Jul 31 2022

REMINDER!

NOMINATION PERIOD FOR CITY COUNCIL AND BOARD OF EDUCATION

ENDS  AUGUST 12TH, 2022

The City of Piedmont will hold its General Municipal Election on November 8, 2022.

The nomination period for the three vacancies on the Piedmont City Council and two vacancies on the Board of Education IS OPEN NOW!

The deadline for submitting completed paperwork is Friday, August 12th at 5:00 p.m. There is no cost to candidates to file nomination papers and place your name on the ballot for the November election.

The City Council and Board of Education are Piedmont’s two elected bodies and guide the operation of Piedmont City government and the Piedmont Unified School District respectively. Members of these bodies may serve a maximum of 2 consecutive four-year terms.

The City publishes the Guide to Nomination and Candidacy, which provides details about the nomination and candidacy process which prospective candidates should find useful.

Prospective candidates are required to schedule an appointment to take out nomination papers with the City Clerk’s office. An appointment will also be required to submit the nomination papers once the candidate has completed their work. These appointments generally last between 30 minutes and one hour.

Residents with questions about the process or wishing to make an appointment can call the City Clerk’s office at (510) 420-3040 or send an email to cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov.

Read the Council resolution calling for the election below:

https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=18746218

Jul 31 2022

The proposed changes to our city’s core, including building housing on the tennis courts, the grassy strip on Highland Avenue and the relocation of the fire department, would be a travesty and would forever change the character of Piedmont. While understanding the need to respond to the legislature’s mandate, the community would be ill-served by these proposals.

I agree with the observation that moving the fire department to the outskirts of the city would be a detriment to public safety. Additionally, the residents of housing built in Blair Park would not be any more isolated than the residents of Maxwelton Road, Abbott Way, Echo Lane, and Nellie Avenue, and traffic safety concerns would be alleviated by a traffic signal. Rezoning on Grand Avenue to accommodate multi-family housing is logical. The infrastructure already exists, and it would be situated on the only existing street in the city that could accommodate the additional traffic, particularly if restored to four lanes.

The proposal to alter the city center, which has the endorsement of individuals who are not city residents, specifically staff and the outside consultants, is insensitive. Moving the tennis courts away from the high school would be a detriment to the high school and raise its own safety issues. When I attended Piedmont High, PE included swimming and tennis at facilities across the street from the school. The school had varsity and JV men’s and women’s tennis teams. When my daughters attended PHS, the school fielded these teams as well. Is that no longer the case? How is moving these facilities away from the school a positive thing?

We are not Woodside, whose residents are seeking to avoid the construction of housing by prioritizing the needs of mountain lions. Our 1.7 square miles of land already developed. The legislature’s mandate of 587 new housing units amounts to a 15% increase in households. (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/piedmontcitycalifornia/INC110220.)

The only discussion regarding the impact that a 15% increase in student population will have on the schools is this observation in Appendix 6 of the 6th Cycle Housing Element, published in April 2022, which acknowledged the “limited capacity of the schools” to accommodate the anticipated increase in its population due to the proposed housing plan.

Census data belies the claim that school enrollment has declined due to a reduction in children residing in the community. Fully 26.4% of Piedmont residents are under the age of 18. (Id.) Without a deeper dive into the numbers, this would suggest that there are 165 children per academic year which far exceeds that of the current high school per class population. The decline school population has more to do with quality which I found to be disappointing when my children attended the high school when compared to my experience thirty years earlier during a time when the city was far more economically diverse than it is now, so diverse that the girls were required to wear uniforms to mitigate the effects of economic disparity in the student population.

The plan also acknowledges EBMUD constraints pertaining to water and sewage but proposes no solution. I did not see any discussion regarding the impact of that a 15% in households will have on other city services, such as police and fire, in the report. I’m in favor of providing subsidized housing for school and city service employees but not at the expense of the city center.

Perhaps there is a solution that include a reasonable response to the legislative mandate which would include additional units without a major disruption to the city center. The Census Bureau reports that Oakland lost 5,526 residents in 2021 from the previous year. (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/oaklandcitycalifornia.)

There is also a significant amount of unused and underutilized land in Oakland. Perhaps the needs of everyone would be better served by entering into a cap and trade type arrangement with the City of Oakland where the construction of new units would be subsidized in part by Piedmont taxpayers. This is not a nimby proposal; it is a pragmatic proposal intended to ensure that the character of the city center is maintained, and the people needing affordable housing get what they need.

