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The following letters and other commentary express only the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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Jan 20 2020

Safety, traffic, transit, parking –

Mayor and City Council

City of Piedmont

120 Vista Avenue

Piedmont, CA 94611

Subject: Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) -Revisions

Dear Mayor and Members of the City Council

As a planner, I have long supported allowing more ADUs when they were virtually outlawed by most cities. However, it now seems like the State may have overreached in taking away cities’ rights to regulate ADUs.

Piedmont may be rushing action on a revised ADU ordinance when the state law only became effective three weeks ago. I have checked with several other jurisdictions and they are just beginning to study the issue and have not yet began public hearings. There is a lack of urgency because the State Housing and Community Department has not yet published its implementation guidelines.

Our premature actions may necessitate subsequent otherwise unneeded revisions when the HCD guidelines are issued.  Also, if Piedmont does not have its own local ordinance in place, then there would be no impact on the potential production of ADUs, because the state’s rules would apply by default, until we adopted our own. So there is little real urgency and there is time for proper study.

What is being proposed largely precludes the normal community discussion which Piedmont residents are used to. In particular, just following the law and accurately measuring the half mile walking distance from bus stops will require some time. And if we were to provide for street-safety thresholds, also consistent with the law, additional time would be required for analysis.

I have including pertinent sections of the newly adopted state law to illustrate the following concerns:

66582.2  (a) A local agency may…

(A)Designate areas within the jurisdiction of the local agency where accessory dwelling units may be permitted. The designation of areas may be based on criteria that may include, but are not limited to, the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety.

(Presumably this section means that the jurisdiction may designate areas where accessory dwelling units may not be permitted, or, there should also be latitude to allow ADUs but with some minimum of off-street parking provided)

66582.2 (d)Notwithstanding any other law, a local agency, whether or not it has adopted an ordinance governing accessory dwelling units in accordance with subdivision (a), shall not impose parking standards for an accessory dwelling unit in any of the following instances:

(1)The accessory dwelling unit is located within one-half mile walking distance of public transit.

66582.2 (j) (10): “Public transit” means a location, including, but not limited to, a bus stop, or train station where the public may access buses, trains, subways, and other forms of transportation that charge set fares, run on fixed routes, and are available to the public.

(This definition would preclude counting mere proximity to a bus route where there is no designated bus stop) 

66582.2 (o) This section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2025, and as of that date is repealed.

Analysis

Transit Availability: Some of the restrictions on cities’ powers largely apply to homes within a half mile, by foot, from a bus stop (66582.2 {d} {1) The staff report declares that every part of Piedmont is within a half mile of a bus stop. While largely true, that conclusion was apparently based on a crow-fly review since it’s not entirely true. For example, I took well-known Wildwood School as a starting point, and using my admittedly less accurate car’s odometer, I have checked the distance along streets, (not crow-fly distance), and found that it is at least a half mile to the nearest bus stops for AC Transit Lines 29, 12, 33 and P.  Because of curving streets and a few cul-de-sacs, there are probably several other areas which are beyond a half mile. Also Line 33 above the central area has only weekday commuter service with no midday or weekend service. These transit deficiencies are important because the statute’s justification for not providing any new parking for an ADU, is that convenient transit is available. Where transit is not available, some relief seems justified.

Traffic and Emergency Vehicle Safety: There are a few existing, seriously impacted and unusually narrow streets where on-street parking is already extremely impacted, and emergency vehicles may already have trouble getting through. The extremely narrow stretch of Scenic Avenue comes to mind. The new state law (66582.2 {a}) allows a city to designate areas not suitable for additional ADUs for safety reasons. To be objective and defensible, I’d suggest language like: The City has determined that certain existing streets which are of insufficient width according to accepted Fire Protection standards, and such streets already allow on-street parking, and accordingly, the provision of one parking space per ADU is required, and such spaces may be open and tandem: (street names to follow).

Correction of Existing Code Violations: As I am sure you all know, there have been a lot of historic or even recent conversions of garages to living quarters for the primary dwelling unit. This is distinct from cases where a parking deficiency is legally non-conforming (grandfathered). If such a residence were now to further worsen the on-street parking demand by adding one or even 2 ADUs, that would add to the existing on street parking conflicts. Without violating the new law’s prohibition on requiring any parking for the ADU, the city could ask/require that existing zoning/building violations regarding parking be corrected. This would mandate that a parking analysis be done in concert with the ADU review. Merely suggesting that the building inspector will catch past violations is unrealistic.

