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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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Feb 23 2018

Proposed Changes to Piedmont Governance Are Missing  Community Input – 

The February 5, 2018 Staff Report has the proposed revised  City Charter. There are single lines added that are fundamental changes to the way Piedmont operates and has operated for many, many years. Example: p19 Sec. 3.01 “All other officers shall be appointed and directed by the City Administrator.” Only the City Administrator and Attorney would be appointed by the Council under the new charter.

Under the current City Charter the City Council is the final authority. Under the proposed new Charter the Chiefs of Police and Fire, City Clerk, Director of Finance, Director of Public Works, City Engineer, Planning Director, Director of Recreation and such other subordinate officers, assistants, deputies and employees would be appointed by the City Administrator. This is a fundamental change in Piedmont governance. Much more community input is required for this and other fundamental changes.

The essential character of government in Piedmont is civic involvement and public discourse. The City Charter is the central document and rushing this to a vote without more public input and a committee report seems unwise.

Recently the Planning Commission approved a recommendation that Staff have more input on window reveals. If the distance a window is set back from the horizontal exterior wall plane is worthy of committee review, surely changing the City Charter also deserves a thoughtful committee investigation and report.

As public discourse is at the heart of Piedmont governance, an Open Government Ordinance is needed and should be made part of any new charter. This would extend the Brown Act three day notice requirement to a longer period such as eleven days so that during holidays, summer vacations and other demanding family times there would be more notice and adequate time for residents to digest and involve themselves in important changes in town.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 18 2018

League of Women Voters of Piedmont presents

Eric P. Brown

“Constitution in the Classroom”

Sunday, March 4, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

40 Highland Avenue, Piedmont, CA

The League of Women Voters of Piedmont presents Constitution in the Classroom with guest speaker Eric P. Brown. Mr. Brown is a member of the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society for Law & Policy.

Constitution in the Classroom brings members of the American Constitution Society (ACS) into primary and secondary classrooms to raise awareness of fundamental constitutional principles.  As lawyers, law students and educators, ACS representatives share knowledge and appreciation of the Constitution.  By spending as little as one-hour teaching in a high school, middle school or elementary school classroom, ACS members inform and excite young minds about their constitutional rights and responsibilities.

ACS believes that law should be a force to improve the lives of all people. The organization promotes positive change by shaping debate on important legal and constitutional issues through the development and promotion of high-impact ideas to opinion leaders and the media. The group builds networks of lawyers, law students, judges and policymakers dedicated to promoting these ideas, and counters activist movements that seek to erode enduring constitutional values. By bringing together powerful ideas and passionate people, ACS makes a difference in the constitutional, legal and public policy debates that shape our democracy.

Eric P. Brown is a partner in the firm of Atshuler Berzon LLP in San Francisco.  Eric’s practice consists primarily of representing labor unions, workers and advocacy organizations in all manners of litigation and advisory matters, including labor, employment, constitutional and environmental law. He earned B.A. from Yale College and his J.D., Yale Law School.

The event is open to the public at no charge.  Please RSVP by March 2, 2018 to Lois Corrin at loiscorrin@gmail.com or by text at 510-318-4840.

Feb 12 2018

Piedmont League of Women Voters has sent the following letter to the Piedmont City Council urging adequate community input prior to placing proposed Piedmont City Charter changes on the June or November ballot. 

February 9, 2018

Mayor Bob McBain

City of Piedmont

120 Vista Avenue Piedmont, CA 94611

Dear Mayor McBain,

The issue of revisions to the Piedmont City Charter and the governing of our city are of considerable concern to the Piedmont League of Women Voters (LWVP) and equally, I am sure, to all the residents of Piedmont. In fact, recently our League conducted an in-depth study and developed a position on local elections which, among other things, included criteria for selecting our mayor.

After viewing the City Council meeting of February 5th our board met and discussed the implications of the Council’s action regarding revisions to three items of the City Charter: term limits for the City Council and PUSD School Board, provisions for filling a vacant seat and general fund reserves. The quick timing of this action is of great concern because it does not allow for adequate community input and discourse between the Council and residents prior to adopting and placing these items on the June ballot.

The League of Women Voters has a position that “believes that democratic government depends upon informed and active participation at all levels of government. The League further believes that governmental bodies must protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.”

Therefore, LWVP urges a public meeting for a two-way discussion on these proposed charter changes so that the public has sufficient opportunity to share its input with the Council and for the Council to consider any revisions to the three proposals. If there is insufficient time for a two-way discussion with the public, we then urge the Council to reconsider its decision to put these charter changes on the June ballot.

