Feb 1 2023

Piedmont, a community of about 10,000 residents, has not one, but two organizations formed to help remove the stain of racism from the fabric of civic life. The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign (i.e. PREC) posts: “We work with allied organizations and individuals to raise awareness about racism and to support policies for racial justice and equity.” The Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (i.e., PADC) describes itself as: “Grounded in principles of racial equity, Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (PADC) works to dismantle systems of oppression, and replace them with policies and practices to nurture a connected and inclusive community.”

It could be argued that Piedmont’s civic life has been sufficiently stained with racism in the past that an unusually vigorous contemporary effort to avoid more appears justified.  The Piedmont Chief of Police in 1924, a member of the KKK, condoned mob violence against an African American family that had purchased a home in the city. As bad, the then City Council used eminent domain to condemn the home thereby forcing the family from the community.  In the 1960’s, the City Council transferred a public swimming pool to a private club to avoid complying with Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that required integration of public facilities.  In the last decade, moreover, several newsworthy incidents of racist graffiti in Piedmont parks and schools have reminded us of the stains on our civic fabric.

The response of the contemporary community at large to this history has been mostly laudable.  A recent report prepared by city staff finds little evidence of segregation in the community. The School District has developed a reputation for fighting racism in all forms and the city supports and participates in much programing intended to encourage an inclusionary culture.  Indeed, the local media describes a remarkable breadth of inclusionary programming offered in Piedmont on Martin Luther Day 2023.

This programming, however, appears lost on a City Council poised to stain our civic life with a not-so-subtle attempt to segregate a Piedmont neighborhood.  A state mandate that California cities allow development of market-rate and low-income housing has led Piedmont to begin planning a whole new neighborhood in Moraga Canyon.  The plan would allow, indeed encourage, construction of 132 new homes including 60 for low-income families.  Problems with this otherwise laudable scheme include that the Council has explicitly left open the option of assigning the 60 low-income units to Blair Park.

Blair’s designation as a “park” comes from the city’s purchase of Moraga Canyon land more than a century ago with bond funding raised to protect open space and wildlife. The park as we now know it, is essentially a former land fill surrounded mostly by high hillsides so steep that no vehicular or pedestrian access to the flatter section via the hills has ever been proposed. The steep hillsides are covered with oak and other native trees that harbor a diverse collection of wildlife protected, until now, by the land’s purchase with park bond funds.

Vehicles and pedestrians access Blair Park only from Moraga Avenue, a high-speed thoroughfare that connects the 13 and 580 Freeways via Grand Avenue. A 2010 EIR prepared for playfields proposed in Moraga Canyon, found a significant and unmitigable safety hazard for drivers entering or leaving Blair Park.  The hazard arises because no location on Moraga Avenue provides the 385-foot site distance Caltrans assumes for safe stopping of vehicles traveling at 35 MPH. More than 15% of vehicles traveling on Moraga Avenue exceeded that speed in 2010. The EIR also noted a similar hazard for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Moraga Avenue and that the likelihood of injuries and deaths would grow with increased attempts to access Blair Park.

Piedmonters appear unaware of the scheme to assign 60 low-income families to a former landfill, cutoff from the remainder of the community by impassable terrain and a high-speed arterial deemed an unmitigable safety hazard to motorists and pedestrians leaving and entering Blair Park.  Of those who know of the scheme, few seem aware that the Council also rejected the recommendations of professional staff, paid consultants, and a Council-appointed citizens committee to allow at least some low-income families to live in central Piedmont near schools and services.  And fewer still know that those experts also recommended that any housing assigned to the Canyon be located on the safe side of Moraga Avenue – an option made even more compelling by moving the now obsolete corporation yard, which the city will have to rebuild under any scheme, to Blair.

If the Council chooses to house low-income families in Blair Park, little time will likely pass before those families attribute their stigmatizing and dangerous isolation to segregationist intent. And decent Piedmonters will likely agree.  Such opinions will inevitably corrode civility in Piedmont.  That corrosion will be made much worse if a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorist suffers injury or death accessing or leaving Blair Park – an event anticipated by the EIR alluded to above.

