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Jun 21 2018

PIEDMONT CITY COUNCIL TO HOST TOWN HALL MEETING ON POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE PIEDMONT CITY CHARTER

Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers

Comments in this article are in response to the City’s public notice and were written by the Piedmont Civic Association aggregating some of the comments by Piedmonters knowledgeable and concerned about the proposed Piedmont City Charter changes. 

The City’s meeting notice was provided by Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit and  John Tulloch City Clerk /Assistant City Administrator, a recently created position,   

Town Hall Meeting – Monday, June 25

“The Piedmont City Council will hold a town hall meeting on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers to receive public input on possible amendments to the City Charter, which may be placed before the voters at the City’s General Municipal Election in November 2018.”

“The discussion of possible Charter amendments began in June 2017 and Council has subsequently discussed the issue at meetings on February 5, 2018, March 5, 2018, April 30, 2018, and June 4, 2018.”

BIG CHANGES TO THE CITY CHARTER

The proposed City Charter changes were devised by the City Administrative staff and the Piedmont City Council to potentially be voted upon by the Piedmont electorate at the General Election in November 2018. For the proposed changes to take effect, Piedmont voters must approve the changes.   All portions of the Charter were not considered in the Charter review.  For instance, Piedmont’s method of borrowing money was not taken up, nor was a clarification on the controversial zoning language in the Charter.  Also, when a mayor recently resigned, the Council  arbitrarily created a new position outside of the Charter called an “Acting Mayor.”   These items and others were not addressed in the proposed changes.

A number or Piedmonters and the Piedmont League of Women Voters had asked the Council to involve the community in the City Charter changes, however all considerations were made at the Council level garnering little public participation and no input from City commissions, committees, or a special committee charged with assessing potential City Charter changes.

ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES

Administrative changes, although de-emphasized in the City’s  presentations on proposed Charter changes, represent the greatest alterations to Piedmont’s form of City Administrator government.  Piedmont has had the City Administrator form of government for generations, and most would agree Piedmont has done well during those many years under the City Administrator form of government. As will be read below, authority historically held by the City Council is being transferred to the City Administrator.

The proposals to change the City Charter would take authority from the City Council and transfer it to the City Administrator.

The Council would retain authority to hire Department Heads, such as the Police Chief, City Clerk, Fire Chief, Finance Director, but the Council could not fire their appointees.  The Department Head termination authority would be granted solely to the City Administrator, presenting a new and different complexity to Piedmont  governance.

The City Administrator in Piedmont, by the current Charter language, has the responsibility for the administration of the City – the day to day operations and administration of the City. The City Administrator reports to the Council on employee performance.  The current Charter language states the Council can direct top managers, however the Charter also makes it clear the Council members are not administrators and  as individuals cannot act to “direct” the managers or the City Administrator.

Taking the authority to direct Department Heads from the Council, as a whole, and bestowings the authority solely upon the City Administrator, is governance commonly considered a City Manager form of government with a directly elected mayor, which Piedmont does not have,.   In Piedmont, the Council appoints from their members an individual to be Piedmont’s Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor has essentially the same authority as the other four Council members other than what is allowed by the Charter or granted by the Council.  In recent years, Council observers have noted more authority has been given by the City Administrator to mayors than the Charter allows without consideration by the  Council as a whole.

 UNLIMITED RESERVES 

The original idea for reviewing the City Charter arose at a Council meeting when it became apparent Piedmont revenues greatly exceeded the Annual Budget 25% limit in the General Fund Reserve. One or more Council members wanted to accumulate larger amounts of money in the General Fund Reserve.  The Charter limit on reserves was intended to stop Councils from excessively taxing Piedmont property owners.

Much of the increase in Piedmont revenues stems from the sale of property resulting in transfer taxes and a higher basis on Piedmont property taxes.  To retain the excess revenues  when the 25% General Fund Reserve limit had been met, the Council has directed the excess  revenue into various newly established reserve funds,  At the same time, the City Council has continued to levy the full voter approved property tax, plus an annual percentage increase regardless of the windfall tax revenues.  The practice of placing excess revenues into special reserve funds has been put into practice without changing the City Charter.

The following language in quotes is from the City notice followed by PCA comments:

“At its June 4th meeting, the City Council directed staff to schedule a town hall meeting in order to allow residents an additional opportunity to review the changes that have been discussed at previous Council meetings. This is an opportunity for residents to ask questions and express their opinions on the proposed Charter amendments prior to the Council placing a measure on the November ballot.”

Unlike past reviews of the City Charter, there has been no comprehensive look at the entire Charter nor an independent committee focused on the pros and cons of the proposed Charter changes.

Presumably, the Council does not want to put something on the ballot that is likely to be rejected by Piedmont voters.  Yet, the Town Hall Meeting comes after Council decisions have essentially been made regarding proposed changes to the City Charter. The Council must now decide if their proposals will be accepted by Piedmont voters and if it is timely to place the proposals before the voters.  Each time the Charter is placed on a ballot, it incurs cost for the City.

“Because the Charter is effectively the City of Piedmont’s constitution, the City Council wants to receive as much resident input as possible on the proposed amendments.”

The Town Hall meeting will not include a comprehensive discussion and exchange of ideas on the Charter changes – the pros and cons – for each public speaker is typically given only 3 minutes to address even this voluminous subject. Decisions were made by the City Council and staff on the proposals to be considered at the meeting.

Depending on citizen input on the proposals, the Council may or may not decide to place the changes on the November ballot.  The Council could defer action pending further consideration of unintended consequences and/or benefits to Piedmont. 

Some of the proposed amendments to the Charter are as follows: [The order of the City changes has been changed here to prioritize important issues first. The most significant proposed changes were previously placed by the City staff toward the end of their announcement, which might lead readers to assume the administrative changes are minor.] 

  • ” In Article 3 – Administration, several changes are proposed to clarify reporting structure for the Officers of the City (Department Heads). At the April 30th meeting, Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they are directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

This is one of the most important, if not the most important change being proposed to the City Charter. The above statement by the City hints at the split authority of the Council.  For example, the Council would appoint Department Heads, but the Council could not dismiss problem Department Heads, creating confusion and potential problems for the City Administrator, who would be the sole authority in dismissal, “serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

Department Heads in Piedmont have always served at the pleasure of the City Council and could be directed by the Council as a whole, but not by individual Council members.  For example, the Council might direct the Police Chief to step up night patrols: the Council might direct the Finance Director to find ways to save the City money; the Council might direct the Recreation Director to develop more programs for senior citizens. The Department Heads were held accountable to the City Council with advice from the City Administrator.

In meeting identified needs of citizens, the change proposed totally eliminates the Council’s authority to direct Department Heads.  The Council authority would  be transferred to the City Administrator.

Piedmont, as a small city, has thrived under the City Administrator form of government; the City Manager form of government found in other, many larger, cities, with a directly elected mayor, has the potential for creating new problems regarding Council authority and responsiveness to citizens.

  • ” In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.”

The General Fund Reserve limit of 25% originated from concern to not levy more taxes than was necessary to operate the City while providing an emergency reserve during an economic slump or great emergency.  The City Council and City staff in recent years have  diverted excess revenues from the significant property and transfer tax windfall into various fund reserves.  There is no language proposed to limit the Council’s ability to tax property owners.

  • ” In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.”

Bidding requirements are one way to publicly open up the procurement of public services, consultants, contractors, and other City needs rather than continuing with current contractors on a long term basis without going through an open bidding process.  Most  cities and the state encourage open bidding to benefit taxpayers and the community at large.

  • “The Council also directed staff to prepare amendments to several other sections of the Charter to remove outdated provisions and modernize language.”

