Feb 23 2018

Proposed Changes to Piedmont Governance Are Missing  Community Input – 

The February 5, 2018 Staff Report has the proposed revised  City Charter. There are single lines added that are fundamental changes to the way Piedmont operates and has operated for many, many years. Example: p19 Sec. 3.01 “All other officers shall be appointed and directed by the City Administrator.” Only the City Administrator and Attorney would be appointed by the Council under the new charter.

Under the current City Charter the City Council is the final authority. Under the proposed new Charter the Chiefs of Police and Fire, City Clerk, Director of Finance, Director of Public Works, City Engineer, Planning Director, Director of Recreation and such other subordinate officers, assistants, deputies and employees would be appointed by the City Administrator. This is a fundamental change in Piedmont governance. Much more community input is required for this and other fundamental changes.

The essential character of government in Piedmont is civic involvement and public discourse. The City Charter is the central document and rushing this to a vote without more public input and a committee report seems unwise.

Recently the Planning Commission approved a recommendation that Staff have more input on window reveals. If the distance a window is set back from the horizontal exterior wall plane is worthy of committee review, surely changing the City Charter also deserves a thoughtful committee investigation and report.

As public discourse is at the heart of Piedmont governance, an Open Government Ordinance is needed and should be made part of any new charter. This would extend the Brown Act three day notice requirement to a longer period such as eleven days so that during holidays, summer vacations and other demanding family times there would be more notice and adequate time for residents to digest and involve themselves in important changes in town.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 21 2018

Piedmont League of Women Voters Joins Individual Citizens Expressing Great Concern About the Lack of Citizen Participation and Quick Timing of Proposed Revisions to the City Charter – 

Councilmember Jen Cavenaugh suggested the newly proposed office holder limits appeared to be a solution looking for a problem.

As Piedmonters find out about proposed Piedmont City Charter changes, concern has grown.  In years past when important City Charter changes were proposed, community involvement was primary.  The majority of the City Council at their February 5, 2018 meeting made no attempt to require outreach to Piedmonters.  Only Councilmember Jen Cavenaugh desired more civic engagement prior to placement on the June ballot, which would postpone the Charter ballot to November, 2018.

The City Charter requires all proposed Charter changes be placed on a Piedmont ballot and approved by Piedmont voters prior to becoming law.

The Charter changes were agendized by Mayor Bob McBain and the City Administrator with little time for general public input.  After the February 5 introduction of Charter changes, the next Council meeting for consideration has been scheduled for March 5, 2018.  A Council meeting typically would have been held on February 20, following President’s Day of February 19, however that meeting was cancelled making the Monday, March 5, 2018 the next and last regularly scheduled Council meeting to take action on the ballot measure for it to qualify for the special election in June.

City Attorney Michelle Kenyon told the City Council the numerous changes to the Charter came from the City Administrator, the City Clerk and the Council members. The public was not involved or informed of Charter changes until release of the staff report for the February 5 Council meeting.

Mayor Bob McBain immediately suggested that the June 2018 ballot measure only offer two proposed Charter changes, which evolved to: 1. Exclude former two term officials from seeking public office until an eight-year waiting period has elapsed.  2. Remove from the Charter the budget limitation of 25% in Piedmont General Fund reserves. 

 The Council has shown interest in changing the limit on General Fund reserves from the current 25% limit. To avoid the accumulation of reserves in the General Fund, the Council has recently established various reserve funds where excess money has been placed in an effort to avoid exceeding the 25% limit. 

Cost to the City of up to $55,000 to vote on the Charter changes in June instead of November 2018.

The unexpected urgent placement of the ballot measure requires Council action within weeks of their first public introduction.  The incomplete and unavailable form of the possible ballot language must receive Council action by March 8 if it is to be on the June 2018 ballot.  (See Alameda County election deadlines below).  The expedited timing eliminates the opportunity for broad citizen participation prior to a ballot measure and would cost Piedmonters up to $55,000 than  waiting for the November election when there would be one ballot measure at a reduced cost. 

Some Council members suddenly want Charter changes for Special June Ballot, rather than waiting for November Election.

City Clerk John Tulloch told the Council that City Administrator Paul Benoit had informed the Superintendent of Education Randall Booker the Council wanted to place further limitations on out-of-office former officials seeking election to the Board of Education.   Benoit’s conversation took place prior to public information or Council consideration.

City Attorney Michelle Kenyon explained that the City Council and ultimately the voters rather than the School Board would make the decision on term limit requirements.  Kenyon acknowledged that this was an “important change” to the Charter.  

Importance of the Piedmont City Charter 

The Piedmont City Charter is the underlying legal basis of Piedmont governance.  Previously when significant changes to the City Charter were considered, a Charter Review Committee was appointed by the Council to review, carefully consider issues in open meetings, and then make recommendations to the Council.