Anne Cobbledick Gritzer

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jul 31 2022

The PCA article and Mr. Keating seem correct: the City Charter requires a ballot measure before a property zone can be “classified or reclassified.” (Piedmont City Charter, section 9.02). This rule is codified at Piedmont Municipal Code section 17.02.010 (C), which states that city zoning ordinances are “subject to the City Charter” (including section 9.02). At the end of Section 17.020.010 (C), the rule also states that Piedmont cannot “change the zone boundaries, or change (reclassify) a property from one zone to another” without a vote.

But this reclassification is exactly what the draft Housing Element (“HE”) seeks to do. Section IV.A.1.F of the HE (page 38) says that the City will allow multi-family housing (e.g., Zone C & D) on Zone B public lands. Currently, Zone B prohibits such construction. But the HE says the City plans to make zoning changes “within 3 years of Housing Element adoption” to allow this. If re-zoning requires a ballot measure, how can the City promise it to HCD? This zone “re-classification” position is hardly a solid one for the City. Can we honestly believe the HCD will miss this?

A similar situation happened to the City of Davis. The Davis HE called for re-zoning “within 3 years” to allow for developing open space and agricultural lands. But Davis has a rule (Measure J) which required a vote to do that. Sound familiar? In January 2022, the HCD rejected the Davis HE plan, in part, because the re-zoning plan was speculative due to vote requirement.

Our City Attorney and the housing consultants have all made their position abundantly clear: no vote is needed since building multi-family housing on city lands is not a “reclassification” (stated at 6/20/22 City Council meeting). Are those conclusions, and the plan to build out our city center and parks, really best for the City of Piedmont?

Mike McConathy, Piedmont Resident

Link to PCA article with comments following article:

Piedmont City Council Rejects Voter Control Over Zoning Reclassifications

Jul 30 2022

Rezoning without prior voter approval, perpetually eliminating scarce park land, leaving unaddressed safety issues, building garages to 24 feet high on the property line, tearing-down historic civic buildings, arbitrarily making site choices for the Piedmont Housing Element……

Will Piedmonters participate?

During traditional vacation time on August 1, 2022, the Piedmont City Council will once more attempt   to find where the required 587 new housing units will be built in Piedmont.

Council member Jennifer Long, after listening to speaker after speaker at the June 20, 2022, Council meeting declare their lack of information on the Housing Element (HE), she without Council objection  asked that all Piedmonters be informed about the Housing Element (HE) proposal in a flyer to explain the proposal and allow for community engagement. As a result of Long’s request, every Piedmont household was sent a postcard announcing the date of HE Council consideration minus a summary or impacts.   Readers are referred on the postcard to a complex Piedmont website “Piedmont is Home”, which  has been widely criticised for having no executive summary or ready access to impact information.

Approximately one million city dollars have been spent attempting to influence Piedmonters of the advisability of zoning changes using online puzzles, banners and remote meetings. Commenters have noted this ill advised attempt by the City to convince Piedmonters of unacceptable choices promoted by consultants, a select committee, city attorney, city staff, and commission has produced modess HE changes to proposals based on public input and concerns and have been met by refusing the City Charter requirement of voter approval to make zoning use changes.

“Piedmont is Home,” the name of the city’s influence campaign insensing  some neighboring communities feeling the slogan is elite, exclusionary, and insensitive at a time when Piedmont has attempted to be more inclusive in governmental actions.

The HE is close to 400 pages long and has within its pages rezoning without prior voter approval, perpetually eliminating scarce park property, leaving unaddressed safety issues, building garages to 24 feet high on the property line, tearing-down historic civic buildings, arbitrarily making site choices, and more.

Residents have circulated a petition readily garnering approximately 800 signatures:  

https://chng.it/RFyKwTrVRK

City notice:

Staff report for August 1 City Council meeting including many comments made to the city below:

https://piedmont.ca.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=18776050

Agenda and participation information:

https://cdn5-hosted.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_13659739/File/Government/City%20Council/Agenda/council-current-agenda.pdf?v=6bbkCn2D3

Jul 30 2022

I have lived in Piedmont 46 years. I have seen a lot of change, but nothing like what Sacramento is now forcing on communities around the state because they know better than us about how we should live our lives..

