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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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Nov 20 2017

On November 13, 2017, I attended the Piedmont Planning Commission which meets on the second Monday of each month. On this particular date, the purpose was to discuss the laws regarding marijuana use in Piedmont, as well as to discuss plans for various homes in Piedmont.

The first big issue discussed regarded marijuana regulations in Piedmont. Kevin Jackson, Planning Director, led the discussion. Jackson expressed his desire to minimize recreational and medical use of marijuana and cannabis products in Piedmont. In an effort to maintain Piedmont’s control over the distribution and agricultural growing of the product, Jackson suggested regulations.

Jackson proposed that cannabis products could not be delivered between 9 AM and 7 PM. He also recommended that “marked cars”–automobiles that display that they are cannabis delivery vehicles– be required for deliveries of cannabis.

After Jackson finished speaking, Commissioner Susan Ode added her agreement with these regulations. She also mentioned that other forms of distribution, such as drone delivery, should be addressed in order to limit potential loopholes. The Commissioners discussed and voted, ratifying Jackson’s ordinance to regulate the time and method of delivery of cannabis.  The Commission’s recommendation on the ordinance will be sent to the City Council for their consideration.

The second large issue revolved around a review of a design for a home at 47 Fairview Avenue. The owner of the home, Elliot Brown, wished to increase the height of the home so that his family could have a home better suited for their growing children; he stated that a raised house would also create a stronger “indoor to outdoor flow.”

Eric Behrens, Planning Commissioner, expressed his lack of support for the project due to Piedmont’s desire to maintain the old architecture.

Brown’s neighbor, Dale Turner, offered his thoughts on why he is against the project. Turner mentioned his concern for the height of the home, as the new design would compromise the privacy and take natural sunlight from his residence. In addition, Turner was worried about having the value of his home decrease because of having this large home near the property line.

The last neighbor to add his thoughts was Rick Schiller. Schiller had similar thoughts as Turner, mentioning how the added story of Brown’s home could be invasive to the privacy of the neighbors. He also added that if this project were to be accepted, an undesired precedent would be set that could potentially allow passage of future proposals that would adversely affect neighbors. As an alternative, Schiller suggested that Brown look into expanding his home horizontally or downwards.

The proposal was denied by the Planning Commission.

My personal opinion is that the Planning Commision correctly denied the plan. This plan would potentially invade neighbors’ privacy as well as decrease the value of the nearby homes. There should be a way for Brown to expand the size of his home without obstructing his neighbors light and privacy.

I spoke out during the meeting at the very beginning. I suggested that a sign of some sort should be placed near a road next to my street, Prospect Avenue, to help decrease the danger of cars speeding at a place of poor visibility. The street is so steep that it is nearly impossible to see up or down it when driving. The Planning Commissioners said that they would think about the suggestion and thanked me for my contribution.

I interviewed Dale Turner. A transcript of the interview is below.

Why are you here? What difficulties and problems brought you here? What did you learn? What is your reaction to the meeting?

“I am here to oppose the plans for the remodel of the home at 47 Fairview Avenue because of the design including increasing the mass of the home to such a degree that it would decrease privacy and light in my home. I learned that prior to proposing a remodel, an individual should attempt to inform and get the approval of the neighbors so that the plan will have a higher chance of being accepted. I am satisfied with the decision of the Planning Commission.”

What next step will you take to get your particular concern addressed?

“There is not a next step for me to take, but my neighbor will be responsible for coming up with a new plan that will be accepted by me and the rest of the neighbors.”

by Will Richmond, Piedmont High School Senior

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On November 13th, 2017, I attended the Piedmont Planning Commission meeting at City Hall, which meets on the second Monday of each month. The purpose of the meeting was to cover the proposed revisions of Proposition 64, which legalizes the adult use of recreational marijuana, and discuss proposed housing in Piedmont.

The Planning Commission’s first major issue pertained to the marijuana regulations. Kevin Jackson, Planning Director, expressed concern for the fate of Piedmont as a result of Proposition 64.  Jackson fears that Piedmont’s reputation as a safe community will be tainted as a result of marijuana legalization. Since cannabis would ultimately become more prevalent in Piedmont, Jackson is concerned that children in the community would be more likely to take in the second hand smoke. In order for Piedmont to regulate the distribution of the product, Jackson proposed that cannabis products not be sold between 9AM and 7PM. To better inform Piedmont residents, Jackson believes that cannabis delivery vehicles should be required to be marked clearly so one can be aware where cannabis is being delivered.Additionally, Jackson stated that a person should not be able to have more than seven cannabis plants in the home.

Edwin Wang, a Piedmont High School student in attendance, suggested that the Commission replace the word “marijuana” with “cannabis,” since cannabis is a broader term that covers more products. After discussion, Jackson’s proposals were ratified.

I agree with Kevin Jackson’s argument, because I believe it would be in our town’s best interest to do everything it can to reduce the prevalence of cannabis. Proposition 64 will harm our community, because some minors will be able to pass as 18, which will result in the distribution to middle and high school kids. Reducing the availability of cannabis is the right decision, if Piedmont truly cares about the investments in children’s futures.

The other major issue addressed was the proposed design of 47 Fairview Avenue. Elliot Brown, the homeowner, spoke about his plan to create a home to meet the needs of his family by adding another story to the home. Mr. Brown would like to increase the height of his home because he wants to move rooms away from the kitchen due to food scents.

A member of the Planning Commission, Eric K. Behrens, expressed his unwillingness to support the design due to the Piedmont tradition of preserving original architectural heritage. The architect, Bill Holland, had a compelling argument for increasing the height of the home since the front of the house is uninhabitable due to its low 6’8’’ ceilings.

A neighbor of Elliot Brown, Michelle Turner, was easily able to counter this argument because the proposed design would allow the neighbors to see directly into their third story. This would affect the Turner’s house because the window curtains would always need to be shut for privacy, and when not closed the light from Mr. Brown’s window would reflect back into their home.

After hearing both sides of the argument, Commissioner Susan Ode along with the other Commissioners rejected the proposed design due to its inconsistency with Piedmont patterns and disturbance to the neighbors.

I interviewed Dale Turner, husband of Michelle Turner.

Why are you here? What difficulties and problems brought you here? What did you learn? What is your reaction?

  • “I am here to oppose the application of plans for the neighbor’s remodel. The design mass caused a privacy issue and blocked light. I learned that anybody should inform neighbors of plans before bringing it to the City for approval. My reaction from tonight is that I am satisfied with the decisions of the Planning Commission.”

What is your name?

  • “Dale Turner.”

What is the next step you will take to get your concern addressed?

  • “It is not up to me, the neighbors are responsible for coming up with a new plan that would be approved by the neighbors.”

I spoke and advised that the City should place a stop sign at the bottom of my street at the corner of Crest and Hampton Avenues. This should be a high priority because taking an unprotected left up Crest is extremely dangerous as a driver cannot see oncoming traffic, since it is at the top of a hill. Therefore, in order to turn left onto my street, drivers must essentially guess whether it is an appropriate time to turn. Once I stated my case, the Commission thanked me and I sat down.

by Max Bekes, Piedmont High School Senior

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On Monday, November 13th, the City of Piedmont Planning Commission held a meeting in Piedmont City Hall from 5PM to approximately 7PM.

The meeting began with the standard call to order, leading into a review of the items on the agenda before the Public Forum, in which people may introduce items not on the agenda in order to address the Planning Commission directly. After two Piedmont High School students proposed stop signs in different intersections, which the Planning Commission planned to pass on to the Public Works Department, the meeting’s regular agenda proceeded.

The first item on the agenda was the “consideration of an ordinance revising the land use regulations in the City Code Chapter 17 relating to cannabis” in order to address recent state legislation.

California had recently passed new laws regarding cannabis and the City of Piedmont planned to change the terms used in its ordinances to match the terminology used in state legislation.

A Piedmont High School student spoke on the issue, expressing concern that cannabis was essentially a euphemism for marijuana and requesting that it remain noted in the ordinance that cannabis is the same as marijuana, the Planning Commission responded noting that the only difference between the two was one being a broader term encompassing other forms of cannabis rather than just marijuana to be smoked.

Five other items were on the agenda in which various permits were to be reviewed, each had their own issues and some had neighbors, residents, and architects speak on the behalf of proposals. The applications for permits were regarding construction of various changes to homes including variances, designs and fences.

Oftentimes, the issues of privacy was a major concern, as when one neighbor raises the height of their home, they may block the amount of sunlight on another home and possibly give a direct view into rooms such as master bedrooms and bathrooms. Another potential issue in the approval of a permit was the definition of an uninhabitable space versus a habitable space and how it may have been possible to modify one into the other quite easily.