In addition, with respect to those City Charter amendments proposed for the November ballot, we respectfully request that the City Council engage in a meaningful and adequate dialogue, as noted above, before any amendments are placed on the November ballot.

Regards,

Katy Foulkes
President, League of Women Voters Piedmont

cc All City Council members

Paul Benoit, City Administrator

John Tulloch, City Clerk

PUSD School Board

LWVPiedmont,  325 Ramona Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94610 lwvpiedmont@gmail.com

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Feb 10 2018

How many Tennis Courts do we need?!

Who doesn’t love free pizza and talking about parks of your childhood? That’s just what I did January 18th, 2018 in the Piedmont Community Hall. This was the second meeting of the Groundworks Architecture and Landscape Firm with the Piedmont Community, hosted by the Piedmont Recreation Department, to discuss the redesign of the Linda Beach Playfield.

    At the previous meeting, the Groundworks team gathered ideas from about forty attendees about what the community wanted and valued. They put this information  into a list of guidelines. They then used guidelines to come up with designs.

    We were presented with three options: sports, nature, and hybrid.

    The sports option focused on expanding the tennis courts to fit two regulation size courts with colorful mural like retaining walls as well as a skatepark for teens under the bridge.

    The Nature design gave a serene and peaceful vibe, bringing a sculpture garden/public art space under the bridge, a terraced amphitheater/event space at the north end of the field.

    The Hybrid design was a perfect combination of both. Hybrid updates the tennis court to regulation size, while adding an event space with outdoor classrooms and a green space at the north end. The Tot Lot was moved in this design to the south end of the park featuring a slide into the park from Howard Street.

    After the presentation of the three designs, the audience was split into five table groups to discuss the options. Most of the people at the meeting were advocates for having as many tennis courts and sports areas as possible. On the other hand, many others were excited about having a green area to relax and hang out as a community. The skatepark was a big topic, but we students at the table were insistent on not including the area. Ryan Stokes, a Piedmont resident, was an advocate for the skatepark.

I spoke to Lorri Arazi, a listing agent for the newly built townhomes on Linda Avenue, about the plans. “I initially came on a fact-finding mission, I thought I’d be a listener and less of a participant. But I felt strongly, I had a strong gut reaction when I saw the skatepark next to the bridge,” Arazi told me, “I think that’d be really noisy for the people buying the condos.”

    More issues were brought up about the bathrooms, flex space for group activities, noise complaints, and wasting the space by planting more trees everywhere. Many younger people showed up to voice their opinions as well as the adults. “It was really really wonderful to see people of all ages here and involved and interested,” Arazi commented. Everyone had a positive reaction to the plans, were excited to voice their opinions and see this area remodeled.

    Arazi told me that, “I’ll definitely come to the March 21st meeting. If [the skatepark] shows up on the next iteration, then I’m going to want to voice my concern.” She also explained that by then she will hopefully have a few units sold, and can bring those families to voice their input as part of the community. The city will be having an online survey about this topic, in addition to a City Council Meeting being held on March 21st to talk about the final design. I look forward to seeing the final design, and the community support around the area.