The City Charter should not be changed by a Bureaucratic decision. I believe the City’s leaders should honor the Charter and let the citizens decide this. It is painful to watch our elected leaders trying to circumvent the very citizens who elected them and paying for “outside counsel” opinions to justify it. I predict there will be expensive litigation and the only people who will benefit from this litigation — no matter how it comes out — will be the lawyers — not the citizens of Piedmont.

This is a “State’s Rights” issue on the State level. Do local communities have the right to decide the nature of their community or does Sacramento have the power to force their current fad down people’s throats by threatening economic sanctions because “they know better?” Maybe people in small communities who don’t like the heavy hand of big brother should stop paying their State income taxes and give the money directly to their local government to make up for the money Sacramento is threatening to withhold. Would the immediate loss of revenue and the cost and optics of Sacramento prosecuting hundreds of thousands of California citizens for not paying their taxes get anybody’s attention in Sacramento? I really wish I knew the answer to that question.

The population of California is headed for 40 million and we are running out of water and the State is burning — losing housing actually. So we really have a “population crisis.” But the fad in Sacramento among our progressive majority is that we have a “housing crisis” and the solution is to create more housing so the population can keep increasing. No plans to build more reservoirs or other sources of water except for the multi-billion dollar plan to transfer water from the North to the South which does nothing to increase overall water supply and merely allows the population to increase in an area where there is not enough water to naturally support that increase and prevent growth in the areas where the water is naturally located.

So Sacramento’s current fad envisioned by Scott Weiner from San Francisco, is to force ADUs on all communities or to allow people to tear down their house and build a fourplex almost anywhere — basically first steps to turn residential communities into little Manhattan’s. I’m not aware of any analysis that has been done to evaluate the ADU idea, but the typical ADU is very small and I very seriously doubt that most ADUs in small communities like Piedmont will be low cost rentals. My anecdotal observation is that only people who can afford it are building them and they are not going to be low cost rentals to complete strangers who are going to be living in the middle of their back yard. They will be used for in-laws or nannies or some other purpose. Tearing down a house and building a fourplex in Piedmont generally does not work out financially, so our Planning Department is so desperate for ADUs, building an ADU is an excellent way to get approval for anything else you want to do to your property. If I wanted to tear down my classic craftsman house and build a fourplex, I could probably get approval to put a miniature oil refinery in my back yard. (Note to Planning Department: I’m just joking.)

And so, to please Sacramento, Piedmont’s leaders want to change parks and tennis courts and pubic buildings, valuable amenities in any community, into apartment buildings. I think this is regressive for local communities.

I believe our City leaders and Planning Department should let the citizens decide and not work so hard to circumvent them and, if they decide to disagree with Sacramento, to support their citizens — not fight them. If the citizens of Piedmont vote to approve these changes, I will disagree with them, but I will accept the result because I believe in the concept of Democracy.

James Penrod, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jul 30 2022

Piedmont’s zoning system is being corrupted.

Interchanging single-family zoning and multiple-family zoning is impossible under the Piedmont City Charter.  Piedmont has a zone specifically for multiple-family dwellings, yet under the City Attorney’s interpretation of the City Charter,  all zones are multiple-family zones corrupting Piedmont’s zoning system controlled by voters.

In the staff report for the August 1, 2022  Council meeting regarding adding 587 housing units, the City’s interpretation denies the actual and complete language in the City Charter.  The full wording of the Zoning System in the Piedmont City Charter describes the use of the 5 zones. 

There is a specific zone for multiple housing and there is another zone for multiple housing use.  Single-family zoning is allowed in all Piedmont zones. Single-family dwelling use under state law permits a house, an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) and an additional unit within the confines of the main house making 3 housing units possible within Piedmont single-family zoned parcels.

Interchanging single-family zoning and multiple-family zoning is impossible under the City Charter. 

 Since all Piedmont zones allow single-family dwellings,  permitting multiple family dwellings on all Piedmont parcels corrupts Piedmont’s City Charter and the ability of voter to control zoning in Piedmont.

The City’s incorrect statement is copied below:

“Therefore, a vote of the electorate would not be required since, under Section 9.02 of the Charter, and its historical interpretation by the City Attorney, changes to the density within each zone do not require a vote of the electorate.”

