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.
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.
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

Amal Smith
Vice President

Doug Ireland

Cory Smegal

Andrea Swenson

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.


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.”


by Piedmont United

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


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


Dec 13 2017

Code Violation Fees:

On December 4th, 2017, I attended a City Council meeting at the City Hall in Piedmont.  The meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. and conclude when all topics on the agenda have been covered. However, I only was able to attend the meeting from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

During the hours I attended, the meeting centered around discussion on the renewal of a sanitation and waste contract. Before that, the Mayor declared December 4th to be Piedmont High School Cross Country Appreciation Day.

The Council briefly went over plans to increase fines for violations in relation to disturbance of peace in Piedmont. The primary topic the Council spoke on that I witnessed was the sanitation and waste contract renewal, and this took up the bulk of the time.

On the topic of the Sanitation and Waste Contract Renewal, the council members inquired about the reasoning behind the fee increase – originally a 50% increase, but was reduced to 30% in an attempt to meet in the middle on negotiation.

The reason given for the fee increase to begin with was stated as having stemmed from a disproportionate amount of citizens in Piedmont that request backyard trash pickup services rather than curbside trash pickup services. Backyard service requires additional labor and costs – primarily due to increased likelihood of injury resulting from needing to transport the garbage receptacles from backyards. This, along with the general geographic terrain pattern in Piedmont – it being generally hilly – further increases the likelihood of injuries being sustained to workers and thus, in-turn, overall overhead costs to the sanitation department.

The council members were all in favor of reducing the proposed new rate increase, which was ultimately how the 30% rate was settled at the time that I’d needed to leave. No members from the public were able to speak during the extensive staff presentation, so the sentiment held by the members of the public that were present was unknown, though it seemed as though the Mayor as well as the Council were of the belief that they were generally representing the public’s opinion accurately in supporting the need for a renewal on this sanitation contract.

Aside from discussion on renewal of the sanitation contract, very brief discussion was held on the proposed fine increases for violations regarding disturbance of the peace. The majority of the members of the Council were in favor of the increase, with the bulk of any actual discussion being held more on the logistics of how the fines would be judiciously carried out. Council members wanted to ensure that members of the public were in fact given a warning before being issued the increased fine, thus ensuring that the members of the public who continue to violate the policy had received ample notice warning them of their inappropriate behavior, before being subsequently required to pay an increased fine. No Council members in opposition to this (voted Nay) nor did they voice their opinion vocally.


While I was at the Piedmont City Council meeting, I interviewed a local resident by the name of Ray Cornejo, who mentioned he wanted to be there to understand what issues were facing the City of Piedmont, as well as what is being done to rectify them. He stated that he learned a bit about the negotiation process between a city and a company on what is really something of a necessity for it – sanitation.

His reaction to the meeting was overall positive, as he was  able to witness the City of Piedmont hold a thoughtful, and productive discussion on various topics that do and would in-fact affect the residents of Piedmont. The Council’s consideration of the elderly citizens was appreciable, and  the Council fought to represent them by trying to come up with ways to avoid additional financial stress on these members simply because of their physical situation. This was further appreciated and respected. The next step that Ray is taking to continue to have his concerns addressed, is to continue his participation and attendance at future City Council meetings.

My personal opinion on increasing the fines for disturbing the peace is that it is appropriate to have the fine in general, and that preceding the fine with a warning seems appropriate as well. I believe that people in general know that they are doing something wrong – such as disturbing the peace – so the very fact that they continue to do so, in my opinion, justifies a punishment. The increased revenue generated from the punishments could potentially be used to fund local projects.

by Teddy McKenna, Piedmont High School Senior

Staff Report with fines HERE.


The Piedmont City Council consists of five members, including newly elected Mayor, Robert McBain, and Vice-mayor, Teddy Gray King. The purpose of these meetings is to govern the city by holding elections, proposing bills, and passing laws. There is a set agenda for each meeting, including a short period of public forum.

The meeting on December 4th discussed important issues such as the approval of fines for violations of Code Enforcement and Nuisance Abatement provisions of the city code. Fines for these code violations were previously set at tremendous $1,000 a day. However, because the authority for setting fines has recently been shifted to the City Council, Council members have voted to reduce these to a maximum  of $500 after the third violation. It was clearly stated by Councilwoman Jennifer Cavenaugh, that these extreme fines were out of the normal range for Bay Area cities.  All members of the Council voted to approve this motion.

