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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Nov 28 2022

Does this mean the draft Piedmont Housing Element is in a 30-day comment period which commenced November 17?

From the California Housing and Community Development (HCD) website:
“Housing Element Submittal Requirements:”
“For first draft submittals: With the first draft submittal, please include in the cover letter how the local government complies with new public participation requirements pursuant to AB 215 (Chapter 342, Statutes of 2021). AB 215 requires that prior to submittal of the first draft to HCD, the local government must make the draft available for public comment for 30 days and if any comments were received, take at least 10 business days to consider and incorporate public comments. Please note, HCD cannot review any first draft submittals that have not demonstrated completion with this requirement. The housing element will be considered submitted to HCD on the date that documentation has been received verifying compliance with AB 215 public participation requirements.”
Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 25 2022

The City produced an HE that increases density and development pressure in neighborhoods where it need not be.

The City of Piedmont will submit its draft 6th Cycle Housing Element without any SB9 projections. SB9 allows 30-day approval of the subdivision of residential lots for the development of new housing/ADUs, a very likely development given Piedmont’s large lot sizes.   The city’s consultant claimed that Housing and Community Development (HCD) was setting a very high bar for accepting SB9 projections and advised against including such estimates in the city’s Housing Element.

Two cities I know of that have submitted SB9 projections are Atherton and Woodside (San Mateo County).  These cities share characteristics of Piedmont, namely large estate lots that could contribute to housing growth over the next 8 years under SB9.  Atherton projects 96 SB 9 units over the next 8 years based on the following methodology:

“Seventy parcels listed on the table from row 8 (60 Parkwood) to row 78 (172 Tuscaloosa) are residential parcels included as underutilized since they are of sufficient size to be further subdivided according to the existing zoning and lot size limits. Six of these parcels are vacant and have the capacity to yield 7 new dwellings for above moderate-income households if subdivided and developed in accordance with existing zoning regulations or to yield 14 new dwellings for above moderate-income households if subdivided and developed in accordance with SB 9 regulations. Sixty-four of these parcels are developed with one single-family house. Those parcels have the capacity to yield 93 net new dwellings for above moderate-income households if subdivided and developed in accordance with existing zoning regulations. Under the allowable provisions of SB9, these 64 parcels could be split into two legal parcels, with each parcel further allowed development capacity of 2 dwelling units. It follows that under SB 9, if each parcel were to meet the required criteria for an urban lot split, the overall development capacity could result in a total 123 dwelling units.”


This methodology is quite simple.  First, a GIS analysis of the city’s parcels was done to identify parcels that can be subdivided under existing zoning rules.  Then Atherton surveyed these parcel owners to determine their interest to develop their properties and combined with unsolicited SB9 applications since January 2022, assumed 12 SB 9 lots a year, 96 total over the 8-year cycle.

In a letter to the City of Atherton, this is how HCD responded to that methodology:

“SB 9 Sites: The element identifies SB9 as a strategy to accommodate part of the Town’s RHNA. To support these assumptions, the analysis must include experience, trends and market conditions that allow lot splits and missing middle uses. The analysis must list the potential SB9 sites and demonstrate the likelihood of redevelopment, including whether existing uses constitute as an impediment for additional residential use. The analysis should describe how the Town determined eligible properties, whether the assumed lots will have turnover, if the properties are easy to subdivide, and the condition of the existing structures. The analysis should also describe interest from property owners as well as experience. The analysis should provide support for the units being developed within the planning period. Based on the outcomes of this analysis, the element should add or modify to establish zoning and development standards early in the planning period and implement incentives to encourage and facilitate development as well as monitor development every two years with and identify additional sites within six months if assumptions are not being met. The element should support this analysis with local information such as local developer or owner interest to utilize zoning and incentives established through SB9.”


Woodside projects 18 SB 9 units and received a similar response from HCD (https://www.almanacnews.com/news/reports/1666208419.pdf ).  Los Gatos projects 92 and has yet to receive a response from HCD.

The Atherton City Council met last week to address HCD comments and anticipates it will lower its SB9 projections, but that is open to negotiation.  Nonetheless, Atherton is in the position to account for some SB9 growth because its Planning Department took initiative and conducted ADU and SB9 surveys of its residents to compile a baseline of intent to show HCD.  In Woodside’s case, councilmembers developed the SB9 projections after staff did not.  HCD may push back but these cities can demonstrate real potential because they reached out to their communities about SB9.

