WELCOME TO THE OPINION PAGE

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.

Submit a letter, opinion, article, etc. | Receive email notice of new articles

Feb 27 2021

Dear Members of the Piedmont City Council,,

.
I was just alerted by my neighbor, Sylvia Fones, that Piedmont has evidently adopted something called Reach Codes.  I just now discovered that these are local building energy requirements that go beyond those of the state.    How has this happened?   I am reasonably well informed but have never even heard of this.  Moreover, there was apparently some survey done of the residents concerning adoption of these codes and no one I know had even heard of it, so were definitely not included in the survey.   Sounds to me like a deliberate concealing of this effort from the public.
.
This is appalling to me.  This affects every resident.  How can a relatively tiny number of residents  (384 out of 11000) be allowed to provide a distorted consensus of opinion for an entire city?
.
There are two issues that are very alarming.
.
1) Given the small pool of participants in the survey, there apparently was an effort underway to get this concept adopted without proper input from the residents.  Where  is the democratic process?  How is a tiny cadre of “activists” able to railroad this through without even the knowledge of the whole town, much less its consent?
.
2) The end result from a cursory examination of the Reach Codes issue seems to be a limiting of our energy sources, under the guise of some goal that is definitely controversial.  Of all things that require investigation and accumulated knowledge before coming to a decision, this is certainly a prime example.
.
Energy is a huge and complicated issue.  Why would we ever want to limit our energy resources?  After witnessing the calamity that just befell Texas and its inhabitants, how can we possibly start down a path like this?
.
Sincerely,
Joan Maxwell
Piedmont Resident
Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 22 2021

– Piedmont Priorities –

With life as good as it is in Piedmont, it’s hard to think how it could get better. But there’s always room for improvement so in 2007 the City conducted a community survey as a prelude to updating its General Plan.

The response to the 2007 survey exceeded all expectations. Approximately 3,800 surveys were mailed out, and almost 1,300 surveys were completed and returned. That’s a 34% response rate, the highest ever response rate of any community survey of Piedmont residents.  Question 7 in the survey asked “For which types of projects would you support increases in city taxes or fees?”.  The range of responses to that question are in the table below.  

Q7: FOR WHICH TYPES OF PROJECTS   WOULD YOU SUPPORT INCREASES IN   CITY TAXES OR FEES?
Total with Opinion Response Average Strongly Oppose Somewhat  Oppose Somewhat  Support Strongly Support
Additional recreational facilities 1116 2.69 20.2% 17.4% 35.7% 26.8%
Landscaping and tree planting 1155 2.87 13.3% 15.2% 42.9% 28.6
City-owned competitive swimming pool 1124 2.59 28.3% 15.1% 25.5% 31.0%
Undergrounding of overhead utility wires 1159 2.96 18.5% 11.8% 25.0% 44.7%
A parking garage in the City Hall area 1122 2.21 37.9% 21.7% 22.4% 18.1%
More child care centers 932 2.25 29.4% 27.8% 30.9% 11.9%
A teen center 1083 2.87 17.6% 12.3% 35.7% 34.3%
Bike paths and marked bike lanes 1095 2.85 14.8% 16.6% 36.9% 31.7%
A community gathering place or plaza 1080 2.78 17.9% 16.8% 35.1% 30.3%
City arts and cultural center 1067 2.57 22.2% 20.0% 36.7% 21.1%
Wheeled mixed materials recycling carts 1003 2.63 22.1% 20.8% 29.0% 28.0%
Backyard service for recycling/ green waste 998 2.60 23.3% 21.2% 27.3% 28.2%
Free citywide wireless (WiFi) internet  1030 2.80 22.5% 13.5% 25.7% 38.3%

Now 14 years later, what has come of this community survey?

Additional recreation facilities – check.

City-owned pool? – check.

Backyard service for recycling/green waste – check.

City arts and cultural center – half-check.  The city has a classical arts and cultural center. Chamber music only.

A teen center – negative.

Creating a community gathering place or plaza – negative.

Why this lookback matters is because the city is on the verge of missing a golden opportunity to address the two negatives on the list.  A teen/senior center and community drop-in space could easily be run out of the East Wing of the building with access to the restrooms in the West Wing and the placing of city staff in the West Wing office space.  And no additional taxes required – seniors and the community don’t need to be supervised by staff.  They do need a place to freely gather and schedule meetings and an accessible East Wing would facilitate that.  