So, what have PADC and PREC said about the Blair Park option? Nothing. Why have they been silent on a scheme as offensively segregationist as any in our history? But they are not alone in their silence. What do our church leaders, League of Women Voters, and School Board members as well as schoolteachers, all of whom rightly speak out against racism on Martin Luther King Day, have to say about this vessel of ruinous dye about to spill on the fabric of our civic life? Where, in short, are they when we need them?

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 16 2023

Hello City Council:

I’ve reviewed the staff report and draft RFP for the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan (MCSP) and submit the following comments and questions. Hopefully you can delve into them.

The MCSP is good planning, but clearly the RFP is being developed to expedite a City application for Measure A funds by 2024.  Perhaps for that reason, the RFP is short on explaining how the plan addresses important city policies.  Table 2 list these policies but the RFP states that these policies “may” be considered and only stipulates that the consultant team will demonstrate “professional experience and knowledge of the personnel general principles and background law applicable to specific plans, land development and affordable housing development requirements”.   There are important sustainability policies outlined in the General Plan and Climate Action Plan and the City should stipulate this a credential it seeks on the consultant team.  Does the team have a sustainability expert like our City does?  Traffic safety is another core credential that should be requested.

The staff report and RFP suggests that additional environmental review beyond the programmatic EIR will be conducted based on the impacts of the specific projects in the MCSP.  That makes sense but is predicated on a robust programmatic EIR which has yet to be released.  Without the programmatic EIR being public at this time, the generalities of that assessment may be used to gloss over specific impacts of the projects at a later date.  One way to alleviate this concern is to assure that the programmatic EIR will have a response to comments process as a project specific EIR does.  Staff should confirm this publicly.  Subsection m. in scope of services should clarify this point as well.

One important EIR consideration is whether an assessment of GHG emissions will be undertaken in the MCSP.   This assessment may occur in the “built out” programmatic EIR so this may not be a factor but without that document, who can say?   To resolve this question, staff should clarify whether these GHG emission calculations are being conducted as a part of the programmatic EIR.  According to state guidance, GHG emissions are to be part of a CEQA analysis: CEQA GHG.  However, based on certain criteria, affordable housing projects under 100 units are exempt from CEQA and staff should clarify this as well CEQA Housing. Indeed, staff should clarify whether CEQA is applicable to all the projects being considered in the MCSP, particularly the low-income housing projects.

The staff report and RFP do not clarify whether the relocation of the Corporation Yard will be studied as part of the MCSP.  The only possible reference to this is that “replacement” of the Corporation Yard be considered.  The City should clarify this in the RFP so as to provide consultants the widest latitude to develop creative proposals for the canyon.  Indeed, this latitude may provide for the subdivisions of parcels and development standards that are attractive to builders of housing at all income levels. As staff envisioned with civic center sites, the City could leverage better housing for the project if the Corporation Yard is moved to less desirable building site in the canyon.

Following are more specific comments/questions to the RFP:

The project timeline on page 5 of the staff report is particularly short on detail.  The City seems not to have identified the type of public process it intend to conduct. 

Under “Specific Plan for Success” there is no mention of field lighting as part of the recreational facilities to be developed.  Is it the intent of the City and this Council not to proceed with the installation of lights at Coaches Field?  There is some precedent for this.

The landscape plan makes no mention that it is to comply with the City’s municipal Bay Friendly Landscape Ordinance which has specific criteria for vegetation and water use.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Moraga Canyon Plan Consultant 1.17.23

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 15 2023

Another Consultant is proposed to be hired at an unspecified cost to produce a Moraga Canyon specific plan.

The RFP does not set a price, but … [in 2019]  … the preparation of a specific plan cost an average of $544,237.”  according to ABAG.