During one of the considerations, the designers were attempting to make it quite clear that a space was supposed to be made habitable.  However, the Planning Commission noted the ease in which one might change one from the other, changing the home in a drastic way that would be a problem for the Commission.

One such petition included a homeowner who could not make the meeting, and so, on their behalf, only those they had hired spoke.

In an interview of Bill Holland and John Hardgrove following another application in which their request for a permit was denied, they stated their careers oftentimes included presenting such applications to cities in order to do work. Although their application had been denied, they expressed their motivation to continue working and pointed out the homeowner’s willingness to talk to their neighbors, prior to presenting a new application.

When the meeting concluded, many stayed around after the meeting to discuss their next course of action, as well as many homeowners talking to their neighbors about their concerns about the changes to homes. Hopefully, these homes will, in a safe and unobtrusive way, successfully get their desired remodeling and make Piedmont a better, and safer, place for the community to thrive.

by Edwin Wang, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 14 2017

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, the City of Piedmont Planning Department and the Climate Action Plan Task Force held a community meeting in the Piedmont Community Hall from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

At the meeting, speakers discussed Piedmont’s new Climate Action Plan, including the reasons it will be introduced and how it will change the city. These speakers included Climate Action Task Force members, a program director at a UC Berkeley research energy lab, an East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) board member, and others. Attendees asked these speakers questions, and at the end of the meeting, attendees got into small groups for discussion.

According to the first speaker, a member of the Climate Action Task Force, Margaret Ovenden, Piedmont’s first Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2010, with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% below the 2005 levels by 2020. Piedmont has met this goal.

The new plan, Climate Action Plan 2.0 as Ovenden calls it, is specially tailored to Piedmont’s needs, hoping to have the city meet the new California goals. The Task Force has been meeting since March to create the plan, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% below the 2005 levels by 2030, and 80% below the 2005 levels by 2050.

The Climate Action Task Force expects to act on November 28 to recommend to the Piedmont City Council an adoption of the draft plan The Task Force will present a final draft of the plan to the City Council in mid December. After having the public review the plan, it will again be presented to the City Council for final adoption in January 2018.

Several attendees of the Nov. 7 meeting asked questions concerning when the public could see and comment on the plan. When I interviewed Ovenden after the meeting, she explained the importance of hearing the public’s opinions.

“I’d like to condense [the plan] and get it out to the community more,” Ovenden said. “It is really important for people to understand it, especially as we are heading more towards electrification. We will be bringing [the plan] out for public comment, encouraging people to comment.”

Another new development discussed at the meeting was East Bay Community Energy (EBCE). Board member of EBCE and City Council member Tim Rood said that Piedmont will soon switch to get their electricity from renewable sources. EBCE will allow public agencies to purchase electricity for residents and business, providing an alternative to the usual investor owned utilities.

All Piedmont residents will be switched over to the new energy plan hopefully by the spring of 2018, Rood said. Residents will be provided with three options, with the cost of one option being almost identical to the PG&E program.

Another speaker, Chris Jones, who is a program director at a research energy lab at UC Berkeley, presented data from Piedmont. The data taken from 2015 showed that Piedmont’s main greenhouse gas emission sectors include home energy, buildings, and transportation.

Piedmont’s average carbon footprint is higher than the typical global household. For example, Oakland residents have a footprint about half the size of Piedmont residents, according to data Jones presented from PG&E. In Piedmont, Jones said the highest greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation, due to high amounts of air travel. However, Piedmont’s electricity emissions are below the global average, since some residents can afford solar panels.

Jones said that ways to reduce Piedmont’s emissions include electrifying homes, reducing transportation, getting goods from local sources, and eating less meat.

Jones’s suggestions caused me to ask a question at the end of the meeting. Many of the suggestions outlined in the plan are geared towards adult homeowners, so I asked what teenager students can do to reduce emissions. The speakers responded that students should stop driving to school. Considering how small Piedmont is, it is very easy to walk from place to place, so I agree that this is a good option for students.

One speaker, Sarah Moe, said that teenagers can influence their parents, by discussing these issues with them, pushing them to change. I agree with this response, since in discussions with my parents, I can persuade them towards becoming greener.

Piedmont’s plan, Ovenden said, is truly a community plan that requires residents to take initiative. Unlike other cities, Piedmont lacks major industry and commercial areas, so the greenhouse emissions are primarily from residents themselves. “[The task force] just realized that this plan would not be successful unless we got the community more involved,” Ovenden said. “Even though we are not quite done with the plan, we wanted to start sharing the main points and directions that this is going to be heading.”

Moe discussed the importance of shifting cultural norms in Piedmont in regards to climate change. When implementing the plan, she hopes that by working together, it will create safer, more resilient neighborhoods, boost neighborliness and social cohesion, and preserve the future for Piedmont’s children.

In the small discussions at the end of the meeting, my group talked about how important it is for the community to understand how to implement the plan in their lives. We also discussed the importance of people globally understanding climate change, which is best implemented through education. I brought up the issue of the lack of uniform education on human caused climate change. My group agreed that the best way to make steps towards all communities having climate action plans is through education.

 I am glad that I attended the climate change meeting since it opened my eyes to the ways Piedmont works towards becoming greener. All community members should attend these Climate Action meetings so they can understand how the City’s changes will affect them. For this plan, Ovenden said that it will take time to be fully implemented, so residents have time to learn about it. People can join the mailing list to hear about more meetings in the future.

“The state of the climate is so desperate,” Ovenden said in the interview. “It is very, very serious, and it is kind of shocking that the majority of the people aren’t getting it. We have an opportunity still to change things, to not have such terrible effects of climate change.”

by Margo Rosenbaum, Piedmont High School Senior

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On November 7th, a Climate Action Committee Meeting was held at the Piedmont Community Hall. The meeting was open to the public and was organized by the Climate Action Task Force with the goal to educate residents on Climate Action Plan 2.0 and its schedule for ratification.

Climate Action meetings have been occurring monthly since March of this year. The Climate Action Plan 2.0 is Piedmont’s framework to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2040.  This plan ¨2.0¨ is customized to the emission patterns of Piedmont, which are entirely unique from any other city in the Bay Area.

Task Force member Margaret Ovenden voiced that because Piedmont is almost entirely residential, the plan is very tailored to empowering the community as a whole to change its habits. The draft plan is in line with California’s goal of reaching an 80% emissions reduction by 2050. Tentative dates were set for the plan’s review by the city government, the public comment period, revision period and the hopeful ratification. The Task Force hopes the plan would be in effect by 2018.

The first speakers capitalized on the benefits of acting now and identified the community’s main sources of emissions. An analyst, Christopher Jones, from Cool Climate Network provided data showing that Piedmont’s leading emissions source is from transportation with air travel being a factor significantly higher than in other cities. The analyst clarified that the data wasn’t actual data collected from the City of Piedmont directly but were estimates created from other American cities that receive similar incomes. This upset some audience members who asked how achievable benchmarks could be created for Piedmont with information that is not about the city’s emissions specifically. Jones claimed he understood the concern, but the data was a good starting point. Jones applauded the city’s popular use of solar energy, but revealed our emission levels were far greater than our much larger neighbor, Oakland.

Many solutions were discussed from carbon offsets to counter the air travel discrepancy, heat pumps to utilize our strength in solar power, and an upcoming opportunity for residents to get up to 100% renewable energy with East Bay Community Energy. East Bay Community Energy is a service that would be selected by default for all Piedmont residents starting in 2018. There are multiple options with varying percentages of renewable energy. EBCE is predicted to be less expensive than PG&E services and more eco-friendly with PG&E being only 30% renewable. EBCE allows an entire city to purchase energy from a renewable source, rather than have a private company, like PG&E, be a middleman allowing residents little choice in where their power comes from.

Pam Hirtzer, a resident of Piedmont for over twenty years, was adamant about EBCE and claimed she would get it immediately. Hirtzer stated she has been interested in climate action for 10-15 years and shared that just days ago she had tried to purchase an electric car; however, it was too expensive. Looking for other ways to invest in green energy, she attended the meeting. She expressed excitement about the Climate Action Plan 2.0 and was eager to see it in full when it is released for public comment in late December.