Are all parcels going to be changed in size to allow the multiple housing proposal of the HE plan?  This eliminates voter control in this work-around plan to remove voter approval as stated in the City Charter.

The City’s interpretation of the Charter relies on several missteps made by City Officials regarding zoning, none of which have the pervasive and overwhelming impact of the proposed HE  changing zoning uses without allowing Piedmont voters in densifying Piedmont with multiple-family proposals in zones.

The City minimally owes it to Piedmont voters to research City records for not only the intent of the City Charter, but the actual words as copied below.

City Charter ARTICLE IX. General Provision

SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM The City of Piedmont is primarily a residential city, and the City Council shall have power to establish a zoning system within the City as may in its judgement be most beneficial. 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 executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury 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.  

City Staff report for August 1, 2022 states:

“6) Questions Regarding the City Charter Questions have come up regarding Section 9.02 of the City Charter, and whether increasing densities or adding another residential use category within existing zones would require a vote of the electorate.

Agenda Report Page 9

“The City’s Charter provides that “[t]he 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.” (City Charter, Section 9.02.) A vote of the electorate is thus required when changing a zone’s boundary or changing the zone of a property from one zone to another zone, but not to change densities for already allowed uses. Therefore, a vote of the electorate would not be required since, under Section 9.02 of the Charter, and its historical interpretation by the City Attorney, changes to the density within each zone do not require a vote of the electorate.

As noted in the City statement above, the use described by the zoning is totally omitted with the argument that density can be added to any zone without voter approval making all zones multi-family zoned.

The issue is one of great import as Piedmont voters are excluded from this monumental decision.

The City Council will consider this Charter issue on August 1. 2022.  Three of the City Council members are licensed members of the California Bar Association, Andersen, Long, and McCarthy. 

Jul 26 2022

Should Piedmont adhere to the the City Charter with voter control over zoning uses/classifications or forfeit control to the City Council?

What should come first – voter approval of zoning reclassifications/use changes or City Council approval of the Housing Element (HE) requiring the reclassifications/use changes?

The question is not whether or not proposed changes are good or bad; the question is who has the right to change the zoning usage/classifications? State laws have limited control over city zoning laws. 

The currently proposed Piedmont Housing Element defeats the Piedmont City Charter.

The City Council proposes to change usage on public property to multiple family zoning via the Housing Element (HE).  Piedmont Parks, the Arts Center, City Hall, Veterans Building, Blair Park, Skate Board Park, and Corporation Yard – historic buildings and uses are proposed for change of use.

Once the HE has specified in writing the locations of the required 587 new housing units and is approved by the City Council along with the state, the City of Piedmont is required to adhere to the zoning changes specified in the HE.  The Piedmont Housing Element and General Plan are firm government commitments to to the state, commercial developers, individuals, organizations, groups, property owners to be implemented during the 8 year HE term. 

The process being utilized by the City Council makes zoning changes/reclassifications the sole authority of the City Council rejecting the language within the City Charter that  requires voter control over changes/reclassification of zones.

Will Piedmont voters have an opportunity to approve the change of use/ reclassification per the City Charter, or will the City Council put zoning changes in the HE and require voter approval of the zoning changes after the HE is approved? Piedmont’s proposed HE requires zoning use/reclassification turning parks and public property into multiple housing. 

It has been publicly stated and proposed that park land would be declared surplus property and sold or reused/reclassified without voter approval.

Piedmont’s five zones are classified as: public, commercial, multi-family, single-family and single-family Estate – with all zones permitting single-family housing.   In Piedmont, the use determines the classification of a zone.

“Classified, Reclassified, and use” are keywords within the City Charter.

Voter approval on zoning is well established in Piedmont per the voter approved Piedmont City Charter.  Only voters can change zone usage/classifications.  Adherence to the City Charter is not a matter of how much it cost to adhere to the Charter; adherence is a matter of law. 

The words “classification and reclassifications”, describe the “use” within a zone as can be seen by reading the City Charter copied below:.

City Charter ARTICLE IX. General Provision

SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM The City of Piedmont is primarily a residential city, and the City Council shall have power to establish a zoning system within the City as may in its judgement be most beneficial. 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 executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury 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..  