by Maeve Andrews, Piedmont High School Senior

~~~~~~~~

Courts or no Courts?

    As the Piedmont Community Hall began to fill up with intrigued families, city officials, community members and Civics students, I could tell that I was in for an interesting evening. The debate over what to include in the new Linda Beach Playfield design had just begun.

    On Thursday, January 18th, at 5:45 p.m., I attended the Linda Beach Master Plan meeting to learn more about the city’s project and to share my thoughts on the subject. The project, headed by Piedmont’s Parks and Recreation Director, Sara Lillevand, is intended to landscape, renovate, and redesign the land surrounding the Beach Playfield on Linda and Howard avenue. A similar meeting had convened on November 16 of 2017 to introduce the project and present the Groundworks Office firm which was chosen to landscape the park.

At the beginning of the Master Plan meeting, the project leaders reviewed the notes from the past meeting and revealed three detailed design concepts that the Groundworks team had put together. We then broke off into groups and worked to address the pros and cons of each of the three designs. Design one was labeled as the ‘sports’ design and consisted of two regulation size tennis courts, a skate park, a community activity space, and a boardwalk entrance to the park from Howard Avenue. The second design, known as the ‘nature’ design, featured several community flex spaces, lots of planted trees and seating areas, and no tennis courts. The third design was labeled as the ‘hybrid’ plan and consisted of one full size tennis court, an adult exercise area, a bocce ball court, and some community flex space.

As a tennis player, I advocated for a version of the sports oriented plan because it included two regulation size tennis courts. Other community members spoke up about how the tennis courts take up lots of area and that the land should be allocated to multipurpose or flex spaces that can be utilized by any and all community members at different times.

One community member spoke about how the tennis courts are a much desired aspect of the Beach Playfield and eliminating them would upset many residents. He also brought up the interesting prospect of installing night lights for the courts which would increase the hours of use. There was much debate over what to include and what to not include during the meeting but the council decided to take the copious amount of community member input and work to build at least one new plan which will then be reviewed at the next meeting.

After the meeting I spoke with the project leader and Recreation Director, Sara Lillevand, to discuss her opinion on the project and the project’s next steps. She explained to me how her main goal of the meeting was to bring as many community members together as possible to receive input on what should be included in the design. She said that the meeting exceeded her expectations primarily due to the fact that there were so many young community members present. Moving forward, Lillevand will collaborate with the Groundworks team to gather the community input from the meeting, work with the city contractors, and develop a final plan to present. This project is moving quickly and I am excited to follow it in the coming months and utilize the final project. Let’s hope for tennis courts!

by Andrew Pinkham, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Jan 26 2018

Linda Beach Field Redevelopment: To (B)each His Own

    A chance to remake Linda Beach Playfield.

Community members gathered to discuss the latest proposals on use of the land in between the existing field and the school.

    The City of Piedmont is currently seeking to redevelop the area around Beach School. After learning about the desires of the residents at a previous meeting, the redevelopment team put together three proposals for people to debate. In the meeting, each proposed plan was explained before we broke up into smaller groups to generate feedback on each plan.

    The meeting fell under the umbrella of the Piedmont Recreation Department (PRD), as PRD is in charge of the Linda Beach facilities. The goal of the meeting was to determine what the community thought about the three concepts presented and which aspects were most and least favored. Since this project is a one-time contract, the meetings do not occur with regularity.

    The contracted firm, Groundworks Office, showed three initial ideas for Linda Beach Playfield, named the “Sports”, “Nature”, and, “Hybrid” designs. The first two were intentionally constructed to fall on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, while the “Hybrid” version attempted to walk a middle ground.

    The “Sports” concept increases the size of the tennis courts to regulation size, and adds a skate park, expands Schoolmates, and adds lighting. PRD employee and Bay Area resident Daniel LaForte expressed concern about the current, smaller size of the tennis courts, saying, “I won’t play at the Beach courts, because it’s simply too dangerous. I’ve had injuries before.” He supports the expansion of the tennis courts, citing the high demand which has forced him to, “start playing on the other side of the tunnel,” adding that, “The good players won’t play there [Beach],” due to the irregular size.

    After reviewing this proposal, I helped present the group’s feedback. There was a valid belief shared by some of our group members that two regulation tennis courts would occupy too much valuable space, but ultimately, it was clear that the space would definitely be used all the time. Personally, I agreed with the notion that courts would make effective use of the space, especially considering the other options for it.

    The next proposal, “Nature,” featured an event space that would take up most of the area between Schoolmates, which would be expanded, and the large playfield nearby. This proposal sought to create a relaxing, soothing vibe, complemented by the addition of hammocks to existing trees near Howard Street. It sounded cool, but I was afraid the event space might get wasted, especially since there is a nearby picnic area.

    Finally, the “Hybrid” model contains some ideas from each of the other proposals. It has a slightly smaller event space, plus an exercise area, bocce and pickleball courts. Some of the people in attendance were familiar with the government committee that would ultimately decide this issue, and they believe the committee would end up taking the Hybrid proposal, no matter what.

By David Yu, Piedmont High School Senior

~~~~~~~~~

City Planning to Redesign Area Adjacent to Linda Beach Playground

Piedmont is a beautiful City that benefits from the thoughtful city planning and design decisions that are implemented.  The Linda Beach area is currently undergoing a redevelopment plan, which we hope will be no exception to Piedmont’s high standards.  The Groundworks Landscape Architecture firm and the City of Piedmont are working together to redesign the space around the Linda Beach Playground with a shared belief that the space has great potential.

    On Thursday, January 18, a public meeting was held, including resident attendees, to consider three design plans for the area and solicit community input on the redevelopment ideas for further design refinements.  A few of the goals for this project are:  (1) to improve the identity of the park, (2) breathe community life into the Oakland Avenue bridge space, and (3) improve site access and connections to the park for use by people across varying demographics.