The meeting concluded with a workshop in which the attendees got into groups and shared ideas about how to make Piedmont a more environmentally-friendly and climate-conscious city. Residents young and old spoke with Task Force members on ways they wished their schools, homes, and business could be more eco-friendly. Ending the meeting in a hopeful dialogue, I mentioned that environmental education should not be an elective but should be ingrained in the curriculum. Piedmont Middle School maintains a ¨Green Team¨ class for all students but that requirement does not continue to the High School.  I have faith that it soon will.

by Claire deVroede, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 14 2017

On Wednesday, November 8th, 2017, I attended the School Board meeting of the Piedmont Unified School District.

There were many topics covered the night I attended. The first speaker was Mr. Kessler, a representative of APT (the Association of Piedmont Teachers) from the Middle School, who reported on his success with students with recent lessons on social justice.

Then, Ms. Heather Frank from the Piedmont Education Foundation gave an update on the Giving Campaign and its recent efforts to increase participation in donating.

Following her report, Josh Miller, a student representative from Millennium High School reported on the ASB efforts to raise money and resources for fire victims, as well as other ASB-sanctioned events, such as Spirit Week.

Next up was the “items not on the agenda” portion of the meeting, in which I addressed the Board after also hearing from some fellow  students. With the upcoming renovations to the facilities, I spoke to the Board about the opportunity to provide more food options for students on campus. After informing them that schools like Monte Vista High School provide options such as Subway and Pizza Hut on campus, I explained that this could solve the rampant line-cutting problem at food service. For students who cannot afford off-campus options nearby or want healthier food choices closer to class, this would solve some very important problems, while also teaching planning and budgeting skills.

The Board then heard from a representative of KNN Public Finance and discussed the financing of the District’s budget involving the CABs (Capital Appreciation Bonds). The representative, along with Superintendent Randy Booker, discussed how to successfully renew the bonds that are expiring in 2023. The board has an opportunity to renew some of the District’s bonds now, but some of the School Board members are unsure of what to do.

Mr. Ireland, one of these Board members, worried that if the District renews the CABs now, they will miss out on possible future options. But, Ms. Smegal argued that if they don’t renew now, and interest rates go up, the District could be charged more for the transaction and costs.

Some community members, including Mr. Bill Hosler, who are experts in this field, offered their advice and insight and the Board decided to hold a Special Meeting in early December to discuss this matter further.

After this report, Superintendent Randy Booker spoke to the Board about the new academic calendars that had just been approved by the APT (Association of Piedmont Teachers). The teachers’ union approved two calendars, for 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, which will be similar to our current calendar, scheduling finals before the holiday winter break. One change is that the students will have the whole week off for Thanksgiving instead of just three days.

I was happy to hear that finals would continue to be held prior to the break because student surveys have shown that this schedule has resulted in lower stress levels. My experience has been that having to worry about finals during Christmas, Hanukah and New Year’s lessens the enjoyment of the holidays for everyone. After listening to Mr. Booker’s report on this topic, I felt that the Board had really made an effort to listen to the students and adjusted the schedule according to our suggestions.

I also spoke with Ms. Heather Frank, the Executive Director of PEF (Piedmont Education Foundation), about the meeting and why she was there. She elaborated on the Giving Campaign, which she had updated the Board on earlier in the meeting, and told me that she attends as many meetings as she can. As an important leader of the fundraising network that supports the District, she said it’s important for her to understand the opportunities and challenges facing our schools so that she can help the community understand the District’s needs.

Frank also enjoyed the meeting and was happy to hear about The Highlander’s endorsement of Principal Littlefield. She said it was good to hear that we have strong leadership at our high school.

Frank went on to say, “A small but important piece of the meeting – and my particular concern – was the approval and adoption of Board Policy 7310 – Naming of Buildings and Facilities. This policy adoption paves the way for the School Board, PUSD administration, PEF and the community to potentially work together on a campaign that will not only raise funds for the schools, but will allow us to honor and recognize Piedmont families that have made a difference through the naming of school buildings. My next step in this area is to meet with PUSD administration to begin planning for a feasibility study for a naming campaign.”

After attending this School Board meeting, I understood firsthand the importance of civilian participation in the government. Without the input of experts such as Mr. Hosler, for example, the Board may have had a much more difficult time deciding how to vote on bond renewal. Or without the student report from Josh Miller, they may feel disconnected and distant from the actual students they are working so hard to support. Ultimately, I feel that the School Board meeting was just one great example of a governmental body working hard to support the broader community.

The Board is the governing body of the School District, which is responsible for the hiring of the Superintendent and for ensuring that he or she carries out the mission of the District. They meet every two weeks, with the exception of special meetings that can be scheduled anytime with the approval of the Board.

by Minnie Cooper, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 13 2017

Linda Beach Playfield Master Plan and problems with the wireless communication installation – 

The Piedmont Park Commission met on November 1, 2017 and the major issues were “Approval of Park Commission Minutes for September 6, 2017 and October 4, 2017,” “Consideration of a Recommendation to City Council regarding Proposed Wireless Communication Facilities Permit Installation in Piedmont Park across from 314 Wildwood Avenue,” “Update on the Linda Beach Playfield Master Plan,” “Update and Discussion on a Heritage Tree Program for Trees in Piedmont Parks and Open Spaces by Park Commissioner Jim Horner,” “Monthly Maintenance Report: Park, Open Space and Street Tree Update for the Month of October.”

I stayed for three hours, but I was only there for the first two subjects and a couple minutes of the third subjects.

Eileen Ruby and a few other members of the Commission were upset and confused with Planning Director Kevin Jackson’s opening statement, because they had just been given information at 10 a.m. that morning and asked to decide on it that night. The first topic discussed was anger and confusion expressed by the Commission at the late notice and demands of Kevin Jackson’s new agreement on a wireless communication facility located on City property.

The second topic was heavily discussed for the majority of  time I was there. Basically, there are wireless communications towers trying to be put around Piedmont, but they haven’t been meeting City regulations.

Laura Mazel, a long time Piedmont resident who lives on Wildwood Avenue spoke up to argue against the tower being put up outside the entrance to the dog park near Witter Field. She argued that there was research showing that the radiation coming from the towers would harm wildlife, especially the ancient redwood trees. She also expressed concern about the narrowness of the street and if trucks would be on the street doing work on the tower that would create a problem for drivers.

A former physicist from Berkeley also expressed a lot of concern with the damage the radiation can do. He cited multiple studies and said that flies and bees also can be destroyed by the radiation, soil is affected negatively as well, and birds would have to move nests.

I agree with Laura Mazel and the physicist in that these wireless communication towers are not necessary and they do more harm than good.

The Commission after long discussions and a great amount of staff input hesitantly and with concern made a recommendation to the City Council to approve the communication site while adding new conditions to any approval.

Moving onto the third topic, the City is developing a new Master Plan for the Beach Playfield that involves fixing up the bathrooms and drinking fountains, as well as making the tennis courts full sized. An informational meeting about Beach Playfield will include both parents and kids.

My classmate Jessica Xiong spoke and said it was a good idea to have both adults and children in the meeting because kids are going to be the ones primarily using the field.

I spoke as well and reflected on my younger years as one of the kids playing t-ball and soccer on Beach Field. I remembered how gross the bathrooms by the Field are and let them know that the kids would definitely appreciate a renovation there. I think the plan is a good idea, because it will let kids play and exercise, which is extremely important.

I interviewed Patty Dunlop, a member of the Park Commission. The difficulties she encountered were trying to figure out if the plans for the cell towers were “in harmony with the City Code.” She has learned about the government elements of the cell towers and protocols (making complicated motions), and the delegation of responsibility between the Park Commission and the City Council. The next step concerning her is paying more attention to applications coming forward for additional cell towers/cell antennas, because she thinks they will be coming.

The Park Commission of Piedmont California meets monthly on the first Wednesday at 5:30. They make recommendations to the City Council about the beautification of public parks and the street tree improvement program.

By Emmett Reed, Piedmont High School Senior

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    On Wednesday November 1, 2017, I attended the Park Commission meeting at Piedmont City Hall. The Park Commission meets monthly, on the first Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. The Park Commission meets to discuss issues relating to the public parks of the city and manage the street-tree improvement program, and make recommendations to the City Council relating to these topics.

I attended the meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and during that interval, the Park Commission discussed two major topics. The first topic discussed was on behalf of a design plan made for a light post and wireless communication installation “in Piedmont Park across from 314 Wildwood Avenue.” The second topic, which I was only able to stay for the beginning of, was regarding an update of the developing Linda Beach Playfield Master Plan.

To start off the meeting, Kevin Jackson, Piedmont Planning Director, discussed the proposed plans for a lamp post. Crown Castle, the applicant, is a telecommunications contract service based in San Jose.

