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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 15 2019

Dear Editor,

Since changing to Daylight Saving Time (DSL) last Sunday, media opinionators are talking about making it year-round.  Permanent DSL is a terrible, dangerous idea.  Setting the clocks ahead one hour moves an hour of morning light to the end of the day.  That’s great between March 21 and September 21, when there is more daylight than night.  But for the winter-half of the year, we need more light in the morning when kids are going to school.

Our children go to school at about the same time that commuters are starting their treks to work.  Darkness and early morning sun in commuters’ eyes create dangerous hazards.  Later in the day, schools end before most commuters return home, so evening darkness is not as dangerous.

As it is, Daylight Saving Time ends in November, nearly two months past the September 21 Equinox.  Shortening, not lengthening, the DST period would make mornings safer for our children and grandchildren.

Yours truly,

Bruce Joffe, Piedmont Resident

Mar 6 2019

Increased drug and alcohol usage among Piedmont students. 

On Wednesday, February 27th, the Piedmont School Board had their bi-monthly meeting to discuss and vote on accepting or rejecting a grant for the implementation of a Student Resource Officer (SRO) at the Piedmont and Millennium High Schools.

Randall Booker, Superintendent, presented the plan for Piedmont’s SRO with a grant that would fund this project for the next three years. Driven by the results of the Healthy Kids Survey which raised alarm regarding increased drug and alcohol usage among students, Booker’s goals for the program were to strengthen transparency and improve the school culture. With more adults with eyes on campus that know the landscape and the students, and a clear MOU, Booker shared that he believed implementation of an SRO would support Piedmont’s principle of being a “district of continual improvement”.

Chief Jeremy Bowers of Piedmont Police Department and partner in the creation of the SRO plan, outlined the department’s current involvement at the secondary Piedmont schools, reporting that 400+ calls have been made to the Police Department from the schools from 2013-2018 – which is 1- 2 calls per week, all in addition to having officers in front of and around campuses patrolling traffic. Bowers believed that an SRO would help improve the learning environment, and be a constructive complement to the Piedmont School District.

Officers from both Los Gatos-Monte Sereno and Atherton Police departments shared their experiences with an SRO, calling it a “very successful program” that has led to the creation of important personal relationships that allow students to feel safe calling the SRO during a crisis. Having someone who understands the culture of the school and knows how to interact with the students has led to a form of educational discipline customized for each student. They also shared some of their other programs, like the juvenile and vaping diversion programs, which have been constructive additions to the school environment.

Booker and Bowers eased some worries by outlining the detailed plan for Piedmont’s SRO, including ways to prevent overcriminalization; however, board members seemed weary over the fact that the SRO would be armed, as did community members.

According to Booker’s survey, 75.3% of parents said they were concerned about the firearm, and 56% saw no benefit in the program. 56% of students also said they saw no benefit in the program, and that it set the wrong tone for students, especially for those who already feel marginalized.

Mr. Kessler, representing the Association of Piedmont Teachers, expressed concern with the implementation of an SRO, stating he was against having an adult filling so many roles on campus.

Thirteen high school students from Piedmont and Millennium High all shared their thoughts agreeing that this program would hinder their school environment. Some gave suggestions for solutions, including implementation of the vaping diversion program to prevent drug use, and active shooter drills to help students feel better prepared in a school crisis.

I was not in support of an SRO, and felt that if the concern was drug and alcohol use, there were much easier and more effective solutions to prevent this usage. Plus, no studies have shown that an SRO has decreased drug and alcohol use, making me think this program is a waste of money and resources.

After voicing their opinions, the Board voted 4-1 against accepting the grant for an SRO with President of the Board, Amal Smith wanting to accept the SRO grant.

Booker continued to suggest modifications to the plan, like having the SRO be located in the Piedmont Police station, but there was little flexibility available in the grant proposal, therefore a revised plan may be futile.

by Julie Huffaker, Piedmont High School Senior

Mar 6 2019

In 2013, our current flat rate per parcel School Tax was passed by voters to replace the previous Tax based on a five tier parcel size levy, a modestly progressive tax. Our School Board expressed sincere regret at eliminating the progressive tax but believed it had no choice other than to tax all parcels regardless of size at the same rate because of the 2012 Boricas v Alameda USD Appeal’s Court decision.