Summary: In crafting the legislation, the legislature made some concessions for where transit was not conveniently available and for valid public safety reasons. I would expect that a good faith effort that is tailored to the unique nature of a city and supports its specific exceptions with a logical nexus to traffic safety and emergency vehicle access would escape much criticism. A Planning Commission member has suggested finding a legal way to provide notice of new construction to neighbors, but not deter from the ministerial approval requirement. There can be a lot of good ideas to protect neighborhoods, but not if the new ordinance gets rapidly approved as written.

We can ask, How can we work within the law, but tailor it to the uniqueness of Piedmont? I of course agree that most of Piedmont can and should accommodate additional ADUs with little impact. However, areas where most of the once existing one-car garages have already been converted to living quarters, and where the narrow streets are already jammed with parked cars, really shouldn’t have to accept more units with no new parking or even correcting past violations.

Therefore, I urge the Council to take a step back and allow the normal community involvement to take place. A citizens’ committee could assist the staff in reviewing the options and look at how other jurisdictions have looked at the issue.

Thank you for your consideration,

Michael Henn, Former Piedmont Planning Commissioner

Dec 8 2019

As a concerned citizen, I attended a Recreation Commission meeting involving the Recreation Department on November 18th. I had expected not to be able to contribute much to the issues or problems concerning the meeting and in many ways I was right.

I am a student at Piedmont High School and up until this very point in my high school career I have not played on an athletics team and I am not very close to many of the parks that inhabit Piedmont. Because the Recreation Department  works with the parks and fields that make up our community I did not have much to offer in terms of my experience on most of them. I was, however, very intrigued by the importance that they have for a variety of citizens. From the pools for the youth water polo program to the aged pickleballers, it was nice to see how many people the Recreation Department has responsibility for.

One of the major issues discussed at the meeting was the concern with the tennis courts implementing pickleball. Until this meeting,  I did not know that there were consistent and passionate pickleball players in the Piedmont community.  I found it interesting how the commission had discussed the impact of certain boundary lines painted in order to accommodate pickleball play on the tennis courts. It seemed the only concerned citizens who bothered to show up were the pickleballers themselves.  Not a single person who protested the dual use of courts bothered to speak out at the meeting.

One of the other concerns that struck a chord with me was the issue of youth programs.  I myself had experienced many rec sports and it was interesting to hear about the creation of these programs when considering what an impact they had on my life.  One of the rec department members, Jackson Sterns, discussed trying to find a proper coach for a water polo summer camp in order to introduce kids to the sport.  One of my friends who had come with me to this meeting, Holden,  had given a critique of the program since his little brother had participated and ended up not wanting to play.

When an employee, who worked with the maintenance of the fields, came forward to give an update on their condition, a Commissioners, Dick Carter, brought up a topic that I could contribute to, Witter Field.  When the employee had finished speaking about Coach’s Field and Hampton Field, Commissioner Carter mentioned the poor condition of Witter Field and as a result my brother, Burke, and Georgie Brayer decided to go up to discuss Witter Field.  I walk home many days of the week and have to walk across Witter Field and, as a result, I can say first hand that the field has not changed much at all since my days as an elementary school student.  The field is in dire need of replacement of it’s turf and should be a top priority of the community.

After the meeting I decided to interview Commissioner Carter in order to find out more about Witter Field.  It turns out that Witter Field is under the jurisdiction of the Piedmont Unified School District; we had revealed our complaints to the wrong public body.

Despite this egregious mistake, the Commissioner was happy that we attended and emphasized the importance of our contribution to the community.  I am happy that I got to see and participate with a Commission that had played a big part in my childhood and really shaped a lot of the early memories that I have of Piedmont. It definitely made me realize the potential I had to contribute to the community and it’s citizens welfare.

Pierce St.Claire, Piedmont High School Senior

Dec 5 2019

On Wednesday, November 18th, I went to my first Recreation Commission meeting. I am a student at Piedmont High School and I had to do something that contributed to government in some way for my Civics Class. I honestly thought it was going be pretty boring, but I was happily surprised.

The Recreation Commission meets once a month. They deal with all matters pertaining to public recreation, including parks, playgrounds,etc.  More specifically, they deal with maintaining and creating areas in Piedmont. In the meeting I attended, they talked about Pickleball and maintenance of Coaches Field. 

Two of my Friends, my brother and I left for the meeting and arrived at 8:00 PM. We took the seats in the back and waited for the members of the commission to get started. There were 7 commissioners and 5 other people who attended the meeting. The commission was led by Steve Roland.  He directed the meeting.

