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

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.
Dec 11 2020

– Remarks to the Community following the 12/7/2020 swearing-in of new Councilmember Conna McCarthy –
 

-I am delighted to be with all of you tonight. I am fortunate for the opportunity to thank those who helped me get here: Starting with my husband Peter Craigie who steered me into buying our first home in Piedmont 32 years ago. Thank you to our 3 amazing adult children, Kieran, Cormac, and Kathlyn, all PHS grads. Dad and I are so proud of the challenges you undertake and your service to country and community.  I am particularly grateful to each one of you for taking a leadership role in my campaign.

-Thank you to my San Francisco McCarthy Family: My mom, Jackie McCarthy. My brother Niall, my brother Adam, my sister Sharon and their spouses Yvonne, Heather and Dale and my 11 very charming nieces and nephews.

-Most importantly I am forever appreciative for being raised by Leo T. McCarthy who taught me and my siblings the value of public service.  He was a profound example of ethical leadership. He counseled each of us to use our knowledge, power, privilege, and voice to create a better community and tonight I am very proud to stand in his reflection.

-Thank you to my Campaign Team: Photographer Lauren Remer, Sean Wong who designed my signs and media materials, Campaign Administrator Wendy Szczech, Advisors Chad Olcott and our beloved, wise Cameron Wolfe, my Campaign Manager Andrea Swenson who just completed 8 years of service on Piedmont School Board. Thank you for always picking up when I call. Thank you Data Manager Sharon Hom. You make a complicated task easy. And once again, a shout out to my brothers Niall and Adam who made sure I achieved fundraising goals.

Thank you to the Endorsers and Advisors who support my leadership and continue to encourage me: former Mayor Bob McBain, newly elected Mayor Teddy Gray King, Councilmembers Tim Rood and Betsy Andersen.  Councilmember Jen Cavenaugh and I will have some catching up to do as we were both candidates in this election cycle.  I look forward to continuing collaboration with School Board members Amal Smith, Cory Smegal, Veronica Anderson-Thigpen, and Hilary Cooper.   We know that with women at the table, everyone gets fed.

I wear white tonight in deference to the 100 year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. As I am with you tonight in the role of Councilwoman, I am particularly grateful to those Piedmont women, who early on served in elected office sometimes as the only female member of a decision-making body. Sue Smegal, Ann Trutner, Stephi Moers, Valerie Matzger, Susan Hill, Tam Hege to name a few. The women elected today stand on your shoulders.

Thank you to the folks at City Hall who work every day to make sure Piedmont is a wonderful place to live.

Thank you City Administrator Sara Lillevand –  We first worked together  when I joined the Recreation Commission and Sara was Recreation Director. And now I am delighted to be joining Sara’s leadership at City Hall. Sara is the glue that holds all the pieces together. A few months into her job as City Administrator , the pandemic hit. Sara put on a second hat as Director of Emergency Services. All Piedmonters benefit from her thoroughness, patience and adaptability.

Thank you to Asst City Administrator John Tulloch.

John knows the devil is in the details. And while he is patient explaining rules and regulations, he sets a high standard for accountability. He is highly ethical and fair. Most importantly he is eager to help others succeed.

Thank you to Recreation Director Chelle Putzer and her team, Erin Rivera, Jackson Stearns, Steven Chavarria and Cora Woods. As a Recreation Commissioner I saw first-hand the incredible talent in our Recreation Department. Chelle was on the job for 3 months when the pandemic hit. She deserves widespread applause for her ability to lead a team that is consistently able to pivot with fresh starts and with creativity to meet the needs of all Piedmonters.

When I decided to run for City Council I reached out to every Department Head. Without fail, each director responded offering to make themselves available to answer questions, or add background or context or shed light on topics of concern to Piedmont voters.

-Finance Director Mike Szczech – Thank You for your humor and intellect.

-We will all miss Chester Nakahara as Director of Public Works, but I am appreciative that Parks and Project manager, Nancy Kent remains a source of continuity.

-Police Chief Jeremy Bowers is a special treasure amid a social re-awakening demanding equity and justice in Police Departments throughout the nation. Kudos to the search team who brought Jeremy to Piedmont. His leadership is gift to all of us.

-Thank you to Planning Director Kevin Jackson. There are several hot topics in your court. I look forward to working with you and your team.

