions by adopting local codes that “reach” beyond the basics of the California building codes. As a primarily residential community with no industry and few businesses, Piedmont will not be able to meet California’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets without developing policies that promote the decarbonization of our existing housing stock.  This means encouraging and, in certain cases, requiring the conversion of appliances that are currently powered by fossil fuels (especially natural gas) to high-efficiency appliances powered by electricity, as well as encouraging and sometimes requiring solar and energy efficiency measures.

Thanks to East Bay Community Energy, most of us are already purchasing electricity that is from 100% renewable sources. But now we need to actively encourage the replacement of conventional natural gas-powered furnaces and water heaters with high-efficiency electric heat pumps, gas stoves with induction ranges, gas-powered clothes dryers with efficient electric dryers, and so on. Building codes can have a role in this, as well as education, incentives and other policies.

Please come weigh in on what you think would be a good path forward for Piedmont, one that balances the needs of residents and commercial properties with the imperative of phasing out the use of natural gas and other greenhouse gas emitting substances.

The events are:

1) A Community Forum aimed at residents, on Wednesday, January 29th from 6:30-8:30 pm at the Community Hall;

2) Two workshops aimed at building industry professionals (contractors, real estate agents, etc.), on February 12th from 1:30-3:30 pm and 6:30-8:30 pm (the same workshop repeated twice) at the Piedmont Emergency Center  (EOC) in the Police Department on Highland Avenue; and

3) Two workshops for residents (same workshop repeated twice) on February 26th at 1:30-3:30 pm and 6:30-8:30 pm at the EOC. This will be more of a deep dive into the proposed code.

The Piedmont Reach Codes implemented this year will set the tone for Piedmont’s commitment to taking action during this critical decade in the effort to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and we could end up being a leading role model for other small, residentially-dominant cities.

Margaret Ovenden, Member of Piedmont Connect Steering Committee 

piedmontconnect

P.S. If you haven’t already, please make sure to join the Piedmont Climate Challenge: piedmontclimatechallenge.org

Jan 20 2020

Safety, traffic, transit, parking –

Mayor and City Council

City of Piedmont

120 Vista Avenue

Piedmont, CA 94611

Subject: Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) -Revisions

Dear Mayor and Members of the City Council

As a planner, I have long supported allowing more ADUs when they were virtually outlawed by most cities. However, it now seems like the State may have overreached in taking away cities’ rights to regulate ADUs.

Piedmont may be rushing action on a revised ADU ordinance when the state law only became effective three weeks ago. I have checked with several other jurisdictions and they are just beginning to study the issue and have not yet began public hearings. There is a lack of urgency because the State Housing and Community Department has not yet published its implementation guidelines.

Our premature actions may necessitate subsequent otherwise unneeded revisions when the HCD guidelines are issued.  Also, if Piedmont does not have its own local ordinance in place, then there would be no impact on the potential production of ADUs, because the state’s rules would apply by default, until we adopted our own. So there is little real urgency and there is time for proper study.

What is being proposed largely precludes the normal community discussion which Piedmont residents are used to. In particular, just following the law and accurately measuring the half mile walking distance from bus stops will require some time. And if we were to provide for street-safety thresholds, also consistent with the law, additional time would be required for analysis.

I have including pertinent sections of the newly adopted state law to illustrate the following concerns:

66582.2  (a) A local agency may…

(A)Designate areas within the jurisdiction of the local agency where accessory dwelling units may be permitted. The designation of areas may be based on criteria that may include, but are not limited to, the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety.

(Presumably this section means that the jurisdiction may designate areas where accessory dwelling units may not be permitted, or, there should also be latitude to allow ADUs but with some minimum of off-street parking provided)

66582.2 (d)Notwithstanding any other law, a local agency, whether or not it has adopted an ordinance governing accessory dwelling units in accordance with subdivision (a), shall not impose parking standards for an accessory dwelling unit in any of the following instances:

(1)The accessory dwelling unit is located within one-half mile walking distance of public transit.