Jackson wanted the Park Commission to recommend the design and placement of the proposed lamp post, which is proposed to be located in Piedmont Park across from 314 Wildwood Avenue. He revealed that the initial plans were denied due to the fact that it was not consistent in the design of the lamp post and city planning. If the city doesn’t take action by a certain date, the plan will be deemed approved.

Eileen Ruby, a member of the Commission, inquired about the lightpost and its practicality, suggesting that the light post should be in a position to illuminate a pathway or add something of significance in the Park, rather than just a small patch of greenery.

I absolutely agree with Eileen Ruby on this particular topic. It seems like it would be a waste to use these resources and money on a purely decorative utility. The light post should be both practical and nice to look at.

The color of the light post was also discussed by Jim Horner, member of the Commission.

I believe that, in order to fit in with the “look” of Piedmont, it should be dark green or black in order to blend in with the foliage.

Ruby also questioned if the plans were different than those that were originally planned to be discussed, to which Jackson responded that they are in fact new plans from that morning at 10:00 a.m. Jackson reminded that the Park Commission makes the recommendations, and City Council takes action.

Pierce MacDonald Powell, a representative for Crown Castle, told those present that the light fixture is to be decorative, and listed specific conditions that the plans must meet in order for the light post to be approved and built. For example, light pollution and the sound of the light post was a major concern.

Betsy Goodman and Patty Dunlap, both members of the Commission, asked about sound from the installation, what the requirements are, and how to meet them.

Then, a few members of the audience went up to the podium to speak on this issue. Sharon, who was there on behalf of the light post, commented that the reason for the last minute design was due to new options proposed. Their new proposal was based on the lumieres at ‘Ole Miss.

Chairperson Jamie Totsubo shared that she finds this news very frustrating as they spent so much time on the planning already. Commissioner Betsy Goodman shared her concern about the location of the vault, because it is located at a handicap area of the park in the plans. She also requested that the deadline of the Commission’s recommendations be moved to a later date due to the last minute plans.

Sharon from the audience responded that it is very unlikely that this would happen. Then, another member from the audience shared his opinion for the energy vault. He believes it should be above ground, such as a mailbox design, in order to cut the issue of the sound.

Commissioner Jim Horner asked the man about the mailbox design, and if it completely gets rid of the noise issue. The response was yes; it does so because the design will make it allow the heat to be removed.

Peter Harvey, another audience member, spoke on behalf of the environmental impacts of these new installations, sharing previous data that the microwaves produced negatively impact flora and fauna surrounding it. Additionally, he noted the microwaves have affected both the behavior and development of animals.

I agree that this is an issue that must be considered when drafting any new installation plans. Since Piedmont prides itself on its beauty, the City must keep in mind the impact their plans will have on the beauty and wellbeing of the City’s natural surroundings.

Laura Menzel stepped to the podium and stated that she does not want cell phone towers located on Wildwood Avenue, as the road is already very tight and she does not want the beauty of nature around it to be diminished.

The Commission’s consensus was that the vault must be moved to a different location.

City Planner MacDonald proceeded to reiterate the Commission’s recommendations from the notes she made during the discussion. The Commission moved that the light should illuminate the path, have a single arm, be similar to the design of the lights on Oakland Avenue Bridge, be relocated outside of the pedestrian path, and be a dark color. The vote was unanimous on the first motion.

The second motion, to consider communication equipment at an alternative location, and be concealed was not unanimous, but it still passed.

After a short intermission, the meeting moved to the next topic, Linda Beach Playfield Master Plan. Nancy Kent, the Commission Staff Liaison, shared the developing plan and stated that it is fairly new. They have ideas to redo the bathrooms at the Field as well as hold a Public Forum with both children and adults to learn about their opinions and suggestions on what to do.

The Commission asked if anyone from the audience would like to speak on behalf of the Linda Beach Playfield Master Plan. At this time, I went up to the podium to share my thoughts on this particular topic. I commended them on their plan to hold a public forum, because kids are going to be the ones primarily using the field, so having both them and their parents along with other adults participate and give input in the plans is very essential. I also pushed for the remodeling of the bathrooms, as they are barely used since they are not in great condition. Additionally, I also shared that I think they should install more water fountains on the field, as it is used for sports and recreation.

Fellow classmate Emmett Reed went up to the podium and spoke about the Field, and how he agreed with me on the topic of the water fountains and bathrooms. He also shares that he believes having such a place for kids to play is beneficial. After the audience statements, I left the meeting.

During the intermission, I interviewed Betsy Goodman, the Vice Chair of the Piedmont Park Commission. She stated that she was interested in ” the hearing of Resolution PHS 09, which had to do with a telephone antennae, light fixture, and vault at the 314 Wildwood location.”  She noted that since the vault was located in the handicap ramp, the Commission had to come up with an alternative location. There were also sound issues regarding the vault which needed to be resolved. Goodman shared that in this meeting, she learned about the procedural work with the City Council, and how they need to “effectively make recommendations and motions and findings…through a long process to get there.” Goodman revealed that this meeting was a “complicated process” that they must consider in order to meet the requirements of the City and to be able to make the “best recommendation.” Goodman stated that the Commission must always try to do what they believe is “fair and necessary” for the community. In order to get their next concern addressed, Goodman and the Commission will hold further discussions with the City staff to ensure that they have a clear understanding for taking the next steps when making recommendations.

by Jessica Xiong, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 7 2017
The workshop will take place on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, from 7:30 – 9:00 pm, at the Piedmont Community Hall, 711 Highland Avenue.
The residential/transportation sector is the largest contributor to Piedmont’s Green House Gas (GHG) so the city is developing it’s next Climate Action Plan with policies that will affect land use, transportation and home construction.  
The meeting is a workshop to provide background on the Plan and obtain input so there will be a lot of back and forth with speakers and the audience
 
And there are special presentations in that regard – Chris Jones of UCB will give a brief presentation on Piedmont’s carbon footprint – this analysis was published in Science and provides new insight into residential GHG sources in Piedmont.  And Council member Tim Rood will provide an update on East Bay Community Energy – this is an energy cooperative that Piedmont joined last year that will give residents the choice to go 100% green in their home energy use.  
 
The workshop  is a great opportunity to learn more about GHG reduction steps you can take in your community.  And to provide ideas for the Climate Action Plan – for residents who want to see the city do more, now is the time to provide comment on the new Plan.
Garrett Keating, Former Councilmember
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City of Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan Presentation and Community Workshop

On November 7th, the City of Piedmont Planning Department and the Climate Action Plan Task Force will host a community workshop. The workshop will include a presentation of Piedmont’s draft Climate Action Plan (CAP) update, presentations on Piedmont’s carbon footprint, focus group discussions, and information on how Piedmont residents can act as agents of local climate change prevention and mitigation.

The Climate Action Plan Taskforce has met monthly since March to advise staff regarding updates and improvements to Piedmont’s CAP, which was completed in 2010 with goals through 2020. The revised and updated CAP consists of measures that Piedmont residents, business owners, the municipal government and the public and private schools can take to bring Piedmont’s greenhouse gas emissions in line with State emissions reduction targets. The updated plan incorporates current best practices, includes a new section dedicated to climate adaptation and an increased focus on community engagement, since the majority of Piedmont’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by residential buildings and private vehicles.

Minutes and other materials for previous Climate Action Plan Taskforce meetings are posted on the City website at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/committees/captf.shtml

The final draft of the Plan is expected to be provided to City Council in December of 2017 as an initial step towards the Plan’s adoption in early 2018.

For more information about the CAP or to be added to the project’s email list, please contact Assistant Planner Mira Hahn at mhahn@piedmont.ca.gov or (510) 420-3054.

Nov 6 2017

Mark Cowherd, a Piedmont High history teacher, resigned shortly after a display of Piedmont parent outrage at the October 25, 2017 School Board meeting. News media were invited to amplify that outrage and broadcast it widely. Now that the spectacle has begun to pass, and our community attempts to heal, we write to encourage us all to reflect on how our community handled this matter.

As parents, we care about the safety of our students. We are proud that four students felt empowered to voice their concerns about this teacher. In the future, we want other students to bring forward concerns about similar conduct. People around town say that students stay quiet due to fears – of retaliation in the grades they may receive or of unwanted exposure if they speak up. We worry about chilling student complaints for a different reason. Students may well have absorbed the lesson that, if they feel uncomfortable about a teacher’s conduct and lodge a complaint about it, the situation may not simply be reasonably corrected, but the teacher, one way or the other, will be summarily removed and publicly humiliated. Students may choose to stay silent to avoid the enormity of this burden.