-Welcome Interim Fire Chief Michael Despain, let’s work together to find the next  Piedmont Fire Chief.

-Thank you to the Voters of Piedmont

We will build an aquatics facility.

We will plan and prepare and be ready for opportunities to improve existing infrastructure.

We will remain resolute in our pledge as City leaders to embrace differing backgrounds, lived experiences, and beliefs, and look for opportunities to express our shared values for diversity, and inclusivity.

Piedmonters, continue to support your elected council members by sharing your ideas, and volunteering your talents. Ask questions. Challenge us to be better and join us in doing better.

But right now, as the pandemic has suspended our lives,  take care of each other. Look out for your neighbors. Practice patience and forgiveness. Each of us is bearing a burden that pushes us to find new levels of resiliency.

Stay Safe. Stay healthy. Know that your Piedmont leadership is looking out for you.

Thank you.

Councilmember Conna McCarthy

Nov 29 2020

– The Proposed Piedmont Center for the Arts Lease Is Flawed –

On November 16, 2020, three City Councilmembers voted to approve a 7-year renewal of the City’s lease of 801 Magnolia Avenue to the Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA), rejecting a motion to allow more public input first. Because the City Council will have a second vote on the proposed lease, Piedmonters still have an opportunity to express their views by writing to the Piedmont City Council at: 

cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov

The threshold question for the City Council is whether to continue PCA control of a City building.

Public comment was split between those appreciating PCA’s role in hosting arts events and those who hoped that 801 Magnolia could become more of a “community center” where arts is one use, but not the only use.

Most Piedmont non-profits rent City or School facilities as needed (e.g., Education Speaker Series, Diversity Film Series, Piedmont Soccer Club); PCA could do the same for its arts events. The City Manager stated that Recreation Department programs could fill any unused City space and the PCA space is often unused (even pre-COVID), other than as a quiet space for its commercial sub-tenant.

This is not a choice between arts and no arts, but rather how best to maximize community benefit from limited City spaces. If the City Council decides to renew PCA’s lease, the proposed PCA lease has four major flaws. As a result, it fails to achieve the goals set forth in the City Staff Report. The lease is at:

https://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=17199779.

(1) Future City Construction.

The proposed lease prevents the City from terminating the lease until January 2024 at the earliest—and then only if the City is conducting significant renovations of the Police, Fire or Recreation buildings. (See Sections 1.8 & 9.2).

The City, however, plans to seek voter approval of bonds to renovate or rebuild City buildings in Spring 2021. The City’s building plans might include relocating City staff to 801 Magnolia Avenue while construction is ongoing or even a new structure at the 801 Magnolia Avenue location. The City could be ready to begin construction in Summer 2022, but be blocked by the PCA lease, as construction costs increase during the delay.

The simple fix is to amend the lease to allow the City to terminate without cause on 180 days’ notice (note that the City’s lease to the Piedmont Educational Foundation allows termination without cause on 90 days’ notice).

(2) City Use of 801 Magnolia Avenue.

Because the 801 Magnolia Avenue space has been unused much of the time (other than PCA’s sublease to The Piedmont Post), the City seeks the right to hold “City Sponsored Activities” there or to rent it out for “City Private Rental Activities.” A good idea, but the proposed lease puts unwarranted hurdles in the City’s way.

The proposed lease would allow City-Sponsored Activities, but only (i) with advance notice, (ii) if the City cannot go elsewhere, (iii) if the City mitigates PCA’s concerns about “unreasonable interference” with “Tenant’s use,” and (iv) the City tries to relocate its activity if PCA asks. (Section 4.2(c)). City Private Rental Activities, allowed only if PCA has nothing planned, face similar restrictions. (Section 4.2(b)).

The simple fix, consistent with the City’s ownership on behalf of all City residents, is to allow the City to schedule any activity there that is compatible with any arts related activity previously scheduled by PCA. At a bare minimum, a City right to terminate without cause on 180 days’ notice will ensure good faith cooperation on both sides.

(3) Revenue for City Expenses.

In 2011, the City gave PCA a no-rent lease because PCA agreed to pay to perform long-deferred maintenance on the building. In the proposed lease, PCA pays no rent, but is not asked to perform any work. By contrast, another non-profit, the Piedmont Education Foundation, pays rent of $19,020/year for less nice space inside Veterans Hall.