The proposed Charter change limiting former office holders’ return to the City Council or School Board originated with Mayor Bob McBain.  McBain explained to the Council he had been approached about office holder term restrictions and had decided it would be beneficial to end prior officer holders ability to ever serve again.

McBain stated he felt it was unfair, and created an uneven election if past officeholders, who he referred to as “incumbents,” sought election after an absence of only 4 years.  He noted that many people want to serve and there are many volunteers.  This City Council has had the practice of recycling prior commissioners and committee members between the various boards, raising a question of the appointments excluding new willing volunteers. Though he had suggested a permanent exclusion, McBain was later convinced during the meeting that an eight year absence from  service was an acceptable time limit for an individual to once more seek election.

Council member Jen Cavenaugh stated that only one person in recent years had wanted to come back and returning past office holders were able to hit the ground running.  She was repeatedly interrupted by other Council members during the meeting when she attempted to speak. 

City Clerk John Tulloch had initiated outreach to other cities to see what exclusions on past officials they included  in their Charters.  He spoke of no outreach within Piedmont. 

On February 13, Mayor McBain and City Clerk Tulloch made a presentation to the School Board.   Following McBain and Tulloch’s presentation, the School Board was not prepared to take a position on the Charter changes.  See Superintendent’s report below.

The City Council has not taken final action to place the term limit issue on the June 2018 ballot and despite the School Board’s inaction, Mayor McBain preemptively proclaimed to the School Board that the service limits impacting the Board members would be on the June 2018 ballot and he hoped that the School Board would vote for the new limits on public service. 

McBain’s proclamation was on a split Council vote with Council member Cavenaugh seeking further information and citizen involvement prior to expending money for the ballot measure in June. 

Given the few past office holders out of office for only four years, the limitation and barring of candidates appeared to be targeting specific individuals.

Deadlines for June 2018 Election Ballot:

Close of Nomination Period for the June 5, 2018 Direct Primary Election –  March 09, 2018

Deadline to file Arguments In Favor/Against a Measure on the June 5, 2018 Direct Primary Election – March 14, 2018

Deadline to file Rebuttals to Arguments In Favor/Against a Measure on the June 5, 2018 Direct Primary Election – March 19, 2018

Ballot arguments are filed with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Board of Education current Policy 9110 states in regard to terms of office:

“BB 9110 Board Bylaws Terms Of Office:  The Piedmont City Charter contains the following provisions relative to the Board of Education: 1. The Board shall consist of five members elected from the city at large for a term of four years. Board members shall be elected at the times and in the same manner provided for members of the city council. Only qualified voters of the city shall be eligible to hold the office of Board member. No person who has served two full consecutive terms as a members of the Board shall be eligible to hold office until one full intervening term of four years has elapsed. Any person who serves as a member of the Board for more than eighteen months of an unexpired term shall be considered to have served a full term.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TO: Board of Education   FROM: Randall Booker, Superintendent  DATE: February 13, 2018   RE: POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE PIEDMONT CITY CHARTER

___________________________________________

I. SUPPORT INFORMATION

At its June 19. 2017 meeting, the Piedmont City Council directed staff to review the city charter and point out provisions that may be outdated. Subsequent to that meeting, Councilmembers also reviewed the charter and made suggestions regarding provisions they thought might need amendment.

At the February 5, 2018 City Council Meeting, City staff presented on the culmination of this review. As part of the discussion, a Councilmember suggested a possible revision of term limits (which in turn, could affect the [Piedmont Unified School District] PUSD School Board). City staff then requested direction from the City Council on further proposed Charter amendments and the possible placement on a ballot for consideration by Piedmont voters.

The following are the proposed changes that could specifically affect PUSD:

Article II – City Council
Section 2.03 Term of Office

Article VII – Public Schools
Section 7.02 Membership, Term of Office

Board Bylaw 9110

A question was raised as to whether Piedmont should amend the existing term limits provided for in the Charter. Currently, the Charter (and Board Bylaws) limits Councilmembers (and by extension Board of Education Members) to serving two consecutive terms. The current provision, however, does not prohibit a Councilmember (or Board Member) who has served two consecutive terms from running again after a full term (four years) has elapsed. The question for Council (and Board) consideration is whether there is a desire to impose stricter term limits than currently exist.

If there were such a desire, an option described for Council (and Board) consideration would be to limit Councilmembers (and Board Members) to serving two full terms in office. Should the Board wish to consider this option, both Section 2.03 and Board Bylaw 9110 would need to be revised as follows:

No person who has served two (2) full consecutive terms as member of the Board shall be eligible to hold such office again. until one full intervening term of four (4) years has elapsed. [Editors Note:  This appears to have been an error.]