This part of the City Charter proposals presents many questions for it is largely unidentified.  What  provisions and what antiquated language?  Why not list the outdated provisions? New Department Head positions have been added with no general public notice.  Is Piedmont’s bureaucracy inadequate to serve our small community? Once new positions are added to the Charter, employment cost can be greater and more permanent.

  • ” A modification of City Council term limits to lengthen the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office again from four to eight years after leaving office. (Section 2.03)”

The change listed above is of little impact for the City Council has only had two Council contenders seeking re-election after a 4 years hiatus. One contender was elected, the other was not.  Changing this in the Charter is of debatable value.

  •  “An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council to allow the Council sixty days to fill a vacancy. If the Council doesn’t act within those sixty days, a special election would be called to fill the vacancy. Under current provision, the Council has thirty days to make an appointment and if it doesn’t act, the Mayor can make an appointment. (Section 2.05(c))”

A thirty day period in which to fill a vacant Council seat is common for elective bodies.  Waiting 60 days to fill a vacant seat potentially leaves the Council vulnerable to inaction on important civic issues when there are only four members of the Council and a split vote occurs.  There has never been a time when the Council could not fill a vacant seat during the mandated thirty day period.

  • ” A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis. (Section 2.07 (a))\”

Councils throughout the area hold two or more regular Council meetings per month. Language could be proposed to accommodate changes in schedules. 

  • ” The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)”

Prohibition against employment discrimination is the law and does not require a Charter change.  Including the proposed language in the Charter will make no change to how Piedmont handles employment discrimination because Piedmont honorably and consistently follows state and federal laws barring discrimination.

  • ” The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments.”

The Board of Education must take a position on the City Charter changes by resolution. The details of the proposed changes are not noted here.

  • “A marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed amendments is available on the City’s web site at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.   Pursuant to section 9.07 of the Charter, any proposed amendments must be presented to the qualified voters of the City for approval.”

The marked up version has been difficult to follow, making the sweeping changes difficult for the public to understand.

  • “Public comment is invited and encouraged at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.
  • The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.”

The full staff report for the meeting can be accessed > HERE.

COMMENTS MAY BE SENT TO THE COUNCIL MEMBERS AS BELOW:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Betsy Smegal Andersen bandersen@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 Unexpired Term Exp. 11/18
Jun 10 2018

Flawed process for changing the Piedmont City Charter has produced new issues and unknown rationale.  Concerns have focused on such proposals as: Unlimited reserve funds, changes to management of employees, elimination of Council bimonthly meetings, elimination of posted notices, and questionable designations of City officers. – 

The following letter was sent to the Piedmont City Council –

TO: City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov
RE: Comments Regarding Proposed Changes to City Charter June 3, 2018

Dear City Council:

I am writing to oppose the proposal to amend the City Charter, for two reasons: 1) process, and 2) substance.

PROCESS

I respectfully submit that the process is flawed and should be revisited. Here are some thoughts in that connection:

First, what is the problem we are trying to solve? Although the June 4, 2018 Staff Report states that the City Council has been discussing changes to the Charter since June 2017, it does not contain reasons for the proposed changes. Without a “statement of the problem,” how does the Council know what changes need to be made? And if we make changes to solve undefined problems, might the proposed changes create unintended consequences?

Second, what are the pros and cons of the proposed solutions to the problem? The Staff Report does not provide pros and cons, or alternative solutions to address perceived problems with the current Charter.

Third, shouldn’t workshops be held to determine the level of public support for the changes before they are submitted to Piedmont citizens for a vote? Deciding to put the Charter changes on the ballot without adequate public input is a backwards process.

SUBSTANCE

In addition to having serious concerns with the process the Council is following in this regard, I also have some substantive issues and questions:

Section 2.03. Because the Staff Report does not indicate what problem this “out of office” change attempts to solve, it’s not clear that this change is needed. If there is indeed a problem to be solved, and there’s public support for such change, a corresponding change should be made in Section 7.02 concerning the School Board.

Section 2.07 would delete the current requirement that the Council meet at least twice a month, and instead would only require that the Council meet “regularly.” This is totally inadequate. While I can understand that a twice monthly meeting requirement might be out of step with what is currently considered good governance and might make it difficult for some otherwise qualified candidates to serve on the Council, this change goes too far and could allow meetings only every other month, or quarterly. At a minimum, this section should provide for regular monthly meetings.

Section 2.08 states how the Mayor is selected. Should we consider having the Mayor be elected by the voters, as in many other communities?

Section 2.12(D) would eliminate the requirement to post ordinances on bulletin boards, in favor of using the City website. To ensure that citizens know they should look on the website for ordinances, I suggest that the City also be required to post a notice describing the ordinance (if not including the entire ordinance) in one or more newspapers of general circulation.

Article III’s changes are problematic. First, I’m not sure it is a good idea to give the City Administrator so much power without Piedmont having a citizen-elected Mayor to partner with the City Administrator. If public input indicates support for giving the City Administrator the power to manage and dismiss all City officers, but having the Council keep the authority to eliminate or consolidate these officer positions, then this Article should be overhauled completely (for instance, deleting from the Charter the listing of City officers, since if the Charter states that the City “shall” have certain officers, it’s unclear that the Council could eliminate such positions without an amendment to the Charter).

Section 4.03 proposes to eliminate the 25% ceiling on the General Fund Reserve. This proposal is outrageous. Piedmont’s taxes are much higher than those in comparable cities. Many (those on fixed incomes, or young couples, for instance) struggle to afford the current rates. While keeping adequate reserves is important, there’s been no case made by Staff or the Council that the City needs more than 25% in reserves. The cap should stay.

Section 4.10 governs franchises. It’s unclear what this section is intended to cover. Is this a section that should be considered for updating or deletion?

Section 4.11 proposes to eliminate the requirement that all public projects be competitively bid. This is unacceptable. A requirement to competitively bid ensures that public funds are spent wisely. Competitive bidding should be the rule, and deleting this language opens the door to wasting public funds.

Article V. If the Charter is being examined fully, the Council might consider whether most of the provisions of Article V belong in the Charter, or could instead be moved to an ordinance. While the updating of Section 5.02 is admirable, the law keeps changing. To eliminate the need to constantly update the Charter, it might be easier to simply say that the City will not discriminate on any prohibited basis.

Sincerely,
Kathleen Quenneville, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. 
Jun 10 2018

End of the year letter …

Dear Families and Community,

It’s hard to believe the school year has come to an end! As we reflect on the 2017-18 school year, educators across the District are feeling great pride in the academic and social-emotional growth of students. Together, let us celebrate students’ hard work and engagement in their learning process.

Please click on the following link for a year-end report that highlights many District initiatives from this year. The District’s ultimate goal is to provide an extraordinary education for all students. Each initiative furthered this goal in one of the following ways: updating and refining our curriculum and instruction; promoting deeper levels of student engagement, critical thinking, and inquiry; providing a safe, appropriate and inclusive learning environment for all students; or adapting our administrative practices and structures to better meet the needs of students and better support educators.

I would like to thank our teachers, staff and administrators for their incredible dedication and for all they do on behalf of our students. They are making a remarkable team of professionals who continually strive to improve teaching and learning. I would also like to thank the many organizations, families, and volunteers who partner with the District to enhance and expand opportunities for our students. I am grateful for this breadth and depth of community support for public education, and proud of what we have accomplished together this year.

Have a wonderful summer!

