Sep 22 2022

Questions on the proposed Housing Element were posed by Garrett Keating followed by Answers from the City Planning Department, plus Interpretations.

  1. Is the relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park being considered as part of the Moraga Canyon Site Assessment?

Answer:  City staff considered the broader policy issue of identifying City parkland in the Housing Element sites inventory, starting on page 157 of the Draft Housing Element. Ultimately, staff recommended a Draft Housing Element that did not include parkland in the sites inventory as a primary site. Blair Park was identified as a possible “alternative site” in the text description of the sites inventory. Dracena Park and all City parks were considered for housing sites during the development of the sites inventory in the Draft Housing Element.  On August 1, 2022, the City Council directed staff to include Blair Park in the sites inventory as a primary site as part of a proposed Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study in order to consider all of the interrelated changes that may be necessary to locate housing in Moraga Canyon and improve City facilities at the same time.

The Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study will start with a request for proposals (RFP) or request for qualifications (RFQ). The RFP or RFQ will include a project description for the types of land uses and changes to be considered.

  1. The Housing Element 102 presentation projected 82 units for the Corporation Yard.  Does that assume the Corporation Yard is relocated to Blair Park? If not, can you tell me the acreage that is available for housing in the Corporation Yard and how you arrived at 82 units for the Corporation Yard (50+32)?

Answer: Here is some background about the corporation yard site for the purposes of the Housing Element sites inventory. The corporation yard, alone, is approximately 13.6 acres. It is an approximate number because this land is also steeply sloping in some areas, and it has existing uses and facilities. Of the 13.6 acres, 3.7 acres are expected to yield 132 housing units. 100 of the 132 would be multifamily residential units at approximately 50 dwelling units per acre.  Please see Figure B-1 from the Draft Housing Element below.

On August 1, the City Council directed staff to re-distribute the housing units identified for sites in the civic center area. It is possible that some of the housing units (mainly moderate and above moderate housing units) could be added to the corporation yard site and a new Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study. These units would appear, if necessary, in the next iteration of the Draft Housing Element sites inventory this fall. Also on August 1, the City Council directed staff to include Blair Park in the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study area.

Interpretation:  relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park is currently not being considered in the identification of housing sites in the Housing Element.  The map shows that the Corporation Yard is to be maintained and staff does not indicate that they are considering it for housing.

  1. The City Administrator discussed the income levels required for new residents to be eligible for low-income housing.  The City Administrator presented income data for city/PUSD employees, citing the number of employees that fall into the 4 categories between $69,000 and $150,000. I believe she concluded that 80% of city/PUSD employees are considered low-income.  Is that correct?  The income eligibility levels are based on the income for a family of 4.  Did the city administrator’s presentation account for this – are the employee numbers she presented for employees with families of 4 (or more) or were those incomes for individuals?

Answer: To follow up the email I sent on Monday, I confirmed that the income categories described on slide 10 of the presentation on August 18, 2022, were based on a family of 4 people and that the City and PUSD employees’ incomes were evaluated against this baseline family income. The analysis did not base the employees’ income categories on the size of their actual families.

Interpretation Using individual income levels of city/PUSD employees to characterize those employees’ eligibility for different low-income family housing overstates their eligibility.

  1. The Planning Director presented a new total for ADUs of 142 and a new income distribution of 84/42/16 = 142. He attributed this new distribution to guidance from HCD and ABAG.  Can I obtain a copy of that guidance from the two agencies or can you direct me to a s source for it? 

Answer: Click on the following link to review the ADU projected income levels from ABAG guidance from June 2022: https://abag.ca.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2022-06/ADUs-Projections-Memo_final.pdf

Interpretation These new ADU allocations help Piedmont in that they count towards the city’s low-income unit target, lessening the need for low-income units elsewhere.  It should be noted the City has very little control over the actual rental or monthly rent of these units.

 Would moving the Corporation Yard to Blair Park make that side of Moraga Avenue more eligible for development.