Assuming these projections are accepted, they demonstrate how Piedmont lost out on an important planning tool in developing its HE.  Atherton projects adding 96 SB9 units to its 2560 total parcels – 3.75%.  Woodside, 18 to its 1919 – 1%.  Imagine if Piedmont had projected just 1% SB9 units for its 4000 parcels – 40 over the next 8 years.  Including that estimate in the HE would have eliminated the need to place 30 moderate units in the canyon.  At 3% (120 units) it would have reduced the need to increase density at the Ace Hardware properties on Grand Avenue.

Piedmont certainly has the land for SB9 growth – there are 200 lots of 20,000 square feet or more in the estate zone. 50 of those lots are over 40,000 sq ft and could be subdivided today.  30 are over 60,000 sq ft and could be tripled if zoning allowed it.  SB9 applies to any parcel in Zones A and E that meet certain requirements and large residences can be partitioned into “plexes” so there’s lots of SB9 potential to go around.  Piedmont should have accounted for this in its HE.

Staff has always said the RHNA projections were about housing potential, but by underestimating that potential has produced an HE that increases density and development pressure in neighborhoods where it need not be. Staff has said SB9 units that develop in the future will count towards the RHNA target, but that doesn’t help now with the current HE site analysis and policy development.  Built-out cities like Piedmont should be using every planning tool to address what seem to be unrealistic RHNA projections.  It’s better planning as well.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 15 2022

Will the Housing Element Prohibit U-17 soccer and lacrosse at Coaches Field?

The Moraga Canyon Specific Plan Study, a study of the changes needed in the canyon to accommodate the proposed housing sites, includes the following goal:
“4. The specific plan must include recreation facilities, including but not limited to an under-14 soccer field, youth baseball/softball field, batting cages, artificial field turf, ballfield seating, a skate spot, a picnic area, and parking for these facilities.”
After the City of Piedmont withdrew plans for a soccer field at Blair Park some years ago, it came forward with a conceptual plan for a U-17 soccer/multipurpose field at Coaches Field.  This plan called for a relocation of the large retaining wall to accommodate a 150-300 foot field, the required size for league-sanctioned U-17 soccer games.  It did not require relocating the Corporation Yard.  With goal #4 the City appears to be backing away from this commitment.  The purpose of bringing a U-17 field to Piedmont was to avoid the need to travel to Alameda Point.   Goal #4 also does not mention lacrosse which uses the field.
The only way to achieve an expanded field and housing in Moraga Canyon may be to move the Corporation Yard to Blair Park, but this option is excluded from the Specific Plan Study.  Moving the Corporation Yard would also provide a better pedestrian-ready site for affordable housing.  Unfortunately the General Plan and smart planning in general have been absent from the Housing Element process.
Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont Council Member
Editors’ Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 14 2022

    Blair Park, along Moraga Avenue, is a perfect place for high density housing!  The site is easily accessible for developers.  Everyone who drives on Moraga Ave. past Blair Park knows that it is very underused!  Who wants to be in a park with such heavy traffic speeding past?

Please move the new Blair Park from its current 4.85 acre location in Moraga Canyon. The park, not housing, would be better located on a portion of the original 75 acre Blair Park site, above Coaches Field-high on the hillside (see historyofpiedmont.com search Blair Park)!  All Piedmont residents could enjoy this superior park location high on the hill with its mature trees, some of the original graded trails, and unsurpassed views!

Following is a description of our magnificent hillside from the San Francisco Morning Call newspaper, Sunday, March 22, 1891. Page 8: “a splendid view is had over the whole of, what ranges from the Golden Gate inward to the Contra Costa shore.  To gain this view at the back to an altitude of some 700 feet, dominates the whole surrounding country and gives the view in panorama of everything from Berkeley to Alameda on this shore and from Mount Tamaulipas down along the Coast Range.”

Isn’t it better for our climate issues, if Piedmonters just walk out of their houses’ to a majestic new Blair Park on the mountain for exercise, rather than jumping into their cars to drive somewhere else?  It was a highly desired destination for people in 1891 and it could be again!

Chris Read, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 10 2022

Where? When?