Sincerely,

Randall Booker
Superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School DistrictMay 31, 2018

Jun 5 2018
     In reply to Superintendent Booker’s response to my recent article “A Costly Mistake”, the salient issue is whether or not the high school can get by without adding eight portables for a period of three years. I am not an educator, but I can add and subtract.

    The high school now has 39 designated classrooms on the campus, two of which are used for other purposes. A normal school day includes seven periods. The Administration building currently has 8 classrooms used by 12 teachers for a total of 52 periods a day, nearly 100 per cent utilization of the 56 total periods. When the Admin building is demolished, there will be 31 classrooms remaining on the campus with a total of 217 teaching periods in each school day.

    The PHS Staff Directory provides the specific classroom and number of periods assigned in that classroom for each member of the faculty. My tabulation shows that at present the Math Science building has a surplus of 8 periods, the Library has a surplus of 18 periods, and MHS has a surplus of 28 teaching periods. If the district temporarily cancels out ceramics, MHS will have a surplus of 32 periods. Total underutilization will then be 58 of the 217 periods, six more than the 52 needed to accommodate all of the teachers on the staff including those displaced by demolition of the Admin building. The 31 remaining classrooms will be no more heavily used than are the existing classrooms in the Admin building — and for 1.5 years under my proposal instead of 3 years.

    Making enhanced use of the library conference room and subdividing just one of the existing classrooms into 4 smaller seminar rooms would provide additional flexibility. The PHS principal’s office can be conveniently relocated across the arcade to the rooms now occupied by the teacher’s lounge and teacher’s resource room in the library. Teachers might, in fact, benefit by sharing the student lounge with the students. And storage space, even if temporarily rented, is relatively easy to provide.

    Other issues may need to be resolved, but the high school can get by without adding eight portable classrooms, and the district could proceed now with the demolition of the Admin building. That much is indisputable.

William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jun 2 2018

Piedmont City Council to Consider Proposed Charter Changes June 4, 2018, 7:30 p.m. City Hall:

If the City Administrator’s requests to change the City Charter are approved, the City Council could take a back seat in Piedmont’s governance.

Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit proposed eliminating the long-time appointment power of the City Council in the City Charter. 

The City Council has always appointed and hired key administrative positions – Police Chief, Fire Chief, City Clerk, Finance Director, Public Works Director, etc. However, the Council told Benoit on April 30, 2018 they wanted to retain the Council’s hiring authority per the City Charter.  Yet Benoit apparently convinced the Council that he, the City Administrator, should be the sole individual authorized to fire or terminate key managers, taking authority away from the Council in an unusual change to Council authority.

Readers will find the administrative changes repeatedly diminish the authority of the Council forfeiting their authority to the City Administrator.

The form of government proposed by Benoit is usually termed a City Manager form of government joined by a strong mayor, which Piedmont does not elect.  Oakland has a City Manager form of government as does Alameda and Astoria, Oregon, where Benoit was employed for many years prior to coming to Piedmont. Each of these cities have a separately elected Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor is elected from within the Council  by the five Council members. 

Many are familiar with Oakland struggles, but perhaps less familiar with Alameda’s recent troubles when the Council terminated their City Manager over a hiring situation. Piedmont has not had such disruption and the City Council has worked collaboratively when selecting officers such as the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and others.  It has been stated that it is better to have 5 members of the Council selecting  the City officers rather than one unelected person – the City Administrator – making the selections and terminations.

Despite pleas for an independent committee to study and evaluate proposed changes to the Piedmont City Charter, none was formed by the City Council.  The Administration driven proposals have moved forward following a Council Study Session.  