On the Council Agenda, Tuesday, January 17, 2023 the City of Piedmont returns to the previously unexamined, controversial legal opinion of the Piedmont City Charter when the City Attorney dismissed the specific language within the Piedmont City Charter of requiring voter approval of proposed zoning changes. Agenda > >council-agenda 1.17.23

 This program requires an amendment to the City’s General Plan and the preparation of a specific plan to accommodate the density and create development standards for the unique site conditions. The required amendments would be reviewed by the City Attorney for conformance with the City Charter and other legal requirements. If it is determined that it is infeasible to develop this site during the planning process, the City will consider utilizing other City-owned properties as alternative sites (see Appendix B).

Funds generated by General Plan Maintenance fee instituted by the City on July 1, 2019 will provide significant funds for General Plan costs – plans and zoning changes. 

Currently, the fee is $0.013 x the construction cost valuation on building permits. The fee  generated $427,000 in FY 21-22 and the City expects a similar amount this fiscal year. The funds must be spent on updates and amendments to the General Plan and other auxiliary  documents (e.g., Climate Action Plan, Zoning Ordinance, Hazard Mitigation Plan, and a  specific plan). The City Council might consider increasing this fee to help cover the rising costs of land use planning.

READ the full staff report in the link below:

Moraga Canyon Plan Consultant 1.17.23

Stay Informed about the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan

After the City adopts a 6th Cycle Housing Element, a key piece of the implementation process will be the creation of a Moraga Canyon Specific Plan. This initiative will study all City-owned land in Moraga Canyon with the goal of creating a detailed plan for how to maintain and improve existing amenities while also incorporating new housing in the area.

The City expects to issue an RFP in late January seeking professional services to lead this process. Stay informed by subscribing to our Moraga Canyon Specific Plan email list.

Dec 21 2022

Attached is a press release providing anticipated key dates for the City’s Housing Element update in January. Staff expect to bring Piedmont’s 6th Cycle Housing Element to the Planning Commission for review on January 12, 2023 and to the City Council for adoption on January 30, 2023.

Additionally, staff intend to issue an RFP in late January seeking professional services to lead the preparation of a Moraga Canyon Specific Plan. Once a consultant has been selected, the Specific Plan process is expected to take 18-24 months to complete. The City has created an email list community members can subscribe to for updates about the Specific Plan. Also attached is an informational poster about the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan that we shared with community members at the Housing Element Open House in November.

12.22 Poster+3+Moraga+Canyon+Specific+Plan+Study  Map

Morga 2022-12-20 Housing Element Update Key Dates in January Press Release

Dec 21 2022

City of Piedmont Fair Housing Bulletin

Housing Element Update: Key Dates in January

Planning & Building staff expect to bring the City’s proposed 6th Cycle Housing Element to City Council for adoption at a special meeting on January 30th, 2023.

Adoption of the Housing Element will mark the culmination of a public engagement process that began in Spring 2021, as well as the beginning of a new chapter as the City implements the policies and programs outlined in the Housing Element over the next three years.

Moraga Canyon Specific Plan

A key piece of the implementation process will be the creation of a Moraga Canyon Specific Plan.

This initiative will study all City-owned land in Moraga Canyon, including Blair Park, Coaches Field, Kennelly Skate Park, and the City’s Corporation Yard, with the end goal of creating a detailed plan for how to maintain and improve existing City facilities, open space, and recreational amenities in this area while also incorporating 132 units of housing, 60 of which would be available to lower income households.

Map of Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study area

The City expects to issue an RFP in late January seeking professional services to lead the preparation of the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan. Staff will bring the draft RFP to the City Council for authorization at the January 17th, 2023 meeting. Once a consultant has been selected, the Specific Plan process is expected to take 18-24 months to complete.

Robust public participation will be critical to a successful Specific Plan process. Throughout the process the City will conduct significant and ongoing public outreach, hold community meetings and workshops, and provide a variety of options for community members to weigh in and help shape the Specific Plan.

Community members can stay informed by subscribing to the City’s Moraga Canyon Specific Plan email list.

Important Dates and Next Steps ……………..