The community must also consider the ripple effects on teaching staff. Although this particular teacher engaged in behavior uncommon in our District, other teachers may nevertheless distance themselves from students or parents. It is easy to imagine teachers feeling wary, concerned that a student’s or parent’s response to a teacher’s conduct could trigger the parent community into a fiery humiliation.

This activated parent group attacked our Administrators and our elected School Board representatives, all of whom, we believe, choose to serve our educational community because they care deeply about students and education. Parent demands, without regard to the law and without knowing all of the evidence gathered through both the District’s and the Piedmont Police investigations, could undermine District morale and confidence in educating our children going forward.

We do not believe that our school administrators, local police officers and board members, who did not ignore these students’ complaints and had access to all of the facts uncovered through their investigations, which the community at large did not, would protect a sexual “predator” and knowingly put our students at risk.

District Administrators and School Board representatives must, and did, comply with the law. After receiving the students’ complaints, the District placed the teacher on administrative leave, investigated the claims, found inappropriate and unprofessional conduct, and took disciplinary action against the teacher (privacy laws prevented the District from detailing what those actions were). The Piedmont Police apparently found no criminal conduct.

Where, as here, the investigations revealed a tenured teacher who had crossed one line (unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, including comments of a sexual nature), but had not crossed another (criminal conduct, such as sexual molestation), the teacher is allowed, under the Education Code Section 44938(a), a 45-day “opportunity to correct his or her faults and overcome the grounds for the charge.” The District provided this teacher his short window to try to redeem himself. During this time, the District monitored the teacher’s classroom to ensure student safety. The Administration also circulated numerous communications encouraging anyone with any complaints to bring them forward.

Without knowing if this teacher succeeded in correcting his conduct or what the District’s decision may have been at the end of these 45 days, which had not yet passed, parent speakers at the October 25, 2017 School Board meeting expressed their anger that Mr. Cowherd had not already been fired. We share people’s disgust about sexual harassment and sexual assault – the news about its prevalence in our society keeps coming – and we, as a society, have a lot to change. But the speakers’ references at the Board meeting to and innuendo about violence, molestation, sexual assault, and Harvey Weinstein far exceeded any allegations we have seen against Mr. Cowherd or what the District and Police investigations found. We further believe that it is both ill-considered and inappropriate to denigrate our representatives for “impotence” when they engaged fully and promptly in necessary due process, including prompt investigations, monitoring student safety, and teacher discipline.

We can all agree that Mr. Cowherd’s conduct betrayed our educational community. At the same time, we must remember to stay honorable and just when defending the honorable and just. The community must now reckon with the consequences of the parent outrage, and rebuild trust in Piedmont.

Barbara Giuffre

Rick Raushenbush, Former School Board Member

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 5 2017

School Board Meeting: Teacher Aides and The Departure of History Teacher –

October 25, 2017  School Board Meeting –

The School Board meets every 2 weeks, to discuss and make decisions regarding the education of all the schools in the Piedmont Unified School District. The School Board Meeting on October 25 covered the following topics: the best instructional calendar for students, the importance of teaching assistants, a request for a raise, upset parents who expressed their opinions on teacher Mark Cowherd’s inappropriate behavior with students, Mr. Cowherd’s return to school after a 3 week investigation, the H1 Bond update for the new STEAM and Alan Harvey theater, the naming of District facilities, and the options of refinancing a loan.

The first topic regarded what instructional calendar should be followed in the future. It was apparent that there were still a lot of conflicting opinions about what was the best calendar.

As a senior, I greatly appreciate our current instructional calendar, because I can send my first semester grades to colleges earlier than I would have been able to if we still followed the previous instructional calendar. However, this calendar is not just advantageous for seniors. Our current instructional calendar reduces the overall stress of students, since we do not have to worry about studying over Winter Break. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that I have forgotten a lot of the material of my classes when finals are after Winter Break. While this instructional calendar may take some time to get used to, I am confident that this calendar is best for the long run.

The next topic discussed was about  a third grade teacher at Wildwood, who has taught for 18 years. She stressed that teachers assistants (TAs) are imperative to the success of both students and teachers. This teacher’s TA helps her with rotations in math, so that the teacher can focus on two-thirds of the class, while the TA can focus helping one-third of the class. This TA also helps 3 other teachers, and also helps patrol recess. TAs assess and modify lessons to explain the big takeaways to the students they are assigned to. They also go over tests one-on-one, to ensure that the student understands the mistakes he/she made, so that he/she can learn from the mistakes. Students who need TAs the most are actually getting the least amount of help.

Those from the California School Employees Association (CSEA) started out by stating that families move to Piedmont for good education, which can only be obtained when we have qualified teachers through fairness and respect. These employees want equal pay for equal work, instead of favoring teachers who have worked in Piedmont schools for a longer period of time than they have. One Special Education teacher, who works at Piedmont High School, asked to be paid more, since it is a struggle to live in the Bay Area and he goes through a lot to continue doing a job that he loves.

Lisa Sherman, whose daughter is Natalie Stollman, introduced the topic regarding Mr. Mark Cowherd. Four students had come forward to report Mr. Cowherd’s behavior, which included sending inappropriate texts and emails, giving students harassing nicknames, consuming alcohol in front of students, and talking to students about things unrelated to school. She felt that the letter regarding Mr. Cowherd return to the classroom after a 3 week investigation felt like a slap in the face. Stollman originally thought that her complaints, along with the complaints of the 3 other girls who came forward, were taken seriously, and they felt that the situation should have been handled better.

Sherman noted that students are encouraged to speak up, yet the inaction of the School Board makes it even harder for students to speak up, especially when they feel that nothing is being done. Students have always been afraid to speak up due to the intimidating power dynamic.

Esther Rodgers, a parent of 2 boys, teaches her boys to do the right thing, even if it is against their self-interest. She pointed out that this whole Mr. Cowherd situation also impacts the boys, in addition to the girls. She felt that this was detrimental to learning, and that it creates a perception of unfairness for both boys and girls.

Pear Michaels felt that Mr. Cowherd should have been immediately fired so that he would not be able to influence the students, or that he should be on leave until everything is decided. She wondered where the practical support for the students who came forward was.

Hope Salzer found that it was troubling for students to have Mr. Cowherd as a role model. She asked that the school reexamine the school policy.

Kim Hunter, who is an Alameda County District Attorney who deals with domestic violence cases, talked about how the number one thing she teaches her kids is that violence is unacceptable. She said that this is a big deal that should not be at all marginalized.

Janice Sheldon, who was speaking for her daughter Olivia, who had graduated in 2017 and was the first to report Mr. Cowherd’s behavior, said that Olivia had broken down after the recent Euro trip and had gone to the Wellness Center. Olivia was devastated that her voice had not been heard.

Elka Sorenson’s mom spoke about how Elka dropped out of AP European History, despite the fact that she had an A in the class, because she felt uncomfortable in the class environment.

Carol James, who has a daughter who graduated in 2010 and a son who graduated in 2013, talked about how her son had been bullied by Mr. Cowherd. She noted that the data points regarding Mr. Cowherd’s behavior go much further than March of 2017.

Vincent Massullo, a healthcare professional, said that the responsibility of a teacher is super important because they influence the students greatly.

Sarah Pearson, President of the Board of Education, reminded the audience that all this information of these instances regarding Mr. Cowherd must be documented in order to be used and accounted for in the investigation.

The next topic was about naming District facilities, and a new policy governing the naming of District facilities. The Board of Education has all the naming rights for any District building or facility, but community participation is greatly encouraged in this process. Individuals can be recognized for their contributions. If one does inappropriate or immoral things, their name on a plaque can be removed. There is a public meeting before any name is made final. The Board may choose to accept “legacy” gifts.

The next topic discussed had to do with refinancing a loan, and how to save the most amount of money. This loan was will be paid for by Piedmont taxpayers (Capital Appreciation Bond) to rebuild the schools. The options are cab de cab, cab de sib, and doing nothing right now. A big factor in deciding what option to go with is the interest rate. Right now, interest rates are low. One option is to take action now and take advantage of the low rate now, or to wait in hopes of getting a lower interest rate, with the risk of the downward trend changing to an upward trend.

