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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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Aug 18 2020
The ultimate goal of the Reach Codes is to force mandatory 100% electrification of homes. As we are in the midst of rolling electrical blackouts because the State power grid has insufficient capacity and rotating outages are a not uncommon disruption, let’s reflect on what a 100% electric home means during a blackout. No cooking, no cooling (or heating in winter), no lights, no charging your Tesla, no internet; those in 100% electric homes will be back to the Stone Age.
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Going to 100% electricity will stress the State grid further. Except for black swan events like PG&E’s 2010 San Bruno explosion, rolling natural gas outages are unknown. There is a glut of natural gas. Forcing 100% electricity on homes is too much, both from practical and economic perspectives. Electricity is a much more expensive power source than natural gas. Exacerbating this is that Californians pay electric rates 56% higher than the average of other states (source: Center For Jobs and the Economy) on top of our sky high housing costs and nationally second highest gasoline costs. On top of the high costs of the Bay Area, increases are coming as PG&E exits from bankruptcy and will sharply increase rates to comply with court orders to secure its power grid from causing future fires.

The goal of Reach Codes is commonly accepted, of “doing the right thing” by the environment. We all agree with that, however, the Reach Codes are a blanket solution that has many pitfalls and should be rejected in favor of an incentive based system in Piedmont.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Aug 12 2020

Electric heat pump, water heater, and furnace make sense from a state-wide CO2 accounting viewpoint.

First, let us be clear that the proposed codes address only new constructions or large renovations. Of course, once adopted they will set the direction for future expansions of their applicability.
The CO2 emission impact of installing electric heat pumps in place of natural gas heaters (whether for new structures or as replacement for existing natural gas installations) is positive. Note that I am addressing only CO2 emission, not capital or gas/electricity costs.
At the State of California level, the sources of electrical energy fluctuates during the day as shown in the figure below for May 24, 2018. Note the large drop in available renewable energy (wind and solar) at night, in the morning, and in the evening.
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Today there is a lack of storage facility for electricity generated by renewable energy to enable shifting that energy from the time it is produced during the day to the time it is needed that same day in homes. So potentially an electric heat pump will be fed by electricity generated by a natural gas power plant because of the unavailability of any of the other sources at the time the pump is running. However as a first approximation, the amount of CO2 emitted by the plant is the same as from burning natural gas at the home to generate the same amount of heat. This is because an electric heat pump furnace has a coefficient of performance (COP) of 3 in our Bay Area climate (meaning one watt hour of electrical energy generates three watt hours of heat) and natural gas power plants have an efficiency between 30% and 38% in generating electricity.

The proposed Reach Codes may want to favor the installation of heat pump water heaters over heat pump furnaces because the hot water in the tank can be a store for renewable energy, provided that the heater is well insulated and equipped to draw electricity mainly during daytime. Such policy has the added advantage of soaking up the excess renewable electricity that is curtailed many days during the year, as documented by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).
The COP of a heat pump may drop below 3 during cold winter nights, but this is compensated on average by better performance in the summer. Utilities charge about three times more per unit of energy for electricity than for natural gas, because electrical energy can be put to work without increasing entropy (disorder). This rate ensures the same operating cost for both heat pump and natural gas furnaces in the Bay Area climate. The capital cost on new installations is higher but can be mitigated when combined with solar panels.
Bernard Pech, Piedmont Resident
Aug 6 2020

“…less disruptive than the recently proposed City ordinances (aka Reach Codes) to disband natural-gas appliances.”

A simple way for the City of Piedmont to reduce greenhouse gases (GNG) would be to enforce its existing ordinance that bans gasoline-powered leaf blowers, voluntarily direct city workers to cease using gasoline-powered leaf blowers, and to implement hefty fines for failure to abide.   According to the California Air Resource Board (CARB) 1 hour of gas powered leaf blower use is equivalent to 1,100 auto miles.  Gasoline powered lawn mowers produce about 25% of the GNG that leaf blowers do.

This approach to reducing GNG is far easier and much less disruptive than the recently proposed City ordinances (aka Reach Codes) to disband natural-gas appliances.   And it would greatly reduce Piedmont’s noise pollution as well.

Dai Meagher, Piedmont Resident

Jul 30 2020

A significant percentage of Piedmonters are out of town and are unaware of the impacts.