Of the 3,921 School tax parcels in Piedmont, 76% of Piedmont homes are on parcels under 10,000 square feet (“sf”). These taxpayers previous $1,989 and $2,260 tax became $2,406 in 2013, a 6% to 21% increase.  Owners of undeveloped parcels went from $1,009 to $2,406, a 238% increase. However, a small percentage of taxpayers benefited as owners of large parcels, commercial buildings and multi-unit buildings saw reductions of 7% to 80%. Some large commercial buildings previously taxed at $5,052 went to $2,406, a 52% decrease. 20,000 sf lots went from $3,378 to $2,406, a 29% decrease. A multi-unit building went from $11,907 to $2,406, an 80% decrease.

A progressive tax based on per square footage of building space is used in Alameda and other districts. The current Alameda tax passed by 74% in 2016 was challenged in 2017 on the validity of levying a tax on building square footage. Mar 4, 2018, the Alameda Schools per square footage of building tax was found legally valid in Alameda County Superior Court. Jan 31, 2019, a California appellate court validated a local agency’s special tax calculated on the basis of square footage of improved structures (Dondlinger v. Los Angeles County Regional).

Piedmont Schools previously embraced a partially progressive tax and now has an excellent progressive tax option that is far more equitable by using building per square footage. I propose the following progressive tax:

(1) Tax will be at $1 to $1.05 per square foot of building size. The District will determine the exact rate needed to provide funding at slightly above the current level.

(2) $4,999 will be the maximum tax for any building.

(3) Currently some multi-parcel estates are subject to multiple taxes and some are subject to one tax (GC 53087.4). So that all multi-parcel estates are treated uniformly and given that many multi-parcel estates have large homes that will be assessed at the maximum tax, a contiguous parcel exemption will be included. No property owner for a single home will pay more than $4,999.

(4) $1,099 will be the rate for unimproved lots.

(5) A 2% annual cost adjustment will be included.

(6) The tax may include an income based senior exemption at a rate to be determined so as not to cost the District more than 2% of the what the total tax revenue would be without this exemption.

(7) Compassionate SSI and SSDI exemptions will be included. These are not aged based.

        Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 12 2019

February 11, 2019

Randall Booker, Superintendent, Piedmont Unified School District – 760 Magnolia Avenue – Piedmont, CA 94611 rbooker@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Robert McBain, Mayor, City of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue – Piedmont, CA 94611 rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov

Re: Retention of Police Officer to Serve Full-Time in Piedmont Unified School District

Dear Messrs. Booker and McBain:

I write to you on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont. Our organization supports the importance of transparency in local government and a high level of education within the Piedmont Unified School District. It is our understanding that the Board of Education will be voting during its upcoming February board meeting on the issue of whether to employ a full-time police officer in the school district as a School Resource Officer. We are also informed that should the Board of Education approve the employment of this officer, the City Council will then vote on whether to approve this position since the officer would be a member of the Piedmont Police Department.

Our League Board has discussed this issue and we believe that a decision by the Board of Education and the City Council on this matter is premature at this time, and as such, would be counter to our positions on local government and education.

Specifically, we are concerned with transparency and the ability of the Board of Education and the City Council to make an informed decision on this matter with the information currently at their disposal. For example, we are concerned there is a lack of information surrounding the explicit objectives of having a police officer on school campuses, what training the officer would be required to fulfill, what weapons the officer would carry or retain on campus, what the officer’s objectives would be, how success or failure will be measured, and what consequences may arise for the students as a result of having an officer on campus. These are just several among many unanswered questions that we feel should be addressed prior to any formal decision-making processes and, in fact, long before students, teachers and parents are surveyed on their views on the issue of hiring such a police officer to serve in the schools.

We thus urge both the Board of Education and the City Council to exercise due diligence in gathering information about both the benefits and potential consequences in hiring a School Resource Officer, and to fully communicate and share information with all stakeholders in this community about these details before holding any formal vote on the matter.