I interviewed Sarah Wozniak, who is the Title IX Director. She attends School Board Meetings regularly, but she also came to this meeting in particular because she knew people were going to talk about their concerns regarding Mr. Cowherd. She felt that this was a very emotional meeting, and she understands why people are confused about the decision to have Mr. Cowherd come back into the classroom after the 3 week investigation. However, she pointed out that the school does not inform the public the punishments doled out to Mr. Cowherd out of privacy for him. She felt that this meeting was good for the parents of the girls, being able to see that the community supports them. Ms. Wozniak is part of the District Team, who plan to follow up on how people are feeling about what happened, and what next steps should be taken. She is interested in working with Voice Cooperative to see what students want to do about how people can or should speak up, because there is still a lot of fear about speaking up.

by Ivana Xu, Piedmont High School Senior

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Piedmont Takes A Stand –

On October 25th, 2017, a Piedmont School Board took place in Piedmont City Hall. While this meeting was to discuss the possible refunding of Capital Appreciation Bonds, and a further update on the progress of the new school development, the people of Piedmont swarmed City Hall to discuss the disciplinary action of Mr. Cowherd.

Mr. Cowherd was a Social Studies teacher at Piedmont High School, he taught AP European History, AP US History, and Modern World History. An ongoing investigation regarding the sexual harassment allegations brought against Mr. Cowherd by a previous student at Piedmont High, led to a three week absence in September. This was later followed by his return to the classroom, with an email congratulating him back to the school. Previous rumors spread among the students as to why Mr.Cowherd was gone for three weeks. However, neither Mr. Cowherd nor Piedmont High revealed any insight on the matter.

San Francisco Bay Area CBS had more information on the details about the investigation, including the document that contained the specific allegations made against Cowherd. This list included: Repeatedly asking students to meet personally and privately, touching, grabbing, and/or holding students by their shoulders, heads, elbows, and backs, calling students nicknames that made students feel uncomfortable and harassed, sending inappropriate text messages and emails, consuming alcohol in the presence of students, making inappropriate and unprofessional comments that were interpreted to be sexual in nature, and asking inappropriate and unprofessional personal questions.

However, during the School Board meeting’s public forum many parents and advocates stepped forward complaining and stressing their frustration and irritation that Mr. Cowherd was back teaching.

One of the many speakers was Lisa Sherman. Sherman expressed extreme disappointment especially about welcoming back Mr. Cowherd after three weeks of absence. Not only was the email containing the congratulatory dialogue sent to the current students at PHS (Piedmont High School) the email and letter were sent to the families that brought the allegations. Lisa described this as a “slap in the face.”  She made her case by stating that allowing Mr. Cowherd back into the classroom would make the current students at PHS uncomfortable and most students could feel victimized or bullied, as PHS administration was essentially clearing Mr. Cowherd of all charges.

The hearsay in the community was that girls won’t speak up about harassment, that current students weren’t aware of why Mr. Cowherd was gone for three weeks, and that the power dynamic in the classroom was too high.

Another parent named Ester Rogers, came to the meeting with a prepared sign that read “#Me Too.”  The hashtag has been taking social media by storm, with anyone who has been sexually harassed. Rogers is a mother of two boys, and she was concerned with the impact Mr. Cowherd’s on not just the girls, but on the boys. Rogers made the point that boys can perceive that the girls would be treated differently than them, and that this would make a horrible precedent for the boys in Mr. Cowherd’s classes.

All of the speakers agreed with one another, overall stating that Mr. Cowherd should not have been allowed back into the classroom, and that the school has the duty to protect students in the learning environment.

Kim Hunter, a local Assistant District Attorney, took the stand and was outraged. Hunter was concerned with the PHS environment because the year before the school had issues with anti-semitism, a couple years earlier the school had issues with a fantasy football roster. Hunter made it clear that the voice of the children had to be heard, that the issue with Mr. Cowherd is a big deal and must be treated as such.

Annie Marshall, a local resident of Piedmont, decided to go to the School Board meeting precisely to discuss Mr. Cowherd, and to hopefully receive answers. Annie was not alone in learning new mind boggling information that the parents of some harassed student presented. Marshall was not surprised about events that transpired at the meeting, she claimed that these incidents have been going on for years. Annie Marshall a loving mother of two graduated kids, expressed her opinion on the matter, “ I just hope the School Board does the right thing.”  Marshall explained that she believed the disciplinary action that transpired was inadequate and further steps must be done. While Marshall did not make it clear on her further plan of action, it is safe to assume she was pleased with the ending results. The ending results being that on Friday, the twenty-seventh of October, Mr. Cowherd resigned.

by Madison Kunke, Piedmont High School Senior

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On October 25th, I attended a School Board meeting, which was held at Piedmont City Hall. The School Board holds meetings twice a month to address issues concerning the Piedmont School District. The meeting was held in order to address the issues brought to the School Board. The issues discussed included: the salary of teacher assistant aides, the actions taken to remove history teacher Mr. Cowherd from classroom settings, CAB refinancing, H1 updates and announcements.

The first major issue addressed during this meeting was the low salaries of teacher assistant aides. Mrs. Ford, a teacher at Beach Elementary, noted that she has been working at Beach for 18 years. She told the audience that her aides are very important. She recalled that they help with yard duty, lunch duty, and help kids progress. She noted that in order for students to receive the most quality education, teachers’ aides adjust their work schedule to help the teacher execute her lesson plan. For example, for math class, Mrs Ford has a system where the class is divided into groups and each group works at a different station, learning a different mathematical skill. This system was specifically designed for the students. Mrs. Ford’s aide helps her with these rotations and also helps take over the class when kids are pulled aside to review their last test. Mrs. Ford went on to mention that one-on-one aides are very significant because they make school accessible to students with learning disabilities and these students’ success positively impacts the other students in the classroom. Mrs. Ford also noted that teacher aides have a very difficult yet important job. Everyday they have to listen to the teacher’s lessons and modify them so their student can easily comprehend the material. Their work is highly valued by the teachers yet their salary is small.

Teriss Alzer spoke on behalf of the Piedmont teacher aides and she noted that the School District’s administration has shown little value in their work and in their jobs. Ms. Alzer went on to note that teacher aides cannot live at poverty level anymore and they cannot be ignored. She said that this is the tipping point for teacher assistants and that they deserve respect and equal pay for equal work.

Jeff Verdano, a teacher assistant at Piedmont High School (PHS), noted that it is very expensive to live in the Bay Area, and as a result he has had to take up shifts at restaurants and drive Uber. He noted that he is passionate about his job and wants to continue doing his work, however, the pay is minimal.

Sarah Pearson, President of  the School Board, noted that she values and respects the teacher aides of Piedmont and that the School Board will look into the matter.

Another major issue discussed at the meeting was the manner in which the school officials addressed the sexual harassment allegations brought against Mr. Mark Cowherd. Mr. Cowherd teaches Modern World History, APUSH (Advanced Placement United States History), and AP Euro (Advanced Placement European History) at Piedmont High School.

Ms. Sherman, a high school parent, informed the attendees of the School Board meeting that during the AP Euro trip, last year, Mr. Cowherd had acted very inappropriately in front of her daughter, who graduated in 2017. Her daughter reported Mr. Cowherd after her graduation and soon afterward four other female students came forward with similar stories of sexual harassment. She said that these students stated that Mr. Cowherd had made sexual advances, had drunk alcohol when in their presence, had caressed their arms and shoulders, and had made inappropriate and sexual comments through text messaging and email.

Ms. Sherman set rumors to rest when she informed the audience that the reason the students waited until after graduation to report Mr. Cowherd was because they feared retaliation. Many of them had asked Mr. Cowherd for letters of recommendation and as seniors they knew that if they reported Mr. Cowherd he could withdraw his recommendation. Ms. Sherman also told the School Board that she was furious that Mr. Cowherd was investigated, found guilty, but allowed to return to school. Ms. Sherman noted that this is inexcusable.

Esther Rodgers, a member of the community and parent, told the audience that she has a son who is in Mr. Cowherd’s class. She expressed her concern to the School Board, noting that Mr. Cowherd, as a teacher, has a major impact on the young men in the classroom. If he creates an uncomfortable environment for everyone, this is detrimental to everyone’s learning. Ms. Rodgers also noted that people who have come forward need to be supported by the District. In her opinion, Mr. Cowherd should be kept away from students; he is a predatory teacher who should be immediately dismissed from the school faculty.

Kim Hunter, an Alameda County District Attorney, also spoke about the issue. Ms. Hunter works in molestation and she noted that in Piedmont there has been a chain of inexcusable behavior. First, there was the High School Fantasy Football Slut League. Then there was the anti-semitism assembly and now there is this conflict with sexual harassment at school. Ms. Hunter noted that children make mistakes and hopefully they will learn from them, but the first thing parents must do is listen to their children.

President Sarah Pearson addressed the audience and noted that the School Board is looking into the matter and that she is glad that so many members of the community were willing to come forward.

Another topic of discussion during the meeting was the H1 update. Mr. Brady told the School Board that there is now full documentation concerning the construction of the student building and the Alan Harvey Theater.