II. RECOMMENDATION: REVIEW AND ACTION

Review the City’s proposed changes to the City Charter and, by extension, Board Bylaw 9110 and provide direction to the Superintendent.

Read the Piedmont League of Women Voters letter to the City Council HERE.

Feb 12 2018

Piedmont League of Women Voters has sent the following letter to the Piedmont City Council urging adequate community input prior to placing proposed Piedmont City Charter changes on the June or November ballot. 

February 9, 2018

Mayor Bob McBain

City of Piedmont

120 Vista Avenue Piedmont, CA 94611

Dear Mayor McBain,

The issue of revisions to the Piedmont City Charter and the governing of our city are of considerable concern to the Piedmont League of Women Voters (LWVP) and equally, I am sure, to all the residents of Piedmont. In fact, recently our League conducted an in-depth study and developed a position on local elections which, among other things, included criteria for selecting our mayor.

After viewing the City Council meeting of February 5th our board met and discussed the implications of the Council’s action regarding revisions to three items of the City Charter: term limits for the City Council and PUSD School Board, provisions for filling a vacant seat and general fund reserves. The quick timing of this action is of great concern because it does not allow for adequate community input and discourse between the Council and residents prior to adopting and placing these items on the June ballot.

The League of Women Voters has a position that “believes that democratic government depends upon informed and active participation at all levels of government. The League further believes that governmental bodies must protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.”

Therefore, LWVP urges a public meeting for a two-way discussion on these proposed charter changes so that the public has sufficient opportunity to share its input with the Council and for the Council to consider any revisions to the three proposals. If there is insufficient time for a two-way discussion with the public, we then urge the Council to reconsider its decision to put these charter changes on the June ballot.

In addition, with respect to those City Charter amendments proposed for the November ballot, we respectfully request that the City Council engage in a meaningful and adequate dialogue, as noted above, before any amendments are placed on the November ballot.

Regards,

Katy Foulkes
President, League of Women Voters Piedmont

cc All City Council members

Paul Benoit, City Administrator

John Tulloch, City Clerk

PUSD School Board

LWVPiedmont,  325 Ramona Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94610 lwvpiedmont@gmail.com

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Feb 4 2018

Big changes have been suggested for how Piedmont is administered. 

City Administrator form of government is evolving toward City Manager form of government, further limits on Council terms, increase in tax funds held in reserve, reduced meeting requirements, etc.

On the Monday, February 5, 2018 Council agenda is an item that potentially starts a change to long held principles within the Piedmont City Charter. The City Charter is in the domain of the voters of Piedmont, who must approve any changes to the City Charter..

When the Charter was updated and revised approximately 35 years ago, a citizen Charter Review Committee appointed by the City Council was established to develop recommendations for City Council consideration.  After review of the recommendations, the City Council placed the recommended revised Charter on a Piedmont ballot, and it was readily approved by Piedmont voters.

The Piedmont City Charter specifies expenditures, revenues, budgeting, decisions to be made by the Council, decisions to be made by voters, personnel roles, zoning, loan mechanisms, etc.

City staff actions are subject to Council direction and Council action in many instances is subject to citizen approval of major issues such as zoning, taxation, borrowing, and reserve fund limits.  Some staff members over the years have resisted  the requirement of gaining Council approval in a public forum before taking action on policy matters.  The result has led to some policy actions taken without Council authorization.

The City Council has exceeded its authority in some instances, supporting a reinterpretation of the City Charter diminishing voter controls.

Recent issues questionable under the City Charter reinterpretation have been:

  • Election process for selecting a mayor following a resignation
  • Loans taken out without voter approval
  • Refusal to allow a citizen vote prior to making zone use changes

City Administrator form of government evolving toward City Manager form of government –

Piedmont has for generations benefited from its City Administrator form of government, giving citizens and their elected representatives the primary authority and responsibility over numerous governmental actions.  The proposed Charter changes in a number of instances would alter this authority.

Unlike the proposed changes, the City Council, rather than the City Administrator, currently has the responsibility to appoint the top administrators of the City.  Some of these positions include:

  •  Police Chief
  •  Fire Chief
  •  Public Works Director
  •  City Clerk
  •  City Engineer
  •  Finance Director

The process for changing the Piedmont City Charter, foundation of Piedmont governance, will receive consideration by the City Council on Monday, February 5, 2018, on how to proceed with review and any updating of the Charter.

Residents interested in following this issue can attend the meeting, observe the Council live on Cable Channel 27 or from the City website under videos. This item is last on the agenda.

Read the staff report regarding Charter changes HERE.

Read the agenda HERE.