Since all zones allow single-family development, Michelle Kenyon, Piedmont’s contract City Attorney, stated in regard to the HE’s proposed changes that multiple family housing is housing, and therefore allowed in all zones.   Kenyon has used other cities’ definitions of “classification and reclassification”, rather than relying on language found in Piedmont’s City Charter with “use” determining a classification.

City Attorney Kenyon has instructed the Piedmont City Council and Planning Commission that Piedmont voter approval of the proposed land use changes/reclassifications are not required because: no new zone is being created; no zone is  being enlarged; no zone is being reduced.  Importantly, Kenyon’s advice results in the ability of the City Council to change the use/ reclassification of zones without voter approval.

City Charter ARTICLE IX. General Provision:

SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM (Excerpt from above)

“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 executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury 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.”

As noted above, the City Charter allows property owners in the multifamily or commercial zone to rezone their property to exclusively be for single-family zoning.  The City Charter in this section informs the definition of “classification and rezoning” as “use” in the zones.  It is unknown how the Kenyon opinion accommodates the zone use/ classification  language written into the City Charter. 

Timing:

The City Council has known for over a year, there would be significant challenges to Piedmont zoning to accommodate 587 new housing units in Piedmont; while other cities have allowed voter participation, Piedmont voters have not been given a chance to act on the zoning per the City Charter, The deadline for placing a ballot measure on the November 2022 ballot ends in August. 

What if voters do not approve the HE changes?  Are voters no longer permitted to approve  or disapprove the zoning changes?  Does the City Council plan to follow outside counsel advice and eliminate voter approval?

Jul 11 2022

At its June 20 meeting, the City Council made two preliminary decisions regarding sites for the 215 or so low-income housing units state law requires Piedmont to accommodate. The Council removed the Vista Avenue tennis courts from the list of potential sites and added Blair Park. Both choices appear at odds with recommendations made, after months of study, by the city’s professional staff as well as its paid consultants and the citizen advisory committee appointed by the Council.

The Council argued that listing the tennis courts, recently upgraded with help from citizen gifts, for low-income housing would discourage philanthropic giving to the city.  The argument for including Blair Park was that Piedmont must use or lose its share of County funding for low-income housing and that the Park provides opportunity for relatively fast development.

A moment’s reflection, however, calls both these arguments into question.  Residents have given gifts to both the city and to the Piedmont Beautification Foundation to upgrade Blair Park.  Friends of Moraga Canyon, for example, funded a landscaping plan, commissioned by the city, for the Park.  Despite the plan, the city chose to leave the Park “as is.”  Why? City staff argued, among other points, that improving the Park would attract users and that traffic engineers had not found a way to safely separate visitors to the Park, particularly children, from high-speed traffic on Moraga Avenue.

The city did, however, allow the family and friends of Barbara Peters, who dedicated four decades of service to the city and its residents, to place a bench in her memory in the Park she worked so hard to protect.  This is the bench to which a councilperson referred when characterizing Blair Park disparagingly as “just a bench.”  Is there a more effective way to discourage philanthropic giving to the city than to have councilpersons publicly disparage gifts?

The argument that Blair Park presents a more timely or attractive opportunity for developers than the tennis courts also appears less than compelling.  Time will certainly be lost when residents and environmental groups appeal the use of parkland to meet housing requirements. The State does not encourage cities to use parks to meet housing mandates and no other city has done so. Piedmont, moreover, already has one of the lowest ratios in the Bay Area of parkland to residents.

Most of Blair Park that is not steep hillside is a former landfill.  No one knows what the landfill contains other than San Francisco Bay mud, likely to harbor mercury and other heavy metals, from the construction of transbay BART tunnels.  This circumstance will lead to time consuming testing as well as expensive and contentious mitigation.  Without testing and mitigation, the city may have to indemnify developers and future managers of the apartments against claims of building defects and toxic exposure.

Building 150 or 200 apartments in Blair Park will certainly require expensive and time-consuming realignment and extension of sewer, water, and power lines, not to mention the reconfiguration of Moraga Avenue to ensure traffic and pedestrian safety.  And how long will it take to negotiate responsibility for the liability that comes with managing traffic on Moraga Avenue and its interchange with the 13 Freeway during construction?

And, of course, any prospective developer will have to assess the cost of uncertainty likely to arise because some Piedmont residents assume, with good reason, that their City Charter requires a vote of the citizens to convert parkland to residential use.  The Council may claim that loopholes allow them to avoid such a vote, but residents may see it differently and seek time-consuming redress.