This PCA article points out some of the critical issues, but as with any City Charter the devil is in the details, of which there are many.  The Council, apparently, will be presenting forums after they decide what should be placed on a Piedmont  November 2018 election ballot to seek required ratification

~~~~~~~~~~~

Below are various changes noted by City staff as substantive.  Readers will note in the full draft linked below there are many other important issues.

   The pros and cons of the changes have not been presented by staff.

Important administrative changes of the Charter were listed last in the staff report linked below. The order has been changed here. 

  • ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROVERSY: Council would hire top managers, but could not fire them. In Article 3 – Administration – Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they will be directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.
  • The Council acted against the recommendation of the City Administrator and decided to retain their long held ability to select and appoint (hire) Department Heads per the current Charter requirement appointments for Department Heads, while letting the City Administrator be the only individual who fire the Department heads.
  •   ISSUE: The Council relinquishment of their ability to also terminate (fire) Department Heads –  the Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, City Clerk, etc. presents potential new problems for the City Council authority.
  • New positions have been added to the list of permanent City of Piedmont positions.  The number of  Department Head employeeswill be permanently placed in the City Charter potentially making it more difficult to consolidate or eliminate positions. 
  •  ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL;  NO LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF RESERVE FUNDS. In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.
  • Elimination of the amount of money the City can place in reserve, while continuing to tax property owners has been one of  the more noticed proposed changes to the City Charter.  The original goal of limiting reserves was to control taxation without a purpose. In recent years, the Council and Administration has circumvented the limitation by building up reserves in numerous specials funds presenting a bountiful amount of money stored by the millions for special purposes.   The change appears arbitrary. 
  • ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL: BIDDING and PURCHASING:  In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.
  • Many City service providers are currently not obtained through a formal bidding process. Regardless of cost to the City, old friends, contractors,  and work companions often continue for years without ever going through a formal procurement process.  Some suggest Piedmont has not always performed due diligence with the millions of dollars spent for outside services and have suggested stronger language rather than more relaxed requirements. Piedmont adopted a stronger procurement, liability and project policy led by the League of Women Voters of Piedmont.  There has been no comment on the impact of the proposed Charter change to the policy. 
  •  
  •  The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)  This makes Piedmont Charter language compliant with U.S. and state law without impacting Piedmont’s current compliant practices.
  • The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments. There is no validation provide for the Board of Education position on the Charter change. 

POLITICAL: LIMITING SERVICE BY FORMER COUNCIL MEMBERS.  The proposal would increase the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office from 4 to 8 years after leaving office.

 Only two Council members have in the past 3 decades attempted to be re-elected following 4 years of ineligibility.  One former Councilmember was not re-elected, another was elected, but recently resigned over a scandal.  A local newspaper’s publicity for those two candidates influenced the election more than the candidates’ efforts.

POLITICAL: HOW LONG SHOULD THE COUNCIL HAVE TO FILL A COUNCIL VACANCY.   An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council would be extended to allow the Council 60 days rather than just 30 days to fill a vacancy.

 Recent history has proven the Council has been able to readily fill numerous Council vacancies within the allotted 30 day time period. The intention of the Charter was to expeditiously fill a vacancy for a full Council composition of 5 members rather than unnecessarily remain at 4 or fewer members. 

  • CONTROVERSIAL: WHEN TO HOLD COUNCIL MEETINGS A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis.

    Change could be arbitrary. 

    Residents often plan their public participation schedules around knowing when the Council will meet  – the first and third Mondays of each month. With recent changes to the Zoning Code, not knowing when the Council will next meet to consider a matter opens up conflicting issues. From high school students to public participants, having regularly scheduled meetings, a standard for most cities,  is beneficial.  If three (the required amount) Council members cannot attend a regularly scheduled  meeting, then the meeting would fall to the next day or week. Going on the City Council is known to require certain meetings per month thus allowing the Council and public set dates for planning purposes. Scheduling of matters can be crucial to the consideration of many issues and the orderly functioning of government.  Reducing the frequency of Council meetings puts them at a disadvantage in providing the leadership the citizenry expects of their elected officials.

Amendments are also proposed to a number of other sections of the Charter to remove stated outdated provisions and modernize language. Click to read a marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed Charter amendments.

READ the full STAFF REPORT > HERE.

Citizens are invited and encouraged to comment at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA  94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.

The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.

For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.

May 31 2018
A Costly Mistake

On November 8, 2016, following a well-orchestrated campaign, 73% of Piedmont voters supported a $66 million bond issue to modernize and add classrooms to the high school campus, which includes the Millennium High School.

Subsequently, the Board approved selection of an architectural firm (HKIT) and proceeded with a plan focusing on two major projects: a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) Building that is expected to cost $37.5 million, and a new Alan Harvey Theater costing $16.3 million. Together these projects, including necessary demolition, account for 81.5% of the $66 million bond and will take about three years to complete, during which time the schools will be without a theater. The STEAM building includes 19 classrooms, and the theater adds a drama classroom. Eight existing classrooms will be demolished, so the net gain will be 12 new classrooms, a 30% increase in the number of classrooms but with no new teachers added and only a modest increase projected in high school enrollment. The balance of the bond money will be spent on modernizing existing classrooms and other needed improvements on the campus.

In sequence, the approved plan is to demolish the theater in the summer of 2020, and construct a new three-story STEAM building on its site. When STEAM is completed, the existing Administration Building will be demolished, and a replacement theater with a drama classroom will be constructed on its site.

Well before the election, Superintendent Booker established a Facilities Steering Committee to report directly to him. This committee, a mix of school staff and Piedmont residents, reviewed the Facilities Master Plan prepared by QKA Architects that included a list of needed school projects that totaled an estimated $137 million, twice the district’s current bonding capacity. Hence, the list had to be cut in half. The committee then decided that the highest priority should be given to the high school and its need for more and better classrooms. After thoughtful deliberation, the committee decided on three site plan options for consideration, and these were the only options open for discussion at three Town Hall Meetings held in April, 2017.

At some point in the process, the committee was told, mistakenly in my opinion, that if the Administration building was demolished before the STEAM building was completed, the high school could not function without first installing eight portable classrooms at a cost of $5 million. This effectively eliminated one of the three options, and ultimately led to the Board’s adopted plan. Board President Sarah Pearson said, “One of the reasons rebuilding a new theater [on the site of the Administration building] became such an attractive option was because of the cost of interim housing and not having much space. It was the most pragmatic decision — not to put money in portables.”

The fact is that a careful review of the high school teachers and their assigned classrooms showed that the school could function perfectly well without the need for costly portables during construction.

My detailed analysis found that of the 39 designated classrooms, eight in the Administration Building are nearly fully utilized, but the remaining 31 are typically underutilized. In fact, one designated classroom is now being used for storage and another for school publications. There would be some minor inconveniences, but these are far outweighed by the multiple advantages of constructing a new STEAM building on the site of the existing Administration Building, and a new or revamped theater at its present location.

Total construction time and campus disruption would be cut in half from 3 to 1.5 years, a significant saving in construction cost escalation.Moreover, there is no immediate need to replace the theater. ADA access and other suggested improvements could be made at a cost of less than $10 million. Only minor structural upgrade is needed. If theater replacement is deferred until additional bonding capacity is available, first phase funds would be available to address the much-needed Middle School upgrades, a rational trade-off.

In December 2017, I sent an e-mail to the Board and staff outlining in detail how this could be accomplished. To date, I have received no substantive reply, except a comment by Dr. Pearson that it is too late to make these changes. I do not believe this. It took only about 4 months for the construction documents for the Alan Harvey Theater to be prepared in 2014. Similarly, HKIT could most assuredly revise the construction documents needed for the two buildings in a relatively short period of time. They would not be starting from scratch. Even if the two projects have already been submitted to the State Division of Architects — and I don’t know that they have— it is not too late to consider revisiting the issue and make these siting improvements given the multiple advantages of time and cost.