January will be a busy month for Housing Element followers. Key tentative dates include:

  • January 8, 2023: Comments due on Housing Element Initial Study-Negative Declaration
  • January 12, 2023: Planning Commission review of proposed Housing Element
  • January 17, 2023: City Council consideration of RFP seeking a consultant to develop the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan
  • January 30, 2023: Special Meeting of the City Council to consider adoption of the Housing Element
  • January 31, 2023: State deadline for cities to adopt a Housing Element or face penalties

The City submitted the Draft Housing Element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for review on November 18th, 2022.

After the City Council adopts the Housing Element, the City will have three years to implement a substantial number of the proposed programs and regulatory changes outlined in the document. This process involves additional environmental review, which is already underway – the City is currently in the process of preparing a programmatic EIR that studies the impacts of the new homes and residents that could come to Piedmont once implementation is complete.

A wealth of information about the Housing Element update process is available at PiedmontIsHome.org, the City’s online hub for the Housing Element update and housing policy. For questions about the Housing Element process, write to PiedmontIsHome@piedmont.ca.gov.

Do you have questions about the Piedmont Housing Element update? The City has produced short informational videos, which are posted to the City’s Youtube Channel and at Piedmontishome.org. Watch the videos by clicking here.

Sara Lillevand and Kevin Jackson

Subscribe to Piedmont Fair Housing News and Updates

Dec 15 2022

Adding 587 new housing units –

COMMENT PERIOD IS NOW OPEN UNTIL JANUARY 8, 2023 –

Piedmont officials in the notice below provide no mention of the City Charter requirement for voters to approve zoning changes permitting many of the 587 new housing units necessary for an updated Piedmont General Plan.  Zoning code changes are  required to incorporate the pending Housing Element into the General Plan. The City notes  the necessity of “changes to the land use categories” without mentioning the City Charter requirements.

Since the Housing Element was first considered and subsequently approved by the City Council for state consideration, residents have mentioned numerous concerns regarding the addition of the 587 new housing units.  NOW, until January 8, 2023 is the time to inform the City of Piedmont of any environmental or other concerns you may have.  See below for contact address. If you want your concern or interest to be part of the permanent record, note it in your communication and ask that a copy be sent to the Piedmont City Council.

kjackson@piedmont.ca.gov is noted as the primary contact.

Publicity in the PIEDMONT PLANNING DEPARTMENT NEWSLETTER ,,,,,,,,,12.8.2022

“Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), City staff recently completed an Initial Study for the Draft Piedmont 6th Cycle Housing Element, after receiving direction from the City Council and community feedback regarding the sites inventory in November 2022. The City’s environmental consultants had been waiting for a stable sites inventory to complete a project description and proceed with environmental review.

After conducting the Initial Study, staff determined that the Housing Element alone will have no adverse physical impacts on the environment because the Housing Element is a policy document, and additional implementation steps must be taken before any physical changes can occur. The City has issued a Notice of Intent to Adopt a Negative Declaration, available here. The Initial Study is published to the City website here and Piedmontishome.org hereThe Initial Study is available in hard copy at Piedmont City Hall and the Montclair Branch Public Library, 1687 Mountain Boulevard, Oakland.

The Initial Study-Negative Declaration public comment period is from December 9, 2022, to January 8, 2023. Public comments can be made in writing to Kevin Jackson, Director of Planning & Building, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611, or via email to kjackson@piedmont.ca.gov

City staff and consultants are also in the process of preparing a programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR), pursuant to CEQA, for the General Plan amendments and changes to the City Code, that are envisioned in the Housing Element. The EIR will be released for public review before the General Plan amendments are adopted by the Piedmont City Council, and before the City prepares the draft changes to the City Code sections. General Plan amendments will include changes to the land use categories in the Piedmont General Plan’s Land Use Element to facilitate the development of 587 new housing units. The EIR will continue to provide the streamlining benefits that prompted the City in 2021 to consider a programmatic EIR. The EIR will study the full build-out of the growth allowed by the General Plan amendments and City Code changes.”

Dec 15 2022

Much of the land in Moraga Canyon is unsuitable for development.