“It is our understanding that a number of these facilities have significant capital deficiencies and that they are likely to require substantial renovation and/or replacement at some point in the near future. Because these sites are in strategic locations, it will be possible for the City to engage with the private sector to establish partnerships that would lead to the redevelopment of these facilities along with the identified housing programs.  These sites have value that the City can potentially leverage to attract private partners and to move forward on the basis of a public-private partnership that meets the community’s needs for improved facilities, along with the provision of additional housing.” From the City FAQ about Civic sites:

Both sides of Moraga Avenue can accommodate housing but on which side does the City have more leverage to improve facilities and add housing?  Working with developers, the City can certainly add low income housing to Blair Park but there are no facilities on that side of Moraga to improve, with the exception of the park.  The Corporation Yard offers multiple upgrade options. The City intends to expand Coaches Field to a 150 x 300 multi-purpose field and major reconfiguration of the space is needed.  The Corporation Yard itself is outdated – would a developer contribute to its relocation to eastern Blair Park for the right to develop the site?  The Moraga Canyon Specific Plan needs to include this analysis to achieve the best return to the community on the public land that will be converted to housing.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author and the City of Piedmont Planning Department.

READ PROPOSED  HOUSING ELEMENT :>  LWC_Piedmont_HEU_PRD_040822-compiledfix

Sep 19 2022

Bridget Harris, candidate for the Piedmont City Council, voices, “The City Council should carefully consider applying the “Walkable Oriented Development” (“WOD”) approach to all possible locations and present the results to the community for approval before submitting any proposal for the 6th Cycle Housing Element.”

As the City of Piedmont addresses potential locations for additional housing to meet the 6th Cycle Housing Element, the following criteria should be considered:
1.      Maintain the culture and character of the City;
2.      Maintain traffic safety and security in the City;
3.      Minimize the loss of park land and open space;
4.      Offer locations that maximize the efficiency of construction and living.

A study by the American Enterprise Institute suggests that these criteria can best be met by “Walkable Oriented Development” (“WOD”).  This approach focuses development in areas within a ten minute walk of services and infrastructure. WOD focuses on the placement of multi-unit housing close to existing supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and public transportation.  It allows an increase in density while minimizing the need for the construction of additional infrastructure. WOD also makes it easier and less expensive for low income owners/renters to access necessary services thereby reducing traffic impact .

Piedmont doesn’t have a WOD location in the center of the City nor does it have a WOD area along Moraga Avenue.  It doesn’t make sense to force expensive and inefficient high density development in these locations.  However, Grand Avenue and Park Boulevard could become WOD areas with significantly less expense and disruption to the existing community.  The City Council should carefully consider applying the WOD approach to all possible locations and present the results to the community for approval before submitting any proposal for the 6th Cycle Housing Element. 
https://www.aei.org/wod/

Bridget Harris, Seaview Avenue

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 7 2022

Piedmonters have called for clearer explanations on what is proposed in the Housing Element.  Helpful explanations would include:

  • Specific diagrams of any new and safer roads near schools and in the Morago Canyon Area where housing is proposed, including cost projections for road improvements.
  • The state is looking for zoning changes to increase housing density. How is Piedmont proposing to comply with the City Charter and Piedmont voters rights on zoning changes increasing density?
  • High density housing in Piedmont is being proposed to a height of 6 stories.  This height is greater than existing buildings in Piedmont.  How does this not change the character of the city and stay in  compliance with Piedmont ordinances and design review standards?
  • Currently, a small number of dwelling units are in the Moraga Canyon area. How will services be provided including: transit, pedestrian access, monitoring of low-income and affordable rents, public safety access, etc. –  for the hundreds of new dwelling units proposed? How will the additional workload and costs be covered ?
  • The Housing Element once adopted by the City and the Department of Housing and Community Development becomes a “property use right. “ On city and private property, what are city and voter controls over development and costs after the Housing Element has been adopted by the City Council?
  • The City is not required to build the housing.  However, the use of City land is essential to meeting the large numbers of dwelling units required of the HE.  What right does the City have to participate in leasing, selling, or assisting in the use of public lands per the State Constitution Article 34 and the City Charter without voter approval of the zoning use changes?
  • Commercial developers paired with government money await the opportunity to build in Piedmont as supported locally by influencers in and outside of Piedmont.   What is the schedule to provide  Piedmont voters with their right to vote on the HE zoning changes prior to final adoption?
  • Outreach efforts by Piedmont have been clouded and confused by partial information and changes to the proposed HE.  Why isn’t or wasn’t a mailed survey sent to every residence in Piedmont to learn of voters concerns and interests?
  • What are the requirements for building high density dwelling units in Piedmont, including: height limits, density, street configurations, utilities, public safety, trees, transit, parks, sewers, water, landslides, fire protection, parking, lighting, open space, etc. ?
Aug 28 2022

Bring us all together instead of pitting neighborhood against neighborhood.

