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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 9 2019

Jan 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Att: May 4, 2018 AUSD Press Release

Dec 15 2018

December 10th Planning Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Carvel Tefft, Piedmont High School Senior

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

 

Dec 4 2018

12-4-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Bruce Joffe, Piedmont Resident

Nov 27 2018

Piedmont Board of Education Meeting on November 14th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Wilson Van Gundy, Piedmont High School Senior

Nov 16 2018

Correction Provided by Piedmont School Board Member

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Amal Smith

Re-elected Piedmont School Board Member 

Nov 5 2018

Win or lose on November 6, I want to say thank you.

First, thank you to everyone who supported me in this school board campaign. My biggest thanks to my couldn’t-have-done-it-without-him, uber-campaign-volunteer husband, Rick Smith, who brought his own expertise to the campaign, took on all tasks with good humor, and has been fully and selflessly supportive throughout my time in public service. Deep appreciation to Mary Ireland who, amidst all the work she is involved in, found time to develop and manage my website and design some of my materials.

I am grateful to my campaign committee who signed up early and provided insight, support, and wise counsel: honorary co-chairs Doug Ireland, Valerie Matzger, and Sue Smegal; and committee members Conna McCarthy, Cathie Geddeis, Hilary Cooper, Charlotte Ero, Anne-Marie Lamarche, June Monach, and Rich Raushenbush. And I am honored by the Piedmonters who publicly endorsed my campaign, sent in contributions, agreed to lawn signs, hosted events, voted for me, and were gracious and generous with their encouragement.

Thank you to my fellow candidates. Campaigning with you made me reflect more fully on what I want to accomplish, hone my message, and up my game. It is so important for our democratic process to have choices for open seats and our community is well served by your participation.

It is a privilege to serve this community and to work alongside smart, dedicated, savvy, direct, thoughtful people, from co-school board members, to district leaders/teachers/staff, parents and students, and
civic volunteers. It is my experience that we all work with integrity and honor, keeping our commitment to our true north principles of “kids first” and “all means all.”

I am honored to have served this community for 18 years and, if things go the way I hope, will be honored to serve another four. And if they don’t, then I wish the new board members all the best, knowing they will bring their best selves, as well as their unique perspectives and expertise to this board and this incredible community.

Respectfully,
Amal Smith, Candidate for Re-election, Piedmont School Board

Nov 4 2018

The following Letter to the Editor of The Piedmont Post was sent to the Post, but was not published in the Post.  It is published here for PCA readers.

VOTE NO on CC – Unacceptable City Charter changes.

CC  – the “hire, but can’t fire” proposal –  would unacceptably change Piedmont’s successful government by prohibiting the City Council from acting to retain or terminate their chosen Department Heads – Fire Chief, Police Chief, Finance Director, Recreation Director, etc. 

Piedmonters should not enact this law. It promises problems found in other cities where councils have lost their authority and ability to act.  A new government layer will separate Piedmonters from Council authority. 

Only one person, the unelected City Administrator, would be allowed by Charter to evaluate, direct, retain and terminate Council-hired  key employees -Police, Fire, Finance, Recreation, etc.  

Piedmont’s current Charter works and is coveted by others. 

With 22 years in elected office – Mayor, Council Member, Planning Commissioner, AC Transit President and Director, I have reviewed the Charter proposals and found proposals not in the best interest of keeping Piedmont a great place to live. 

The Charter merits updating, but NOT as proposed by Measure CC.  

Keep Piedmont’s Council strong. Await appropriate Charter change proposals.

VOTE NO on CC at the end of your ballot. 

Alice Creason,

Former: Piedmont Mayor, Council Member, Planning Commissioner, AC Transit President, Director, Piedmont Beautification Foundation Trustee

Nov 4 2018

Excellent publication by the California Association of School Board Officials (CASBO) about “What Every Board Member and Candidate Should Know” regarding School Finances in California. A must read to really understand school funding!

Randall Booker
Superintendent Piedmont Unified School District
Nov 2 2018

As a retired CPA, I applied my auditing experience to the Piedmont School Board for this election.   About two years ago, I sensed that something was amiss when I read reports that PUSD refinanced some bonds to a type (called CAB) that roughly quadrupled the bond’s interest expense.  So, using KCOM’s online video archives I studied the applicable archives.  I know the justifications that many board members used for this school financing.   But I find their decision outlandish.  Ultimately, the School Board reversed its error and switched back to CIB financing, which saved the district from incurring an additional $26 million dollars in wasteful interest expense.  As the public archives confirm, Dr. Titan’s leadership led to this $26 million savings.

If you’ve never attended a PUSD board meeting, please go to KCOM (Channel 27) and view any meeting in the archive.  You will begin to appreciate the dedication, determination, and backbone needed to accomplish what Titan has.

If you have been following the employment issues relating to the rogue teacher-student conduct, or the embarrassing decision to appoint Victor Acuna as full-time athletic director at roughly $120,000 per year.  Ask yourself, do you want a board member that has the backbone and perseverance to defend our students from such egregious personnel issues?

Prior to this election, I didn’t know Dr. Titan or any of the school board candidates, so I made a concerted effort to meet them, and study their prospective contributions.  I listened to them at two separate parents’ club candidate forums and via KCOM, I watched them speak at Piedmont’s League of Women voters’ forum.    It’s clear they are all nice people who want to make a difference for our schools.

But when you step into the election booth, set aside your friendships and vote responsibly for the one candidate that since 2013 has been working as a citizen watchdog to ensure proper conduct at PUSD.  Titan will provide the stewardship need now on Piedmont’s school board.

Dai Meagher, CPA (inactive & retired)

Oct 31 2018

We’ve all heard that old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” That’s what comes to mind with Measures BB and CC on the upcoming ballot.

The proponents of BB and CC claim they are merely updates to our “outdated” City Charter and will result in more openness and transparency. But when you look at what’s actually proposed, you’ll realize that BB and CC do more harm than good.

Measure BB proposes to change at least fourteen sections of the City Charter.

Although the proponents of Measure BB claim it merely updates the City Charter, it’s so much more than that. It impacts several key areas, among them being the elimination of competitive bidding. BB allows Council to raise and, in some cases, waive competitive bidding thresholds. So voting for this measure gives carte blanche for city contracts to bypass competitive bidding. As written, this aspect of Measure BB could have tremendous negative financial impacts on the city.

Measure BB would also impact the election and meeting requirements of the City Council by eliminating the need for twice-monthly meetings and changing the interval from the current four years to eight years (two terms) before a City Council member could run again. School Board members have this same four-year interval, and they are not seeking a change.

Measure CC abolishes Council authority to discipline city staff.

These proposed changes weaken the authority of the City Council and decrease the public’s opportunities to participate in city government and hold its council members accountable.

Piedmont’s department heads – Police, Fire, Recreation Director, Finance, etc. – are currently hired and fired by City Council, allowing the Council to be aware of the workings of various city departments and providing accountability to the public from their elected representatives. Measure CC weakens this authority by giving all responsibility to the unelected City Administrator to evaluate and terminate city employees. This proposed change creates obstacles that currently don’t exist, removes transparency, and is rife with unforeseen consequences, including potential decreases in morale, increases in employee turnover, and wrongful termination lawsuits.

The City Charter has been serving Piedmont well since its last revision forty years ago. It’s not broken. The ballot text for Measures BB and CC don’t tell the whole story. Visit http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/city-council-places-charter-measures-on-ballot/to see what these measures really do.

Please join me in voting NO on Measures BB and CC.

Melanie Robertson, Former Piedmont Planning Commissioner