Next, the Council members discussed resolutions related to the City of Piedmont’s Limited Obligation refunding bonds. Council members moved to approve three different motions related to this issue, such as creating new districts for the reassessment bonds.

The last topic of discussion for my period of attendance at the meeting was regarding policy adjustments with the waste removal company, Republic Services. Republic Services has requested an increase in compensation due to the unique circumstances of Piedmont’s topography as well as extra services. The City of Piedmont requested a policy that enabled those residents unable to take their carts to the curb the option for on-premise collection services with no increase in charge. A Republic Services employee made it understood that almost half of  Piedmont residents requested on-premise collection services as opposed to about 10 percent of residents in surrounding cities.

In the period designated for public forum, many different students spoke out. Most students spoke out about issues regarding traffic safety near their homes. However, student Abigail Wilson made the suggestion of officially making Piedmont a sanctuary city, meaning it would limit its cooperation with the government’s immigration efforts. This would serve little benefit to immigrants as very few call Piedmont home, but it could help set an example for surrounding cities. Many cities around the Bay Area have agreed to become sanctuary cities, including San Francisco and Oakland. This is a very controversial topic, as the President has previously reclaimed funding from cities after refusing to cooperate with immigration officers. I am personally in favor of Piedmont becoming a sanctuary city, because it helps create a precedent for other communities in the United States that are having a similar debate. Declaring Piedmont a sanctuary city would also help create a more friendly living environment for minorities in the Bay Area.

After the meeting, I spoke with concerned resident, Paul Pappas. Paul Pappas is a sophomore at Piedmont High, who attended the meeting “for Boy Scouts.” Mr. Pappas was particularly concerned with the lack of street signs in the community. “One problem that was brought up that I cared about was the lack of necessary street signs on certain streets. I think this is a bigger problem than a lot of people realize.” Mr. Pappas is working so hard to make a difference in the community that even after speaking at the City Council meeting he will “bring it up with parents and see what they can do.”

by Jordan Cortes, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Dec 10 2017

Dec. 10, 2017

Piedmont Planning Commission
c/o Kevin Jackson, City Planner

Re: Dec 11 CUP Hearing, sub-let 801 Magnolia Ave by Piedmont Post.

Dear Chairman Ramsey and Planning Commissioners,

The taxpayer funds used to purchase 801 Magnolia Avenue, renovate the deteriorated property and provide low/no cost space to the Piedmont Center for the Arts (“PCA”) has been money well spent. The July 11, 2016 Staff Report recommended the change to allow commercial use: a beverage service or local newspaper. A beverage service would provide a complimentary benefit to PCA visitors. However, a newspaper is not politically neutral as a beverage stand is and the violation of our Constitutional rights is serious. Leasing space to the Post has involved rezoning public property in violation of the Charter and violations of our State and Federal Constitutional rights to be free of government support for a partisan point of view on matters of public importance.

The Piedmont Post has provided community benefit in its reporting of non-political issues such as art, entertainment, culture and life events. Regardless, for critical Civic issues the Post is Piedmont’s own Fox News. This particularly partisan newspaper provided a weekly forum for our recently disgraced and resigned Mayor Wieler, supported the failed Blair Park sports field, will not provide equal space to opposing resident viewpoints, sought to distort facts in support of the failed 2012 sewer surcharge tax; and has disgracefully attacked our School Board. The Post has a right to take, and disseminate these partisan positions but not from City property. That is a clear violation of our Constitutional rights.

While the First Amendment allows the Post to commonly distort and omit facts to the detriment of many residents, good government requires that the City treat all residents equally. Sub-leasing to the Post on public property violates that essential equal treatment. This public property is paid for and subsidized equally by all taxpayers.

PCA Board Vice-President Nancy Lehrkind has stated the lease will be “at top dollar.” We are entitled to see the terms of the sub-lease and the City is obligated to disclose them before approval is given for the CUP application. What rent will the Piedmont Post pay? What assurance do we have that this is not a below market rent? Will comparable space at 801 Magnolia be made available on comparable terms to other parties who wish to communicate their public positions on matters of public importance? What assurances does the City have of this from PCA? Is this assurance in the City’s lease with PCA? Where is the space and what are the terms?