It started off with Jackson Sterns talking about sports programs struggling to get kids involved. Dick Carter, a commissioner, mentioned the poor conditions of Witter Field, specifically the turf, which is poorly maintained.

The main meeting topic was a discussion of Pickleball. One of the people attending the meeting complained about there not being enough time to play because of the lights turning off too quickly. He also talked about how Pickleball and tennis players were getting along pretty well. Pickleball has exploded and become very popular.

During this time, we decided to go up and speak. My friend, Holden, spoke about water polo. My brother, Pierce St.Claire, Georgie Brayer, and I talked about the conditions of Witter Field. All of us have played sports and used Witter Field extensively during our time in the Piedmont School system. The field is clearly overdue for serious maintenance.

It was super fun talking and attending the meeting. I enjoyed the various subjects and learning about the growth of PickleBall.

While we were able to communicate our concerns about Witter Field, We didn’t realize that it was actually a School Board issue, not under the jurisdiction of the Recreation Commission. Even though we didn’t go about it conventionally, the commission was happy that we attended and they were really respectful to our blunder.

I found the experience to be very educational.  I learned a lot about public meetings and forums and I am very glad to have attended!

Robert St.Claire, Piedmont High School Senior

Dec 2 2019

Dec. 2, 2019

Piedmont City Council
c/o John Tulloch
re: Dec 2 Parcel Tax Agenda Item
Dear Mayor McBain and Council,
         The Parcel Tax is commonly understood and accepted by Piedmont taxpayers to be for essential City services as follows: police, fire, street maintenance, building regulations, library, recreation, parks maintenance, planning, and public works. Your proposed language change allows the parcel tax to be used for any purpose and not limited to the traditional nine essential City services.  I object to this and ask that the original tax language passed by voters in 2016 be continued.
         The reality is that virtually all Piedmont residents will not read the full text of the tax and then compare it to the 75 word ballot question for discrepancies.  Residents mostly rely on the ballot question and Proponent material.  If the Council elects to retain the altered wording that allows the parcel tax to be not limited to essential City Services, the ballot question must clearly state that the parcel tax is no longer limited to essential City services as is commonly understood.
Sincerely,
 Rick Schiller
 Piedmont Resident and Property Owner
Dec 1 2019

“Agenda Insight” to be presented before December 2, 2019 City Council meeting:

Item 3, the first item on tonight’s regular agenda, is the second reading of Ordinance 746 N.S. to renew the Municipal Services special Tax for 4 years effective July 1, 2021, and to place this before voters in a special election on March 3,2020, consolidated with the California Presidential Primary on that date….

Although most aspects of this renewal reflect no change, there is a word change that appears to have an impact. The wording of the present parcel tax says, “If in any fiscal year the City Council shall determine that municipal services INCLUDING but not limited to…” and then it names 9 services which must be included in general fund expenditures, with support from the parcel tax if other city income isn’t sufficient to cover them.

At the first reading of this ordinance, last meeting, that language was changed to, “municipal services which MAY INCLUDE but are not limited to..” and then lists the same 9 services. The staff report calls this a non-substantive change, but many people read it as a very substantive change because it gives Council the flexibility to remove any service from this list. The 9 services are police, fire, street maintenance, building regulations, library, recreation, parks maintenance, planning, and public works.

If the Council wants to put this on the March ballot, they must pass the second reading tonight because they are up against a deadline for submitting the final ballot language to the Registrar of Voters…..

Item 4 is consideration of a resolution approving procedural details for the Special Election of March 3… Of particular interest to voters, this item also sets the 75 word ballot question to read, “Shall Ordinance 746 N.S. which maintains essential police, fire, and paramedic services, prevents the reduction in maintenance of City parks, greenspaces and other public areas, and prevents the loss of recreational and other public services, by renewing the City of Piedmont’s expiring parcel tax for four years… be adopted?”

….Interestingly enough, this ballot language is almost the same language we voted on in 2016, so all 9 services were not mentioned last time around either. However, in both 2016 and 2020, it is the language of the resolution we are voting on, not the 75-word summary, and the language of the resolution has changed.

Ann Chandler, Piedmont Resident

Nov 7 2019

I am so thrilled to report that the Piedmont Community passed both Measures G and H.

Your continued commitment to a robust public education is incredible! I want to thank the countless parent, staff, and student volunteers for all of their support and civic engagement over the past few months. It was encouraging to be a part of a community-wide conversation about our schools and how we support teaching and learning.