Brady also noted that there is a new policy called Board Policy 3290, which addresses the way in which the District names facilities. Mr. Brady informed the audience that the Board has the power to rename a District building. In addition, with the consent of the individual, the Board can name a facility in recognition of an outstanding individual who made a significant contribution to the school, to the community, or to the state.

The next topic of conversation was CAB – refinancing. The speaker, who did not identify himself, explained that in order to rebuild Havens Elementary, the School District had to take out a loan. The loan they took out was called a CAB. The speaker noted that taxes have increased among the community as well as property tax bills and therefore it is more reasonable for the District to refinance their loans for CAB loans are based on how much you house costs. In other words, the District should switch to a SIB loan.

School Board member Cory Smegal said that she appreciated his concern about the issue and that they will look into it.

To wrap up the discussion Mr. Booker, the Piedmont School Superintendent, noted that the District is opening up Article 6 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2018-2020, and they are opening retirement incentives. In addition, he also announced that the District is looking into revising the Working Budget.

 After the School Board meeting came to an end, I had a conversation with Sarah Wozniak about the topics discussed. Ms. Wozniak, the leader of Title 9 for the Piedmont School District, was at the Board meeting because she wanted to express her concerns regarding Mr. Cowherd. She informed us that after attending the meeting she felt very emotional. She also mentioned that she was proud to see the community show support for the girls who came forward against Mr. Cowherd. Ms. Wozniak also noted that the District will be talking about what happened and discussing what next step should be taken to address this matter in the next few days. She also said that her next step will be working with other high school students to discuss how students can confidently speak up about these matters.

Overall, I thought this meeting was very informational and I am glad that I attended it. Though I had a lot to say about the issues discussed during the meeting, I chose to not express my opinion because I did not feel comfortable announcing my opinion to the public on the matters presented.

I also spoke to Mr. Keller before and he recommended that I remain quiet during the Board meeting. But, if I were to have said anything during the meeting, I would have said that I am very proud of the girls who came forward in regards to Mr. Cowherd. I think it is very important that students feel safe at school and don’t feel they will be punished for making a complaint. Though I did not have Mr. Cowherd, I think that if Mr. Cowher made many young girls feel uncomfortable for several years, than he should be dismissed from the school faculty.

by Madison Aikawa, Piedmont High School Senior

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On October 25, 2017, I attended an important School Board Meeting at City Hall in Piedmont. The School Board meets about twice a month and discusses important issues about the district. In the School Board meeting that I attended, they discussed an important matter that’s been going on for about two months with a well-known Piedmont High School history teacher, Mark Cowherd. Parents expressed their outrage about the teacher’s role in the District. In addition to the School Board Meeting, teachers from different schools from the Piedmont District discussed the CSCA and teacher aides better pay wage.

As the meeting began, parents and teachers were given the opportunity to speak upon an issue they were concerned about outside the agenda. It was a public opportunity where they could come up to the podium and propose an issue or topic and share it with the School Board. At this time, the meeting started with the topic of Communication and Announcements. As I continued to watch and observe, a third-grade teacher at Beach Elementary School, Alaleh Ford came up to the podium and spoke about teacher aides. A teacher’s aide is an individual who helps a teacher with instructional responsibilities. She spoke about the goals of being a teacher’s aide, which include setting goals, grouping, planning and higher chances of success. She spoke on how teacher aides spend time adjusting work schedules on Thursday and Friday to work on classwork longer and then rotate each week. They also spend time being accessible to students’ needs and make it easier for them. In speaking about teacher aides, she hopes to see teacher aides be supported by the District.

An important issue arose as the next speaker came to the podium to discuss the inappropriate actions by a well-known history teacher. A parent of a recent high school graduate and freshman college student, Lisa Sherman spoke about the troubles that her daughter faced from her AP Euro teacher, Mark Cowherd. She was surrounded by many supporters, parents who were concerned about the current situation. Some of the parents who supported Lisa’s protest held up signs that said, “#MeToo”. #MeToo is a hashtag that was created online to indicate that someone has experienced some form of sexual harassment. Her daughter and four other students reported that Mr. Cowherd had sexually harassed them when they were seniors. Lisa Sherman expressed her anger and feelings to the School Board and her concerns about the school community for students. She also mentioned that when her daughter first reported the incident, four other students have come out and spoken against Mr. Cowherd’s actions.

It was reported that on an AP European trip in February, last year, 2017, Mr. Cowherd drunkenly texted sexual things to one of his students who is a female, and it made her uncomfortable. She didn’t speak up at that time due to being afraid that with the power that Mr. Cowherd held as a teacher, both her grades and her letter of recommendation for colleges would be affected.

As Lisa Sherman’s daughter reported the incident and the other students spoke up, the School District had taken immediate action by investigating the matter. During the investigation, Mr. Cowherd was put on leave for three weeks before returning to his teaching duties. When Mr. Cowherd returned to school following the investigation, parents and current students from his class were sent a letter from Piedmont High School Principal Littlefield, welcoming back Mr. Cowherd. Lisa Sherman and other parents spoke against this letter as it was poorly written with bad word choices.  They felt their voices were not heard.

Lisa Sherman’s argued from past experiences that Mr. Cowherd inappropriately touched students on the shoulders, backs, and elbows and drank alcohol in front of students at various times. She also argued that students were uncomfortable with the nicknames given to them by the teacher.

It was also shared that some male students from Mr. Cowherd’s classes doubted her daughter’s claim and might think that Mr. Cowherd’s behavior was validated. With Mr. Cowherd’s power determine grades, write letters of recommendation, and physical custody of the student through the school hour would surely affect those students who were sexually harassed by the teacher, claimed Lisa Sherman. She also stated that students were intimidated by him, which made them uncomfortable and fear him.

After Lisa Sherman’s speech, a Deputy District Attorney from Alameda County, Kim Hunter, came to the podium. She argued against Mr. Cowherd’s actions and sided with the statements made by parents and the recent PHS graduates who reported the issue. She argued that the voices of the students need to be heard, not silenced. She shared her story of how she got molested and no one listened.

Some people tend to think that sexual harassment is not a big deal, but Kim Hunter says  that “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal!” No means no, and yes means yes. Sexual harassment is never ok and she strongly believes that we should listen more to the students and be by their side. She ended her speech by saying a powerful statement, “You get rid of him.”

Before the School Board meeting started, I got to interview a parent, Jamie Pehanick who was present during the meeting. She came because she wanted to hear what Lisa Sherman had to say about Mr. Cowherd’s actions. She mentioned that she was “disappointed in Mr. Cowherd’s inappropriate behavior.” She is concerned for the students, including her daughter, who currently attends school in Piedmont, about the conduct of Mr. Cowherd.  She was also concerned about the school’s “due process and law and regulations” and wanted changes. She believes the administration’s letter wasn’t properly written and the administration should have answered the parents and students questions regarding the situation.

I know by her reaction that she would be pleased with the turnout from the meeting and hopes that the School Board and the District will do the right thing.

In my opinion, I could only hear enough facts and arguments presented by parents against Mr. Cowherd. I personally don’t know Mark Cowherd, as I never had him as a teacher, so I can’t say where I stand with the situation.  But I do believe that what’s best for him is to resign and not face the students, if he were to come back from his second leave.

I don’t condone sexual harassment. It’s never okay. I do believe that the word choice in the letter written to the students and parents welcoming back Mr. Cowherd was poorly written and it could have been stated better. I believe that the first investigation should have taken longer than three weeks to investigate the situation and that the situation should have been addressed to the current students in his class in the beginning. Sexual harassment cases should be taken seriously and not get shut down in a short amount time following the reporting.

What Mr. Cowherd did was not acceptable. His behavior and his conduct should be penalized. Mr. Cowherd has subsequently been placed on his second leave and second investigation.

The next day, a Consent Assembly took place at Piedmont High School for the freshman and the seniors to discuss why it’s important to have consent in sexual relationships. Near the end of the assembly, Principal Littlefield came up to the stage and addressed the situation with Mr. Cowherd to the freshman and seniors. He announced that Mr. Cowherd is on his second leave and a second investigation was issued. He also spoke about the letter and mentioned that the letter was written poorly with bad word choices and could have been addressed better. On Friday afternoon, The Piedmont Highlander, school newspaper, announced that Mr. Cowherd had now resigned from his teaching duties.

by Eesha Shah, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 5 2017

Wireless Communication Facilities –

On October second, Piedmont City Council had a meeting discussing the installation of wireless communication facilities. The Piedmont City Council meets every two weeks to discuss issues in Piedmont. This particular meeting was mainly devoted to discussing the wireless communications facilities to be installed.