The applicant states: “#9. Benefit to Piedmont residents: Residents writing articles.” As the Post has denied many resident articles and letters that do not support the Post’s editorial agenda, the Post is not consistent with #9. The intent of Sec 17.020.010.B.7 is to allow commercial use which will serve the residents of the City. By denying print space to a significant number of residents, the Post and this application by PCA are not in compliance with the City Code.

The Post does not comply with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics that “. . . public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues (and) strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty.”

In important civic issues, matters that require a City Council resolution, the Post acts as the Media Outlet of City Hall and falls far short of the Journalist Code of Ethics. City Hall’s support of the Post threatens local democratic government.

Former Post City Editor Paisley Strellis verified the partisan mission of the Post on its June 29, 2016 front page: “I consider many members of the city staff and the city’s elected and appointed officials to be colleagues.”

Having the Piedmont Post located on public property directly behind City Hall is an affront to decency and good government.

The CUP should be denied.


Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 9 2017

“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”  Mark Twain

On Monday, December 11 at 6ish p.m. in City Hall and broadcast live, the Piedmont Planning Commission will consider an application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application for The Piedmont Post to relocate their offices to the City owned property at  801 Magnolia Avenue.

According to the application, the hours of operation of the office in the residential neighborhood will extend to midnight on several nights weekly and the workday will last as long as 12 hours, adding a considerable amount of activity on already busy Magnolia Avenue considering the coming and going of Middle School, high schools, Piedmont Adult School, the Recreation Center, the Aquatic Center as well as the many special events.

An independent free press should not be a creature of the government it is meant to cover, that would make it a government public relations entity.  If subsidized office space is offered to one commercial news business, it should be available to all news organizations as is the dedicated White House shared press workspace.

If the Post wanted to rent office space on Grand Avenue in Piedmont or in the Wells Fargo Building, there would be no conflict of interest and no citizen objections. The Post has never operated in commercial space in Piedmont, although its business address is a home in Piedmont on Oakland Avenue.

The City provides the building at 801 Magnolia Avenue on a subsidized basis at $1/year lease for the public benefit as an Arts Center.

The Council has the ultimate responsibility to determine what is appropriate for the use of public, taxpayer-supported property.  The Piedmont Center for the Arts was approved by the Council and pays $1 per year for their space at 801 Magnolia Avenue across from Piedmont High School.

According to information pertaining to the development of a space for The Piedmont Post, it appears there was no public advertisement of the space availability in the Piedmont Center and no other media entity was offered the subsidized office space.

The Piedmont Post started in the building at 801 Magnolia Avenue approximately 20 years ago when the building was owned and operated as the First Church of Christ Scientist.  A newspaper business in the church was not legally allowed by the City and the Post was forced to move out of the building.

Subsequently, the Church dissolved and the City of Piedmont purchased the 801 Magnolia property for just under $700,000.  The building was seldom used for years except for city storage.  A plan for an aquatics facility at the site delayed changes to the building.

Founders of the Art Center, Gray Cathrall (Editor, Publisher, and Owner of The Piedmont Post), Nancy Lehrkind (Current Vice President for the Piedmont Center for the Arts), and others saw potential in using the property as the location of cultural activities and the arts.  Beginning in 2011 the City of Piedmont granted a lease of part of the building, now the Piedmont Center for the Arts, for $1 per year for 10 years on the basis it would be exclusively used for non-profit purposes and the building would be improved – painting, heating, roofing, etc.  The City, however, has maintained the grounds and landscaping.

In the six plus years of the 10 year lease, the Arts Center has become a shining star of culture, music, drama, and graphic arts.  Interest and participation in the Arts Center has spread far beyond Piedmont borders.

In the summer of 2016, the Arts Center applied for and was granted by the City Council a change in the terms of their lease allowing the Center to engage in uses allowed in it’s zone, the Public Zone.  This lease change was evidently unnoticed by most Piedmonters.

Then in 2016, the Council approved significant changes to the zoning laws of Piedmont including allowing for-profit businesses on City property under a conditional use permit process.  The change of use without voter approval as prescribed in the City Charter, again drew little public notice and the Council changed the zoning without voter approval.

The justification for the zoning change from nonprofit to for-profit uses in the public zone was focused on allowing the Aquatic Facility to sell goggles, food, or beverages.   However, that would not have violated the zoning as it stood as long as the sales were by the Facility for the financial benefit of the Facility.  Now, the actual result allows a commercial business to profit financially with the taxpayer subsidy.