     This meeting was the second public forum held for the Linda Beach Project.  There will likely be subsequent meetings during the design process.

    The major issue addressed and discussed at the January 18th meeting was the purpose of the new development and how it would be used.  There were three plans presented during the meeting.  They were: a Sports Plan, a Nature Plan and a Hybrid Plan.

    The Sports Plan proposed two regulation size tennis courts, a boardwalk near Howard Avenue, a skateboard park under the bridge along with plans to incorporate public art elements into the structure, terraced seating along the edge of the field, new storm water drain systems, an expansion of the Schoolmates building, a redeveloped tot lot with art incorporated into the structures, and two restrooms on either side of the site.

   The Sports Plan received positive feedback from team members or their families who currently use the space for sports-related activities.  There were some doubts raised about this plan’s ability to satisfy the diverse needs of those other than just parents and their young children, and also concern over the space feeling crowded.

    Some argued strongly against having a skateboard park, because of concern over noise.  While others suggested that a skateboard park would create a safe designated space for skateboarders to stay off the street and practice their sport, given it is illegal in many public areas where signs are posted prohibiting the sport.

    The Nature Plan proposed as its main concept, open programming space.  This entailed the removal of both tennis courts with replacement by a multi-purpose space.  This proposed space would include planted terraces, easy access, improved storm water solutions, and be made from natural material and plants to establish a lush organic environment.

    The Nature Plan focused more on the aesthetic value the space could present by incorporating many elements from nature as well art to welcome the public. This plan faced the most criticism because many people were upset about the removal or reduction of the sports facilities that are currently available to them today, such as the tennis courts and a reduced size tot lot.  This concern was mainly expressed by families who use this space often for their children and people who grew up playing sports on these facilities, who had an emotional connection to the activity environment.  These residents would have to give up their current use of the space in exchange for a nature park.  Many were not happy about that possibility.

    The final plan proposed was called the Hybrid Plan.  This plan incorporated aspects from both the sports and the nature plan.  The Hybrid Plan maintained one tennis court, the tot lot relocated to the south end of the site, an exercise plaza located under the bridge, public event/park space near the tennis court, an extension added to the existing Schoolmates building, and one restroom.  This plan was praised for its ability to act as a space for people with different interests and seemed to achieve broader support as a compromise.  However, the exercise plaza of this plan was criticized for fear it would be underused.  Many people liked the fact that there was only one tennis court.  A tennis player who attended the meeting even stated they would rather have one regulation size tennis court, than the two non-regulation courts there today.

    After the presentations of the three plans, we all turned to our tables with print copies of each plan, including images used to help establish a feeling for what each plan might seem like if implemented.  A representative from either the City or the Groundworks Office sat at each of the tables and listened to questions and critiques about the plans from residents.  Each table group then generated their ideal plan and presented their idea at the end of the meeting to all attendees.

    My table group discussed and agreed on our ideal plan.  It included one tennis court, a public space that could be used for either socializing or events, a relocated and renovated tot lot, two restrooms, a skateboard park under the bridge and ample space throughout for sitting and relaxing.  I thought our twist on the Hybrid Plan seemed ideal because it incorporated spaces for activities across a variety of ages and interest groups.

    After each of the groups presented their ideas, the meeting was dismissed and I spoke with Etienne Fang, a former designer and Piedmont High School graduate (class of ‘94).  She attended this meeting with her children so they could learn about the design process.  Etienne attended Beach Elementary School and her children currently attend Beach today.  She believes that the current plan is a poor use of the space.  She said the tot lot is over-utilized, the tennis courts are usually empty, and there is a useless dirt path behind the field that has been there since she went to Beach that has a lot of potential.  Etienne was confused by the presentations of design plans for the Linda Beach space because she was unsure of their underlying vision for the space.  After the meeting, she said that people want to practice different activities and that the space should be inclusive.  She plans on attending future meetings to provide her inputs on the project.