PCA’s 2019 balance sheet shows over $406,000 in assets and its 2018 and 2019 profit & loss statements show income exceeding expenses. After public comment that PCA could afford to pay rent (like most non-profits using City or School facilities), PCA’s Treasurer stated that PCA could “do more,” i.e., pay rent. The City has stated that it needs revenue to fund maintenance. Accept PCA’s offer!

(4) Equal Access.

In the past, PCA has turned away those who did not meet its definition of “arts-related.” The Staff Report says PCA agrees to more diverse programming, but the proposed lease would narrow PCA’s Approved Uses from a “venue for exhibits and performances” to “arts-related” activities only, plus its sub-lease. (Section 1.1).

In theory, the City Private Rental Activities provide another path for residents to rent the 801 Magnolia Avenue space, but, as noted above, the City’s rights are restricted. Even if that is fixed, PCA has the first right to schedule events. The lease should require PCA to rent space to any Piedmont resident for any event compatible with the space.

I encourage Piedmonters to share their views on the proposed PCA lease, as it will determine the use of 801 Magnolia Avenue for the next 7 years.

Rick Raushenbush, Piedmont Resident and Former Piedmont School Board

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.  The Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) is a separate organization from the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) that originated in 1986 and provides this news site. 
Nov 17 2020

New Lease Terms Offered by City are Significantly More Costly for City and More Favorable for the Occupant – Why Such a Radical Change from the Original 2011 Lease?

Nancy Lehrkind, the founder of the Piedmont Center for the Arts, wrote a letter to the Piedmont City Council alerting them to problems she was aware of regarding the first reading of an extended lease for the City property at 801 Magnolia Avenue to the “nonprofit” Piedmont Center for the Arts.

Lehrkind presented data on finances and issues.  Click below to read her letter  with additional information attached.

PCA Lehrkind 112020

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 12 2020

A controversial item has been placed on the November 16, 2020 Council Agenda…the lease of City property at 801 Magnolia Avenue, the Art Center.  Agenda here.

The Council composition is soon to change based on the recent election of Conna McCarthy to replace Bob McBain on the City Council. Given the lease terms and controversy, questions have been raised regarding the need to act prior to the seating of the new Council, which will occur within days in early December 2020. The current Art Center lease does not end until June 2021.

With over six months left on the lease, a citizen asked, “What is the rush?”  Others have called for a widely publicized community evaluation of the use of the City property, since one has never been undertaken.

Adding to the controversy, a proposed fee schedule for 801 Magnolia Avenue would not be developed and brought back to the Council until after the new lease agreement has been approved by the Council.

The staff report estimates the office space “market rate” rental at $50 per foot, by comparing it with the Veterans Hall office rental rate of $36 per square foot leased to the Piedmont Education Foundation, the  local non-profit organization benefiting Piedmont schools. The reason to compare a rental rate for commercial entities with the rental rate charged to a local non-profit is questioned.

Commercial rental space in Piedmont is at a  premium because of location and scarcity.  Plus, the City property at 801 Magnolia Avenue includes two much-sought-after parking spaces.

A number of citizens would like the fee structure to be a part of the lease discussion, prior to approval of any lease.  It has been proposed that the Recreation Department manage all use of the space to assure appropriate and full use of the property. The staff proposed agreement provides for City programs and events as well as private non arts-related rentals.

The building at 801 Magnolia Avenue was purchased with taxpayer’s funds.  If income from the property were to be maximized, it has been estimated rental income from various uses could bring in over $200,000 per year.

  • Who should manage the building?
  • What purposes should the property be used?
  • What use of this city property would be most beneficial for the community?

Opinion articles have been published on this site.

https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2020/11/04/opinion-city-owned-801-magnolia-building-should-be-run-by-the-city/

Opinion: Why Rush 801 Magnolia Lease?

Citizens have suggested various uses for the property.  Some are listed below.

— a community library,

— senior center,

— Dress Best for Less, drop off site and marking room, benefits schools and Piedmont’s local recycling goals,

— counseling/ tutoring space,

— recreation programs,

— meeting site,

— rentals for weddings, book reviews, receptions, celebrations,

— performances and art shows,

— recital and amateurmusical practice space.