Publicly-owned land is designated for low-income housing in the Piedmont Housing Element (HE) because it provides the City with the greatest potential to develop such housing – the City owns the land and can work directly with developers to see that affordable housing gets built on it.  The publicly-owned sites in Piedmont are in Moraga Canyon, swaths of land around Coaches Field and the Corp Yard and all of Blair Park.  Sixty low-income units and 73 above-moderate income units are proposed for >Moraga Canyon.   A > depiction of this area shows that housing types are proposed to be dispersed throughout this canyon area.

Anyone familiar with Moraga Canyon will know instantly how unsuitable much of this land is for development.  The sites east and west of Coaches Field, initially designated for low-income housing, are steep sloped and would require a massing of building to generate the proposed density and parking.  The area to the west is particularly prohibitive for building; the required storm water permit is infeasible and would likely not be granted given the proximity of the site to the adjoining wetlands on cemetery property. As for the other Coaches sites, both are very steep, probably prohibitively so for the construction of low-income housing and would probably eliminate what little public parking is now available at Coaches.  Unfortunately, the feasibility of these sites for housing has never been publicly addressed at the Planning Commission or City Council since the draft was released in April, 2022.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) will conduct this feasibility analysis, especially for the low-income sites, and find the draft HE deficient.  This is the direction HCD gave to Atherton regarding the publicly-owned sites in its HE:

“Publicly Owned Sites: The element identifies multiple publicly-owned sites including the Public Facilities and Schools District, the Menlo School, and Cal Water Bear Gulch Reservoir sites. The element must include additional discussion on each of the publicly owned sites identified to accommodate the RHNA. Specifically, the analysis should address general plan designations, allowable densitiessupport for residential capacity assumptionsexisting uses and any known conditions that preclude development in the planning period and the potential schedule for development. If zoning does not currently allow residential uses at appropriate densities, then the element must include programs to rezone sites pursuant to Government Code section 65583.2, subdivisions (h) and (i).”

Piedmont will most certainly receive this same direction in the HCD response letter to its first draft.  The highlighted text suggests fundamental considerations of the canyon sites that should have been presented months ago. Instead, between now and May 2023, as part of the Moraga Canyon Specific Site Plan study, the City will likely conclude that one if not both of the low-income sites at Coaches are not compatible for housing and conclude that Blair Park be used for the 60 low-income units and some fraction of the above-moderate units.

The City should include relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park in the Moraga Canyon Specific Site Plan so as to improve the quality of low-income housing in the canyon.  The Corporation Yard offers the only flat housing site on the north side of Moraga Avenue and, on a square foot basis, provides better sites amenities than Blair Park.  Judging by similar densities staff assigned to the Coaches sites, 60 housing units could be located at the Corporation Yard.

But beyond the housing goal, relocation of the Corporation Yard could dovetail with General Plan goals of building walkable neighborhoods, preserving open space and others as well.    There are broad planning questions that should have been raised well before the site plan analysis but the General Plan has been virtually absent during the HE process.  The HE proposes three uses for the canyon – housing, city operations and recreation.  How best should these be dispersed to achieve General Plan goals?  Housing and recreation on the Coaches side with city operations in Blair Park?    HCD does not care about these goals but our Planning Department and City Council should and, depending how they conduct the Specific Site Plan analysis, could achieve a “win-win” for Piedmont with the HE.

Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 15 2022

Draft Housing Element

Submitted to State HCD

On November 15, 2022, the City Council authorized staff to finalize the draft sites inventory and submit the Draft Piedmont 6th Cycle Housing Element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). On November 18, 2022, City staff sent the Draft Housing Element to HCD for its 90-day review. The Draft Housing Element sent to HCD is posted to the homepages of the City website and Piedmontishome.org.

After each city submits a Draft Housing Element for review, HCD has up to 90 days to return comments with requested revisions. HCD has until February 16, 2023, to return comments on the Draft Piedmont 6th Cycle Housing Element.