 William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
May 22 2018

The following is a letter provided by Piedmont Superintendent, Randall Booker, written and signed by all of the Superintendents in Alameda County. 

An Open Letter to California’s Next Governor

The children of California deserve better. They deserve better than underfunded schools, stretched resources, eliminated programs, and a lack of essential services. They deserve better than shuttered buildings, achievement gaps, and inequity.

They deserve great schools to match the fast-changing, dynamic world in which they will attempt to find their place. They deserve well-paid teachers, state-of-the-art facilities and technology, relevant and rigorous programs, small classes, and pathways to college and career.

They deserve more than merely “adequate.” They deserve more of the good news that Governor Brown delivered last month, when he announced an infusion of much-needed funding for public education.

Kofi Annan, the former General Secretary of the United Nations once said, “Education is the premise of progress in every society.” We could not agree more, and we seek a new leader in our state who agrees as well.

California public schools, which educate more than six million children in this great state, still face a serious fiscal crisis despite the recent increase in state funding, and we do not believe it needs to be this way. As the superintendents and educators who proudly represent the diverse, vibrant communities of Alameda County, we come directly to you as a candidate for the highest office in our state, demanding change to the troubling narrative of funding inadequacy and to make public education in our state the top priority.

We sincerely appreciate the current efforts to put more funding into the system. They are welcome and necessary. Yet we are still profoundly disappointed to be ranked dead last or at the bottom of every important measure of investment in our public schools. This is unacceptable.

Billions of dollars borrowed from our children’s schools over the past decade have yet to be restored to 2007-08 purchasing power levels after adjustments for inflation. Staggering burdens in new costs and unfunded mandates continue to saddle local school districts. It may be true that money is not the only solution to raising academic achievement, but when California ranks near the bottom of educational investment nationally, it has an unmistakably negative impact, especially in a thriving and globally competitive economy. Our state cannot afford to continue to shortchange our public education system, to handicap generations of young people. Because California is the 6th largest economy in the world, there is no excuse for the poor funding of our schools.

The consequences of insufficient funding for California schools are not difficult to spot:

  •  California ranks 48th nationally in student-to-teacher ratio
  •  48th in students-per-staff-member
  •  49th in the number of counselors we provide our students
  •  45th in percent of taxable income spent on education and
  •  46th in the nation in per-pupil spending

Does being No. 46 truly exemplify the Golden State’s value we place in one of our most treasured assets, our children? We don’t believe it does.

Forty years ago, California was in the top 10 in every meaningful category related to public education. We’ve lost our place, stuck among the bottom five states for the past decade, and, as a result, we’ve lost ground nationally on critical achievement measures.

As the state has attempted to restore education funding to the pre-budget-cut levels of the last decade, billions in new, mandated costs have amounted to giving with one hand and taking with the other. Last June, state leaders passed a budget providing $1.36 billion in new ongoing local funding to K-12 schools, yet legislators also demanded we pay an extra $1 billion in brand new costs in order to fix issues beyond our control. The new unfunded mandates passed on to school districts, including but not limited to increasing pension costs, do not move the needle on student achievement. These costs are frequently counted and referenced by legislators as if we have those dollars to spend on teaching and learning… when, in reality, we do not.

The impacts of these mandated costs are disastrous to school districts. We simply cannot continue to do more with less, and the days of making it work are over as pressures mount across the system. Districts are already significantly shortchanged for services required to educate students with disabilities. Schools will close. Programs will be cut. Our valued teachers will not be able to keep up with the cost of living in our expensive state and they will leave. Community confidence will be undermined by the difficult decisions that boards and leaders across the state need to make.

As you travel across California, you can see the grim reality that is now defining the future of our state. The economy, jobs, housing, healthcare, and crime are all issues that can be addressed only if California steps up to meet the daunting challenges of dramatic underinvestment in our schools. A real fiscal solvency crisis looms over our public schools, and you only need to examine reports by California School Boards Association (CSBA) and others to know the stark circumstances we face now.

It is not enough to provide one-time monies as a replacement for on-going, consistent funding. It is not nearly enough to raise school funding back to the purchasing power we had in 2007-2008, especially given that California ranked in the bottom of school funding nationally that year as well. We must aspire to greater outcomes for California students. We hope you will commit to robust, consistent education funding as a public investment that will provide the best possible return the state has ever realized. We seek your commitment to springboard California into the top 10 funded states in the nation in order to maintain our state’s place as a leading contributor to the world economy.

We want you to take responsibility with us for educating the children of California, and we will not wait quietly for that to happen. We will band together, and we will rally our communities to join us to speak up and speak out. We will support a new governor who shows leadership; one who seeks partnership. And we will loudly oppose anyone who is not willing to make the children of this state their highest priority.

We thank you for committing to the citizens of California at such a critical time. Our families and students need your help.

READ the entire letter HERE.

May 20 2018
 Piedmont High School Student views of May 9 School Board Meeting –
Sex, Science, and Systematic Slaughter

Have you ever wondered why Piedmont High School doesn’t distribute condoms? Are you curious as to the state of our upcoming chemistry curriculum? Do you wish PHS would up its Holocaust education game? If yes, you really should have attended May 9, 2018 School Board meeting.

Have no fear – the Piedmont School Board meets every 2nd and 4th Wednesday to develop curriculum, hear from community members about past and present issues, and keep tabs on Piedmont’s lovely and lively student body. But just in case School Board meetings are to you as “Game of Thrones” is to me (where you can’t miss a single episode lest you miss a plot point larger than Clifford, the Big Red Dog), here’s a recap:

Not sure how recently you’ve looked at a textbook, but apparently for our PHS AP Spanish students, it’s been a while. In their classroom, there are textbooks enough for only half the class! Estudiantes Sarah Machle and Kate Broening came to the podium to make their request: more textbooks! They also brought to attention a desire for online access to textbooks. With increase in technology use, online textbooks could make education more efficient and easier for students (not to mention physically lighten the load).

“The AP Spanish class has 13 more text books than students. There are not enough textbooks for each student to have one book for home and one book for the class.”

But alas! Conflict in the courtroom! John Savage, PHS chemistry teacher, takes a moment to speak his mind. Chromebooks, he argues, with all their access to games and platforms, have made it increasingly difficult for teachers to keep students on task. He has found printed materials to be more effective overall, and really wishes that the School Board would consult with teachers more before making decisions that so heavily affect the learning atmosphere.

Now, I won’t lie – I have spent many-a-class-period playing snake, sudoku, and 2048, so I can’t say that Mr. Savage’s argument is invalid. And I too have found that most often, I absorb material more thoroughly when not presented on a screen… so, sorry Sarah and Kate, I’m with Savage on this one.

Next came Maya Guzdar, PHS senior who was quick to ask the real question: how can PHS students get condoms? According to the California Healthy Youth Act, students have the right to obtain healthcare items at school, and with the Wellness Center already distributing physical and mental health necessities such as breath mints and tea, how big of a difference is condoms, really? I joke, but in reality, Maya has brought forth an excellent point – if sexually active teens can’t purchase condoms and don’t have parents who are down with diddling, is the school hurting or helping by providing protection?

The brilliant Mr. Savage has something to say to this one too – yes, the school should provide sexual protection because yes, condoms in a fishbowl really are beneficial to students lives. According to two statistics (of which I did not catch their origin), 25% of STDs exist in teens, and contrary to what some may think, schools providing condoms have had no history of increasing sexual activity of students!

When I asked Mr. Savage if he planned on pursuing the issue Maya had raised, he said that he “will probably not actively participate in any action to bring condoms to the school other than to continue to speak in favor of it… the School Board can choose to let it slide, and hope that students forget about it, and the students might. If the students press, then the School Board will have to act,” so I guess it’s up to us if we want the school to provide us raincoats before this next year’s rainy season.

After Maya came Clara Stevens, at the podium to discuss possibly the farthest thing from sex: kindergarteners and pumpkins. A teacher at Beach Elementary School, Ms Stevens has been working on integrating kindergarteners into the school experience by having them eat lunch with the “big kids.” With the School-Board-approved extended school day, the students have been able to resurrect their gardens and plant food and other plants such as (you guessed it) pumpkins! Nothing is quite as cute as the image of tiny kindergarteners with massive pumpkins, so thanks to the School Board for that one.