The tennis court site, on the other hand, is flat, within walking distance of elementary, middle, and high schools as well as of banks, churches, the arts center, and the local market.  Piedmont Park and the new aquatics center are as close. Water, power, and sewer infrastructure is on site.  No landfill or landslide risks require mitigation. And the recent completion of nearby large school facilities shows that the traffic disruptions of construction in the area can be acceptably managed.

Given the above, why would the City Council ignore the recommendations of its professional staff, paid consultants, and citizen committee and swap Blair Park for the tennis courts? Why would the Council concentrate low-income families as far from Piedmont schools, services, and social as well as civic life as physically possible?  Is convenient access to a tennis court more important to us than the isolation of 200 low-income families?

Our predecessors brazenly used city resources to drive minority families from Piedmont. They countenanced race-based restrictive covenants. And they allowed a private club to operate a city-owned swim facility when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 required integration of publicly operated accommodations. Given this history, how will our, or a future, City Council dissuade an objective observer from judging the choice to isolate and stigmatize 200 low-income families as anything other than a continuation of exclusionary policy?

I believe most Piedmonters want the city to comply with housing mandates in a way that conveys the best of our values rather than the worst of our instincts. I urge the Council to honor those values as well as its own adopted policy of distributing affordable housing throughout the city.  Do the right thing for generations of Piedmonters – adopt the inclusionary recommendations of your staff, consultants, and citizens’ committee.

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident 

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jun 19 2022

Civic spaces and places are what makes a community.

The Housing Element is not a policy direction to explore ideas … it is focused on delivering sites for development, the feasibility of which has already been established.

Putting the Vista tennis courts where the high school students play on the chopping block, potentially jeopardizing the viability of vitally needed police and fire station retrofitting, removing the Piedmont Center for the Arts, and putting housing on the Highland Green that serves as the 4th of July parade staging area are extraordinary steps that are in the Housing Element that the community is not aware of, and potentially hugely destructive to the community fabric. The City needs to slow down process and more thoroughly analyze these proposals and get community feedback before the element is forwarded to the State.

The City can both protect its civic spaces and accommodate it housing needs in a thoughtful manner. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. By preserving our public and recreation spaces, Piedmont would also be preserving these for the enjoyment of new residents.

The Piedmont Housing Element should be set up for success, rather than failure, and include actual sites where the City can fulfill its housing needs, rather than sink time and energy into sites where housing is unlikely. While including housing as part of the Civic Center is a noble sentiment, it is impractical in the timeframe of this Housing Element planning period, as I will discuss below. The City should be aware of the following State laws and other requirements, which among others require the City Council to make certain findings at adoption time that the City would not be able to responsibly make for the Civic Center sites:

STATE LAW REQUIREMENTS TO BE MINDFUL ABOUT FOR CIVIC CENTER SITES

Demonstrate Realistic Development Capacity at Designated Sites

Where there are existing uses, “..Existing Uses — The housing element must demonstrate non-vacant and/or underutilized sites in the inventory that can be realistically developed with residential uses or more-intensive residential uses at densities appropriate  ….and evaluate the extent these uses would constitute an impediment to new residential development.”  See https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/building-blocks/site-inventory-analysis/analysis-of-sites-and-zoning.shtml. The City needs to show the community the analysis used to arrive at feasible housing capacity at existing civic uses and tennis courts. E.g., there is no housing feasible where the tennis courts are. The examples cited so far are of tennis courts on top of parking structures such as at UC Berkeley, which is very different than tennis courts on top of housing, that too affordable housing. The Housing Element is not a policy direction to explore ideas … it is focused on delivering sites for development, the feasibility of which has already been established.

Required City Council Findings at Adoption Time That Existing Uses Will be Discontinued

State law states that “If a housing element relies on nonvacant sites to accommodate 50 percent or more of its RHNA for lower income households, the nonvacant site’s existing use is presumed to impede additional residential development, unless the housing element describes findings based on substantial evidence that the use will likely be discontinued during the planning period. In addition to a description in the element, findings should also be included as part of the resolution adopting the housing element.”https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/building-blocks/site-inventory-analysis/analysis-of-sites-and-zoning.shtml.