    This meeting was intended to help the City and Groundworks Office understand first-hand, the wants, needs and concerns about the proposed Linda Beach redevelopment area.  While I was able to participate in voicing my opinion among my neighbors, importantly, this meeting demonstrated to me that city planning is definitely a difficult job, especially when the public has so many conflicting opinions about what should be included in a redevelopment plan.

by Hanna Scoggins, Piedmont High School Senior

~~~~~~~~~~

The Linda Beach Face Lift

On Thursday, January 18, I attended a city parks and projects meeting about the reconstruction of the Linda Beach Park space.  There was a meeting prior to this one where people voiced what sort of things they would like to see in the design.  This meeting was all of those suggestions put together into three different plans.  Each plan –Nature, Sports and Hybrid — had a difference stance.  All three designs were intended to be the extremes of each idea.  For example, the Sports design was heavily based on activities and how many fields/ courts they could fit into the space.  Whereas the Nature had no sport courts and primarily focused on a community relaxation space, and Hybrid was a mix of the two. 

After the initial presentation of these three options we broke off into table groups to come up with our own ideal Linda Beach Park.  My group wasn’t a big fan of any of the three options and decided to cut out certain things from each and create our own model.  The model we came up with was essentially another hybrid model with heavy influence on interactive light sculptures, skatepark, relaxation space and viewing areas of the sport courts. 

Everyone then shared their own creation of the park but there were major concerns about safety, noise, traffic and usage that might come with a skate park or relaxation space. 

This meeting was primarily to see the options of the people who would be using it, and the designers plan to make a fourth and final design based on this meeting and the suggestions that came from it. 

After the meeting was over a few of my friends and I interviewed and discussed ideas with Etienne Fang.  Mrs. Fang is a designer and came to this meeting to show her kids what the design process looks like along with her own interest in the development.  This project was not only important to her kids, who currently attend Beach Elementary School, but she herself attended Beach and wanted to see the possibilities for the space. 

Mrs. Fang thought that the park was in desperate need of a remodel, saying that “some of the bushes there today were there when I was a kid, and they still haven’t grown!”  She liked the idea of having sports influence the development, but liked the idea of art having a bigger role in the design so that kids are exposed to a broader horizon, rather than just sports. 

The overall outcome of the meeting was very positive, everyone was given the opportunity to have their voice heard which will lead to a successful development of the Linda Beach Park.

by Ty Ozsoy, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Jan 17 2018

Sexual Harassment and Intimidation –

School Board President Sarah Pearson and PUSD Superintendent Randall Booker answered the parents’ > letter as follows:

Dear Jennifer and Shannon, [Authors of correspondence to School Board]

Thank you for your letter dated January 8.  The District welcomes your questions and comments and what follows is a response to at least some of your concerns.  Please share this with the other signers, and please encourage them to attend the upcoming meetings (outlined below) to discuss these and related issues.  Community engagement is essential in developing, evaluating, and refining District policies and practices. On behalf of the Board of Education and the District staff, we look forward to working with you and other stakeholders on these critical issues concerning student safety and security.

Review of policies and procedures.
In the Fall of 2017, the District asked its legal counsel to undertake a comprehensive review of all District policies and administrative regulations concerning discrimination, harassment, complaints concerning schools, complaints concerning District employees, Uniform Complaints, and student discipline.  The purpose of the review, which is still underway, is to ensure that the policies are complete, aligned with one another and consistent with current law, and reflect best practices.  The District initiated this review following incidents of hate speech among students during the Spring of 2017 and allegations of teacher misconduct in the Fall of 2017, as the process of investigating these incidents and allegations drew staff attention to apparent gaps, ambiguities, and outdated provisions in District policies.

District staff will present the recommendations of its counsel at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, January 23.  This presentation will be the starting point for a broader community conversation about District policies and procedures, and we strongly encourage you to attend and provide input.

Training and support for teachers and staff.
In November 2017, all District administrative staff received their annual training to prevent, identify, address, and remedy sexual harassment in both student-to-student and adult-to-student situations.  This spring, teachers and classified staff will receive the same training, which is an on-line program designed specifically for use in schools.  In the past, teachers and classified staff received the training every two years, but going forward this training will be required every year for teachers and staff as well as administrators.

In January 2018, administrative staff who are in supervisory roles, as well as counselors and Wellness Center staff, will receive more comprehensive sexual harassment training presented by District’s legal counsel.  This training will be tailored for the District and include small-group discussion and analysis.  In the past, this training was presented every other year.  Going forward, this training will be repeated every year.

