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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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Oct 15 2019

We are proud to be co-chairing the Yes on Measures G&H campaign. Since 1985, Piedmont has passed school support tax measures eight consecutive times. These school support taxes are one of the main reasons that Piedmont continues to have outstanding schools, ranking as among the best in California on student achievement.

There are several reasons why the Piedmont schools need to pass Measures G&H. Piedmont schools receive less state funding per student than neighboring districts because they have fewer students who are in special categories that get extra state funding. For example, Piedmont receives about $2,000 less per student than Oakland Unified School District and about $1,000 less per student than Berkeley Unified School District. In addition, Piedmont has only a few small businesses, and therefore can’t rely on revenues from businesses or donations from large companies. State funding for education is unreliable and has not grown fast enough to keep pace with rising costs, especially rising cost of living for teachers. Therefore, Measures G&H are critical for maintaining high quality schools in Piedmont.

We are fortunate to live in a community that values education and that has passed school parcel taxes consistently for over 30 years. All of the money raised by our community stays in Piedmont to support our students. This local funding helps keep class sizes small, and maintains a range of programs in math, science, technology, and the arts, as well as advanced placement classes, counseling and libraries. This range of programs prepares students for college and careers, and keeps them engaged.

Overall, Piedmont teachers are paid less than teachers in many surrounding schools districts. The average Piedmont teacher has a lower salary than the average teacher in San Ramon, Emeryville, Albany, Union City, and Dublin. Piedmont has lost 22 teachers in the last two years, simply due to cost of living issues. The purpose of Measure H is to address this issue by providing compensation strategies to help recruit and retain high quality teachers.

Together, Measures G&H will provide nearly 30% of our district’s budget and will help maintain the excellence of our Piedmont schools. The strength of our schools helps to protect property values for everyone in Piedmont, not just the residents whose kids attend the schools. For more information about Measures G&H, please visit yesongandh.org.

Hilary Cooper

Doug Ireland

Christine Wente von Metzsch

Editors Note: PCA does not support or oppose ballot measures.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors. 

Oct 14 2019

News coverage against Measure H, “No on Piedmont’s school tax increase,” was published in the East Bay Times, the former Oakland Tribune.  Click below to access the full article.

“Voters in the Nov.  5 special election should approve Measure G, which would extend what district officials have said is the largest parcel tax in the state.  But voters should reject Measure H, which would add a new one. “

“This district isn’t suffering.  At a certain point, residents need to ask district officials how much is enough.”

  https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2019/10/12/editorial-piedmont-voters-should-reject-increase-to-record-tax/

Local Measures
Measure G Parcel Tax Renrewal — Piedmont Unified School District (2/3 Approval Required)
To maintain the high quality of education in Piedmont schools, continue funding programs in math, science, technology, engineering, English, music, and arts, keep textbooks and instructional technology up to date, maintain smaller class sizes, and attract and retain qualified teachers, shall the Piedmont Unified School District renew its expiring parcel tax at an annual rate of $2,763 per parcel for 8 years, providing 10.8 million dollars annually, with independent citizen oversight and all money staying local?
Measure H Parcel Tax Increase — Piedmont Unified School District (2/3 Approval Required)
To provide critically needed funding to attract and retain high quality teachers and educational support staff, shall the Piedmont Unified School District levy a tax of $0.25 per square foot of building improvements, providing 2.6 million dollars annually in dedicated funding for Piedmont schools for 8 years, with independent citizen oversight and all money staying local?
Editors’ Note: PCA does not support or oppose ballot measures.
Oct 14 2019

Click the link below to read an opinion in support of Measures G and H submitted by Piedmont resident Hari Titan.

>Vote_YES_on_Measures_G_and_H

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.  PCA does not support or oppose ballot measures.
Sep 29 2019

City, Piedmont Connect launch Piedmont Climate Challenge

As demonstrators of all ages took to the streets around the world last week to call for action on climate change, the city of Piedmont has launched a new tool to empower local residents to reduce their own impact on the planet.
The Piedmont Climate Challenge uses a fun and simple website to create a friendly competition among residents to explore solutions, take actions and earn points for reducing their household’s greenhouse gas emissions. Households can share points with a team, neighborhood and community group to win prizes and bragging rights.
Nearly 40 households have already signed up for the Challenge since its launch at the Harvest Festival Sunday, Sept. 30. The Challenge will run now through March, followed by an awards celebration in April to recognize the teams who took the most action and earned the most points. So far, the top-performing community group is Beach Elementary School.
The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can start racking up points!