Thus at the time of Housing Element adoption, the City Council will have to make findings that the tennis and basketball courts at Vista and public safety uses at the Civic Center will be discontinued during the planning period (2023-2031). I do not believe it is possible to make this finding given that there are no plans to relocate these uses to other places, unless the City does not want high schoolers and other community members to play tennis or does not want police and fire departments. If the City Council does not believe this finding can be made, it is better to drop these sites now rather than finding that we are short on sites at adoption time.

Required Rezoning for Shortfall

The City would need to commit in its Housing Element to a process and timeline to make sites it owns available for residential uses. The draft Housing Element currently lacks this, and HCD would most likely want to see this detail included. Under the Housing Accountability Act, should housing not be feasible at a site and there is a shortfall mid-cycle, the City will have to proactively undertake a rezoning program to find sites elsewhere to make up for this shortfall. This means doing a Housing Element Update and EIR all over again mid-cycle in three or four years, and tying the City’s hand in being able to proceed with rehabbing the public safety buildings until alternative housing sites are in place. Thus, In designating the Civic Center sites I believe we are just kicking the can down two or three years, rather than solving any housing problems. We should be focused on finding and delivering those alternative housing sites to meet our housing needs and obligations now, rather than five years later.

CITY CHARTER

Reclassification of zones under the Piedmont Charter requires a vote of the people. If the City Council wants to reclassify the Public zone (which allows a de minimus one house at every parcel in the city) to permit high density residential and thus make this zone Public/Residential, this should be submitted to the voters and placed on the upcoming November ballot. Lack of legal certainty will not inspire confidence on part of any developers the City may wish to attract.

PHYSICAL FEASIBILITY OF SITES AT THE CIVIC CENTER

Not finding any drawings or information in the Housing Element on methodology to determine housing capacity at Civic Center sites, I sat down over the weekend and tried to understand this for myself.

Vista Tennis and Basketball Courts

Assumption in HE: Housing at 60 units per acre, 34 realistic housing units. The courts presently fill up the entire site. It is physically not possible to vertically integrate housing and whole bunch of tennis courts and bleachers on top of a residential building without extraordinary expense, and I am not aware of any examples in the Bay Area where this has been done. Tennis courts can go on top of parking structures as they have been at Cal for over three decades and industrial and office buildings, but not residential, as the building floorplate is entirely different. Is the proposal to remove tennis courts? The facilities were just renovated a year ago for something like $2 million. This idea does not seem even physically, let alone financially, feasible.

Center for the Arts

Where is the space for the five units? Will this be razed and replaced? Again, wasn’t this rehabbed a few years ago, and didn’t the City recently sign an agreement on this?

City Hall/Police/Veterans Building

The site area for this in the Housing Element includes City Hall, and the area is counted at 60 units per acre to calculate resultant housing. Neither tearing down City Hall, nor putting housing on top of it is a credible suggestion. The eastern half of the site is about 0.5 acres, and that is where the police and veterans building are located. It would be quite a structure that includes a new police station, rec. building, and 40 housing units (which, because of the small acreage, would actually be at 120 units per acre max)  all at the same small site.  It would require razing the existing facilities and starting from scratch, and be surely several multiples more expensive than the cost to rehab these, plus the higher cost for housing building and having the civic facilities support the resultant structural weight and complexity of housing above. Theoretically it could work if the housing can be on its own pad as staff mentioned for other examples they shared at the Planning Commission meeting, but looking at our site I don’t see any area where housing can just be squeezed in without messing with the existing buildings. Rehabbing the existing Veterans Hall and Public Safety buildings will also be a lot more environmentally sustainable and emit fewer greenhouse gases than razing these buildings and building something new, when the same housing can built more sustainably and be delivered to the community at lower cost by adding say one more story to the Mulberry/BofA site across the street, where housing is already planned, and provide an additional density incentive for the property owner to develop that site.

Highland Green

The width of this parcel during most of the stretch is 30 feet. With required front setback of 20 feet in Zone A, and rear setback of 5 feet, the remaining buildable width of housing would only be 5 feet. So, these sites are also physically not feasible. The loss of five units assumed here would not be that significant.

All of these sites are impractical given the dense fully built out conditions of civic facilities and the fact that we don’t any have vacant land there, and a distraction from the real work the City needs to do to deliver feasible sites.