Sincerely,

Nancy A. Beninati,President, League of Women Voters Piedmont

Jan 29 2019

I’m all in favor of youth sports; however, when Coaches Field was first conceived and approved by our city council, the neighbors above strenuously objected to field lights. The project was approved with the express promise from the council that lights would never be put on the field. That promise is as valid today as when it was made.

A few years ago, the request to put lights on the field was put before the council. When reminded of the commitment to those who would be most impacted, the spokesperson for the youths’ sports league responded that promises were made to be broken. What an appalling role model for our community’s children. With the latest plan that will be coming up for approval, it appears that this sentiment has gained traction.

We as a community should honor our promise to the neighbors of Coaches’ Field. When the children who utilize the field ask why there are no lights on the field, they should be told that there has always been a high demand for playtime on our city’s fields, however, a promise was made when the field was developed, and that promise is being honored. Isn’t that the take away that we all want our children to have? Promises are just that, and a person of integrity always honors his or her promise.

Anne Cobbledick Gritzer

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Jan 9 2019

Jan 9, 2019

In 2012 the current School tax was formulated because of the Boricas v Alameda USD (“AUSD”) Appeal’s Court decision. At that time Piedmont Unified School District (“PUSD”) declared the only possible tax methodology was to tax every parcel at the same rate because Boricas had rendered Piedmont’s previous attempt at a progressive tax by parcel size legally invalid.

PUSD’s hurried decision was not the only option and certainly not the best option as compared to the previous five tier parcel system, the current flat rate tax raised the rate of 75% of those in smaller homes by about $300 while lowering the rate by over $1000 for the largest estates.

I. A progressive tax based on a per square foot (“sf”) of building space has been and is currently used by AUSD. The current AUSD tax Measure B1, passed by 74% in 2016, was challenged by the 2011 Boricas Plaintiffs and in 2018 AUSD prevailed. PUSD cannot in good faith claim per square foot of building tax levy is invalid. < https://tinyurl.com/yb8g4f92 >

A progressive tax is essential for Piedmont’s expensive school support tax. No other School Tax comes close in cost to taxpayers. While Piedmont had previously embraced a partially progressive tax, PUSD now has a progressive tax option that is far more equitable using building square footage.

Commonly accepted is the direct correlation of the quality of Piedmont Schools and ever increasing real estate values in town. Values are also a function of home size: the larger home in a given neighborhood will proportionally increase in value more than a similar smaller home. Ask any Real Estate professional.

Additionally, the larger Piedmont home generally accommodates more children; the large homeowner again economically benefits proportionately more from the school tax than the small or average size homeowner. Incorporating a square foot of building tax will be both more equitable and palatable to a large majority of taxpayers and an easier sell for the Tax Campaign Committee.

The Piedmont tax currently provides about $10,400,000. There are about 10,340,000 square feet of residential buildings so about $1 a foot is needed. The average home size is about 2,430 sf so essentially many homeowners will pay close to the current amount. Median size of 2,710 sf indicates that those with larger homes will proportionately pay their fair share.

II. Piedmont taxpayers voted on a tax that stated every parcel will be taxed but every parcel with a unique Assessor Parcel Number (APN) is not taxed. Examples include several parcels over 20,000 sf that are not taxed yet other large vacant parcels are taxed. An eight sf parcel at the edge of town is taxed yet the adjacent 144 sf parcel is not taxed. The hodge-podge system must end. A tax based on square foot of building and flat rate for vacant parcels, as AUSD uses, will take care of these inequities. A contiguous parcel exemption may be appropriate.

III. From high to low most California school taxes include a senior exemption.
San Marino USD with its $1,215 parcel tax has a senior exemption and West Contra Costa County with its 7.2 cents per sf of building has a senior exemption.
Among California’s top ten school districts Piedmont alone does not include a senior exemption.

According to the US Census about 20% of Piedmonters are over 65 and a straight senior exemption may unfairly tax young families given the very high Piedmont school tax. An income based Senior Exemption is needed; one or two per cent of seniors would qualify.