Feb 3 2018
The following is a letter sent to the Piedmont City Council on February 2, 2018 regarding proposed changes to the Piedmont City Charter.
Councilmembers:
Several of the proposed changes to the City Charter seem to be a step back from the volunteer leadership that has served Piedmont well and reduce the ability for residents to observe and participate in their local governance.  Other than a logistical need to extend the period to allow for appointments, I don’t see how most of these recommended changes improve our local governance.  Specifically:
Section 2:03 Terms of Office:  No rationale for this change is provided in the staff report, so if the council member or members proposing this could elaborate, it would help Council and the community understand why this change is being considered.  Term limits offset entrenched politicians, and for better or worse do facilitate change.  But they dilute experience.  These limits are directed at political and entrenched interests, problems we do not face in Piedmont.  Our Council has always operated as non-partisan governance, based on volunteerism, which allows anyone to participate.  The current code acknowledges this with the 2-term limit and enhances that spirit by allowing experienced volunteers to run again. John Chiang, Michael Bruck, June Monarch, Chuck Chakratavula – Why would the city prevent these volunteers from serving again if they choose to?  There is no need to make this change and doing so sends the wrong message to the community.
Section 2.07 (A) Meetings:  from my experience the current schedule is essential to giving direction to and providing oversight of city staff.  Workshops could be conducted as regular meetings if the total workload is an issue. And a full August recess would be appropriate.  Recent events this past year –  the conduct of elected officials and school staff – have demonstrated a real value in holding regularly scheduled meetings – the ability for the public to attend and express opinions on rapid developments. This has been valuable to giving direction to Council and the implementation of swift action.
Section 2.12 – Ordinances in General: this is obviously needed.  I would advocate for more explicit notification of code changes that potentially have a material effect on someone’s property. For example, the set-back changes and right-of-way permissions adopted in the recent Chapter 17 revisions. These meetings were noticed, however the specific changes to set-back rules were not explicitly presented.  City notification should make these kinds of changes more apparent to residents.
Section 4.03  The Budget:  Examine the suggestion made in the staff report that the 25% CAP was historically intended to prevent wasteful spending. To the contrary, I’ve always heard it was intended to do just what it does now – be a reserve during downturns in revenue, which did happen in the past in Piedmont.  As transfer tax projections show, those downturns are becoming less and less likely and the current reserve level has more than adequately met such events.  With the downturn in 2008 the transfer tax was $1.7M and the city hardly skipped a beat.  No layoffs, no service reductions and within in 2 years the tax exceeded $3M.   Leave the reserve CAP as is and consider instead, mechanisms to forgo the municipal services tax in years of high transfer tax receipts – I recall we did this in 2012 when the transfer tax was $3.4M.  Consider the results of your recent community polling – 50% of respondents found housing costs to be problematic – should the city be stock-piling tax revenue when half of Piedmont households find housing costs too high? 
If you proceed with eliminating the CAP, consider a Charter change that would direct excess transfer tax revenue to the School District after a fixed level needed by the city has been achieved.  Unlike the city with it large reserves, the School District has little and is facing new mandates to set aside reserves that will drastically impact the service provided by the school district.  Ironically, it is the influx of new residents coming to Piedmont for the schools that are driving the windfall in municipal tax reserves.
Garrett Keating, Former Member of the City Council
Read the Council staff report HERE.
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 22 2018

School Board will consider a number of policies on sexual harassment, complaint procedures, hate incidents, suspension and expulsion at their 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, January 23, 2018 Board meeting in City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  The meeting will be broadcast on Cable 27 and from the City website under videos.

Readers accustomed to one click access will find a different process for the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) staff reports.

Readers must first click on each link (noted in blue below), then download the report to their personal computers, after which the School District staff reports can be read. (See links in blue below.)

The following links go to the PUSD staff produced documents to be considered by the Board. The policy considerations are to begin at approximately 7:30 p.m.

1. Background – Healthy Relationships and Sexual Harassment
2. BP-AR 6142.12 Healthy Relationships/Sexual Assault Prevention
3. BP-AR 1312.3 – Uniform Complaint Procedures
4. BP-AR 4030 – Discrimination – Hate Motivated Incidents-Hate Crime- Harassment-Bullying – Employee Version
5. AR 4031 – Complaints Concerning Discrimination in Employment
6. BP 5131 – Discipline Code – Schools Rules and Procedures
7. BP-AR 5141.4 – Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Procedures
8. BP-AR 5144.1 – Suspension and Expulsion Due Process
9. AR 5144.2 -Suspension and Expulsion Due Process – Students with Disabilities
BP-AR 5145.3 – Discrimination / hate-motivated incidents and hate crimes / hazing / harassment (including sexual harassment), intimidation, bullying
VII.B. Presentation and Acceptance of 2016-17 District Annual Financial Report (Auditor’s Report) 

Annual Financial Report 2016-17
VII.C. Review Schedule of Board of Education Meetings for 2018-19 

2018-19 Regular Board Meeting Dates
VII.D. Approve 2017-2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding between the California School Employees Association (CSEA), Chapter 60 