I fully recognize and am grateful for the commitment that families have made in our school system. I will continue to work closely with the Board of Education, teachers, staff, families, and students to ensure that Piedmont’s schools not only continue to provide excellence in education, but that we also continue to grow and improve in how we educate students.

Please join me in also thanking and acknowledging the election staff from the City of Piedmont. Their efforts ensured a smooth election day!

On behalf of all of the teachers, support staff, and administrators, thank you for your support and engagement with our incredible district.

Sincerely,

Randall Booker, Superintendent of Piedmont Unified School District

Nov 2 2019

The League Offers Arguments in Support of Ballot Measures G and H.

The League of Women Voters Piedmont has prepared a Pros and Cons for Piedmont voters regarding Measures G and H here.  After engaging in a discussion regarding Measures G and H, the Board voted to support these measures which align with the League’s policy to support a high level of education in the Piedmont Schools.

Measure G would continue financial support for District programs for students in Piedmont schools. The measure, with a new eight (8) year term, intends to provide the District and its taxpayers both stability and predictability in base parcel tax support. The proposed parcel tax will replace the local funding approved by the voters of the District on March 5, 2013, as Measure A, which will otherwise expire as of July 1, 2021. This Measure will provide continuing local revenue that cannot be taken by the State and will fund programs in math, science, technology, engineering, English, music, and arts, keep textbooks and instructional technology up to date, maintain smaller class sizes, and attract and retain qualified teachers (“Measure G Programs”).

Measure H would authorize the District to impose a special parcel tax with a rate of $0.25 per square foot of building improvements per year, to be levied against each taxable parcel of land located wholly or partially within the boundaries of the District. The Special Tax would have a term of eight (8) years, commencing on July 1, 2020, and ending on June 30, 2028, to be collected by the Alameda County Tax Collector, as applicable based on parcel location, at the same time, in the same manner, and subject to the same penalties as general property taxes collected by said tax collector.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the Piedmont League of Women Voters Board of Directors. Publicly noted Board members are President Nancy Beninati, Piedmont Resident, Vice President Lorrel Plimier, Oakland Resident, and Membership Chair Linda McClain, Oakland Resident.

PCA does not support or oppose ballot measures.

Oct 28 2019

Dear Editor,

I’m writing to express my strong support for Measures G&H. As a realtor and a grandmother of children attending the Piedmont schools, I understand the importance of our Piedmont schools on many levels.

Every day, I work with families who want to buy homes in Piedmont because they know that our community offers a great education for their children. The strength of our schools directly affects the value of Piedmont homes.

I am proud to live in a community that values education, and I’m thrilled that my grandchildren attend the Piedmont schools. I know that they are receiving an outstanding education that includes small class sizes and access to art classes, libraries, current technology, and eventually AP classes and a range of electives. This breadth of programming exists because Piedmont has consistently passed school parcel taxes for over 30 years, helping to address the lack of state funding for education. In addition to preserving our educational program, we also need to support the teachers who work hard every day to teach our students. Measures G&H will allow us to preserve our educational programs and properly compensate Piedmont teachers.

All of the money raised by our school parcel taxes stays here in Piedmont. Even if you don’t have children who attend the Piedmont schools, Measures G&H are a wise investment because they help protect and improve our property values. The Piedmont schools have been the centerpiece of our community for decades. I encourage Piedmont residents to join me in voting Yes on Measures G&H in order to keep our schools strong.

Sincerely,

Anian Pettit Tunney, Piedmont Resident

Broker Associate , The Grubb Co.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 24 2019

We all benefit by increased real estate values substantially created by our excellent
Piedmont Schools. Normally larger homes increase in value more than smaller
homes. A single progressive Per Square Foot of Building Tax, a PSFBT, is the best
tax solution for each of us to fairly contribute to our schools based on property
value increases.

PSFBT is used in Alameda since 2011, Emeryville since 2007, Berkeley since 2010, and W. Contra Costa since 2004. Instead our School District has chosen to keep our large regressive flat tax and add a small progressive PSFBT.

March 2013 the School District replaced the existing tax that had “a variety of
progressivity to it” (Board President Raushenbush 12/12/2012) with a
regressive flat rate tax. This resulted in 76% of Piedmont taxpayers on parcels less
than 10,000 square feet (“sf”) paying 6% to 21% more. However 24% of
taxpayers, owners of large parcels, commercial buildings and multi-unit buildings
pay 7% to 80% less. Some large parcels over 20,000 sf go untaxed.