In 2012 the Board informed the public an income based Senior Exemption is not allowed by State Law yet the income based senior exemption was then and is now commonly used elsewhere. Locally income based senior exemptions are used in Oakland, Berkeley, Orinda and Moraga. State law applies equally to all school districts.

The current SSI based tax exemption is meaningless and an income based senior exemption will include any SSI recipients.

Respectfully

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Att: May 4, 2018 AUSD Press Release

Dec 15 2018

December 10th Planning Commission

On Monday, December 10th, I went to the Planning Commission meeting at Piedmont City Hall from 5-7 p.m. The Planning Commission meets on the second Monday of every month and makes decisions regarding local construction or housing modifications. In this particular meeting, the Commission made a decision about two specific houses, and whether they could start their construction.

The first house was 66 Hampton Road. For this house, three speakers came up and talked in support of starting the potential construction. The first two speakers were the owners of the house. Their first argument was that they had kids, and needed to build a second floor on their house so they could live more comfortably, since they all sleep in the same room at the moment. They brought a lot of passion with these arguments. They also made the argument that since they both worked at home, they needed more space to work all day. Then, they tried to counter their neighbors’ arguments.

The neighbors claimed the construction would cause them to lose a significant amount of light and privacy. For this argument, the owners of 66 Hampton Road sent their architect up to describe the sun study they did, which essentially concluded that the neighbors would lose minimal light and privacy.

However, the neighbors also brought up their architect who claimed the sun study was wrong and they would actually lose a lot of light. The rule was construction can only cost a neighbor to lose “little to no light.”

The Commission ended up unanimously rejecting the 66 Hampton Road proposal for a multitude of reasons. One planner noted that they couldn’t judge the case based on any emotions, so they couldn’t feel sympathy for the children. Another mentioned how the plans were turned in right before the meeting and that wasn’t adequate enough time to look over them. In the end, the neighbors were right, the city is strict on the amount of light lost for construction and too much light was lost in this case.

Personally, I agreed with the decision because the owners of 66 Hampton Road had a lot of holes in their argument. For instance, they claimed they wanted to be closer to their kids but planned on building a master bedroom on the second floor and being a full floor away from them. Also, their architect seemed way more disorganized and confused than the opposing architect, so I didn’t believe his sun study.

The second case was pretty much the opposite. In this case, 319 Magnolia Avenue, all the neighbors had agreed to the ­­construction, it was just up to the Commission. The owners of this house wanted to build out the second floor and extend their deck. This proposal was backed up by their neighbors, the Goldbergs. The Commission still rejected it though, because the build out called for a lot of variances which were not optimal.

by Carvel Tefft, Piedmont High School Senior

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

 

Dec 4 2018

12-4-18

Dear City Administrator, City Council, and Public Works Director,

While street sweeping is conducted by a Public Works Department professional driving a very expensive street sweeping machine, our city’s street sweeping program is run like an amateur volunteer activity.  Effective street sweeping requires that the machine sweeps up fallen leaves in the gutters, otherwise those leaves wash down into our storm drains and clog them.  Yet, cars routinely park on streets scheduled for sweeping, so the machine just sweeps around them, missing most of the gutter leaves.  Why do cars remain on streets during sweeping days?

The answer is because clearing the streets depends upon an intensive and frustrating volunteer effort.  Local residents have to find out and remember when their street is scheduled for sweeping (there is no fixed day or time).  Then, volunteer residents have to tie or tape floppy cardboard “no parking” signs to trees or poles in front of their houses.  Then, they have to call the Public Works Department to report and register that they have mounted the temporary signs.  Oh, and the report must be made four days before the scheduled street sweeping day.  Then, on street sweeping day, the volunteer has to check to see if any cars are parked where the signs were posted, and if so, call the Piedmont Police to report a violation.  Then, this is the frustrating part, they have to wait to see if a cop will come out to ticket the violating parker.  Sometimes a parker has moved his car before a cop comes out.  Often, someone will park in the empty space after the cop has left, causing the volunteer to call the Police Department again to request street sweeping enforcement.