Instead, city staff has negotiated a lease for the 801 Magnolia Building with the Piedmont Center for the Arts that reduces both city use of and access to the 801 building for the next 7 years. There are significant flaws in the lease (https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2020/11/29/opinion-four-major-flaws-in-proposed-art-center-lease/) and better ideas for true community use of the space (https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2021/02/03/opinion-arts-center-founder-wants-usage-opened-up/ ; https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2021/01/10/opinion-a-false-choice-has-been-presented-for-arts-center-lease/).

So the City has two choices – hold a public hearing on the use of the 801 Magnolia building or a second reading of the flawed lease.  By all indications, city staff is proceeding with a second reading of the lease with PCA.  Unless Council steps up and calls for a public hearing, this opportunity for Piedmonters to achieve long-standing aspirations of a community space will be lost for another 7 years.   To that end, newly elected Councilwoman Conna McCarthy could honor her campaign pledge and call for public meetings on the use of 801 before any lease is approved:

“I want to be part of the leadership that encourages large conversations where all stakeholders thoughtfully plan and manage limited resources for the benefit of Piedmont now and into the future.” 

Elected Council Candidate Conna McCarthy  

https://www.piedmontcivic.org/category/new-elections/page/8/

If you want the City Council to hold public hearings on the use of 801 Magnolia Avenue, you can reach all Council members at citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 21 2021

– Piedmont REACH Code problems explained to the California Building Standards Commission –

February 12, 2021

Dear CA Building Standards Commission,

As a resident of Piedmont CA, I have some serious concerns regarding the passing of the “REACH” codes. Here is a copy of my letter to the council that states my concerns. They said there was a survey, but none of our friends were in the survey, so it seemed not to be representative of the residents.

First, Piedmonter’s were not all included in the survey – many friends are upset because they were not included. Many disagree with the Reach concept and do not feel represented thus my suggestion of A ballot vote for all.
.

Second is the impact of cost to the residential home owner.  In Piedmont, a normal bathroom remodel will cost say $40,000. If one adds the Reach upgrades, it could add another $10,000. or more.  Or consider the cost of a new roof…then add the insulation etc.. As a designer, I am familiar with those costs. Does this mean homeowners will not proceed with the work?

Third is our local enforcement of the use of less gas. This should be handled by an overall state building code to reduce off gassing. The changes are now being studied for action by the State. (Our use is small in the overall scheme. Consider the air pollution of autos and air  travel.)

Fourth we also have our regional wildfire electric blackouts which could leave residents without ability to cook and heat our homes if we rely on electric power source.

Years ago, Title 24 was added to the California code requirements and we had a time limit to reduce electric usage by lowering the voltage of electric bulbs. This was handled by the state and the manufacturers were put into a position to create products for the market that fit the bill. We now have those products and enforcement in our building codes. This is a more reasonable course of action.

Sylvia Willard Fones, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 21 2021

 The Piedmont Arts Fund (formerly PAINTS and CHIME) would like to invite all members of the community to creatively express the “Things that Matter” in a community art quilt.

We will eventually display the “Things that Matter” quilt, with our interwoven and diverse narratives to capture this unique time, in the new theatre building. 

Any funds raised will be used exclusively towards inclusive visual and performing arts programs at PUSD. We are launching our quilt project in February during Black History Month. As March is Art Month, we plan on weaving our creative community stories and unveiling the quilt in a public open space. Quilt Kits are available for a variable donation, and we also are offering free kits to community members who are not able to donate at this time. Our goal is to represent our entire community through this unique art project and we hope you will create this piece of history with us.

https://piedmontstore.org/products/things-that-matter-piedmont-art-community-quilt-project

 

Feb 11 2021

Students for Solar Launch Event

Students for Solar is a group of twelve PHS and MHS students working to raise the $400,000 needed to put solar panels on the roof of the STEAM building, a newly constructed building at our high school. To find out more see our website: https://greenclubphs.wixsite.com/studentsforsolar

Our event on February 22 will feature speakers Meredith Fowlie, Gabriel Kra, and Josh Posamentier to inform the public on solar energy and climate change. It will also feature a panel of district employees to field any questions about the project.

REGISTER AT: https://pef.schoolauction.net/students4solar/?_ga=2.114284935.1438797767.1612201578-300494272.1612201578

Editors Note:  Students for Solar is a separate organization unaffiliated with the Piedmont Civic Association. 
Feb 9 2021

 PADC + Wellness celebrate Black History Month in Piedmont

The Wellness Center (Piedmont High School) is thrilled to partner with the PADC (Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee) to celebrate and honor Black History Month. Last week we held our first of a three series event. Here is a summary of what’s to come.