In addition, the District is researching training programs for members of the Board of Education.

Assessment of student needs and concerns.
The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) is a statewide survey concerning student health and academic performance, and the District typically administers the survey in odd-number years to 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th graders.  In addition to using the State’s questions, the District can and usually does customize the survey with its own questions.  Last year, the District decided to administer the CHKS every year, so District staff are already preparing survey questions for this February.  The intent is to include questions about harassment, bullying, safety, security, and registering complaints.  The complete list of questions is scheduled be presented to the Board and the community at the Board meeting on Tuesday, February 13.

Review of Board training and decision-making.
On Tuesday, January 30, the Board of Education will hold a workshop on effective governance that will include self-evaluation and reflection.  The workshop, facilitated by a representative of the California School Board Association, will be from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm in the Piedmont Police Department conference room.  All are welcome to attend.  

Please feel free to contact either of us directly if you have further questions. We hope this information is useful and provides some foundation for more in-depth community discussions. On behalf of the Board, we appreciate your thoughtful suggestions and look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

Sarah & Randy
Sarah Pearson, Board President
Randall Booker, Superintendent 
          January 10, 2018
Read the previously published letter sent to the Piedmont Unified School District Board of Directors HERE.
Dec 22 2017

A Tale of Two Ledes…

from The Piedmont Post newspaper cover story of 12/20/2017:
 .
“At a meeting on Monday, December 18 the Piedmont City Council voted 3-2 to approve a conditional use permit for the Piedmont Center for the Arts’ sublease to the Piedmont Post after 90 minutes of deliberation.”  The rest of the front page goes on to explain how the Arts Center functions, never mentioning the opposition to the application.  The story makes no mention of the opposition of several School Board members to the application.
 .
from The Piedmonter newspaper and online cover story of 12/22/2017: 
 .
“Despite objections and numerous calls and emails to the city, the Piedmont  City Council approved – by a split vote – a conditional use permit to the Piedmont Post weekly newspaper to move its offices into the nonprofit Piedmont Center for the Arts.”   The rest of the front page goes on to explain the vote (McBain/King/Andersen in favor, Cavenaugh/Rood opposed) and the failure of the Post editor to respond to calls from the reporter to respond.  The story explicitly mentions written comments from a School Board member opposing the application.
.

One of those stories is good journalism (> Permit OK’d for newspaper to move into Piedmont’s nonprofit arts center), the other buries the story.  Chalk the latter up to “editorial policy” or just bad journalism?

by Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council and Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 19 2017

Dear Piedmont City Council Members,

In addition to questions of propriety and potential tricky First Amendment issues with the City being the Landlord for a press organization, and the potential optics of the Council being seen to essentially provide a subsidy to a news organization, both of which are very important to consider, I have some core public policy concerns around the decision to allow the Piedmont Center for the Arts  (PCA) to sublet City space to any commercial entity at market rates.

  1. The PCA has apparently stated to the Council that it cannot survive without this Sublet Rent

This in itself raises some very troubling questions about the financial stewardship and oversight by the Board of the PCA.  If this is true, it begs the question of whether the City needs active oversight of the PCA.  Here are the facts sourced from the Form 990 filings of the PCA, all which would seem to indicate that it is more than financially viable:

–          In its first 4 years of operations, the PCA was more than self-sustaining with income of $10,000 – $33,000 a year (average of $19k a year from 2012 – 2015)

–          Since its inception, the PCA has had an annual fund raising campaign with active solicitation letters and mailers sent out broadly to residents; the most recent one that I am aware of was in Oct/Nov 2015

–          The PCA has raised, on average, approximately $20k a year in donations from the community, separate and distinct from any revenue from program events, i.e. pure charitable contributions

–          During these years, its rental income from subleasing the space, was not that substantial: Bay Area Children’s Theater was paying $7,200/ year (through 2015)

Therefore, if something changed dramatically in 2016 that no longer makes the PCA financially viable, it begs the question as to what has changed so dramatically in programming and/or community support (donations)?  Either should be cause for concern for the City because one of the main contentions of the PCA when it was established was that it would be self-sustaining and would require no further support from the City.

  1. The PCA received a very generous donation of $100,000 in 2012, which more than guarantees its financial independence

In 2012, the PCA received $100,000 from the Thornborrow Foundation, in the form of an unrestricted grant.  This grant was invested and, to the best of what I can gather from the 990s, has over the years grown to $135,000 plus.

Given this more than generous endowment, and the fact that most of the PCA’s programming is self-sustaining (and if it is not, that raises the question of what has changed in the PCA’s mission), does it not raise the question of why the City of Piedmont should be further subsidizing the PCA to the tune of $50 – $70k a year?