 Dear Piedmonters,

I appeal to you to join me in lobbying our elected city leaders for an extension of time (beyond August 3rd) for the  second reading of the recently proposed Ordinances 750 and 751 (aka the “Reach Codes) for a variety of reasons including:

1)      Because the impact of these proposed ordinance affects all of Piedmont’s property owners, I believe it would be very welcomed and appropriate for the city to make a special effort to communicate these proposed ordinances to all Piedmont citizens.

2)      It’s my sense that a combination factors (e.g. COVID-19 and the summer season) results in a significant percentage of Piedmonters out of town and unaware of the Piedmont Posts’s  July 22nd reporting on the Reach Codes    In addition, those that have read the codes may find (as I do) that more time is needed to responsibly reflect upon the proposed ordinance and render productive feedback to our elected city leaders.

The benefits of achieving a broad awareness of the proposed Reach Codes, and the benefits of receiving constructive feedback from citizens and homeowners supports allowing more time before the second reading.

The text of the proposed ordinance can be found here:  https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=16846499

Thank you for your consideration

Dai Meagher, Piedmont Resident

Jul 26 2020
The League of Women Voters of Piedmont will host an event on food insecurity in the East Bay featuring an enlightened discussion with Suzan Bateson, Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) in conjunction with a League fundraiser for the Food Bank. This free event will be live-streamed on the LWVP YouTube channel from 4:00-5:00 pm on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.
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With the added health and economic strains of the Covid-19 pandemic, viewers will learn about Alameda County’s significant food insecurity issues and how to help achieve a hunger-free community.
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Ms. Bateson, who has served as Executive Director of the ACCFB since 2001, will discuss the Food Bank’s dynamic programs, which include fresh food distribution to the community as well as work toward eliminating the causes of hunger in the East Bay.

During Ms. Bateson’s tenure, the Food Bank has tripled its annual food distribution to 32.5 million pounds. The organization’s success has been recognized numerous times and was awarded Feeding America’s national food bank of the year award in 2016. Notably, under Ms. Bateson’s leadership and bold approach, the ACCFB has ended the distribution of carbonated beverages while increasing its farm fresh produce from 1 million to 20 million pounds annually.

Suzan Bateson was inducted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017 and is currently chair of Feeding America’s Western Region. She attended the California College of the Arts and was a participant in the Executive Program for Non-profit Leaders at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

This LWVP event will be live-streamed on the LWVP YouTube channel from 4:00-5:00 pm on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Viewers may submit questions through the YouTube livestream comments, or email to  lwvpiedmont@gmail.com. The program will conclude with an invitation and instructions on how to join Team LWVP by donating to the Food Bank. For more information, visit www.lwvpiedmont.org.

Jun 29 2020

Recreation projects should be separated from fire and police measures.

Because of COVID- 19, ballot measures in November will not allow for full community discussion of City projects and needs.

Letter sent to the Piedmont City Council:

Based on the survey results and the limitations to public participation brought on by the pandemic, November 2020 does not seem like an appropriate time to put these two initiatives on the ballot, especially the facilities matter.

Every indication suggests a second wave of the pandemic will occur in the fall and these questions should not be put before Piedmonters under constraint.   “Robust resident education will be needed” – that will be a very difficult undertaking during the pandemic and should not be rushed or forced.  The typical forums available for voter education like League of Women Voters, house parties, clubs – won’t be available or will see reduced participation.

And, if put on the ballot, can the public outreach activities staff had planned before the pandemic go forward – it gives the appearance of city staff campaigning for the ballot.  Council should do as it did with the public safety contracts – postpone these ballot questions until more normal conditions return. Two years from now has the added advantage that three council seats – a majority – will be up for election, allowing for the community to send a clear signal of whether it supports these initiatives.

The polling results indicate that well over 60% of Piedmonters consider facilities as excellent, good or average.  The City Administrator concluded that Piedmonters do not clearly understand their facility needs but is that true?  Piedmonters are familiar with the facilities they use and see – recreation and park facilities – and not with the ones they don’t – the police and fire buildings.  The polling results indicate that most Piedmonters like what they see and it’s really up to the city to explain why these facilities need replacement.  Piedmonters understand the maintenance issue with the pool – it has been studied and discussed for years.  The proposals for the pool, Linda Beach and Coaches are for replacement, not maintenance, and looked at this way, the results could indicate that residents do not want these replacements.  To determine if that is the case, it would be better to have the public safety facilities and recreation facilities presented as separate ballot initiatives.