PRACTICAL APPROACH TO MEETING THE CITY’S HOUSING OBLIGATIONS

I believe the most practical approach for the City to meet its RHNA is as follows, in order of importance:

•       Count every housing unit (including ADUs) expected to be completed between July 1, 2022 and January 1, 2023. These units, under State law, can be counted toward both the 5th Cycle (in which we are) and 6th Cycle (starting in 2023), because of data projection period overlap.

•       Count SB 9 Units. The City does not have a trend of these because the City has not allowed these in the past. With properly development rules and methodology, the City should attempt to have these counted now to bring the remaining need down, rather than just as Housing Element success stories later. There are many cities that have successfully counted these units, consistent with HCD guidelines.

•       Consider densities that are much higher than currently contemplated at Grand and Highland avenues, while developing standards so that these are well designed, with ground level retail and cafes, and housing above. Densities of 180 units per acre with ground floor retail and four stories of residential above (60 feet building height), with structured parking may be appropriate for Grand Avenue, and 120 per acre for Highland Avenue. If necessary, the City should add a real architect with experience in doing projects like these in the Bay Area to the out-of-town planning team.

•       Add missing middle housing (fourplexes, six-plexes, etc.) and smaller-scale multifamily development in some or many existing neighborhoods. Some of the City’s rules relating to allowable densities, lot sizes etc. may need to be modified. There may, again, be some City Charter issues involved, but these would be of lower magnitude than high density residential issues in Public zones.

•       Continue counting all the remaining single family and religious sites with the good work staff has done, although it remains to be seen if HCD will buy off on allowing so many of these to be counted.

•       Anything else needed should be added after the above has been done, and this remaining need would be modest.

Rajeev Bhatia, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jun 18 2022

Hello City Council:

I won’t have time this weekend (Father’s Day festivities) to review the staff report but wanted to offer up these observations and suggestions about the Housing Element (HE) for your consideration Monday. I attended the HE workshops, participated in the online surveys and have read the HE.

1.     SB 9: staff has stated at several meetings that the Department of Housing and Development (HCD) is not accepting unit projections based on this SB 9.  HCD guidance says otherwise and several cities are submitting such projections.  Please clarify why staff has not done so and direct them to conduct this analysis for inclusion in the final HE.  Not considering the potential for SB 9 to produce units in the next cycle is bad planning.

2.     Multi-family zone:  the HE makes no projections for units from this zone over the next 8 years.  This is short-sighted in that this area is a logical zone for new units and the HE increases zone density for that reason.  Staff simply needs to cite other such developments in the Temescal, Pleasant Valley Rd etc. to show that this development is highly likely. These developments are not in Piedmont but are very local and I would think HCD would understand that similar developments are likely to occur in Piedmont.  Also clarify whether the small housing policy prohibits the destruction of the small houses on Linda to the Oakland Avenue bridge.  Conversion of these lots to multi-family buildings could vastly increase the number of units.

3.     ADUs: the incentives workshop mentioned increasing ADU height from 16 to 18-20 feet. The workshop also presented the idea of garage conversions by presented to specific building height. The HE now has specific height for garage conversions (24 ft) but does not mention what the new height for ADU will be. Please clarify this point;  I asked staff but received no response.  I think the ADU projections (20/year) is an underestimate; ADU development rate these past three years was likely influenced by COVID restrictions.

4.     Extremely low/very low-income units:  the HE provide no details on where these units will occur in Piedmont, which according to HCD should be over 120 units.  I asked about this at the last workshop and the consultant could not answer.  Instead he referred to the Alameda County family of four income ($100,000) as a target for Piedmont’s low income housing.  The HE policy to prioritize housing for PUSD and City of Piedmont employees dovetails with this target – these employees will meet this income level but very low and extremely low Alameda County residents won’t.  Where will the housing be for families of these income levels?

5.     Better outreach:  the process leading up to the HE utilized several different communication/engagement methods. Now that the draft of out, those methods should be used again.  Particularly, staff should conduct an online survey of the HE and particularly focus on policies not included in the workshop or prior surveys:  ADU tax on large remodels, purchase of supportive housing by the City of Piedmont, revocation of charter elements for example.

6.     General Plan:  staff conceded it has not completed an analysis of how the HE integrates with the General Plan.  Inquire about this and what elements of the Plan staff thinks will be impacted.

Garrett Keating, Former City Council Member

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