The District commissioned a survey of voter preference. Presented April 24 2019 to
the School Board, the Final Ballot Result compared a single progressive PSFBT that
generates 125% of current revenue to a regressive flat rate tax at 115% of
revenue. The Survey concluded that 73.4% of Piedmont voters definitely/likely will
vote for a 125% progressive PSFBT. The 115% flat rate tax received 62.1%
support. 66.7% is needed to pass.

Initially, I suggested a 115% progressive PSFBT which would likely poll above 74%
and I’m disappointed by the District unfairly comparing a progressive 125%
revenue tax to a regressive 115% tax. Despite this headwind the progressive tax
polled 11.3% higher. Rather than follow voter preference the District created a two
tax Special Election at a cost of $125,000 versus General Election cost of $35,000.
Additionally, as Piedmont taxes and bond obligations are already as expensive as
any in the State and proper funding is critical for Piedmont Schools, the School Tax
conversation should be revisited every four years.

So what is the tax cost to homeowners of a single progressive per square foot of
building tax (“PSFBT”) versus Measures G and H? Proponents state “Measure G will
cost all homeowners $2,763 per year. The cost to homeowners for Measure H will
be 25 cents per square foot of their home.” Measure H generates an additional 25%
in revenue so a single $1.25 per square foot of building tax will generate the same
total revenue as Measures G and H. While I advocated a 115% revenue increase, I
will compare the tax cost of a 125% progressive PSFBT to Measures G and H:

House SF
Tax G Existing
Tax H  +25%
   Total 125%
PSFBT 125%
       2,736
$2,736
$684
$3,420
$3,420
 
 
 
 
 
       2,400
$2,736
$600
$3,336
$3,000
       2,100
$2,736
$525
$3,261
$2,625
       1,800
$2,736
$450
$3,186
$2,250
       1,500
$2,736
$375
$3,111
$1,875
       3,000
$2,736
$750
$3,486
$3,750
       4,000
$2,736
$1,000
$3,736
$5,000
       5,000
$2,736
$1,250
$3,986
$6,250

 

If your home is smaller than 2,763 square feet you will pay less under a single
progressive tax. The median size home in Piedmont is about 2,400 square feet. I
estimate that under a single progressive PSFBT 63% of homeowners will pay less
than with Measures G & H. Mindful of an excessive cost to large homes, Alameda
uses a $7,999 cap and I suggested a $4,999 cap in Piedmont.

Likely you are among the 76% who paid more after 2012 and are in a home smaller
than 2,763 square feet. Additionally according to the District’s own data 73.4% of
residents support a single progressive PSFBT School Tax.

Proponents state: “If Measures G and H do not pass, up to 100 teacher positions will be eliminated.” This outcome would be awful and fortunately our current tax runs through June 2021 so there will be no revenue loss should G and H fail. There will be no teacher eliminations.

Vote NO on Measures G & H so the District will put before us our preferred
choice: a single progressive tax.

Rick Schiller
Piedmont taxpayer

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 23 2019

“I hope we have the civic wisdom to evaluate and plan for the infrastructure changes necessary to accommodate the additional population ADUs [Accessory Dwelling Units] will generate over time; and also to guard against those who would exploit the issue to circumvent the principles articulated in our General Plan and Design Guidelines.”

First, the sour grapes: at its October 21, 2019 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to overturn a denial of design permit by the Piedmont Planning Commission. A rare event. The decision was, in my opinion, based solely on political expediency centering on “ADUs” – an important civic consideration – that was a never part of the consideration by the Planning Commission and sets a problematic precedent for future residential development in our city.

Without relitigating the details of that decision, I’ll point out that seven separate Planning Commissioners- most leaders in their fields of architecture, design and the like, and Piedmont residents, voted against these similar designs on three occasions over a three year period of time- neighborhood opposition has been consistent throughout the process. For the reversal of the Commission’s decision, standing before the Council were: two Planning Commission nonresident Staff members,who opined on design elements and related matters outside their purview and not burdened by any evident qualifications, the applicant, one non-profit advocacy organization, and three non-neighbor character witnesses.

The advent of ADUs as a civic issue in our State and Piedmont is a legitimate one. I’m not sure there’s a housing crisis so much as an affordable housing crisis, but that’s almost beside the point- the fact is it’s political catnip today and not going away tomorrow. I hope we have the civic wisdom to evaluate and plan for the infrastructure changes necessary to accommodate the additional population those ADUs will generate over time; and also to guard against those who would exploit the issue to circumvent the principles articulated in our General Plan and Design Guidelines.

Philip Stein, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.