Finally, at a Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) meeting I attended, the Assistant City Manager/City Clerk indicated that General Obligation bonds might require two votes under the City Charter. The BAFPC suggested a way to avoid two votes would be to establish a Community Facilities District (CFD). I think the staff report is inaccurate when it states the BAFPC “favored” CFD bonds, though it did support a parcel-based tax assessment compared to an ad valorem one:

“The Committee recommends pursuing a parcel-based tax assessment. This is preferable to an ad valorem tax given that the facilities to be funded include primarily (or potentially exclusively) essential public services buildings benefiting all Piedmont residents.”

I think it is inaccurate to conclude that the facilities to be funded are primarily “essential public services”.  While I’ve enjoyed the recreation facilities in Piedmont, it is clear that not all residents utilize these facilities, especially so over the next 30 years as Piedmont “ages in place”.  Police and Fire are, of course, essential, so again, consider placing the public safety facilities and recreation facilities on separate ballot initiatives.

Garrett Keating, Former Member of Piedmont City Council

Jun 23 2020

Piedmont is the highest taxed of comparable Bay Area cities.

The City Council is considering a raise to the tax when a Piedmont home is sold.

The City Council is currently considering a proposal from the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) to raise the real property transfer tax (RPTT) the tax buyers and sellers pay when buying a home in Piedmont.  The current rate is  $13/$1000* of the sales price and increases of 3, 3.5 and 7% are being considered.  The rationale given is to raise $850,000 annually to pay for facility maintenance.  Historically the RPTT has been $2.8M and revenue above that has been dedicated to facility maintenance. Over the past 10 years, RPTT has averaged $3.25M and with that excess, the Facility Maintenance Fund now stands at $5.8M.   An analysis of RPTT growth over the past 20 years shows a very consistent increase in revenue, the one outlier being the years 2008 to 2010 (Figure 1.)  Using the RPTT growth rate from the past 20 years shows that by 2030, RPTT revenue will be $4.5M.
Why this matters is that Council must choose a tax increase to put before the voters in November 2020, and should not raise taxes unless necessary.  An analysis by BAFPC shows that Piedmont is the highest taxed of comparable Bay Area cities (http://piedmont.hosted.civiclive.com/government/commissions___committees/budget_advisory___financial_planning_committee December 2019 report).
The City Finance Director estimates that the RPTT will be $2.2M next year and using that as a baseline justifies a 7% increase in order to raise the $850,000 for facility maintenance (Table 1).   If the preceding 10-year average of the RPTT is used, a 3% increase will rise enough for facility maintenance (400,000 + 805000 = $1.2M).  Assuming Piedmont home values continue to increase, no tax increase is needed – the steady increase in real estate values will raise more than enough for facility maintenance ($1,200,000)
Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member 
*Updated: 6/25/2020
Jun 17 2020

“Piedmont is the highest taxed city in the area.”

Letter to the Piedmont City Council regarding increase in Piedmont taxes.

Table 4 of the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) report provides scenarios of increased property transfer tax (RPTT) revenue based on alternative increases to the tax.  The analysis looks backward and provides you with increased revenue the city would have received over the past 10 years had these rates been in place.  That’s an understatement and I recommend you give direction to staff to conduct a fourth scenario that forecasts RPTT growth under the current tax rate that will occur based on the growth rate of the past 10 years.  This is very easy to do and will provide you with information to select the appropriate tax increase, if indeed one is needed at all. 
Three reasons: First, as the BAFPC analysis shows, Piedmont is the highest taxed city in the area and adding more taxes to that burden should be factually considered. Second, the Facilities Maintenance Fund is fully funded.  Third, as the Public Works Director said at your last meeting, facilities maintenance is on pace and substantial deferred maintenance has been achieved under current RPTT revenue.  As you know, the past 5 years have seen record RPTT receipts even in a period of declining sales so there is good reason to analyze whether the a tax increase is needed.

I have some questions for staff:

City Administrator:  the BAFPC recommended city staff dialogue with PUSD officials about how increases in city taxes might impact the District’s need for additional funds.  Can you elaborate on these discussions?