In other words, if the PCA needed $x a year to be financially viable, they should have put that in the original lease and the City would then have considered the implications of giving that additional subsidy to the PCA.  The whole reason that was not necessary was that it was part of the original deal that the PCA made with the City, and what the City’s (and the public’s) understanding of the terms were: give us the building, we will raise funds to renovate it and then we will be completely independent from the City and self-sustaining.

[Extra information on the PCA’s programs: Artists’ rentals (raises revenue), Music recitals (pay for themselves through ticket sales), Juried Art Show (more than pays for itself through entry fees), Theater (??)]

  1. Allowing the PCA to sublet the space to a Commercial Renter is in effect the City increasing the PCA’s subsidy substantially

The financial terms of the original “contract” of the City with the PCA can best be summarized as: you, the PCA will renovate and maintain 801 Magnolia and use the space exclusively to bring Arts to the community.  In return, the City grants you use of the property for 10 years for a nominal rent.  Any way you look at it, this was the City subsidizing the PCA, albeit for a very community-beneficial cause, a cause that I fully support.  (God knows, there should be more set aside for the Arts everywhere!)  The subsidy in this instance being the rent the City could otherwise have obtained from renting out the space itself to a commercial renter for 10 years.

Now the PCA has come to the City and said that the best use for a part of the space is for it to be rented out commercially.  The City’s rationale in providing a heavily rent-subsidized property to the PCA was to facilitate the bringing of Arts to the community, which the PCA has done an admirable job of.  That was the underlying rationale for the economic subsidy (rent-free for 10 years).  Hence the initial sublet clause in the original lease was that any rental would be aligned to the mission of PCA, i.e. bringing arts to the community (and which was the case from 2012 – 2106).  If that whole use condition is removed, and the space can now be sublet to any commercial renter, the entire public policy rationale of giving subsidized rent to the PCA, on that portion of the property, goes away.  Put another way, by allowing the PCA to sublet out space that it is receiving from the City at a heavily subsidized rate (under one pretext), to a commercial entity (whose purpose is completely unrelated to the PCA’s mission), at market rates, is tantamount to the City providing the PCA a substantial, additional subsidy. 

The question for the City Council then is this: shouldn’t the revenue that the City could obtain from itself renting out this portion of 801 Magnolia (and other parts of the building which it has exclusive use of), be part of the City’s overall budget and spending priorities?  Why is a decision to grant the PCA a further subsidy of $50k – $70k a year being taken outside of the context of several other more crucial spending priorities of the City?

My issue is not whether or not the City should be subsidizing an arts organization – God knows we need more of that!  The issue is that this is taxpayer money, valuable revenue that could be used to defray the cost of other City services. Whether or not it is appropriate for the City to spend that much to subsidize the Arts is a question that is most appropriately considered along with other budget priorities of the City, in a more considered process, open to public comment like any other spending priority.  If fact, the very decision by the City to allow a tenant to lease space commercially is an economic decision that the Council and Staff should have vetted no differently than they vet any other spending decision by the City.  Secondly, given the size of the subsidy here, if the PCA is no longer financially viable as they now claim, should there not be oversight of how this money is spent?  Essentially, the City is handing over $50 – $70k worth of potential taxpayer monies to the PCA Board, without any accounting for how that money will be spent.

  1. Any appearance that the Piedmont Post is not paying Market Rent implies that the City is Subsidizing a News Organization

Is Council aware of the actual terms of the sublease between the PCA and the Piedmont Post?  If the Post is not paying what would be considered “market rent” for use of space in the heart of the city, with two parking spaces, then essentially the City, as the landlord, would be subsidizing the Post, which exposes the City to a potential First Amendment lawsuit and the Council members to potential accusations of conflict of interest.  The same holds to a lesser degree to any other commercial lessee, i.e. the City will be subsidizing the entity if it is not paying “market rent”.

Respectfully,

Gautam Wadhwani

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 17 2017

Findings of the Planning Commission are in error, consequently the decision should be put over to a later date.

Dec. 16, 2017

Piedmont City Council

Dec. 18, 2017

RE:  801 Magnolia Avenue: Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and Lease approval for Piedmont Post newspaper.

 Dear Mayor McBain and Council,

          CUP Findings CUPs require that the “use is primarily to serve Piedmont residents.” The Dec. 18, 2017 Piedmont Staff report states that “The Piedmont Post . . . provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and public engagement” at Finding Two. The Dec. 11, 2018 CUP staff report to the Planning Commission states, this CUP “Should not be decided based on the content of the Piedmont Post.” Therefore, it is valid to examine whether the Post provides a forum as it is not an examination of content.          