The official State deadline for cities to adopt a compliant Housing Element is January 31, 2023. Working actively to minimize any period of non-compliance, Planning & Building staff are in regular communication with HCD reviewers. The City is optimistic that Piedmont’s Draft Housing Element will move through the review process swiftly.

Nov 28 2022

Public Input Sought via City Administrator Recruitment Survey

Comments are to be made by Wednesday, November 30, 2022 using the City survey > > https://piedmont.ca.gov/government/city_news___notifications/city_administrator_selection_survey

Residents are invited to help shape the selection process for Piedmont’s next City Administrator by completing a brief online survey.  The City is not collecting names or any other personal information from respondents to this survey.  The survey asks community members to share their thoughts regarding the recruitment:

• the most important challenges and opportunities the new City Administrator will face

• what skills and experiences are the most critical in a new City Administrator

• what management and leadership attributes should the City Council look for

• how the new City Administrator should interact with the community.

The City Council will use the input gathered in this survey to help guide its decisions during the selection process. Piedmont’s City Administrator is appointed by the City Council and is responsible for overseeing day-to-day City operations and addressing the priorities established by the City Council.

City Administrator Sara Lillevand intends to retire in Spring 2023 or after the City Council has appointed a successor. Lillevand was appointed City Administrator by the City Council in 2019, after spending five years as Piedmont’s Recreation Director.

The Piedmont City Charter states the role of the City Administrator as follows:

SECTION 3.02 CITY ADMINISTRATOR

The City Council shall appoint a City Administrator for an indefinite term and fix his/her compensation. The administrator shall be appointed on the basis of executive and administrative qualifications. The City Administrator shall be the chief administrative officer of the city and shall be responsible to the City Council for the administration of all City affairs placed in his/her charge by or under this charter.

The administrator shall have the following powers and duties:

(1) Shall appoint all city employees.

(2) Shall discipline, and, when deemed necessary for the good of the City, suspend or remove City officers and employees except as otherwise provided by law, this Charter, or personnel rules adopted pursuant to this Charter.

(3) Shall supervise the administration of all departments, offices and agencies of the City, except as otherwise provided by this Charter or by law and except further that the internal administration of each department shall remain with each department head.

(4) Shall attend Council meetings and shall have the right to take part in discussion, but may not vote.

(5) Shall see that all laws, provisions of this Charter and acts of the Council, subject to enforcement by him/her or by officers subject to his/her supervision, are faithfully executed.

(6) Shall prepare and submit the annual budget to the Council and shall supervise its administration after its adoption.

(7) Shall submit to the Council and make available to the public a report on the finances of the City each fiscal year.

(8) Shall make such other reports as the Council may require concerning the operations of City departments, offices and agencies.

(9) Shall keep the Council fully advised as to the financial condition and future needs of the City and make recommendations to the Council concerning the affairs of the City.

(10) Shall administer the personnel system of the City and, in particular, those matters involving the City’s personnel classification system and employee benefit and retirement plans.

(11) Shall maintain a system of City records.

(12) Shall perform such duties as are specified in this charter or may be required by the Council. (Charter Amendment 11/06/2018)

Comments may also be sent directly to the Council.

To send comments to the City Council as a whole, send an email to citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov.

2022-11-07 City Administrator Recruitment Survey

Nov 28 2022

Does this mean the draft Piedmont Housing Element is in a 30-day comment period which commenced November 17?

From the California Housing and Community Development (HCD) website:
“Housing Element Submittal Requirements:”
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“For first draft submittals: With the first draft submittal, please include in the cover letter how the local government complies with new public participation requirements pursuant to AB 215 (Chapter 342, Statutes of 2021). AB 215 requires that prior to submittal of the first draft to HCD, the local government must make the draft available for public comment for 30 days and if any comments were received, take at least 10 business days to consider and incorporate public comments. Please note, HCD cannot review any first draft submittals that have not demonstrated completion with this requirement. The housing element will be considered submitted to HCD on the date that documentation has been received verifying compliance with AB 215 public participation requirements.”
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Garrett Keating, Former Member of the Piedmont City Council
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.