The Challenge is easy to join. Visit www.piedmontclimatechallenge.orgIt takes about 15 minutes to create an account for your household, join your neighborhood and complete your profile.

Once you have a profile, you can visit your dashboard to start or join a team (10 or fewer friends or neighbors) or join a community group. You’ll earn extra points by starting a team and recruiting friends and neighbors. Hosting a casual party is a great way to get started, and Piedmont Connect can arrange for a volunteer Ambassador to join you to demo the Challenge site and features.

Starting in the next week or two, be on the lookout for student Green Club members from Piedmont and Millennium High School who will be canvassing their neighborhoods to sign up households for the Challenge. Over the next month, they will be joined by students in the AP Environmental Science class and members of the Piedmont Community Service Crew. The Piedmont Middle School Green Team will join the effort by educating and motivating Tri-School elementary students at assemblies to introduce the Challenge site to their families.
Marjorie Blackwell, Piedmont Resident
Sep 1 2019

Letter from Piedmont Unified School District regarding school funding  –

For several years, PUSD has been working to educate our community about how the state of California is failing children by not adequately funding education.  We are often asked what can be done to change that.

Now is your chance…

We urge you to contact state legislators Representative Buffy Wicks, Piedmont’s Representative in the State Assembly (email or phone 916-319-2015) and Representative Rob Bonta (email or phone 916-319-2018) today to ask them to support the issue of Full and Fair Funding by placing a measure on the ballot before they adjourn for their fall recess on Sept. 13. 

Please click on the following links to learn more and see the draft script to help you in your outreach and support:

>Full & Fair Funding Letter and Script

>East Bay Coalition for Public Education

There has never been a more critical time to be bold and stand with educators, students, parents and communities across the state to show your support for greater investment in California’s public education system. Full and Fair Funding is an education-specific measure that would move California to the national average in per-pupil funding.

This is the same letter that we have sent to all families across the District.  Join us in support for Full and Fair Funding.

Sincerely,

Randall Booker, Superintendent, Piedmont USD
Terra Salazar, CSEA President, Piedmont USD
Gabriel Kessler, APT President, Piedmont USD
Board of Trustees, Piedmont USD:
Amal Smith, President
Cory Smegal, Vice President
Sarah Pearson
Megan Pillsbury
Andrea Swenson

 
“If we create a culture where every educator believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
– Dylan Wiliam
Piedmont Unified School District
           760 Magnolia Avenue
           Piedmont, CA 94611   510.594.2614 office
           www.piedmont.k12.ca.us

            https://www.twitter.com/piedmontunified

Sep 1 2019

The League of Women Voters California has announced support for ways to reduce plastics from going into the environment.

Every day, single-use packaging and plastic products generate thousands of tons of waste that are wreaking long lasting damage on our health and natural environment. We can no longer afford to wait. Act now and demand that your legislators combat the plastic waste crisis.

Roughly two-thirds of all plastic ever produced has been released into the environment, polluting every street, park, river, coast, and ocean. SB 54 and AB 1080 would alleviate the scourge of plastic by:

  • Requiring manufacturers to reduce waste and improve the recyclability or compostability of packaging.
  • Ensuring that all single-use packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable after 2030.
  • Mandating that the most-littered plastic products be made only from recyclable or compostable materials.
  • Creating incentives to encourage in-state manufacturing using recycled material.

Our dependence on single-use plastics is poisoning our state. Plastic production is a major source of global greenhouse gas emissions, floating plastic “islands” are clogging the oceans, and microplastics are increasingly contaminating our food and drinking water sources. Act now and help us combat the plastic waste crisis.