The staff report is linked below

.Art Center Introduction and 1st Reading of Ord. 758 N.S. – Approving a Lease Agreement with Piedmont Center for the Arts for City Property at 801 Magnolia Avenue

Nov 12 2020

– Measure UU Passed, Pool Design Is Next –

Measure UU: A call for engineering experts among our community –

We are faced with a very interesting and challenging engineering problem: designing a pool that will meet the neighborhood’s aquatic needs for the next 50 years within the constraints of the Piedmont Climate Action Plan and the State of California 2035/2050 goals.
.
Very few pool design companies have the skills to analyze and optimize the complex trade-offs between the various available energy technologies and the pool size in area and water volume. Piedmont has an opportunity to innovate and show the way for other communities.
.
We would like to call on the engineering skills within the members of the community to join us with the goal of making back-of-the envelope calculations on various options, based on data gathering and scientific calculations. This  would help the City Council to make decisions on how to proceed.
.
You can connect to us by email: piedmont.green.pool@gmail.com or through this PCA forum.
.

Indira Balkissoon, Piedmont Resident

Garrett Keating, Former member of the City Council

Bernard Pech, Piedmont Resident

Tom Webster, Piedmont Resident

Nov 9 2020

Thank you Piedmont for your wonderful support and votes!

My heartfelt gratitude to everyone who took the time to talk with me, read my website, watch me on the various Zoom forums, and consider me for the Council seat. All of you made this such an incredible experience for this first time candidate.

Although I am disappointed the election did not turn out the way I had hoped, I am committed to public service and look forward to offering my services in a way that will benefit our City. There is never a shortage of work to be done, so I am sure I will find a place to volunteer and contribute.

We are extremely fortunate to have Jen Cavanaugh’s expertise and energy for a second term. A special thanks goes out to her for her kindness and camaraderie during the campaign.

As our newest Council member, Conna McCarthy will continue her dedication and hard work for our City. I would like to extend my deepest, most heartfelt thanks to all of my diehard supporters. So many of you gave me good advice, good ideas, and kept my spirits high. I can’t thank you enough for getting me through my first campaign.

A big, loving thank you to my wonderful husband Mark for his help, support and encouragement. He was my campaign committee of one and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And last, a thank you to Kapo, our loyal 4 legged family member. She logged a lot of miles carrying my “Vote Herrick” sign and brought a smile to many people’s faces. She’ll miss the campaign trail. I wish you all good health, a lot less stress and lots of hope as we go forward into 2021.

In community and with joyful gratitude,

Connie Herrick, Former Candidate for City Council

Nov 6 2020

Piedmont Resident Urges Transparency, Hearings and Public Input before Lease of City Building at 801 Magnolia –

Nancy Lehrkind’s letter raises several questions/issues.

  • If the current lease does not expire until June, 2021, why is there such a rush to decide on the use and control of the site?
  • And why does the process at least seem to be less than transparent, with few or no public hearings?
  • And, if the West Wing building was unused 70% of the time, how can this be when such space is in short supply in the City?
  • And, who currently manages the choices of users and who will decide in the future?
  • And, who would receive the mentioned $260,000 per year which might be realized and how much financial support and space would then be available by adopting the commercial rental option?
  • And, given the passage of UU, would it make sense to defer usage decisions until the UU pool development can be coordinated with the 801 Magnolia Avenue site?

So many questions…so many reasons to have significantly increased public input. Transparency is a virtue in this case. Public hearings would be a welcomed start.

Aaron Salloway, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 4 2020

– Regarding the City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue and the upcoming proposed lease to a private group by the City –

Are most residents even aware that the City Council is considering giving away control of the 801 Magnolia Avenue building with little or no notice to its citizens? Because I, for one, am very familiar with all aspects of this building, I do feel a duty to share my observations and ideas regarding its future use.

There is no question that The Piedmont Center for the  Arts has done a fine job of bringing quality live performances and art exhibits right into the heart of our town in the 801 Magnolia Avenue building. Since 2019, the Art Center no longer runs their own programs, but using the building as a “rental venue for the Arts,” they have booked many evenings of great entertainment and interesting art exhibits. These have been popular events which should continue, but control of the 801 Magnolia building needs to return to the City once the Piedmont Center for the Arts’ lease expires in June, 2021.