Finance Director:  even in the midst of the pandemic, you recently stated the real estate market is “robust”. Can you elaborate on your projection that revenue will drop by 29% in 20-21,  yielding a RPTT of $2.2M.  Is that due to a drop in the number of sales or home prices?

Assistant City Clerk; You stated that under the City Charter, a bond initiative might require two votes.  Can you elaborate on that and any conclusions?  If that were the case, some have suggested a facilities district as a way to avoid 2 votes. I recommend Council abide by the Piedmont City Charter.

Garrett Keating
Former Member Piedmont City Council 
Link to Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee report > Receipt of a Report from the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee on Financing Options for Improvement of City Facilities
May 17 2020

What are Piedmont’s priorities? Schools, Community Pool, or other items?

Surveys on the way?

Resolution No. 21-2020 from the April 20, 2020 Piedmont City Council meeting directed the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) to “complete a comprehensive examination of potential funding mechanisms for city renovation projects,” which on its May 7, 2020 agenda, the BAFPC defined as a “Discussion of Potential Financing Options for Improvement of City Facilities.” 

Which is it – funding mechanisms or finance options?

While this may seem like semantics to some, the method matters. A funding mechanism can be any number of things – reallocation of city funds, grants applications, public-private partnerships – while financing means one thing – bonds and new taxes to pay for them. The BAFPC is looking only at bonds and a new 0.15% tax to raise anywhere from $30 to $70M for new projects over the next 30 years.

https://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/government/commissions___committees/budget_advisory___financial_planning_committee

That’s too bad because the city has several other tools at its disposal to come up with creative, long term funding mechanisms to pay for these improvements – a pension fund surplus of over $12M, an expiring sewer replacement program and well over $10M in other funds to re-allocate to other improvements. That would take some creative thinking on the part of BAFPC, but as the committee is progressing to have its recommendation to the City Council in time for the November 2020 ballot, that thinking is likely not going to happen. But before it makes bond recommendations, BAFPC has recommended the City talk with the School District to coordinate taxation on City residents.

BAFPC rightly asked what additional debt does the School District need to take on in the near term to address other school needs. As of May 7, those discussions between the City and the District appeared not to have happened and really should in light of the Governor’s recent proposed cuts to education. The School District’s long-term financial projections are much more dire than those of the City.

And what will be built? Council says “renovation”, BAFPC says “improvement.” Same thing? Maybe, but take a look at the pool for example. The City had a pretty good Community Pool lo these many years, the only problem being scheduling between lap swimmers and the high school and competitive swim teams. Now the city is proposing an Aquatics Center with accommodations for these two groups, at a much greater cost to build and operate.

The squeaky wheel gets the oil, but is it too much to ask that the pool improvement be a 50/50 public/private partnership? That’s not a question that BAFPC can answer, but for Council and the community to answer.

Council directed staff to hire a consultant to conduct outreach and education in Piedmont on the renovation projects and options for paying for them, so be on the lookout for computer and phone surveys. Get your 2 cents in now, because the “back of the envelope” cost for this bond initiative is $1000/household.

Zoom into the BAFPC meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, 5/21 to learn more.

Garrett Keating, Former Council Member

MEETING DETAILS FOR THURSDAY 5/21 > 2020-05-21 Budget Advisory & Financial Planning Committee

Apr 22 2020


Dear Editor,

What can be learned from the coronavirus pandemic? 

  • Preparing for epidemics before they happen saves lives.
  • Responding to epidemics at the first signs of outbreak saves lives and reduces damage.
  • Denying there is a problem enables the catastrophe to accelerate.
  • Delaying response causes preventable deaths and costs uncountable fortune.

The cost of early preparation, prevention and response is substantial.

The cost of early preparation, prevention and response is very low, compared to the cost of doing nothing. 

Can we apply these lessons to the global climate crisis?
We are suffering early signs: hurricanes are more powerful and damaging; droughts are more severe and flammable.  Some people, regrettably in political leadership, deny there’s a problem.  Delaying response enables the crisis to accelerate; climate change feeds itself and may soon become unstoppable.  The cost of changing from our oil-based energy economy is large, but the cost of not changing will become catastrophic. 

With commerce largely shut down by coronavirus, and the price of oil sinking into negative numbers, we now have a special, one-time-only opportunity to switch to non-polluting, renewable energy sources to avert the climate change catastrophe. 

Sincerely,
Bruce Joffe
Piedmont