2/4/21 from 7pm – 8pm: Listen to the following PODCAST ahead of time and come together to discuss reactions: Black History Buff podcast features The Little Rock Nine on Spotify, 27 min. Click HERE to join.

  • Wellness Facilitators: Laurie and Amy

2/11/21 from 7pm – 8pm: Self-Care (including self-care through action). Click HERE to join.

  • Wellness Facilitators: Emma, Lea, and possibly Jannat

2/25/21 from 7pm – 8pm: Somatic manifestations of generational trauma (including chronic and acute forms of trauma). Click HERE to join.

  • Wellness Facilitators: Nic and Jannat

Feb 3 2021

Read a proposed revised Arts Center lease sent to the  Piedmont City Council.

The proposal recommends the City of Piedmont Recreation Department manage 801 Magnolia Avenue with The Piedmont Center for the Arts guaranteed 1,600 hours of free annual usage.  The unallotted time of 2,050 hours would be scheduled by the Recreation Department to fully and inclusively utilize the property for various community and recreation uses. 

Click the Nancy Lehrkind proposed Arts Center lease and petition below.

Art Center Proposal Lehrkind 1282021

Petition – https://www.change.org/piedmontcenter

Jan 31 2021
To the Editor: The following is a letter I sent to the Piedmont City Council
Dear Council Members:

I am writing to urge you to renew the lease for the Piedmont Center for the Arts. In a community that prides itself on promoting culture and the arts in our school curriculum, it seems inconceivable that the city council might not renew the Center’s lease.

Over the years and with countless numbers of tireless volunteers, the Piedmont Center for the Arts has become a venue for world class musical events.  It has enabled our residents to enjoy outstanding concerts without fighting the traffic and parking we face going into San Francisco and Berkeley.   Celebrated musicians from renowned companies have spoken of the venue’s lovely space, its stellar acoustics, and the magnificent Steinway piano.

The Center has become a jewel in the crown that is Piedmont, and it saddens me to think of this almost sacred space being used as a community center.  Do not let this cultural treasure slip away.  Please renew their lease.

Thank you,

Freddi Robertson, Piedmont Resident
~~~~~

 I am writing in support of your extending the lease and operation of the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

I am an Oakland resident.
My first time there was for the showing of a movie about a horrible situation on the 57 bus in Oakland. (The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives )
Then I went to the center when they were part of the “Jazz in the neighborhood” program which introduced me to an intimate setting with great musicians. The volunteers had, on top of the music and nice setting, set up a very welcoming atmosphere.
Today, I received a video in commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz gas chamber camp and was blown away with emotions yet i don’t have a Jewish background.
So, for me, the Piedmont Center for the Arts is a place where i can safely see, hear, feel, a different, not commercial, art experience. It’s invaluable.
Sincerely,
Elisabeth Heidorn, Oakland Resident
~~~~~~
May I add my voice to the chorus of community members who are writing in support of the Piedmont Community Arts Center and the renewal of their lease! The Arts center is one of the most valuable of Piedmont’s many assets. It has become, as currently organized and managed, a wonderful place to hear music, view art and listen to lectures. The entire surrounding community benefits from this jewel of a site and its variety of offerings. Its popularity and ability to attract wonderful performers speaks to the incredible job being done by the current staff of devoted volunteers. As a former Art teacher at Piedmont High School, I only wish it had been available when I was there as it is providing all  students, not just those in a class, a place to pursue and display their art. I “second” Valerie Corvin’s fine letter, printed in the Post on Jan 20, and I implore you to please renew the current lease for the PAC and continue to support the hard working volunteers who take care of the Center and its programs.
Helen Brainerd
Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Jan 25 2021
In his letter (https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2021/01/10/opinion-a-false-choice-has-been-presented-for-arts-center-lease/) Steve Schiller labeled the current discussion of the 801 Magnolia Avenue building a “false choice” between “an art center and no art center.” I agree and attribute this false choice to a false process.  City staff, and not the City Council, appears to have made the decision to open 801 Magnolia lease negotiations with the Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA):
.

“Given PCA’s investment in rehabilitating the City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue and its commitment to developing a viable gathering space, as well as its willingness to embrace changes to improve and expand benefits to the community, Staff believes it is appropriate for Council to consider PCA’s request to continue to operate an arts venue in this City facility”.  Staff Report, November 16, 2020

On its face, that sounds appropriate – staff recommending that City Council consider PCA’s request for a new lease.  However, staff appears to have instigated lease negotiations with PCA without direction from the Council.  I can find no notice of public or closed session meetings where this topic of the lease was agendized by staff to receive direction from the City Council.