League of Women Voters California

Jun 12 2019

Piedmont School Board
c/o Randy Booker, Superintendent

re: June 12, 2019 Agenda item: School Taxes

Dear President Smith and Board,

I.      I take exception to Mr. Booker’s comments May 22 at 3:48 that a single square foot building tax would not allow the District to have a separate flat tax on unimproved parcels.  I again cite two sources:
– SB2954 (2018) Legislation allows a separate unimproved parcel rate.
– Alameda School District’s 2011 Measure A square foot of building tax with a separate flat rate for unimproved parcels and the identical 2016 Measure B1 tax; both these taxes withstood legal challenges.  Significantly, Judge Petrou in his 2018 stipulated judgement required a flat rate tax on unimproved parcels to bring Measure B1 in alignment with Measure A (source: Sean McPhetridge, AUSD Superintendent,  4/4/2018 Press Release).

II.     While identifying all parcels by their Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) is welcome, having multi-parcel owners combine parcels to a single APN to avoid paying multiple taxes is a problematic solution. Combining parcels at the County level eliminates some buildable lots. Should the owners wish to recapture these parcels, the process is not simple and is done at the City level.  Applications, surveys and new legal descriptions on new recorded documents would be required. This does not respect Piedmont taxpayers who have been so generous in their School support. Finally, eliminating buildable size parcels works against Piedmont’s requirement of meeting State mandates of providing more housing.
A multi-parcel exemption handled by the District is the proper and simple solution.

III.    I again propose a single $1.15 per square foot building tax which gives the District a 15% increase in tax revenue.  This acknowledges that Piedmonters have been very generous in their District support and a 25% in total increase is excessive.

Respectfully,
Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
May 16 2019

City Administrator Paul Benoit describes Piedmont’s financial state.

“Piedmont’s financial position, year over year, can be described as ‘STABLE’ at best.”

Maintaining stability requires significant discipline and focus and we have done a good job of it. In recent years we have been working hard to look beyond simply maintaining stable services, and have been exploring opportunities to meet the needs of the future and to improve both the quality and delivery of services. Piedmont is facing, and will continue to face, significant and costly challenges that will need to be addressed – and most are related to the condition of public facilities and infrastructure.

Relative to the City Budget and our ability to make needed investments, it is important to recognize that Piedmont’s General Fund is dominated by property-related taxes, which make up nearly 70% of total revenue. Property based taxes are fairly predictable, with the exception of the Real Estate Transfer Tax.

Because City revenue is derived primarily from property related taxes we are able to make long-term budget projections with a good degree of confidence; additionally, it limits our exposure to the risks associated with significant swings in revenue, such as those experienced by cities heavily reliant on sales taxes.

On the downside we have little ability to increase revenue to the City’s General Fund in any meaningful way — absent voter-approved increases in the rate of the Municipal Services Special Tax, also known as the Parcel Tax, or in the Transfer Tax.

For these reasons, we very purposely:

  •  focus on the delivery of basic services and core programs;
  •  budget carefully and conservatively; and
  •  work diligently to safeguard our financial position by mitigating, to the extent possible, the impact of rising expenses which the City has little control over – particularly CalPERS related benefit costs which constitute an unfunded liability of just over $25 million.

On this latter point, the Council has proactively established a program of pension cost-sharing with employees and has curtailed retiree medical benefits for new hires.  These two initiatives, taken together, slowed the growth rate of our Underfunded Liabilities and will save the City millions of dollars in benefit-related expenses over the years to come.

Another significant action to buffer the effects of rising pension costs was the establishment of a Pension Rate Stabilization Fund, also known as a Section 115 Irrevocable Trust Fund, with the Public Agency Retirement Services – or PARS.

To date, the City Council has approved a total transfer of $2.75 million to PARS from the General Fund. One key benefit of this initiative is that funds deposited with PARS may achieve higher earnings due to less restrictive investment policies than apply to City funds invested in Local Agency Investment Fund.

As a result of the CalPERS decision to reduce the planned rate of return (Discount Rate), the City’s annual pension contributions are projected to increase from the current $2.2 million (7.5% of City revenue) to $5.5 million (13.3 % of City revenue) by 2029. This equates to a cost increase of approximately 132%, while City revenue over this same 10 year period is estimated to increase by only 35%.

As soon as 2023, and potentially continuing through 2031, the increase in mandatory pension contributions is projected to result in General Fund expenses exceeding revenue. When we face these net-negative revenue years, the City will be in a position to stabilize the General Fund by drawing down on its PARS account to pay pension costs.