Whew!  It has taken a lot of time just to describe the process.  Most of our neighbors don’t have time to actually go through this process.  My wife, Karen, followed the city protocol – to the letter – because a lot of leaves have been accumulating.  She even raked the leaves away from the gutter into the street to help the machine collect them.  In spite of her efforts, four cars parked on the street, ignoring the signs she posted.  This is not the way to run a professional city service, and, the lack of adequate sweeping costs our city extra expense to clean out clogged storm drains.

The solution is not rocket science; it just requires looking at what most other cities do.

(1)    Establish a regular schedule for sweeping each street.

(2)   Post permanent signs saying “No Parking” on those specific dates and times.

(3)   Deploy police to enforce the regularly scheduled “no parking” rules.

This is how Oakland conducts its street sweeping parking restrictions on Linda, Kingston, and other nearby streets in that city.

My wife and I are not going to continue performing this tedious volunteer work to aid the city’s street sweeping.  Many of our neighbors don’t do so either, because they are not home during sweeping times or because it is too much of a burden.  It is long past time for Piedmont to run its street sweeping operation professionally.

Taxpayers paid a lot of money for the street sweeping machine, and that money is wasted if the machine can’t clean the gutters because cars are parked on sweeping days.

Sincerely,

Bruce Joffe, Piedmont Resident

Nov 27 2018

Piedmont Board of Education Meeting on November 14th, 2018

I attended the Piedmont Unified School District Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday, November 14th. These meetings take place twice a month, usually at 7:00 P.M. at the Council Chambers in the City Hall. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss various topics and issues affecting the school district and community, and if relevant, vote upon various items noticed for that meeting. The public is allowed to attend the hearing, and are permitted to speak out for a limited period of time during the meeting on any relevant issue they see fit to raise. The School Board members are then required to listen to the public’s comments and can take them into consideration.

There was a pre-arranged agenda that was followed for the meeting which outlined the main topics and announcements of interest that were to be covered. There was also a regular agenda item concerning the Consent Calendar, set for the very end of the meeting. The Consent Calendar covered various non-disputed administrative items that required approval from the School Board, such as approving donations benefiting the school district from various organizations throughout Piedmont and ratification of various contracts. The Board unanimously approved the Consent Calendar.

The main issue on the agenda that was discussed at the meeting was the possibility of a School Resources Officer (SRO) being implemented for Piedmont schools. PUSD Superintendent Randall Booker talked about how he and the Chief of the Piedmont Police, Jeremy Bowers, have been considering a position for a SRO since last year after observing “recent events around the world”, especially regarding the safety of schools. It was mentioned that many other school districts around the Bay Area already have a SRO and that this position will help implement the “Safe School Plan.”

Chief Bowers was also in attendance and went up to the podium to further elaborate on what this position entails. He explained that a SRO is a police officer who becomes a part of the community/schools for a positive impact and would play the four main roles of a counselor, teacher, social worker, and law enforcement professional. As a counselor, this position would serve as a resource to support students/staff. As a teacher, this person would do things such as give classroom presentations or educate students on the duties of the police. As a social worker, they would be involved in helping resolve conflicts/issues involving the school community. Furthermore, Bowers said the ultimate goal of this position would be to strengthen the relations between police and students/families, along with improving the overall safety of our schools. However, Bowers added that implementing this position will all depend on funding from a grant that has been requested since the school does not currently have sufficient funds to make this happen.

Discussion regarding the issue of a SRO then followed when Board member Cory Smegal expressed concern over running out of funds from the grant that would be needed since the School District is on a very tight budget. She also added that although she felt this was a good idea, maybe just having the district increase counseling services would be a more cost-effective solution. Smegal also said she is nervous about the idea of the officer carrying a gun on campus and then proceeded to raise questions about whether teachers have the time in their agenda to have an officer educate in the classroom.

Another Board member, Amal Smith, raised concerns over this only being a short-term program and raised questions about what will happen afterwards since this program will only last for about three years.

A Piedmont resident named Richard Turner spoke up by suggesting that we should not have preconceived notions about this officer and that “hard, tangible metrics” must be put into place to evaluate if the goals of the SRO are being achieved. He also proposed the question of whether or not the funds from the grants needed are restricted solely for this program or if they could also be put to use elsewhere.