66582.2 (j) (10): “Public transit” means a location, including, but not limited to, a bus stop, or train station where the public may access buses, trains, subways, and other forms of transportation that charge set fares, run on fixed routes, and are available to the public.

(This definition would preclude counting mere proximity to a bus route where there is no designated bus stop) 

66582.2 (o) This section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2025, and as of that date is repealed.

Analysis

Transit Availability: Some of the restrictions on cities’ powers largely apply to homes within a half mile, by foot, from a bus stop (66582.2 {d} {1) The staff report declares that every part of Piedmont is within a half mile of a bus stop. While largely true, that conclusion was apparently based on a crow-fly review since it’s not entirely true. For example, I took well-known Wildwood School as a starting point, and using my admittedly less accurate car’s odometer, I have checked the distance along streets, (not crow-fly distance), and found that it is at least a half mile to the nearest bus stops for AC Transit Lines 29, 12, 33 and P.  Because of curving streets and a few cul-de-sacs, there are probably several other areas which are beyond a half mile. Also Line 33 above the central area has only weekday commuter service with no midday or weekend service. These transit deficiencies are important because the statute’s justification for not providing any new parking for an ADU, is that convenient transit is available. Where transit is not available, some relief seems justified.

Traffic and Emergency Vehicle Safety: There are a few existing, seriously impacted and unusually narrow streets where on-street parking is already extremely impacted, and emergency vehicles may already have trouble getting through. The extremely narrow stretch of Scenic Avenue comes to mind. The new state law (66582.2 {a}) allows a city to designate areas not suitable for additional ADUs for safety reasons. To be objective and defensible, I’d suggest language like: The City has determined that certain existing streets which are of insufficient width according to accepted Fire Protection standards, and such streets already allow on-street parking, and accordingly, the provision of one parking space per ADU is required, and such spaces may be open and tandem: (street names to follow).

Correction of Existing Code Violations: As I am sure you all know, there have been a lot of historic or even recent conversions of garages to living quarters for the primary dwelling unit. This is distinct from cases where a parking deficiency is legally non-conforming (grandfathered). If such a residence were now to further worsen the on-street parking demand by adding one or even 2 ADUs, that would add to the existing on street parking conflicts. Without violating the new law’s prohibition on requiring any parking for the ADU, the city could ask/require that existing zoning/building violations regarding parking be corrected. This would mandate that a parking analysis be done in concert with the ADU review. Merely suggesting that the building inspector will catch past violations is unrealistic.

Summary: In crafting the legislation, the legislature made some concessions for where transit was not conveniently available and for valid public safety reasons. I would expect that a good faith effort that is tailored to the unique nature of a city and supports its specific exceptions with a logical nexus to traffic safety and emergency vehicle access would escape much criticism. A Planning Commission member has suggested finding a legal way to provide notice of new construction to neighbors, but not deter from the ministerial approval requirement. There can be a lot of good ideas to protect neighborhoods, but not if the new ordinance gets rapidly approved as written.

We can ask, How can we work within the law, but tailor it to the uniqueness of Piedmont? I of course agree that most of Piedmont can and should accommodate additional ADUs with little impact. However, areas where most of the once existing one-car garages have already been converted to living quarters, and where the narrow streets are already jammed with parked cars, really shouldn’t have to accept more units with no new parking or even correcting past violations.

Therefore, I urge the Council to take a step back and allow the normal community involvement to take place. A citizens’ committee could assist the staff in reviewing the options and look at how other jurisdictions have looked at the issue.

Thank you for your consideration,

Michael Henn, Former Piedmont Planning Commissioner

Dec 8 2019

As a concerned citizen, I attended a Recreation Commission meeting involving the Recreation Department on November 18th. I had expected not to be able to contribute much to the issues or problems concerning the meeting and in many ways I was right.

I am a student at Piedmont High School and up until this very point in my high school career I have not played on an athletics team and I am not very close to many of the parks that inhabit Piedmont. Because the Recreation Department  works with the parks and fields that make up our community I did not have much to offer in terms of my experience on most of them. I was, however, very intrigued by the importance that they have for a variety of citizens. From the pools for the youth water polo program to the aged pickleballers, it was nice to see how many people the Recreation Department has responsibility for.