The meeting started with all members of the Council speaking about the issue of wireless communication. They discussed the Telecommunication Act which decides the safe height for the towers, which emit radio fields. They also introduced all seven of the wireless communication facilities locations in Piedmont.

The Council then opened the discussion to the audience. Crown Castle, the company installing the wireless towers, spoke first. They mainly pointed out the benefits of the towers: Increasing the signal strength on cell phones throughout Piedmont and the ability to call 911 anywhere in Piedmont.

The residents of Piedmont then voiced their concerns on the issue of wireless communication facilities. The two main points brought up by the residents were the towers bringing down property values, and the health issues of the towers.

One resident presented a survey from the National Realtors Association saying people are twenty percent less likely to buy a house in front of or across from a cell tower. She also said that the price of her home is likely to decrease twenty percent because of the cell tower.

One of the health issues brought to the attention of the Council was the radiation given off by these towers. These towers have an EMF, electromotive force, of about five to thirteen feet which could cause radiation poisoning. This is a major health concern for people that live close to these towers. Another speaker said the towers cause leukemia and cancer in children and adults.

After listening to the speakers at the meeting, I would have to agree with their concerns. I believe the wireless communication facilities are not needed in the city of Piedmont and the many negatives outweigh the positives for the city. These towers do not seem to be a necessity for all Piedmont families and residents.

Interview:

After the meeting was over I interviewed John Randall. Mr. Randall has been a Piedmont resident for over 20 years. He was at the meeting to listen to the issues about the wireless communication facilities. His main concern was about the health issues the towers bring. He told me, “Some of the health issues are respiratory issues, radiation poisoning, increased chromosome aberrations, cause of cancer in children and adults, and other detrimental illnesses.”

Randall learned about where the towers are being placed around Piedmont, and he will continue to come to meetings to talk about what he thinks is right in the city of Piedmont. He is not afraid to voice his opinion to the City Council of Piedmont.

From what I have observed during the meeting, many people at the meeting agree with Mr. Randall’s position that cell towers are dangerous to have in Piedmont due to health concerns.

by Julian Turner, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 1 2017

“Something’s got to change” –

Last week, Captain Chris Monahan and I had the opportunity to attend the Consent Assembly held at the Alan Harvey Theater on the Piedmont High School campus. I had heard about the assembly, which features student actors portraying real-life accounts of teen sexual assault and sex related themes told by former students, and was appreciative to have been invited by a PHS teacher but was not prepared for how impactful the delivery was to be. Standing in the theater, listening to the traumatic experiences of sexual assault that were conveyed by students on the stage, I experienced the hair on the back of my neck standing up and a mix of sadness, anger, and familiarity. These feeling arose from my experience as a former sexual assault detective and with the victims I tried to obtain justice for.

I learned that the assembly has been a tradition since 2006 and had the feeling that as impacted as I felt, the students in the building must have been even more so since it was their classmates they saw up on stage as the conduit for others’ experiences. I also left the assembly asking myself, “Why, with this tradition of impactful delivery, does the Police Department continue to get the reports of sexual assault that it does?” One answer was provided by a Millennium High School student I talked with about the assembly a day or two after. I asked her the same question and the answer she provided was brilliant and simple. She believed the increase in awareness, and the need to do something about it, was the reason I might be receiving more reports. I think she may be right.

Fresh off last week’s high school-wide introspective, two separate parties were held at private residences in town this past weekend, both of which resulted in a high school-aged female being taken by ambulance to a hospital for excessive alcohol consumption. Both heads of household seemingly had the best of intentions and put measures in place that they thought would deal with uninvited guests, prevent alcohol and other illegal substances from being used, and that would generally keep a close eye on activities to ensure a healthy and safe environment. Unfortunately, despite these measures, two young people went to the hospital, and the scary thing is, they got off easy compared to what could have happened. Thinking back to last week’s Consent Assembly, impairment due to alcohol or other substances was a significant factor in the victimization that was depicted.

As a parent, is a party with 40 to 50 kids necessary? If the answer is yes, then be realistic about what you’re inviting. If you are going to allow or host a party with a large number of teenagers, understand that they will more than likely try to bring alcohol or drugs with them. The level of adult oversight at a party goes beyond “just being there”. Depending on the size of the party and number of kids in attendance, multiple adults need to not just be in attendance, but they need to be actively paying attention and be present to observe what’s going on. Talk to your child about the guests they want to invite and take the initiative to manage the guest list. Check backpacks and any containers that are being brought. I understand that these measures may embarrass your child and take you a couple notches down on the cool meter but unless that happens you should expect bad results.

I’ve heard the philosophy that parents want to provide a “safe place” for teenagers to do their thing because “they’re going to do it anyway”, but that reasoning is flawed for the simple fact the kids aren’t going to be staying at the party location. Inevitably they leave to walk or drive home, to a friend’s house, or who knows where. Let me be unequivocal for those parents or guardians who may be of the mind to be complicit with allowing or providing alcohol or other illicit drug use, you will be held criminally accountable by this Police Department. Officers will also be assessing the individual dynamics of parties they are called to and will be using existing city ordinances when appropriate, including the use of administrative fines. We are not taking this stance to be punitive or overly authoritarian. This is about the welfare and safety of this community’s children.

I am working through these issues as well, as I have children and understand the need to allow them to grow, let off steam and learn to deal with real-life, adult, situations. None of us have all the answers on how to navigate these issues in the safest manner, but together, with continued dialog and a sense of purpose, we can get better at helping our teens and each other navigate these dynamics.

Jeremy Bowers, Piedmont Chief of Police

Nov 1 2017

High School student interest in Piedmont Climate Action Plan – 

      In the Climate Action Task Force meeting, we, students, talked a lot about how we can change the cities in the Bay Area for the better. Many of the student speakers in the meeting talked about transportation expenses and recycling better in the park.  Since there is nothing in the park but a big trashcan that the students throw everything in, it would be nice to have recycling, compost, trash, etc.

    For about half of the meeting, one of the presenters talked about light bulb/ light efficiency in many cities ranging from Alameda to southern California.. With 100% renewable energy being a great possibility in the next couple of years, people are on board! From the diagrams and graphs shown, it tends to be a great idea both money and environmentally wise.

     I then asked a question to the people running the meeting about Solar Panels, and if and when is it possible for them to be in the school. Like many people in Piedmont, I have seen tons of panels on people’s houses, which would save them a lot of money each year. The sun is free! We should use it to our advantages!

    Everyone talked and contributed in the meeting, some more than others. It was a very effective meeting. There are about 8-10 more meetings before they will have this issue all figured out (going into February). It was brought up how there is too much water usage in the school with the showers, however there is storage in the showers in both the Middle School and High School. I don’t know how they got that information, maybe due to the sprinkler leaks or with the sink in the bathrooms that are accidentally left on. When it rains, Witter Field tends to be flooded with water, so they are going to try to find a drainer to fix and clean so this won’t happen as often (one of many problems that they are facing in years to come).

Interview Questions:

Name: Cody Ericson ( New graduate from UCLA but excited to start working for the City!)

Q: Why are you here?

A:  ¨I’m a part of a Americorp program called Civic Spark that links up new graduates, young professionals with local governments that help them with suitable issues. And so this is part of the Climate Action Plan passing City Council; we have to get input from the community.¨

Q: What difficulties and problems brought you here?

A: ¨Climate change is a huge issue obviously, and so local governments are in a interesting position, because they can test out new innovative ideas that can’t really be tested out on a federal scale. Cities can do  innovate thing that can be used as a model for the world for other cities in America, so I think there is  a lot of opportunity in local government.   I wanted to try finding climate change issues at a local stage.¨

Q: What did you learn?

A: ¨It takes a lot of patience and work to get this issue across to the public and get people on board, so it might take awhile until we get this plan officially approved.¨

Q: What was your reaction of the meeting?

A: “I thought it was very productive.  It was great to see that a lot of people in the community are involved in this Task Force to help a Climate Action Plan pass. It was great to see everyone have a lot of influence.  It’s great to see that people care.¨

Q: What next step will you take to get this particular concern addressed?

A: ¨To get this concern addressed, we are going to take all the imput that we had today, and try to incorporate as much as we can from the public, We are holding a focused community outreach workshop on November 7th, as we talked about, and yeah, hopefully just to keep the public involved throughout the process, I think is very important. So yes, hopefully it’s an effective workshop on the 7th.¨

by Kyle Deutsche, Piedmont High School Senior  

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.