          A forum is “A medium (such as a newspaper or online service) of open discussion or expression of ideas” (Merriam-Webster); it is a “Public medium . . . used for debates in which anyone can participate” (Business Dictionary). The Post commonly denies letter space to many Piedmont residents. The Post does not provide a forum by any reasonable and commonly understood definition of what a forum is. Finding Two is in error.

The CUP should be rejected as it does not serve Piedmont residents unless the City’s intent is to not serve all residents. Alternately, the CUP can be sent back to the Planning Commission for further community input on whether the Post does provide a forum.

         Approval of the Lease. The City has not determined if it is appropriate to have a relationship with a commercial media firm by leasing space to it on public property.  A media outlet can move elections; therefore it is critical to determine how closely aligned the City should be to a media outlet. The Post views City Staff, elected and appointed officials as “colleagues.” (Paisley Strellis, former Post News Editor and Writer quote at her July 23, 2016 City sponsored retirement party held on public property); the relationship is unacceptable.           

          Is Council equitably representing residents and getting maximum value?  The Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) at 801 Magnolia Avenue is subsidized by $75,000 to $100,000 annually by taxpayers. Will there be a gift of public funds as a pass-through subsidy to a commercial media outlet? 

          The applicant states the sub-let will be at “top dollar.” What is this amount? How was “top dollar” rate determined? What efforts were made to obtain a tenant other than the Post

          There is a conflict of interest. Given the close relationship of the Publisher/Owner to PCA, this appears to be a sweetheart deal that does not serve taxpayers.

          Deny the CUP and disapprove the sub-let. Minimally, as many families are involved in Holiday celebrations, kindly put this matter over to a later date.

Respectfully, Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident 

Cc: Paul Benoit
John Tulloch 

 Kevin Jackson, Planning Director

 Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 13 2017
Comment about Peter Harvey’s opinion on the danger of cell towers.

Peter Harvey, a scientist at the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley, has publicly expressed his opinion on the potential negative health effect of long term exposure to the electromagnetic radiations emitted by cell towers. In the piece published in the Post, he refers to two websites that report on the preliminary results of a study made by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) on rats. Several scientists claim that the NTP results provide “strong evidence for the genotoxicity of cell phone radiation”.

I am personally not concerned at this point in time for three reasons:

  1. Why should cell radiations harm the male’s brain and not the female’s, as reported by the study?

  2. As far as I could find out, the study has not yet been reproduced by another lab. Reproducibility and replicability together are among the main principles of the scientific method. There is an on-going crisis in research with regard to reproducibility as reported by the Journal Nature on May 25, 2016 : 70% of researchers surveyed have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments.

  3. I trust the American Cancer Society’s opinion on cell towers.

If you are still concerned and want to minimize risk, there is a solution to shield yourself and your family from radiation: the Faraday cage. A Faraday cage is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields; it is formed by a mesh of conductive materials. It is very effective if the holes in the mesh are significantly smaller than the wavelength of the radiation. Cell towers wavelengths range from 6 to 15 inches. Best is to use a mesh made out of copper, but other conductive metals such as used in chicken wire would do. A shield can be built around a bed, a room, or a house. Conductive paint and conductive soft fabric are commercially available. Use the “bars” on your cell phone to check effectiveness.

On my side, I am thrilled by the enormous benefits that the cellular technology has brought to the third world. I just hope that research will someday establish a measure of the risk associated with the technology in a way that enables comparison with all the other environmental health hazards in our daily life. Then I may change my mind.

An entry in the blog of Joel Moskowitz (PhD in Social Psychology and Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley) provides a useful comparison of the potential lifetime risk of cell phone radiations relative to the lifetime risk of death by accidents (that is unintentional injuries, such by car, fall, gun fire, …).  The first one is estimated at between 1 in 200 and 1 in 250 after 20 years of cell phone use, as per the peer-reviewed study of glioma (http://www.saferemr.com/2017/02/long-term-cell-phone-use-increases.html). The second one is around 1 in 34 as documented by the Information Insurance Institute (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-mortality-risk).
So one would be about 6 times more likely to die from an accident than from a brain cancer induced by 20 years of cell phone use. True, the study used in this comparison only focus on glioma. But may be Joel can provide a better estimate using his knowledge of all the potential ill-health effects of cell radiations that have been investigated.
For those interested, this is the textbook on shielding: “Architectural Electromagnetic Shielding Handbook: A Design and Specification” by Leland H. Hemming”. It is available at UC Berkeley. A single conductive flat surface between a nearby cell tower and a bedroom can offer some shielding. Outlets are a simple way to ground the surface.
There are also websites that offers products for the home: https://www.lessemf.com/faq-shie.html. Their effectiveness is for sure enhanced by their placebo effect.
 by Bernard Pech,  Piedmont Resident
Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.