Unfortunately, I had an issue of my own to address, one whos accompanying images are not quite as pleasant: holocaust education. This year, I could not help but note that Holocaust Memorial Day came and went without even a mention on the loudspeaker (we announce birthdays for Pete’s sake, how hard could it be). Now, I understand that school assemblies and Holocaust speakers can be logistically hard to manage, but it seems to me that in the current climate, Holocaust education should maybe be considered a priority. And I have to hand it to the school, I really do – not even two full days later, I was called in with a few peers to discuss with administration and select faculty current PHS Holocaust education and their plans for future improvement. I learned that the school has already been working with my youth-group director, Rabbi Akiva Naiman (who comes to the high school to help run the Jewish Student Union), on ideas for next year, including bringing in Holocaust survivors. I am glad to say I truly felt heard, as if my feedback genuinely mattered, and I cannot express enough appreciation to the administration for making sure that my concern was not left unaddressed.

But sorry administration, there *is* someone out there cooler than you… Mazel Tov to Holly Hanke, winner of the Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award!! My family doesn’t have much of a presence in Piedmont, but if yours does even a tad, I’m sure you’ve heard of Holly.  I mean, after 12 years of service to Piedmont programs like the Piedmont Portal, email bulletins, CHIME, PAINTS, PEF, the giving campaign, the Harvest Festival, and more, I imagine it would be hard not to known Holly. Half the crowd at the School Board meeting came for Holly, and when she walked out, she left with not only her family and friends, but also with an original art piece made and presented to her by Saatvik Dube, AP Art student at Piedmont High.

After Holly and her fan club departed, the Board held a Public Hearing on the proposed levy of School Support Tax Measure, which allows a levy of a maximum of 2% increase a year. Mr. Schneider spoke in favor of the parcel tax, suggesting that maybe 10% of school funding shouldn’t be raised from fundraisers, rather it should be more solid and stable.

The later chunk of the meeting was spent discussing the updated curriculum for both Chemistry and Honors Chemistry at PHS. In case you missed the news, California adopted new science standards as of September 4, 2013, with three main components: core ideas (what students know), cross cutting concepts (how students can think across concepts), and engineering practices (how students can think like an engineer).

Chemistry teachers Tom Huffaker and the previously introduced John Savage presented the updated curriculum for approval, and touched on how they fulfilled the three main goals of the new standards in each unit. The Board and students in the audience asked a few questions: how does honors differ from regular? Will there be an AP Chemistry? Will students still read The Martian? The teachers answered them all (it’s faster, not yet, and of course!). Now, all Mr. Savage has to do is go back and see if the Board has come up with any more – “If/when they adopt the new curriculum, Mr. Huffaker and I will start developing detailed lessons and units,” he says. It’s looking good Mr. Savage, Mr. Huffaker. Keep up the good work!

After the science-geeks came the math-nerds, and the well-loved Mr. Hayden stepped up to go over the new math tracks for PMS and PHS students. Unfortunately, us kiddos were kicked out right about then, but not before we got to hear about the new Honors Math Analysis class, and various integrated math courses. I’m a proud Woman in STEM, so I gotta say, they looked pretty cool.

That was all I was able to witness, but if you’re still curious about the state of the curricula, or the absence of condoms in the Wellness Center, or anything else discussed in this past week’s meeting, I encourage you to go to the next one yourself, and truly experience the magic of community that is in full swing at every Piedmont School Board meeting.

By Zoe Levin, Piedmont High School Senior

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 Condoms, Chemistry, and Social Justice at City Hall

On Wednesday, May 9th, the Piedmont school board held its bi-monthly meeting at City Hall, providing the opportunity for various teachers, community members, and students to share their views regarding important community issues. At the recent meeting, attendees discussed everything from new honors chemistry curriculum to condoms in schools to social justice and equity in the classroom.

When asked how she handles such extensive meetings covering such wide ranges of topics, Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) Board of Education President Sarah Pearson responded, “It’s often more helpful to listen than to speak.”

Yet it appeared that not many attendees took Pearson’s advice – the meeting ran over two hours, and almost every attendee spoke on an issue.

Mr. Kessler introduced the first major issue, discussing the importance of equity and social justice at Piedmont’s schools. He referenced gun violence awareness, gender equity, sexual harassment training, and other issues topical to this year. While Mr. Kessler only spoke for a few minutes, his topics of social justice and teachable equity were continually discussed throughout the meeting.

Following Mr. Kessler, Heather Frank took the stand, thanking the Parent Clubs for all of their work helping in fundraising to create safer, more equitable schools. In quick succession, Josh Miller, the Millennium High School student representative, contributed a short recap on both Piedmont and Millennium’s upcoming activities: AP tests, ASB elections, sporting events, and service learning projects.

At this point, the Board opened the floor for any public concerns. Attendees who wished to share concerns filled out a speaker card that allowed them time to share their thoughts. Students Kate Broening and Sarah Machle spoke first, promoting the use of online textbooks over physical ones. I spoke next challenging Piedmont and Millennium high schools for not providing condoms for students. I referenced the California Healthy Youth Act passed in 2016 that prohibits schools from teaching abstinence only or religious sexual education. Science teacher John Savage spoke to support my condom proposal, backing me up with more statistics.

Later, Pearson commented “I was very impressed that you had prepared comments and that you did research. You made a strong argument for providing condoms. I was impressed that Mr. Savage reinforced your argument with more statistics. Well done!”

Student Zoe Levin addressed Piedmont School’s ignorance of National Holocaust Remembrance Day and pushed for the schools to host a holocaust speaker to increase recognition. Student Will Reicher pushed for a more holistic understanding of Piedmont’s slogan “Achieve the Honorable.”

Following this “open mic” period, the Board commenced one of the main events of the night, the awarding of community member Holly Hanke with the Art Hecht Volunteer of the Year Award. Ms. Hanke first enjoyed a long introduction from a Board Member in which her vast volunteer experience was described. For her award, she was given her choice of high school AP art students’ portfolios. She chose student Saatvik Dube’s portrait depicting the negative effects of social media. Holly delivered a speech thanking everyone for their kindness and appreciation for receiving the award.

When asked her thoughts on the evening, Pearson immediately spoke on Hanke’s speech, reflecting that she thought the Art Hecht recipient “spoke eloquently about the importance of volunteering.”

Finally, the Board turned to the final issue of the night. Teachers John Savage, John Hayden, and Tom Huffaker presented a powerpoint on the new and updated science curriculum. They each presented an in depth presentation detailing each new unit, the changes that will be made, and how this will advance their students’ learning. Mr. Savage explained how the book The Martian will integrate more deeply into the curriculum. Mr. Hayden detailed the new structure of the honors math analysis class, and Mr. Huffaker talked about the new honors physics and possible AP physics class.

Following the meeting, Board President Sarah Pearson shared that the meeting was much more eventful than usual, as it had lasted over two hours and had attracted many teachers and students. Yet while the numerous speakers’ work is over, the Board Members’ duties stretch far beyond the confines of City Hall.

When asked next steps, Pearson replied, “The main issue that needs follow up from me and other Board Members is to reread, edit and approve the Board policies,” revealing that while it takes courage and preparation to speak out at these meetings, the true grit lies in the leading members of the Board who make these meetings possible.

by Maya Guzdar, Piedmont High School Senior

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Updates, Awards, and New Curriculum for Science and Math Classes 

On Wednesday evening of May 9th, seats were quickly filled as students, teachers, and community members filed into City Hall before the Piedmont Board of Board of Education to honor award winning community leaders, hear updates and opinions about relevant matters, and listen to the first proposals for new curriculum to be added in Science and Math classes for the 2018-19 school year. The School Board meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month in order to make decisions regarding educational policy.

The meeting began with an open microphone opportunity to speak on any topic that was not on the agenda.

Mr. Kessler, President of the Association of Piedmont Teachers spoke first on the benefit of a teacher training program regarding sexual harassment. Mr. Kessler wants to continue programs like these to ensure a welcoming and safe school climate for both students and teachers.

Next, Josh Miller, the Millenium ASB representative gave updates about ASB election week, AP testing, teacher appreciation week, service learning, and Day on the Green.

Various students who attended spoke about their personal comments and concerns that they wanted the Board to take note of. Kate Broening and Sarah Machle spoke about the subject of textbooks, advocating for greater accessibility to online textbooks as well as a greater number of textbooks in the classroom to ensure academic success for students. Maya Guzdar followed encouraging the idea of Piedmont High School providing condoms for student use to promote safe sexual activity. Zoe Levin, President of the Jewish Student Union, talked about the lack of Holocaust education at Piedmont High and proposed the idea of having a moment of silence on the loud speaker for Holocaust Memorial Day. Will Reicher closed the open microphone comments with updates about Site Council. At the previous Site Council meeting, attendees discussed the five skills they wish Piedmont High graduates leave with: communication, character, citizenship, collaboration, and content mastery.

The first subject on the agenda was honoring Holly Hanke, the Art Hecht award winner for volunteer of the year. Holly Hanke was recognized for her great service to the community which includes working on the Giving Campaign, Measures B, E,, and H1, Spring Fling, and helping to establish the Piedmont Portal.