On the issue of what the extent of the SRO’s duty of a law enforcement official should be, Board member Doug Ireland stated that he felt it was appropriate that arrests may have to be made if students are caught with possession of drugs/alcohol on campus. He added that “you should always be careful what you wish for” and that extra precautions should be taken before introducing a SRO.

On the same debate of law enforcement duties, another member of the public stated that they wanted to see more consequences for students if they are caught performing illegal activities, and that the school has a history of taking a “blind-eye” on problems such as these in the past and are not doing everything in their power to stop this. Additionally, they said that a figure of authority serves as a powerful position and public schools are at a disadvantage to private schools because private schools have more funding for safety measures such as this.

In response to the guest speaker’s prior comment about how the School District is not doing enough to address concerns of illegal activities, staff member Cheryl Wozniak described how the school is in fact aware of these issues and spoke out about the anonymous reporting system for students that was put into place a few years ago. She explained that this system works by forwarding complaints to the administration and confirmed that it is being put to use by students/teachers in the District.

Then, Piedmont High School student Betty Hosler spoke out in front of the Board by expressing concerns that students may be overwhelmed by having an officer present on the campus and that many will view this as a negative development in that the school is out to get them in trouble instead of help them. She continued by saying that in order for this program to work well, the school must make their intentions very clear to their students since their ultimate motive can easily be misinterpreted.

In my opinion, the implementation of a SRO will be a benefit to us students and help create a safer environment on campus, especially when taking into consideration the real threat of physical violence, drug use, and vaping — all of which are major challenges that today’s schools face.

Although it is clear some students/families will be strongly opposed to this idea, especially given that the officer may be armed, I strongly feel that the advantages outweigh any real disadvantages. Threats of violence and substance abuse are difficult challenges for our schools, which also happen to be important law enforcement issues. Therefore, our police officers should be part of the solution because they are trained to respond appropriately under these situations.

The second main topic that was discussed concerned the Review Process of the Reorganization of the Board. The Board members brought up that Reorganization of the Board takes place every December Board meeting (December 12th this year) and that each elected official serves from when they are elected until the following December.

It was also noted that they fill officer positions on the Board through mutual agreement, but they cannot do so until Alameda County finishes counting all of the votes regarding the election of School Board members.

After the meeting concluded at 8:45 p.m., the first person I decided to interview was Megan Pillsbury. After I asked what brought her to the meeting, she told me that she came to observe the general process of how these meetings work due to recently being elected to the Board and will serve on it for the next term and wants to continue to attend every meeting she can. I then asked her if there was any issue in particular that was of great interest/concern to her and she told me it would be the proposed SRO position. She explained she still has many unanswered questions about having an officer with a gun around students.

The second person I interviewed was Sarah Pearson, who was there because she is the President of the Board. Likewise, she told me she is interested in learning more about the SRO, but is slightly hesitant about the budget issue and is always extra cautious when trying new things. Moreover, she found PHS student Betty Hosler’s comments about how students may perceive the officer insightful and has been reading up on as many studies as possible that deal with what types of interventions from schools have been most valuable to students. She also looks forward to reaching out to other schools and their students to hear about their opinions on their own officer in the future.

By Wilson Van Gundy, Piedmont High School Senior

Nov 16 2018

Correction Provided by Piedmont School Board Member

The Piedmont Post November 14 cover story on campaign finances reported that my campaign “self- funded roughly $6,500”. That is incorrect and would be a surprise to my campaign’s fundraising volunteers and to the dozens of campaign donors.

I did start my campaign with $2,200 from my 2014 campaign. During this 2018 campaign, my campaign raised $5,000, six donations of $100 or more and the remaining donations of $99 or less. One of those $99 donations was from my husband in support of the campaign. I did not self-fund.

Total spending on the campaign was just shy of $6,700. Because I did not need the funds, I declined the CTA donation. When I close the campaign account, the remaining funds will be donated to the Piedmont Education Foundation endowment fund.

Respectfully,

Amal Smith

Re-elected Piedmont School Board Member