8:35 PM
Speaker: Randall Booker, Superintendent
The Board will be requested to approve the collective bargaining agreement  and Memorandum of Agreement for 2017-2020 between the District and the California School Employees Association (CSEA), Chapter 60.
Attachments:
Background – CSEA Contract Approval
CSEA Tentative Agreement
CSEA-PUSD Memorandum of Understanding

~~~~~~~~~

Comments may be sent directly to School Board members by clicking their email addresses below:

Sarah Pearson
President
spearson@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Amal Smith
Vice President
amalsmith@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Doug Ireland
direland@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Cory Smegal
csmegal@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Andrea Swenson
aswenson@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Dec 22 2017

A Tale of Two Ledes…

from The Piedmont Post newspaper cover story of 12/20/2017:
 .
“At a meeting on Monday, December 18 the Piedmont City Council voted 3-2 to approve a conditional use permit for the Piedmont Center for the Arts’ sublease to the Piedmont Post after 90 minutes of deliberation.”  The rest of the front page goes on to explain how the Arts Center functions, never mentioning the opposition to the application.  The story makes no mention of the opposition of several School Board members to the application.
 .
from The Piedmonter newspaper and online cover story of 12/22/2017: 
 .
“Despite objections and numerous calls and emails to the city, the Piedmont  City Council approved – by a split vote – a conditional use permit to the Piedmont Post weekly newspaper to move its offices into the nonprofit Piedmont Center for the Arts.”   The rest of the front page goes on to explain the vote (McBain/King/Andersen in favor, Cavenaugh/Rood opposed) and the failure of the Post editor to respond to calls from the reporter to respond.  The story explicitly mentions written comments from a School Board member opposing the application.
.

One of those stories is good journalism (> Permit OK’d for newspaper to move into Piedmont’s nonprofit arts center), the other buries the story.  Chalk the latter up to “editorial policy” or just bad journalism?

by Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council and Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 16 2017

On Monday, December 18, for a rushed Council consideration of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application of The Piedmont Post newspaper to rent space in the Piedmont Center for the Arts Center at 801 Magnolia Avenue, a City property leased to the Arts Center with adherence to all City, State and Federal laws as well as restrictions on activities and hours.

The Council meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall. Consideration of the sublease of the Arts Center is late on the agenda.  The meeting will be broadcast on Channel 27 and via the City website under videos. Read the agenda HERE.

The City of Piedmont appears ready to become the landlord of one of Piedmont’s local newspapers, the Piedmont Post.  Other media outlets have reported the sub-leasing story, yet the Post has failed to notify residents of the proposal and the unique scheme to rent the subsidized City arts space to the newspaper.

The City Council has full authority under the Arts Center $1 per year lease to determine who sublets the City owned and subsidized property.

The subleasing of public property at the subsidized Arts Center has drawn growing attention as residents begin to learn of the proposal. Numerous residents who are critical of the Post’s politicized editorial practices have stepped forward. Praise has also come to the Post from residents, particularly beneficiaries of the Post’s coverage.

According to correspondence received by the City in regard to the application to house the local newspaper in a Piedmont government owned building designated for the arts, the City will receive more “bad press.”  The Piedmont Post, is owned and operated by Gray Cathrall, a founder and recent Board member of the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

A number of residents including a former School Board member, candidate for City Council and a City Commissioner, a former President of the Piedmont Education Foundation, and Arts Center neighbors, to name a few,  have come forward decrying the notion of the Post as a renter of a subsidized City building. Some opponents of the proposal are intimidated by the Post and have been afraid to come forward with their names.

Written comments were presented to the Planning Commission and are included in the staff report linked at the bottom of this article.

One detailed comment is copied below:

Dear City Council,
 
As a long-term Piedmont resident, I am strongly opposed to providing space in the PCA to the Piedmont Post Newspaper.  There are several factors behind this. First of all, it is an egregious conflict of interest for a sitting Advisory Board Member to simultaneously be the leader (editor) of the proposed tenant. Even if that Board Member is completely recused from the decision, the other Board Members undoubtedly have a close relationship with the Editor and cannot possibly render an unbiased decision regarding potential tenancy.
 
Second, the longstanding biased Editorial bent of the Piedmont Post should not be condoned by the city.  The Post has gone out of its way to malign certain arbitrarily non-favored candidates, coaches, etc. The maligning bent in some instances has been severe and toxic.
 
Third, the Post is run with mysterious finances.  Although there are some subscriptions, there is also a long-term use of “underwriters” as the mechanism of funding the Post.  How exactly this additional money is used is unknown, and, certainly, having underwriters who provide large cash payments seems inherently biased — one would presume that large donations would inherently introduce biased coverage. 
 