A wealthy suburb with a history of racial discrimination is forced, by law, to designate sites for low-income housing. A group of residents organizes and tells the City Council “not near us!” The Council relents and designates a former landfill in a canyon accessible only by a high-speed thoroughfare previously identified by city staff as dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. No one seems to care.

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 4 2022

The City of Piedmont is in an untenable situation. The City failed to appeal the allotment of 587 housing units in the city under the stated mandated Housing Element. The City failed to provide options that the residents could consider and then vote upon with sufficient time to then submit a HE plan.

Requirement for a Vote before land can be re-zoned. The areas under consideration for the Housing Element include park and municipal land, such as the Moraga Avenue properties and 801 Magnolia Avenue. These properties are in Zone B. Section 17.08 of the Code of the City of Piedmont is titled “Establishment of Zones; Zoning Map; Interpretation” and provides that the city is divided into five zones. “Within each zone, certain uses of land and buildings are allowed as permitted or conditional uses, and certain other uses of land and buildings are restricted or prohibited. If a use is not permitted or conditionally permitted, it is not allowed.”  Section 17.22.020 states “The following are permitted uses in Zone B: …A single family residence … City building…Public School…Parks…Cemetery…Emergency shelter…”.Multi-family residences are not a permissible use in Zone B (Blair Park and 801 Magnolia).

Section 9.02 of the City Charter provides that “…The Council may classify and reclassify the zones established, but no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election. No zone shall be reduced or enlarged and no zones reclassified unless a majority of the voters voting upon the same shall vote in favor thereof; provided that any property which is zoned for uses other than or in addition to a single family dwelling may be voluntarily rezoned by the owners thereof filing a written document …stating that the only use on such property shall be a single-family dwelling, and such rezoning shall not require a vote of the electors as set forth above.” The Charter clearly states that the ONLY time a vote is not necessary is when property in Zones B, C, D or E is converted to a single family residence.

Requirement to submit a Plan. The state of California wants the City to present a plan showing where 587 units can be built within the boundaries of Piedmont by January 31, 2023. Failure to submit a plan by that date could result in various penalties; most of which do not apply to the city. The one penalty that could apply during a period of noncompliance is the ability of a builder to force the city to approve permits for building affordable housing. This penalty assumes there is property available for development (sale) in  Piedmont and that the cost of construction is such that the builder will reap a profit.

There have been many discussions in the city that we just submit a plan with the understanding that it is unlikely the housing will be built. However, recently the HCD responded to a plan submitted by Santa Monica that the city had to show actual timelines for construction of housing on any city owned sites. If Piedmont submits a plan that includes city owned property the state can then force the city to act on that plan. Any plan that is submitted can be enforced and by then we will have no voice in the process. Further, it will set a precedent that the zones in Piedmont are meaningless. https://smdp.com/2022/04/29/too-many-units-too-little-time/ .

The Choice. The decision is between three choices: 1) Submit a plan that includes park and municipal land without a vote to rezone those lands which is a violation of Section 9.02 of our City Charter and could result in overbuilding in the city center and Moraga Avenue as well as undermining our zoning laws or 2) Submit a plan that is contingent on a vote to rezone certain areas for multi-family housing or 3) Delay submission of a plan, provide the necessary information so the electorate can make informed decisions and schedule a special election with options so that we can decide the future of Piedmont.

If the City Administrator’s letter dated September 30, 2022 had been sent early in 2022 there would have been time for a Special Election. However, at this juncture we must decide which is less harmful to the city of Piedmont; the possibility of the Builder’s Remedy being exercise versus our right to vote on the reclassification of zones in Piedmont.

I believe we should delay submission of a plan. We must bring the matter to a vote in Piedmont which will offer us a voice in the process, resolve the conflict in the community, preserve our Charter, allow multi-family housing projects in areas zoned accordingly and prevent future litigation. The city has already spent almost a million dollars in analyzing where the units could be placed and the people immediately rejected the city center location. This time let the citizens of Piedmont decide by a vote – it will be worth the cost.

Almost two-thirds of Southern California’s cities failed to meet their state housing plan deadline. We should immediately determine locations in Piedmont for affordable housing, summarize the options in a clear format (including maps), mail the information to each residence, prepare for a special election and elect new leadership that keeps Piedmont informed and engaged with a vote.