This process puts the cart before the horse – the question of whether the 801 Magnolia  lease should be renewed should be addressed by the Council with negotiations proceeding as directed.  Instead, the lease was negotiated over the past months by staff and presented to the Council as a first reading of the lease ordinance, strictly limiting the questions from councilmembers and the public.  As currently drafted, the lease has substantial flaws that weaken the city’s access and use of this public facility.  (Piedmont Civic Association – Piedmont, California » Opinion: Four Major Flaws in Proposed Art Center Lease).

This process would have benefited so much from open public meetings at the Recreation Commission and the City Council.  As it stands, Piedmonters are being told that PCA will close if the lease is not renewed.  That is false and the fate of PCA is really in its own hands – PCA’s lease with the city expires June 3, 2021 with the option to proceed month-to-month after that.  PCA could operate indefinitely under those terms while the community engages in a public discussion of the use of the 801 Magnolia building.

For that to happen, Council needs to step in and give that direction and reject the second reading.   A second reading of the proposed lease is imminent and it is too late to make substantive improvements to the lease at a Council meeting.  Another oddity of this process is that the readings span the seating of a new council member.  Two council members had serious reservations about the process and lease terms at the first reading.  It would be appropriate for the new council member, not on Council at the first reading, to abstain from voting on a second reading and recommend staff hold public meetings at the Recreation Commission.

All council members can be reached by email at:   citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov.

Garrett Keating, Former Council Member

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 11 2021

The proposed lease for 801 Magnolia – West Wing creates a totally exclusive use of a public building by a private group.

As now President Sue Malick of the Center for the Arts, said to the City Council in March, 2011, “public buildings should be used by the public.”  And such use should never exclude citizens of our Piedmont community.

The proposed new lease contains absolutely no obligations for the Center to share the space with the community or even to spend funds on further capital improvements there.

The original, 2011 lease worked because the original Board of Directors of the Arts Center obligated themselves in that lease with the City to do specified work with private money to make this wasting asset a habitable, useful building and a gathering place for community arts & performances.

Only three of the original Board Members are still serving on the Arts Center Board; the majority of the Board members have a different vision. Since 2018, they have worked to eliminate all community events and to simply operate “an affordable venue rental.”

No-one is saying the Arts Center cannot be in this public building or that they cannot continue to rent it out for talented musical performances enjoyed by all. This is NOT about art; it is about control of a public asset—in this case a big public building!

The Arts Center proposed lease gives the Board the right to exclude anyone they want. There have been many verbal and written representations of what the Board intends to do; however, the actual proposed lease frees them from any and all inclusive community use or, in fact, any obligations whatsoever.

Once the lease is signed, the Center can do what they have been doing for the past two years, i.e. excluding all community use and just operating a rental venue for a profit.

I have struggled to find any reason for a City to completely outsource the running of a public building to a private group.

During the 8 years I was responsible for running this public building, the City of Piedmont conducted zero oversight of the building or our operations. They never checked the operation of the handicap lift installed for the City’s benefit, whether there was, in fact, acceptable handicap access, the smoke and fire alarms (which do not exist) or even if this 1905 building was safe in the event of an earthquake.  The City has attended to earthquake concerns and retrofitting with all of the other City buildings.

It was just as if the City was so happy someone else was running this “tear-down” for them, and “Hey, it’s art!,” so the City doesn’t need to be responsible. Is this negligence and considerable potential liability, now going to be continued for another 10 years?  Is that what this is really about? 

The City does not seem willing to take responsibility for the proper management and care of one of its largest public buildings, especially one they acquired to tear down. The City Council action in December 2020 revealed their intent to outsource control and liability for 801 Magnolia Avenue—and do it under the guise of supporting “the arts.”

Council members perhaps realized that the citizens would not know about the City’s negligence – people love going to arts programming there and the City Council will look great for supporting the arts! However, there is just no justifiable reason to create such exclusive control of a public building in a small town with few publicly-accessible spaces.

Giving the Arts Center Board 450 hours a year of free rental usage in the building at 801 Magnolia under Recreation Department control would certainly be a huge “support for the arts” by the City.

I sincerely hope the 2021 City Council will take time to investigate and publicly report on the safety and soundness of the 801 Magnolia building for public use, and consider alternative proposals for its use which would be inclusive rather than the currently proposed exclusive use.

The same musical performances would all continue for the town to attend and there would still be a “Piedmont Center For The Arts”.

Nancy Lehrkind, Piedmont Resident and Founder of the Piedmont Center for the Arts

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