Overall, prior City Councils and the current Council, working together with staff, have applied wisdom in managing the City’s limited financial resources. Piedmont now has a modest Reserve of just under $5 million, which represents 17% of our operating budget. Absent a catastrophic event, that amount should be of significant help in responding to an emergency or addressing unforeseen circumstances.

While there are no established policies to guide what constitutes “reasonable”, the reserve for the City of Piedmont is restricted by the City Charter to no more than 25% of the Operating Budget.

To put our City’s reserve in perspective, at the end of last fiscal year Emeryville, with a population similar to Piedmont’s, maintained a reserve of $30.3 million, which equates to approximately 76% of their General Fund; Albany’s was $8.8 million, which is 45% of their General Fund; Berkeley had a reserve of $84 million or 55% of their General Fund; and Oakland’s was approximately $150 million or 24% of their General Fund.

In addition to maintaining a modest reserve, the City has been making consistent, long-needed transfers to the Facilities Maintenance and Equipment Replacement Funds, and has also made much needed investments in our IT Systems, with a goal of bringing our use of technology into the modern era.

At the start of this Fiscal Year the Equipment Replacement Fund is projected to have a balance of $2.75 million – which, assuming we continue to make the planned annual transfers from the General Fund, should be sufficient to address the schedule for equipment replacement into the future.

The Facilities Maintenance Fund is projected to have a balance at the start of the year of only $4.8 million. This amount is far short of what is required to address accessibility, life-safety, life- cycle, and efficiency issues of our city’s facilities and property.

Piedmont’s facilities, like so many of the homes in Piedmont, are old and expensive to maintain. While aesthetically pleasing, most of our facilities are in need of significant repair and renovation.

On the whole, our community facilities and infrastructure have been kept largely functional, but it is time to devote the attention and investment necessary to meet community needs, let alone current safety or accessibility standards.

  •  Miles of sidewalks and pathways are in poor condition, and our City Engineer has estimated that we could spend on the order of $11 million on sidewalk and trail repair alone.
  •  To keep the Pavement Condition Index of our streets from deteriorating will require an estimated annual paving expenditure of approximately $1.5 million – up from the current $1 million – and this is assuming a competitive bid environment. As you know, the Engineer’s estimate for the repaving of Magnolia Avenue was $1.3 million. The sole bid submitted was for $1.7 million. So, the estimated $1.5 million required to maintain the condition of our streets could actually have increased to $2 million or more.
  •  The Veterans Hall and Recreation Building are virtually in the same condition and configuration as when they were originally built 50 to 100 years ago. Bringing them to where they should be would require an estimated investment of $6 to 7 million.
  •  The Community Pool cannot remain open much longer without substantial investment. While short-term fixes may postpone the eventual closing, safety issues are significant and the pool is losing an estimated 1 million gallons of water per year via unidentified leaks. Based on the recently completed Aquatics Master Plan, the cost of a modern and safe facility that meets community needs is estimated at between $12 million and $15 million.

Our beloved City Hall has significant needs rarely seen by the public. Low, open ceilings with exposed wires, water intrusion during storms, fire safety and accessibility issues are just a few of the problems.

At times, I hear comments asserting that the City does not have the space needed to support our programs. The fact is we have the “space”. We just need to make the investment needed to address the efficiency, functionality and accessibility issues that limit program opportunities as well as use by staff, the very young, and seniors.

The bottom line fact is that many of our facilities and amenities are inefficient, have significant condition issues limiting usage, and are not where they should be relative to life, safety, and accessibility standards – let alone to where they should be for a community like Piedmont.

Like the School District’s initiatives to invest in modernizing the Elementary Schools and High School to meet 21st Century needs, it is time to apply a similar focus to improving our City facilities and infrastructure.

In recent years, under the leadership of the City Council and with the support of city staff, there has been the political and organizational will to take a fresh and realistic look at our facilities and systems and to make the initial investment needed to develop a clear understanding of the issues and the opportunities for improvement.

While we have been doing the work necessary to develop that understanding—- the reality is that the City’s financial position, in the best of times, will only support an incremental approach to completing the work that needs to be done.