Following the award ceremony, there was a hearing on the proposal for the School Support Tax which is a levy of a maximum of 2% increase for the 2018-19 school year.

Next, Chemistry teachers Mr. Savage and Mr. Huffaker presented on the proposed new curriculum to be added to both regular Chemistry and Honors Chemistry starting in the 2018-19 school year. In response to the changing California science standards, Chemistry will have a greater focus on Earth Science. The new curriculum will include more ways for students to apply their work tangibly through various projects and presentations including designing a coral reef fish tank and designing and testing batteries.

Some concern arose about the elimination of existing curriculum, but in my opinion making more room for Earth Science will be very beneficial. Many of the units and topics to be discussed are more relevant and applicable to our everyday world and tie in very smoothly to other science classes taught at Piedmont High. The new curriculum will allow for students to have a chance to do more hands on work and learn by doing, which to me is the best way to learn any material.

The next topic of discussion was the recent changing of math pathways with the addition of Honors Math Analysis this year. The current Honors Math Analysis class covers a few units of calculus with 13 units in total. Mr. Hayden’s presentation was on a proposed change to the Honors Math Analysis course that covers only 10 units to allow students to go into a deeper level of thought, with focus on derivations and proofs. This new course plan would also allow students to take more smaller assessments instead of few large ones.

After the meeting I had the chance to talk with President of the Board of Education, Sarah Pearson, who thought the meeting overall ran very smoothly due to the lack of controversial issues. Ms. Pearson especially enjoyed learning about the new curriculum and hearing insight from both students and teachers. Her next step is to read through all of the policies and proposals from the meeting before any official approval.

 by Sarah Machle, Piedmont High School Senior

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Ambitious Plans for Curriculum Changes at Piedmont High 

    The School Board meeting which took place on May 9th hosted the first public hearings for new classes and amendments to existing courses at Piedmont High School in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) subjects. These presentations occurred alongside regular Board proceedings, such as hearing issues from students and residents of Piedmont.

    Beginning with the aforementioned issues raised by citizens of Piedmont, Mr. Kesler, a fourth-grade teacher at Wildwood Elementary, praised recent initiatives by the School Board to support an inclusive environment through sexual harassment workshops that emphasized being sensitive with sexual and gender identities.

    In related news, Ms. Stevens, a first-grade teacher at Beach Elementary, chose to highlight initiatives by school administrators to reinforce teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships, in order to create a more conducive learning environment.

From Piedmont High, students Sarah Machle and Kate Broening spoke about the lack of availability of online textbooks for students. They stated that students struggle with the burden of bringing heavy texts to class or completely forgetting them in lieu of the increasing amount of online school resources that students can access anywhere with their devices, and that school administrators should pursue efforts to further digitize class materials.

    Another student from Piedmont High School, Maya Guzdar, gave an informative speech on the lack of access to contraceptives at the school, which was backed by chemistry teacher Mr. Savage. They both emphasized the importance of safe sex and that the school should be responsible for supporting safe sex by providing students with proper protection, since acquiring contraceptives otherwise may prove to be difficult as an unsubstantiated burden on students.

    Final highlights of Piedmont High students include Zoe Levin, who raised the issue of a lack of education pertaining to the Holocaust.

    Holly Hanke, the Arthur Hecht Volunteer of the Year, was present an art work by Saatvik Dube selected from the high school showcase.

    The crux of the meeting was considering the new course changes beginning with the introduction of “Chemistry in the Earth System” and “Honors Chemistry in the Earth System,” presented by both Mr. Savage and Mr. Huffaker who are current science educators at Piedmont High School. The intent of these courses was to enhance students’ education by having a greater focus on applicability for each of the lessons in the curricula.

    The next presentation regarded the implementation of a new math course called “Math Analysis Honors” at Piedmont High, due to the restructuring of math courses mandated by the Common Core initiative. This class would effectively address the needs of students who would proceed at a more accelerated rate than others in the regular “Math Analysis” course.

    I was able to interview Mr. Hayden, who presented the new course. He stated that the Board “achieved our goal” in getting the facts out to the attendees of the meeting, and that the next course of action is a second public hearing at the next School Board meeting. With confidence, Mr. Hayden believes “that the course will be accepted.”

by Ethan Tung, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
May 18 2018

Dear Piedmont Community,

Today, we received news about another horrific shooting in our public schools, this time at Santa Fe High School, just outside of Houston, Texas. Our hearts and our thoughts go out to the victims and their families. 

Now, more than ever, our students, staff, and community need special legislation and immediate action from our state and nation’s elected leaders to help keep our schools safe. On March 14th, the PUSD Board of Education unanimously passed Resolution 12-2017-18 School Safety and Gun Violence.

This resolution calls upon the United States Congress and all state legislators to prioritize the protection of students and school system employees by passing legislation that:

  • More effectively regulates access to firearms in the interest of public safety by establishing universal background checks to purchase a firearm, reenacting the federal ban on the sale and possession of military-style assault weapons, banning large capacity ammunition magazines, and enacting gun violence restraining order laws and

  • Advances and funds mental health supports.

  • Invest in wraparound services to prevent bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence in our schools and

  • Provide funding for programs and staff such as counselors, nurses and psychologists,that support students’ mental, physical and emotional health.

  • Reduces the risk and severity of gun violence on school campuses; and

  • Declares gun violence a public health crisis and removes all barriers to funding public-health research on firearms-related issues, including repealing the prohibition against data collection and research on gun violence by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

In the spirit of collective action, I urge you to join me in contacting our elected representatives to implement a legislative solution that supports the safety of all.

United States Senate

Senator Dianne Feinstein – Email
Senator Kamala Harris – Email

United States Congress, California
District 9

Congresswoman Barbara Lee – Email

 California State Senate, District 9

Senator Nancy Skinner – Email

 California State Assembly, District 15

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond – Email

Media coverage of today’s tragedy will prompt questions and concerns from your students, and we want to provide resources that may help during these difficult conversations. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, high-profile acts of violence in schools can confuse and frighten students who may feel they, their friends or their loved ones are in danger. They will look to adults for guidance about how to react, and adults can help by talking with them about their fears.

For help with these conversations, please visit this online resource: “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers.” This printable handout is available in 10 languages. We also encourage you to talk with your school’s teachers, counselors, support staff, or administrators if you need support or see any signs of distress or concerning behavior.

The safety and well-being of our students and staff here in Piedmont is our top priority. While school shootings are rare, we do have to prepare for the possibility.  We will continue to partner with the Piedmont Police Department and provide training in our schools to educate staff and students in responding to an active shooter or other internal threat.

Finally, it’s important to remind your students that if they “see something, say something.” Research shows warning signs occur in more than 80% of violent incidents. Our high school Speak Up! and middle school See Something, Say Something Scots online reporting tool allows students, parents, educators and community members to report concerns anonymously. Keeping our students, staff and schools safe is the responsibility of everyone in our community. 

Please keep the families affected by today’s school shooting in your thoughts and prayers.

Sincerely,

Randall Booker, Superintendent Piedmont Unified School District

May 18 2018

At 7:30 p.m. on May 7th, 2018, there was a City Council meeting at Piedmont’s City Council Chambers about the Linda Beach Master Plan. The details of the current plan were laid out and many residents voiced their opinion. Many people who live close to Beach had great concerns about the plan. The point of these City Council meetings is for the citizens to address the Council on any subject.

The Piedmont City Council meets on the first and third Mondays of each month. Though the main focus of this meeting was the Linda Beach Master Plan people were there for a variety of reasons.

One woman named Andrea Zombrona attended the meeting to keep pushing to “make Piedmont a Sanctuary City.” She had already written to the City Council, met with them, and had started a petition with the Chief of Police.

The main focus of the meeting was on the master planning and the biggest issue with that was whether to put in pickle ball courts or not. Many people love pickle ball and wanted the courts to play on, but neighbors of Beach knew that this would create a lot of noise, not only because pickle ball itself is loud but also because a nearby bridge helps reflect the sound.

I don’t think they should put in the pickle ball courts, because if I were living nearby I know I would be upset if there was so much noise. Another concerned citizen named Adam Porter had an idea to make the big turf field grass because it is better for the environment and studies have shown that kids who play sports on turf fields have higher rates of brain cancer.