First of all, the Recreation Department could now make upwards of $260,000 a year of revenue for the City from bookings at 801 Magnolia based on what the Community Center brings in, plus everyone could use it.

Secondly, it was always intended that the Recreation Department could reclaim this City space after the first 6 years; that is how the lease was written. The Art Center was just the interim solution–renovating a public building with private funds at a time when the City could not do so. We raised the money, got all the contractors, managed the project – just put our heart and soul into it and kept our side of the bargain.

A simple “quid pro quo” with $1/year rent as part of the bargain! The reduced rent was NEVER a subsidy for art (See video of Council Meeting, March 7, 2011).  We stated our mission: “to promote artistic endeavors for youth within the Piedmont community,” because we felt such was lacking in our town.

Since the 801 Magnolia parcel was re-zoned in 2017 to allow for-profit commercial entities on this city-owned land, there have been many proposals about what could happen there once the current lease expires, including the best one for a commercial health club providing exercise classes, yoga, massage and physical therapy as well as nutrition services. As a center city building within walking distance of most Piedmont residents, these would be welcomed services. But I would still argue for control by the Recreation Department as the best way to ensure the greatest usage of this public building by the most residents for the highest revenue.

I would certainly not advise extending the current lease because in a dynamic community, situations change over time and the situation of the Piedmont Center for the Arts has certainly changed. Pre-Covid 19, in Calendar Year 2019, the part of the building they control (“the West Wing”) was unused 70% of the time while the other Recreation buildings were in constant use by residents for all sorts of activities. This fact, alone, should argue against continuing the lease of a prime public building to any private group with total power to decide who gets to use it and when.

It would be a different thing if the City just doesn’t need use of this building anymore; in that case, who would care? Further, as the purpose of The Piedmont Center for the Arts has now become a venue operating rentals for the arts, and it no longer “promotes artistic endeavors for youth within the Piedmont Community,” one should ask if it matters to the City, in considering a lease to them, whether this group is a nonprofit anymore.

Since the building is now zoned for commercial use, would the City allow The Piedmont Center for the Arts to operate as a for-profit entity at $1/year rent versus $260,000 revenue from Recreation Department uses or $15,000/month from a health club?

And, of course, the passage of Measure UU has changed the game in the city center, arguing against any long-term tie up of City property. These are big issues and options that the community needs a chance to understand.

With regard to a lease that doesn’t even end for another six months, it is impossible to understand the City’s rush to end all discussion, and, of course, any other options, by just giving away control to this private group.

The City should tell us, “what’s the quid pro quo of this deal” for the community? I just don’t see it! They should allow the current City lease with The Piedmont Center for the Arts to continue until its expiration in June, 2021 after which the 801 Magnolia West Wing would return to the City and Recreation Department jurisdiction.

Nancy N. Lehrkind, Founder & Former President The Piedmont Center for the Arts, Inc.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 1 2020

In these crazy times, we can’t host a coffee or ring doorbells, so I’m writing to let you know that I’ve endorsed Veronica Anderson Thigpen for the PUSD School Board, and I heartily recommend voting for her.

I have known Veronica since she moved here in 2018, and joined the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee. Right away, Veronica added a clear, articulate voice on important issues, like the proposal to have an armed police officer stationed at PHS/MHS.

Soon after, Veronica took responsibility for managing MLK Day, which showcased her great skills as an organizer and leader. The day went perfectly, a real achievement with so many moving pieces. She impressed other Committee members so much that in only her second year Veronica became PADC’s co-President. She has demonstrated excellent people skills, good judgment and a willingness to dig into complex issues in search of practical solutions.

Veronica’s background as an education and business journalist for 18 years has given her a broad perspective on education. She works now as an advisor to school systems and educational non-profits looking to build equitable, inclusive and effective organizations. She is knowledgeable, smart, energetic, and community-minded.

Veronica also has a daughter who is a junior at PHS, where she has helped to launch a revitalized Black Student Union. Her husband, David Thigpen, heads the undergraduate Journalism Department at UC Berkeley.

I hope that you’ll join me in supporting Veronica, and talking her up with your friends. When door-to-door campaigning is out, we need to find other ways to connect!

Maude Pervere, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.