Unfortunately, for many facilities, an incremental approach will not get us to where we need to be.

To summarize:

Maintaining the current condition of our street paving, addressing unsafe sidewalks and pathways, and implementing priority pedestrian and bicycle safety projects will cost an estimated $23 million.

Factoring in the Recreation Building and the basement of City Hall adds up to $7 million. To address the pool and Veterans Hall, add another $17 million. Linda Beach Park improvements are estimated to cost $7 million. Improving Coaches Field could cost up to $4 million. All together these projects total $58 million.

Looking to the future, barring a natural disaster, bringing our facilities and civic infrastructure into the 21st century will be the City’s biggest challenge and greatest opportunity for the betterment of the Piedmont community.

With attention and investment our facilities can continue to serve the community for another 100 years. Doing what has to be done will take time, focus, persistence, vision and leadership. To our good fortune, we have all the right people in place, with the right mix of vision and talent, to meet these challenges.

Paul Benoit, Piedmont City Administrator

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
May 15 2019

The Piedmont School District contracted Dr. Timothy McClarney of True North Research for a Tax Survey and the results were presented April 24. Plainly taxpayers are more receptive to a square foot tax of building than the current flat rate levy. Dr. McLarney’s survey report states on p.18: “More tax rate sensitivity for flat rate / less tax rate sensitivity for square foot version.” Dr. McLarney confirmed this verbally.

On p. 7 the survey shows a preliminary voter test with no ballot arguments presented. The survey polled a $3,056 flat rate and a $1.25 square foot tax; both garnered favorable 73-74% definite/probable approval. However this was not an equivalent comparison. $3,056 is a 15% increase over the current $2,656 flat tax. The $1.25 tax generates 25% more revenue than the current flat tax. This is revealed in the May 8 Staff Report which shows that the current $2,656 generates $10.4 million, and that an additional tax of 25 cents per square foot will generate $2.6 million, a 25% increase, for a total of $13 million.

Conclusively, the Final Ballot test is shown on pages 15-17. The Final shows definite/probable votes after all positive and negative ballot arguments are presented within a 5% margin of error. The 25% revenue increase of $1.25 square foot received a 73.5% approval. The 15% increase flat rate of $3,056 received a 62.1% approval on the poll. 66.67% would be needed to pass. Unquestionably a $1.15 square foot tax, equivalent to the $3,056 tax, would poll higher than 73.5%.

Piedmont taxpayers have generously supported our schools and the School Board will now hopefully respect the wishes of voters by placing a single $1.15 square foot tax building tax before voters for virtually certain approval.

– Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Survey > 2019-04-24 VI_A_PollingResultsPresentation_0

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Apr 28 2019

League of Women Voters of Piedmont Annual Meeting & Luncheon

With Guest Speaker Lateefah Simon
on Philanthropy, Race, Equity and Social Justice

Image result for lateefah simon

The 11:00 a.m. speech is open to the public at no charge.

Friday, May 10, 2010 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

40 Highland Ave, Piedmont, CA

Join the League of Women Voters Annual Membership Meeting and lunch on May 10, 2019. The guest speaker, Lateefah Simon is President of the Akonadi Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting the development of social change movements to eliminate structural racism and create a racially just society. The organization’s vision is to transform the climate in Oakland to one of compassion, respect, and dignity for youth and young people of color.

As a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights and racial justice, Ms. Simon has over 20 years of executive experience in advancing opportunities for communities of color and low-income communities in the Bay Area.

Ms. Simon has received numerous awards for her work, including the MacArthur Genius Fellowship and the Jefferson Award for extraordinary public service. She has been recognized by the Ford Foundation, the National Organization for Women, Lifetime Television, O Magazine and was named Woman of the Year by the California State Assembly. In 2016, Ms. Simon was elected to serve District 7 on the BART Board of Directors and was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California State University’s Board of Trustees. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Tipping Point Community.

The Annual Meeting will start promptly at 10:00 am, followed by the speaker at 11:00 and lunch at noon. Lunch is $30. To reserve your spot, please visit the LWVPiedmont.org by May 3, 2019 and click the Annual Meeting link. This event is open to the public, there is no fee for the speaker portion of the program.