by Adam Porter, Piedmont High School Senior

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Pickleball, Skateparks, and Toddlers

    Piedmont’s May 7th City Council meeting saw the introduction of the 35% Linda Beach Master Plan. The new plan originated with a suggestion from the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Committee. The goal of the project is to get more residents to use the park, therefore making Piedmont’s investments in public parks more worthwhile. At the time of the City Council meeting, the plan for the park was at an early, “35%” stage.

There are several parts of the plan that have inspired residents to speak out strongly against them, such as the pickleball courts, the reduction in size of the toddler area, the addition of a skate park, and even changing the orientation and size of the tennis court.

Starting with the pickleball courts, there has been a sharp increase in interest for pickleball over the past couple years in Piedmont. The last two pickleball events organized in Piedmont both attracted dozens of players of all ages, prompting the group to ask the Park Commission to include pickleball courts in the new Linda Beach plan.

While there are dozens of players in favor of this addition, many residents and rival tennis players see this as a nuisance because of the “extreme” noise of pickleball games, and the removal of a tennis court to make way for the pickleball court. One rival tennis player’s rebuttal to the praise given to the pickleball court plan proved to be too much for one pickleball player, who became very annoyed and spoke out from his seat while the tennis player was still talking.

One resident of forty years, Lisa Nubble, had no problem with making the tennis courts regulation size, or at least close to regulation size, but said that the pickleball courts were “too much.” Instead of focusing on additions, she said, more attention should be given to maintaining the park better. She attended to see how these new plans would affect her neighborhood, since she lives right across from the park.

One of the other controversial additions to the park is the skate park. Many residents also saw this as an unacceptable source of noise, and don’t want it near their homes. They say that skate parks are placed in “undesirable areas” for a reason, and that the people that skate parks attract “shouldn’t have business in Piedmont, especially at night, because they bring trouble.”

I see the skate park as a something that could positively impact young kids in their search for hobbies and sports. I have friends, especially one friend, for which skateboarding is one of the most important things in his life. He’s been doing it for more than ten years, and it’s honestly amazing to see him continue to be so dedicated to the sport.

Even though I don’t skateboard and I wouldn’t use that part of Linda Beach Park for myself, I want that opportunity to be given to other kids in the area. I’d also like to add that I find it distasteful and selfish when I see Piedmonter so quickly saying “Piedmont is for us, not them.” Piedmont is a public place, our parks are public, and they are open to everyone. Anyway, I wanted to be helpful to the park planners, so I suggested adding an irregular surface to the Oakland/Linda Bridge, similar to the walls in audio recording studios, so that less noise is reflected and amplified towards homes.

A City Council member replied that the plan was in an early stage, so details like that haven’t been figured out, but I hope that the Parks Commission does find a way to prevent noise from being a problem so the skate park can be approved.

In this new plan, the area available to toddlers will be cut in half, which is proving to be a big problem with this plan. For many people in the neighborhood, the toddler area is very helpful to them as it helps keep toddlers active and occupied. Cutting the area for toddlers could affect the area’s effectiveness at keeping all those kids occupied at the same time.

Other changes for the park include revising the entrances to increase or decrease foot traffic, depending if they are in residential neighborhoods or not; making the entrance at Howard ADA accessible; and the addition of an outdoor classroom.

I’m in favor of most of the proposed ideas. I think that having a skate park in that area could land the City of Piedmont in a sticky situation if residents decide to sue because their property values go down, etc., but I think there should be another skate park in Piedmont. The existing one is comically out of the way and has restrictive hours. It’s also intimidating for people new to the sport. I think an outdoor classroom area is a great idea, more ADA accessible entrances is always good, and a better tennis court layout will please the tennis players. I’m excited to see how this plan develops in the coming weeks.

by Aaron Jeffries, Piedmont High School Senior

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Fights Erupt as Piedmont Introduces New Linda Beach Plan

    Last week, at the government meeting at Piedmont City Hall, issues regarding the Linda Beach project were discussed. People had passionate opinions on every single aspect of the plan.

    The meeting was held by the City Council, with the intention to present the new Linda Beach plan. The plan allowed for many new additions to the existing area. Some new ideas the plan included were: a skate park, “tot lot” to bring toddlers to while watching baseball games, etc., pickleball courts, more tennis courts, and a different layout for schoolmates.

The major issue that many people had was with the addition of pickleball courts. Several families with kids spoke out about how the noise would be too loud for their children to sleep at night. Many old couples said that they would not have bought a house here if they had known that pickleball would be added to their neighborhood.

The most entertaining feud between two speakers was with one man playing a pickleball sound recording while talking, to prove his point of how loud it was, and the next man who brought in genuine pickleball paddles and balls to show that the sound isn’t as loud as the first man’s recording showed. Overall, the majority of people were against pickleball.  Most of the speakers on the pickleball situation were homeowners nearby Linda Beach.

Regarding the issues, Councilmember Jennifer Cavenaugh and City Administrator Paul Benoit answered most questions and concerns asked by the speakers.

 In my opinion, pickleball courts should be built at Linda Beach Elementary, because these homeowners chose to live near a school with existing tennis courts and other sports fields, which already create noise on their own.

On the way out, I stopped Lisa Nubbel to ask a few questions on her stance. I asked why she attended the meeting, and she told me that she comes to these meetings to oppose pickleball. She lives a block away from the sports field at Beach Elementary, and is already frustrated with the noise that comes from there.  She said she is planning to keep coming back to the City Council meetings to prove her point and fight against the idea of pickleball.

I spoke out at the meeting because I noticed that at the beginning, the Council members stated that there were no funds yet for the plan to take action. I asked how they were planning to raise the money and they were hesitant to respond, and replied that they were not yet sure, but will eventually tax Piedmont residents to acquire money.

It looks like Piedmont will have difficulty getting this plan approved by everyone– some people will remain opposed to pickleball and other new additions.

by Paige Avagliano, Piedmont High School Senior

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On the night of May 7th, 2018, the City Council of Piedmont, CA called into session a meeting with the soft, yet sharp pounding of a small gavel.  After hasty formalities by the Council, Erica Pastor, CPA began her presentation about the recent audit. She described her role as an auditor, and what she was doing in Piedmont. Pastor said that the task of auditors is to give an independent opinion on financial statements in the city. The main items that she was looking into were cash receipts, cash disbursements, and payroll. Pastor’s presentation was thankfully not extensive, as MUN CPA’s had found no “material weaknesses, deficiencies, or compliance exceptions.” The fortunate, yet abrupt end of the presentation brought not only relief to the City Council members, but to most of the residents as well, as they seemed to be more focused on another issue that had yet to be discussed. This issue, was  the redesign of Linda Beach Park.

Park designer, Will Smith introduced many conceptual ideals and landscapes that might be in the park. While there have been no concrete decisions made in this process of the design, Mr. Smith says he will strive to follow “seven guidelines of design process” when designing the new park: park identity, circulation and access, green space, stormwater management, multi-purpose space event space, and public arts.

In addition to Mr. Smith’s presentation, Sara Lillevand, Piedmont Recreation Department Director also came forward to answer the Council’s questions regarding the Linda Beach Master Plan. Lillevand admitted that the project was “no small task at all,” but that the City was listening to the residents, and nothing was final yet.

Many of the residents who had volunteered to speak seemed eager to address their problems and needs for the new park. Piedmont mother Amy Bauer was disappointed to see that the tot lot had been reduced in size by nearly 50%. She said even the current tot lot “is full most of the time” and that this reduction in size will make it harder for parents to find a place to play for their young children.

Most residents were concerned about the noise that the new redesign would cause. The addition of pickleball courts, as well as a skate park, would create so much noise, that it would bother neighbors, and depreciate the value of some homes. Most residents spoke against the addition of the courts, with one man playing a recording of pickleball over a loudspeaker.

Grace Neufeld, Executive Director and Lead Case Manager of American Neighborhood Solutions, Inc, was interviewed about her profession and why she had attended the City Council meeting that night. Neufeld said that a community member had come to her door and told her about the additions of pickleball courts, and skate ramps next to Beach Field. Even though she is not a resident of Piedmont, Neufeld came because she believes that “people who live in neighborhoods should set the standard for living” and how she would like to organize the community in order to stop this “blight” from being brought into their neighborhood.

The plan to redesign Beach Park is only about 35% finished, according to Lillevand, and the entire team is extremely willing to listen to what Piedmonters have to say about the park, she stressed that the park would evolve and change with what the community wants.

by Mason Barnes, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.