One of the major issues discussed at the meeting was the concern with the tennis courts implementing pickleball. Until this meeting,  I did not know that there were consistent and passionate pickleball players in the Piedmont community.  I found it interesting how the commission had discussed the impact of certain boundary lines painted in order to accommodate pickleball play on the tennis courts. It seemed the only concerned citizens who bothered to show up were the pickleballers themselves.  Not a single person who protested the dual use of courts bothered to speak out at the meeting.

One of the other concerns that struck a chord with me was the issue of youth programs.  I myself had experienced many rec sports and it was interesting to hear about the creation of these programs when considering what an impact they had on my life.  One of the rec department members, Jackson Sterns, discussed trying to find a proper coach for a water polo summer camp in order to introduce kids to the sport.  One of my friends who had come with me to this meeting, Holden,  had given a critique of the program since his little brother had participated and ended up not wanting to play.

When an employee, who worked with the maintenance of the fields, came forward to give an update on their condition, a Commissioners, Dick Carter, brought up a topic that I could contribute to, Witter Field.  When the employee had finished speaking about Coach’s Field and Hampton Field, Commissioner Carter mentioned the poor condition of Witter Field and as a result my brother, Burke, and Georgie Brayer decided to go up to discuss Witter Field.  I walk home many days of the week and have to walk across Witter Field and, as a result, I can say first hand that the field has not changed much at all since my days as an elementary school student.  The field is in dire need of replacement of it’s turf and should be a top priority of the community.

After the meeting I decided to interview Commissioner Carter in order to find out more about Witter Field.  It turns out that Witter Field is under the jurisdiction of the Piedmont Unified School District; we had revealed our complaints to the wrong public body.

Despite this egregious mistake, the Commissioner was happy that we attended and emphasized the importance of our contribution to the community.  I am happy that I got to see and participate with a Commission that had played a big part in my childhood and really shaped a lot of the early memories that I have of Piedmont. It definitely made me realize the potential I had to contribute to the community and it’s citizens welfare.

Pierce St.Claire, Piedmont High School Senior

Dec 5 2019

On Wednesday, November 18th, I went to my first Recreation Commission meeting. I am a student at Piedmont High School and I had to do something that contributed to government in some way for my Civics Class. I honestly thought it was going be pretty boring, but I was happily surprised.

The Recreation Commission meets once a month. They deal with all matters pertaining to public recreation, including parks, playgrounds,etc.  More specifically, they deal with maintaining and creating areas in Piedmont. In the meeting I attended, they talked about Pickleball and maintenance of Coaches Field. 

Two of my Friends, my brother and I left for the meeting and arrived at 8:00 PM. We took the seats in the back and waited for the members of the commission to get started. There were 7 commissioners and 5 other people who attended the meeting. The commission was led by Steve Roland.  He directed the meeting.

It started off with Jackson Sterns talking about sports programs struggling to get kids involved. Dick Carter, a commissioner, mentioned the poor conditions of Witter Field, specifically the turf, which is poorly maintained.

The main meeting topic was a discussion of Pickleball. One of the people attending the meeting complained about there not being enough time to play because of the lights turning off too quickly. He also talked about how Pickleball and tennis players were getting along pretty well. Pickleball has exploded and become very popular.

During this time, we decided to go up and speak. My friend, Holden, spoke about water polo. My brother, Pierce St.Claire, Georgie Brayer, and I talked about the conditions of Witter Field. All of us have played sports and used Witter Field extensively during our time in the Piedmont School system. The field is clearly overdue for serious maintenance.

It was super fun talking and attending the meeting. I enjoyed the various subjects and learning about the growth of PickleBall.

While we were able to communicate our concerns about Witter Field, We didn’t realize that it was actually a School Board issue, not under the jurisdiction of the Recreation Commission. Even though we didn’t go about it conventionally, the commission was happy that we attended and they were really respectful to our blunder.