I sense growing anxiety in the community over the decisions being made of where to accommodate 587 units of new housing.

What would greatly reduce this anxiety, in my opinion, would be to have details of the suggested plans along with their locations, ie, how many stories will there be? what will the buildings look like on the outside?  will they be duplexes, attached condos, high rise apartments buildings?

Yet another way to reduce this anxiety would be to understand that for Piedmont to reach its goals, a compromise needs to be found so that the distribution of new housing will be borne by the whole community not one neighborhood. 

If our goal is to help solve the housing crises, let us be equitable with each other as well as those that need affordable housing.  Please find a mediator to bring us all together instead of pitting neighborhood against neighborhood.

Karen P Harley, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Aug 26 2022

The following questions were posed to the Piedmont Planning Department regarding the proposed Housing Element:

1. Is the relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park being considered as part of the Moraga Canyon Site Assessment?
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2. The 102 presentation projected 82 units for the Corporation Yard.  Does that assume the Corporation Yard is relocated to Blair Park? If not, can you identify the acreage that is available for housing in the Corporation Yard and how the estimate of 82 units for the Corporation Yard (50+32) was determined?  
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3. The City Administrator discussed the income levels required for new residents to be eligible for low income housing.  The City Administrator presented income data for city/PUSD employees, citing the number of employees that fall into the 4 categories between $69,000 and $150,000. She concluded that 80% of city/PUSD employees are considered low income.  The income eligibility levels are based on the income for a family of 4.  Did the city administrator’s presentation account for this – are the employee numbers she presented for employees with families of 4 (or more) or were those incomes for individual employees?
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4.  The Planning Director presented a new total for ADU of 142 and a new income distribution of 84/42/16 = 142. He attributed this new distribution to guidance from HCD and ABAG.  Can I obtain a copy of that guidance from the two agencies or can you direct me to a s source for it?
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Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member
Aug 17 2022

The City of Piedmont is presenting another informational event for Piedmonters on matters related to the Housing Element.  A social time in the City Hall Courtyard will follow the presentation to give attendees “a chance to meet with City staff and gain additional clarity on the Draft Housing Element.”

Presentation information has not been provided by the City.

On Thursday, August 18th at 5:00 p.m., the City of Piedmont will host a “Housing Element 102” Information Session.

Community members are invited to attend in person, virtually on Zoom (https://piedmont-ca-gov.zoom.us/j/82234103859), or on KCOM-TV, the City’s Government Access television station (Comcast Channel 27 or AT&T Channel 99). The information session, which will be held in the City Council Chambers, will be followed by an open house in the City Hall Courtyard.

This session, which follows up on the Housing Element 101 session, hosted by the City on September 29, 2021, which can be viewed at https://piedmont.granicus.com/player/clip/2413, is intended as an informational opportunity to provide clarity on salient pieces of a complex process and will focus on four main topics:

  • Housing Element and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation Basics
  • Overview of the Draft Housing Element Sites Inventory
  • Recap of the Direction the City Council Provided to Staff at its August 1, 2022 Meeting
  • Update on the Status of Piedmont’s Housing Element Process, Next Steps and Timeline to Certification

The open house will be a chance to meet with City staff and gain additional clarity on the Draft Housing Element.

Community members are encouraged to view the City’s Housing Element Basics YouTube playlist, which consists of a series of short videos about the Housing Element process.

Comprehensive and detailed information about the Housing Element process is available on https://piedmontishome.org and https://piedmont.ca.gov. Please contact Senior Planner Pierce Macdonald at piedmontishome@piedmont.ca.gov with questions or comments.

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 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.