If Piedmont truly had an unbiased, subscription-based, jewel of a local paper, then placing it in the PCA would be suitable.  Instead, we have a highly biased, donation-based, and occasionally mean-spirited paper, and thus placing it in the PCA and providing public support to it is clearly the wrong thing to do.  It would not be in the community interest.
 
Tim McCalmont, Piedmont Resident and former President of the Piedmont Education Foundation

City of Piedmont as landlord to a newspaper.

The original lease for the City’s property at 801 Magnolia housing the Arts Center specifies  hours of operation, adherence to all City, State and Federal laws, notices to be provided to the City, etc. See copy linked below.

The sublet lease was not provided during Planning Commission consideration.  One lease condition proposed to be breached by the sublet is allowing hours past 11:00  p.m. bringing great concern to neighbors with school age children and senior residents desiring quiet late nights contrary to the proposed late night business activities running until 12 midnight on school nights. 

Many have expressed concern that Piedmont government facilities should only be rented for community wide services, as originally allowed for the arts.   Additionally, the newspaper is not accepted by all as a public service because of “egregious acts” against the schools, individuals, candidates for office, news manipulation, and being a bad influence on Piedmont youth.

Those attempting to find out more about the unusual transaction that would allow one local newspaper to receive a subsidized, government rental space leased for $1 per year have yet to receive complete answers to the following:

  • What is the financial condition of the Arts Center ?
  • Why wasn’t the space advertised locally to encourage other renters of the highly desirable central Piedmont location ?
  • Why did the Center break from a singular use as an Arts Center?
  • Did the Center’s Board hear from their former Board member  and potential renter at a Board meeting gaining an inside opportunity?
  • Could the City of Piedmont use the space rather than have it sublet?
  • Why was there no notice in the Post of the application or the timing of the hearings?
  • Why wasn’t there ever a meeting with neighbors to learn about their concerns in regard to parking and late night business meetings on school nights?
  • Why is the matter being considered so hurriedly over a 7-day holiday period with many Piedmonters away or preoccupied?
  • What is the rush?
  • How long has the proposed space not been used and available?
  • At the time the zoning was changed on the property was the space available?
  • Why wasn’t notice given to the residents of Piedmont at large for alternative use of this important Piedmont property?
  • What is the relationship between the City and the newspaper such that the newspaper receives preferential treatment over other media outlets?
  • What will the rent be?
  • Has the City Council been provided with the proposed sublease?

At the December 11, 2017 Piedmont Planning Commission meeting, the Planning Director provided advice, plus public comments were received. The Commissioners, without hearing from the business owner or whether the proposed usage complied with the requirements placed on the Center in their lease, recommended approval of a sublease for part of the Piedmont Center for the Arts for the Piedmont Post newspaper.  

City Council decides what can be in the Arts Center building.

The lease conditions were changed in 2016 to allow uses allowed in the public zone which soon opened the ability to sublease the property to a for-profit entity.   The Council revised the City Code in 2017  to allow for-profit businesses to be in the  Public Zone.  The change from non-profit zone uses to for- profit uses in the Public Zone was never put on a Piedmont ballot per Charter requirements to obtain Voter approval. Piedmont voters were not allowed to rule on the significant change.

The intent of the Charter was never pursued by the City, despite receiving an affidavit from a former mayor and an email from another former mayor informing the City Council that the intent of the Charter was being misinterpreted. The zoning change was singularly approved by the City Council, and without extensive reporting, was largely unrecognized by Piedmont voters.

There was concern at the time of the zone change allowing businesses in the Public Zone, such as a newspaper office or other commercial enterprise, in the scant public space available.

In 2011 when 801 Magnolia Avenue was developed as the Arts Center, the City Council, did not offer the property to various potential users of and acted to permit the Piedmont Center for the Arts.  Strict, limited hours of operation were incorporated into the lease agreement in consideration of the location next door to a home and in a school/residential neighborhood.  Center founders Gray Cathrall,  editor and owner of the Post, and Nancy Lehrkind, now Vice President of the Center Board, fostered the Center lease through the City Council.

The Municipal Pool, recreation tennis courts, and the schools all limit their operation hours to accommodate neighbors and minimize intrusive neighborhood night light pollution, noise, traffic, parking in the immediate vicinity of the Center.  No traffic studies of the proposed new tenancy were produced.

At the December 11, 2017, Planning Commission meeting few questions were asked regarding the application before the recommendation of approval to the City Council.   Commissioners relied on the narrow consideration factors presented by the planning staff.  The leases between the City and the Arts Center were not presented to the Planning Commissioners during their consideration.   Commissioners indicated neighbors could expect noise and traffic from schools without regard to the existing limitation on late night hours.

The integrity and character of the newspaper was not part of the Planning Commission consideration, although both pro and con opinions of the newspaper were presented at the meeting. The City Council is in a different position being the landlord of the property.