The Conditional Use Permit is on the Monday, December 11 Planning Commission agenda.  The Commission will make a recommendation  to the City Council.

It was long rumored that the goal of the Post was to move back into the 801 Magnolia building. Although the Post owner, Cathrall has been announced as termed out from the Arts Center Board, his newspaper, The Post, continues to foster and advertise the activities at the Center. Nancy Lehrkind, also a founder and Vice President of the Center Board, continues on the Board and has signed the CUP application documents.

Conflicts of interest are inherent in the leasing of public space to a single, local media outlet.

Having an office in the center of Piedmont in a public building leased for $1 a year would be beneficial to all media outlets.

There are a number of news media outlets covering Piedmont: The Piedmonter, The Piedmont Post, The Piedmont Civic Association, Piedmont Patch, East Bay News, Piedmont Portal, and others.

Piedmont residents, as with any group of people, have differing points of view on numerous subjects.  Coverage by the various media outlets often reveals these differences.

The Piedmont Post has long been viewed as the Piedmont City Administration news outlet. 

If the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application for The Piedmont Post to relocate their offices in the City owned property at  801 Magnolia Avenue (Piedmont Center for the Arts) is approved, the relationship between City Hall and The Post will become even closer and raise new questions.  The Post and the City will have a financial relationship based on a lease and a Conditional Use Permit to use City property for a newspaper business.

Residents have raised issues in the past regarding City buildings not being appropriate for political activities nor for allowing businesses with potential conflicts of interests.

The Piedmont Post is an independently owned private newspaper supported by donors, advertisers, official City notices, and subscribers.  The for-profit business entity is currently located in Oakland on Boulevard Way. The Post, contrary to City laws, uses a Piedmont residential address on Oakland Avenue as the business address.

There is no information available as to a business license in Oakland, Piedmont, or a Piedmont Home Occupation Permit as a business location on Oakland Avenue.  There are no published documents available indicating the financial status of the newspaper. The application states a gross income of $380,000 per year.

The application indicates a need for more Art Center income to support the activities of the Center, however no documentation or audit has been publicly released to show the financial status of the Art Center.

The Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 11 starting at 5 p.m. in City Hall’s Council Chambers. The Planning Commission’s Conditional Use Permit consideration will follow a number of other applications on the agenda and will likely be considered after the Commission breaks for a half hour dinner around 6:30 p.m.

Those interested can attempt to attend or observe the meeting on Monday, December 11, at 5:oo p.m.  The meeting will be broadcast live on Channel 27 and from the City website under videos.

Comments may be made to the Planning Commission:

Staff Liaison: Planning Director Kevin Jackson – kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us – (W) 420-3050
Council Liaison: Jennifer Cavenaugh – (510) 428-1442
Commissioner Eric Behrens  
Commissioner Aradhana Jajodia  
Commissioner Jonathan Levine  
Commissioner Susan Ode  
Commissioner Tom Ramsey  
Commissioner Clark Thiel (Alternate)

Commenters should send their correspondence to the Commission and Council via   kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us

Dec 6 2017

 Regarding the proposal to move The Piedmont Post newspaper into 801 Magnolia Avenue – the Piedmont Center for the Arts Building (public space) –

On the Monday, December 11 Planning Commission agenda is an application by The Piedmont Post to sub-lease office space from the Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) in the 801 Magnolia building. Some background/history: The editor of The Post serves on the PCA board.

PCA was given an essentially  rent-free lease for half of the 801 Magnolia Building by the City Council in 2010 as a non-profit with the authority to sub-lease to other non-profit organizations. As the city owns the building, it is public space and private for profit uses were prohibited. PCA has certainly earned that status as a public space given the arts activity it has brought to Piedmont.

Last spring, the City Code (Chapter 17) was revised by the Council to allow private for-profit uses in public spaces. Private businesses are required to obtain a Conditional Use Permit, one criteria for which is that “the intent is to allow commercial uses which will serve the residents of the City” as opposed to regional users.

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.”

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.

If the use permit is granted, such conduct will continue from taxpayer-supported office space. Comments on this matter can be sent to Kevin Jackson, Planning Director, at kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us or City Council at citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

By Garrett Keating, Former City Council Member

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.