I found the experience to be very educational.  I learned a lot about public meetings and forums and I am very glad to have attended!

Robert St.Claire, Piedmont High School Senior

Dec 2 2019

Dec. 2, 2019

Piedmont City Council
c/o John Tulloch
re: Dec 2 Parcel Tax Agenda Item
Dear Mayor McBain and Council,
         The Parcel Tax is commonly understood and accepted by Piedmont taxpayers to be for essential City services as follows: police, fire, street maintenance, building regulations, library, recreation, parks maintenance, planning, and public works. Your proposed language change allows the parcel tax to be used for any purpose and not limited to the traditional nine essential City services.  I object to this and ask that the original tax language passed by voters in 2016 be continued.
         The reality is that virtually all Piedmont residents will not read the full text of the tax and then compare it to the 75 word ballot question for discrepancies.  Residents mostly rely on the ballot question and Proponent material.  If the Council elects to retain the altered wording that allows the parcel tax to be not limited to essential City Services, the ballot question must clearly state that the parcel tax is no longer limited to essential City services as is commonly understood.
Sincerely,
 Rick Schiller
 Piedmont Resident and Property Owner
Dec 1 2019

“Agenda Insight” to be presented before December 2, 2019 City Council meeting:

Item 3, the first item on tonight’s regular agenda, is the second reading of Ordinance 746 N.S. to renew the Municipal Services special Tax for 4 years effective July 1, 2021, and to place this before voters in a special election on March 3,2020, consolidated with the California Presidential Primary on that date….

Although most aspects of this renewal reflect no change, there is a word change that appears to have an impact. The wording of the present parcel tax says, “If in any fiscal year the City Council shall determine that municipal services INCLUDING but not limited to…” and then it names 9 services which must be included in general fund expenditures, with support from the parcel tax if other city income isn’t sufficient to cover them.

At the first reading of this ordinance, last meeting, that language was changed to, “municipal services which MAY INCLUDE but are not limited to..” and then lists the same 9 services. The staff report calls this a non-substantive change, but many people read it as a very substantive change because it gives Council the flexibility to remove any service from this list. The 9 services are police, fire, street maintenance, building regulations, library, recreation, parks maintenance, planning, and public works.

If the Council wants to put this on the March ballot, they must pass the second reading tonight because they are up against a deadline for submitting the final ballot language to the Registrar of Voters…..

Item 4 is consideration of a resolution approving procedural details for the Special Election of March 3… Of particular interest to voters, this item also sets the 75 word ballot question to read, “Shall Ordinance 746 N.S. which maintains essential police, fire, and paramedic services, prevents the reduction in maintenance of City parks, greenspaces and other public areas, and prevents the loss of recreational and other public services, by renewing the City of Piedmont’s expiring parcel tax for four years… be adopted?”

….Interestingly enough, this ballot language is almost the same language we voted on in 2016, so all 9 services were not mentioned last time around either. However, in both 2016 and 2020, it is the language of the resolution we are voting on, not the 75-word summary, and the language of the resolution has changed.

Ann Chandler, Piedmont Resident

Nov 7 2019

I am so thrilled to report that the Piedmont Community passed both Measures G and H.

Your continued commitment to a robust public education is incredible! I want to thank the countless parent, staff, and student volunteers for all of their support and civic engagement over the past few months. It was encouraging to be a part of a community-wide conversation about our schools and how we support teaching and learning.

I fully recognize and am grateful for the commitment that families have made in our school system. I will continue to work closely with the Board of Education, teachers, staff, families, and students to ensure that Piedmont’s schools not only continue to provide excellence in education, but that we also continue to grow and improve in how we educate students.

Please join me in also thanking and acknowledging the election staff from the City of Piedmont. Their efforts ensured a smooth election day!

On behalf of all of the teachers, support staff, and administrators, thank you for your support and engagement with our incredible district.

Sincerely,

Randall Booker, Superintendent of Piedmont Unified School District