Arts Center Board member, Nancy Lehrkind, addressed the need for more revenue to support the Arts Center programs, while noting the incompatibility of joint use of spaces by various businesses or organizations.  No information indicating the space was  advertised to potential market rate renters.  No financial statements of the viability of the Arts Center were provided to the Commission. Lehrkind stated the Post would pay “top dollar” for the space, however the rental fee was not disclosed.

The Post on the application signed by Post owner Gray Cathrall stated the gross annual revenue of the Post equals $380,000.

The staff report includes comments/letters, documents, leases and the recommendation. READ the staff report HERE.

Comments can be sent to the City Council at the links below:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 547-0597 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 450-0890 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 428-1442 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Betsy Smegal Andersen bandersen@piedmont.ca.gov Unexpired Term Exp. 11/18

All Council members will receive comments sent to the City Clerk at jtulloch@piedmont.ca.gov

Recent news article by The Piedmonter newspaper can be read HERE.

Dec 15 2017

The Piedmont Civic Association was sent a copy of a letter from Piedmont United addressed to Kevin Jackson, Planning Director, regarding the Piedmont Center for the Arts’ Conditional Use Permit application to sublease space to house the Piedmont Post’s business offices.  The letter makes direct personal attacks, which were deleted to conform to our Editorial Policy. Interested readers wanting to read the entire letter may obtain a copy through the Piedmont City Clerk by calling 510/420-3040. 

Dear Mr. Jackson,

It’s pretty incredible that the City of Piedmont would entertain the Piedmont Post’s move to City property, directly across the street from the school that has been lambasted on a weekly basis and who’s female students have been insulted behind the scenes. There is a complete loss of credibility both personally and professionally with so many people in the community, that it makes no sense for the City of Piedmont to now reward the Post with a move to their property.

Paper Has Lost Credibility

Over the last two years, we have seen first hand how the Post and it’s editorial page are used to satisfy an agenda against the School District and used in bullying members of our community. Specifically, recent actions against the PHS Athletic Director and the support for the former mayor through specifically chosen articles to help paint him in the most positive light possible.  These actions have led to such a complete loss of credibility, that even advertisers have lost faith to such a degree, the paper has complained that loss of revenue now threatens the financial viability of the paper.

Significantly Violated City Decree Against Bullying

On November 21, 2016, every member of the Piedmont City Council and School Board signed a decree against bullying in our community, which is posted on the Piedmont Civic web site here.

“To be clear, we will stand firmly united to promote acceptance and kindness, and we will stand up to bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and violence. We will stand in support of our diverse community, honoring and protecting every resident regardless of race, creed, color, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, orientation, or identity. We will strongly uphold our established policies prohibiting discrimination, hate-motivated incidents and hate crimes, hazing, harassment, intimidation, bullying, cyberbullying, and other disruptive or violent behaviors in our schools and our city.”

At the time City of Piedmont leaders were denouncing harassing and intimidating behavior, the Post was 3 months into an all-out 11 month bullying campaign against the PHS Athletic Director.  The paper went on a rampage, publishing negative and misleading articles about the Athletic Director in virtually every issue of the paper from July of 2016 to June 2017. Drug into articles were Mr. Acuna’s finance and personal custody filings about his children. Employees of the Post even called Mr Acuna’s prior employers as fake reference checkers, in a desperate attempt to dig up dirt in any way possible.

After 11 months of personal attacks, the Athletic Director Mr. Acuna decided to not continue working in our community.  The environment created within our community, emboldened several people to do the unthinkable; Mr. Acuna’s daughter was verbally attacked by a woman in Mulberrys’ and at her Winter Ball a horrific scene unfolded as a Piedmont dad verbally attacked her in front of the PHS tennis coach. It also emboldened a woman to threaten Mr Acuna on school property during school hours at Witter Field. The Post’s articles caused such strife in Mr. Acuna’s home, that his engagement broke off and he moved back to Arizona with his daughter.  This is a disgusting stain on our town, thanks to the Piedmont Post.

On May 23, 2017 Mr. Prosterman sent an email to the Piedmont School District describing various things said behind the scenes about people, students and employees of our School District.

PUSD School Board Very Vocal About Post Untruths

The Piedmont School District School Board has been very vocal in their displeasure with the Post’s unfair coverage of the School District and painting District decisions in the most negative way possible.  Please take a look below at two very thoughtful letters that call out the Post that have been posted to the Piedmont Civic Association website.  A poll of School Board Members would undoubtedly reflect concern if the Post was allowed to move so close to the school.

“The Post has been publicly critiqued by Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) School Board members for its biased reporting on school bond measures and stories maligning PUSD staff and hires.”  

Being an Upstander:  https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2016/09/19/opinion-being-an-upstander/