Bridget Harris, Candidate for the Piedmont City Council

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 4 2022

Do The Right Thing: Add A Site in Central Piedmont Site To The Housing Element

Can a Piedmont resident who finds the city’s history of excluding minorities morally offensive object, in good conscience, to the proposal to house 100 or more low-income families in Blair Park? Unequivocally, yes.

A half century of research reports that concentrating and segregating low-income families in places as isolated as Blair Park creates stigmatized neighborhoods that induce oppositional culture among residents, particularly children.  Don’t believe me? Go to the Google Scholar website (https://scholar.google.com/) and search on “stigmatized neighborhoods low-income housing.”

Is there a better way to comply with the State’s requirement for identifying sites for low-income housing? Yes, but doing so takes courage our City Council has yet to show.  The Council needs to identify 5 sites which can accommodate about 40 units each of low-income housing.  City staff, paid housing consultants, and a Council-appointed citizens committee worked months to identify more than enough appropriate sites without listing Blair Park.  Those locations, however, included several city-owned parcels in central Piedmont where homeowner opposition quickly scared the Council from choosing a site.  The site selection process, with central Piedmont excluded and with time running out to produce a Housing Element, has become increasingly opaque and arbitrary.  The Council has now, out of apparent desperation, turned to the politically safe but morally offensive solution of segregating 100 or more low-income families in Blair Park.

At this late date, the least segregated solution for Piedmont would include: 2 sites physically integrated into the 200 or so State-required market rate units planned for the area around the Corporation Yard; 2 sites on Grand previously suggested by the city staff; and 1 site in central Piedmont.  Highland Way, which now serves essentially as a parking lot, should be decommissioned as a street and made available for 40 units of low-income housing in central Piedmont.  The height and massing of such units need not exceed that of the institutional and commercial buildings around them.  Residents of the new units would be near schools, public transit, and services.  No public facilities would need relocation.

So yes, a Piedmonter offended by the city’s exclusionary history can, indeed should, oppose the Blair Park scheme because the Council has less segregated alternatives. Implementing these solutions will, however, take courage our Council will unlikely show unless Piedmonters offended by exclusionary policies make their concerns known.

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Nov 2 2022

As we head towards the home stretch of the November 8th election, and for those who have not yet voted, let me share with you my thoughts of why I support and voted for Betsy Andersen, Jennifer Long, and Tom Ramsey for Piedmont City Council.

As a 40-year Piedmont resident, longtime volunteer for the City, former Mayor and City Council member, I know what it takes to effectively serve on the City Council.  Betsy and Jennifer, as incumbents, have demonstrated their ability to listen to all viewpoints, thoughtful analysis of issues, being collaborative, their leadership, and have a commendable history of volunteering in our community.  I have met with Tom and am impressed with his professional background as an architect, service on the Planning Commission for 7 years, and his many other volunteer activities, utilizing his professional experience and skills for the benefit of the community.  Tom’s colleagues and neighbors have nothing but praise for Tom’s expertise, fairness, problem-solving and decision-making abilities, and leadership.  Tom will be a strong addition to the Piedmont City Council.

John Chiang, former Piedmont Mayor

Editors’ Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 22 2022

Here’s my perspective on School Board Candidate Shirley Hooi’s Public Records request:

The school district is planning and in the process of making many changes to the curriculum and educational materials as part of anti-racist, anti-white privilege, and pro equity directives from their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director and Director of Curriculum and Instruction.  Obviously, Shirley Hooi, or any candidate for school board, might find it useful to obtain educational materials from the school district.  Her request was a legitimate request made only a few days after announcing her candidacy.  The school district anticipates dozens of California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests throughout the year and allocates the appropriate resources to fulfill them in a timely manner.

In this digital era, where entire Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) textbooks are online, it’s reasonable to expect that the requested educational materials existed in digital format and thus would be producible via email.  Or that at least one physical copy of such materials is maintained in the district office.  So, it’s not obvious that the CPRA request was inordinately burdensome.   When Shirley became aware that her request was burdensome, she did reduce the scope of her request to just the most recent year.

There are excellent reasons why reasonable people are concerned about the quality of education at Piedmont schools. The California test scores, the state and national rankings, declines in enrollment, reports from various parent clubs, and the contents of Piedmont’s School Board meetings all indicate that Piedmont’s schools need to refocus their efforts on academics.    From my personal conversations with each of the school board candidates (over thirty minutes each), and from their presentations in various public forums, they all aim to have PUSD refocus efforts and return to the high-quality education previously produced.  The key difference among them is that Shirley Hooi believes the curriculum is delving into too many social areas that are traditionally the domain of parents.