The Piedmont Post’s Misrepresentations and Bullying Continue – https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2016/09/16/opinion-school-has-no-conflict-of-interest-despite-charge-by-piedmont-post/

The Piedmont Post is a Purveyor of Fake News

What do B Durham and Seamus Murphy have in common?  They are names of fake reporters on Page 2 of the Piedmont Post Directory routinely used to publish negative articles under “pen names.”  These profiles are used to initiate especially nasty negative articles.  Using fake reporters is the definition of “Fake News” and to have a purveyor of Fake News directly across the street from the High School would be a very bad decision by City leadership.

Keeping the Post Away From Students, Especially Females.

Transgressions of the Piedmont Post have not been a good example of a properly run publication in our community, and considering one of the main reasons for the Post’s application for a conditional use permit is “convenience for students to file sports stories,” we feel it would be setting a bad example to let the Post move so close to the school it continuously destroys in its editorial pages.

“City staff explicitly recommended “newspaper” as an acceptable use in its report to Council at the time. In The Post’s application for a Conditional Use Permit, it addresses this intent requirement with the following response: “It will be very convenient for students and residents to file sports stories, notice cultural events, to pick up copies of the weekly newspaper, and provide photographs, etc.”

We also believe the Post is just fine where it is currently located, at the farthest point possible away from students.  A very brave former employee came forth with stories of hateful staff “locker room talk” towards members of our community including Piedmont High School female students and athletes. This excerpt from an email Scott Prosterman, Former Piedmont Post employee, was sent [The email was not published on this website.] to the Piedmont Civic Association on February 4, 2016 and paints a very chilling picture of work behavior.

[  DELETED ]

Unhealthy Work environment / Threatens employees

The City cannot afford to have management practices based on threats to employees with bodily injury on City property.

This is a description of what it’s like to be an employee at the Piedmont Post, which was submitted by H. Scott Prosterman, Former Sports Writer for the Piedmont Post.  This is part of his email to former fellow employee Paisley Strellis:

“I enjoyed having you as a colleague during my brief tenure w/ the Piedmont Post., and I’d be happy to stay in touch. I started out enjoying the work too, but soon perceived that I was bombarded with mixed messages, confusing instructions, juvenile ridicule, brutal condescension and as you phrased it, “set up for arguments you JUST CAN’T WIN.” What an experience.”

This is Mr. Prosterman’s description of threatening physical violence when he was an employee at the Piedmont Post:

“[There was a] threat of physical violence in our exit meeting, “DON’T YOU MISCHARACTERIZE ANYTHING I SAY, OR I’LL PICK YOUR ASS UP AND THROW YOU OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW WITH NO PAY.”

[ DELETED ]

by Piedmont United

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of Piedmont United and H. Scott Prosterman.
Dec 15 2017

PRESS RELEASE

December 15, 2017

Piedmont Unified School District Saves Taxpayers More Than $26.1 Million with Bond Refinancing

On Tuesday, December 12th, the Piedmont Unified School District issued $27 million of 2017B General Obligation Refunding Bonds. Through the refinancing, property owners within the District will save more than $26.1 million over the remaining life of the bonds, equal to approximately $10.85 million in present value savings or 68.14% of bonds refunded. The substantial amount of savings generated from this refunding are primarily attributable to the Board’s decision to replace outstanding Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) with more cost effective Current Interest Bonds (CIBs). Refunding bonds, which are similar in purpose to refinancing a home mortgage, pay off existing debt with funds borrowed at a lower interest cost.

The refunding bonds were sold through a competitive bidding process with the winning bidder, Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, submitting the lowest bid at a true-interest-cost of 3.17%. Morgan Stanley was the lowest out of 7 bidders, reflecting strong demand for the District’s highly rated bonds. Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s assigned ratings to the District’s bonds at “Aa2” and “AA+,” respectively. The ratings place the District among roughly the top 15 percent of California school districts, reflecting the District’s strong financial management, steadily growing tax base and above-average economic profile.

“The Board of Education was thoughtful and deliberate during the planning stages for this refinancing and understood timing was critical as many municipal issuers fear they will lose the ability to advance refund bonds on a tax-exempt basis,” said Blake Boehm of KNN Public Finance, the District’s Municipal Advisor. The U.S Senate and House of Representatives are currently working through tax reform legislation that could eliminate municipal issuers’ ability to advance refund bonds with the pricing benefit of tax-exemption.

“The District appreciates the community’s ongoing support to our education programs and student facilities and we are pleased to have an opportunity to show our gratitude by significantly reducing the overall debt burden for homeowners.” The results of this successful refinancing reflect the Board of Education’s commitment to effectively manage its bond program and demonstrate strong fiscal stewardship of public funds. In total, the District has refinanced its outstanding bonds on six separate occasions going back to 2001, saving taxpayers more than $36 million dollars.

Randall Booker, Superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School District

www.piedmont.k12.ca.us