Dai Meagher
Piedmont resident and PHS graduate

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 17 2022

City must adopt a substantially-compliant Housing Element in three months.

Piedmont is required under State law to adopt a compliant Housing Element by January 31, 2023, or the City will be subject to severe penalties, including loss of much zoning control the very next day.   I don’t think decision-makers or the community are fully tuned into the gravity of the situation.

The laws are not the same as they were five or six years ago, so this lack of awareness may stem from not having experienced this situation before. However, the world has changed. Given the lack of movement on the Housing Element, we are headed toward a train wreck, and all of the granular discussions and work on the element may be moot if the City does not adopt a substantially-compliant Housing Element in three months.

The State Dept of Housing and Community Development (HCD) just clarified 10 days ago that the 120-day grace period that we as a community have been told the City has applies only to the shortened zoning implementation period (one year vs. three years). Everything else, including the dreaded “builder’s remedy” that was enacted by the State in 2019 under which a City loses zoning control, kicks in the following day. See letter from the State to this effect regarding San Francisco here https://twitter.com/derivativeburke/status/1578070771972247552/photo/1

So, come February 1, 2023, anyone can propose any building of any height anywhere, and as long as there is a modest affordable component, they don’t need to comply with zoning regulations, and the City would have no power to deny it. It doesn’t matter what height or setbacks the proposed development has. Santa Monica has seen 4,000 non-zoning compliant housing units—many of them 10 to 15 stories in the middle of neighborhoods—approved in just the eight months their element has not been in compliance. See https://smdp.com/2022/10/12/new-15-story-project-automatically-approved-due-to-late-housing-element/ There are numerous such examples from Southern California where Housing Element deadlines were a year or two ahead of ours, and undoubtedly we will see the same happen in the Bay Area come early next year.

Even if the City has a certified element say by May of next year, if someone files a development application in April, they would be grandfathered and the City would not be able to deny these projects. They just need to get the application in. These projects are not subject to non-objective design review under State law, so nothing can hold them back.

We are already out of time to have a State-certified Housing Element by January end, given that HCD has 90 days to review a first draft and the City has not turned one in. The City can, however, still adopt a substantially-compliant element by the due date and continue to seek State certification. While ideally the City should have State certification as proof of its compliance, it can still assert substantial compliance with State laws while certification is sought. We can do this soon by using the last Housing Element draft and updating housing sites with the direction the Council provided in early summer, and then sending this for HCD review. If there are changes that result from HCD review, the City would make changes, and re-adopt.

Many community members have disagreements with aspects of the current proposal, as do I (I think densities along Grand can be much higher in five- or six-story buildings and along Highland in say four stories than what staff proposals state, numbers in Moraga Canyon should be lower as that area is not walkable or accessible to services and has steep slopes, and the City should also encourage small-plexes in existing neighborhoods). But the broader interest of the community rests on having a compliant, adopted element in place.

Some have pointed that the City Charter demands a vote on allowing multifamily housing on Public lands. They are right, and anyone with a straight reading of the Charter would come to the same conclusion. But if City rules (whether through charter or a City Council action) run afoul of State laws and the City is not able to fulfill its RHNA obligations and have a Housing Element in place in time, all that is irrelevant. Recent court cases do not favor local opposition to State rules. We are also past the time for a vote, even though technically the Charter demands it, and the City leadership should have been attuned to this much earlier. But now waiting for a vote or inaction otherwise will result in alternatives that are much worse. We are running out of time to stop someone from proposing 15-story buildings along Grand or Highland avenues, or maybe a five story-one next to your house, resulting in totally unplanned, non-cohesive development.

All cities are racing to adopt the Housing Element by the January 31st deadline. Just Google San Francisco or Oakland Housing Element and you will find dozens of articles. This should be the single highest priority in the community right now. We need THIS council to move on this now and for the NEXT Council in January to keep marching with this in the broader community interest, regardless of what happens in the upcoming elections. Not to mention our obligations under State law to meet our share of regional housing need and support housing for a diversity of incomes.

Rajeev Bhatia, Piedmont Resident

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