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

Oct 25 2017

Piedmonters Unhappy about San Francisco Civic Center Station 

Piedmonters and other Bay Area taxpayers have generously agreed to tax themselves to improve earthquake preparation of the BART  track system, however during this fall cultural season they are voicing distress at the conditions they encounter at the Civic Center Station in San Francisco.  Most BART stations are serviceable and reasonably clean.  Sadly, at the symbolic core of San Francisco, Civic Center Station’s cleanliness and safety is inadequate, presenting a harsh welcome to tourists and Bay Area residents.  The track area, station, and access points appear not to have been cleaned or sanitized in years.  Security is usually nowhere to be found.  With safety concerns and maintenance problems growing, riders deserve more.

Piedmonters frequently attend opera, concerts, ballet, theater, restaurants and the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center.  While providing much needed off-peak BART customers, riding BART from the East Bay can avoid bridge traffic and a difficult search for parking in San Francisco.  But Piedmonters are put off by the conditions in the BART/Muni Civic Center Station —and they aren’t alone in such complaints.

“I’ve been working at a job site this week not far from this station. I arrive at this station around 5:30am. Twice this week I’ve witnessed people shooting up heroin right near the bottom of the stairs that lead to Market St. and 8th.”
Sergio C, 10/4/2017 
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“Compared to other BART stations, Civic Center station seems dirtier and it’s got more bums and panhandlers. There have been some incidents in the past seven months. In August 2016, a man was found stabbed inside the station (sfgate.com/crime/article…). Last month (January 2017), at least one person was stabbed near the station (kron4.com/2017/01/06/2-r…).”
Daniel B, 2/25/2017 
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“One thing I don’t like about BART stations in San Francisco is that they always stink. Always”
Sheila C, 2/15/2017 
 In 2014 the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the distressing state of the Civic Center Station.  Sadly, the conditions remain today:

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/A-commuter-s-bane-filthy-smelly-BART-station-5701663.php

Los Angeles offers a surprising contrast to BART.

Busy light rail/bus/Amtrak multi-mode station

Recently, a Piedmont family spent five days on LA Metro visiting a dozen museums and historic sites.  The light rail, subways and stations were clean, with cleaning crews visibly at work and elevators and escalators were all in working order, in contrast to BART, which frequently has nearly a dozen elevators and escalators out of service.  Many Los Angeles stations are bare bones, “found” or “repurposed” such as the elegant old Union Station that is now multi-modal, serving the elevated Gold Line, buses and intercity Amtrak trains.  (see photos)

Not a single coffee cup or napkin on the station floor

 

Despite offering a better experience, LA Metro public transit is less expensive than BART.  While BART has found it unworkable to offer off-peak fares to solve their problem of chronic low ridership off-peak, LA Metro buses and tracked system machines accurately deduct peak and off-peak fares from rider fare cards.

The BART Board

BART Board members (listed below) need to take responsibility for the discouraging conditions riders encounter.

 Money needs to be budgeted for:

  • Security presence and enforcement
  • Camera surveillance
  • Steam cleaning of all surfaces including the track areas
  • Working escalators and elevators
  • Clean, safe steps and access points
  • Clean trains inside and out

Piedmont is currently working on its Climate Action Plan.  Having safe, clean and appropriate modes of public transportation is elementary to reducing Piedmont’s carbon footprint.

Piedmont’s elected BART representative is > Rebecca Saltzman.

Contact numbers and links for BART Board Members are included in their summaries below.  The General Manager is also listed below.

BART Board Members and District Information

Debora Allen
District #1

(Map)

Debora Allen, Director

Stations Included: 

Concord, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre, Walnut Creek

Counties Included: 

Contra Costa
Joel Keller
District #2

(Map)

Joel Keller, Director

Stations Included: 

North Concord/Martinez, Pittsburg/Bay Point

Counties Included: 

Contra Costa
Rebecca Saltzman
District #3

(Map)

Rebecca Saltzman, President, Piedmont’s Representative on the BART Board

Stations Included: 

Bay Fair, Downtown Berkeley, El Cerrito del Norte (partial), El Cerrito Plaza (partial), North Berkeley, Orinda, Rockridge, San Leandro

Counties Included: 

Alameda/Contra Costa
Robert Raburn
District #4

(Map)

Robert Raburn, Vice President

Stations Included: 

Coliseum/Oakland Airport, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, 12th Street/Oakland City Center, 19th Street/Oakland, MacArthur (partial)

Counties Included: 

Alameda
John McPartland
District #5

(Map)

John McPartland, Director

Stations Included: 

Castro Valley, Dublin/Pleasanton, Hayward, West Dublin/Pleasanton

Counties Included: 

Alameda
Thomas Blalock
District #6

(Map)

Thomas Blalock, Director

Stations Included: 

Fremont, South Hayward, Union City

Counties Included: 

Alameda
Lateefah Simon
District #7

(Map)

Lateefah Simon, Director

Stations Included: 

Ashby, El Cerrito del Norte (partial), El Cerrito Plaza (partial), MacArthur (partial), Montgomery (partial), Richmond, West Oakland, Embarcadero (partial)

Counties Included: 

Alameda/Contra Costa/San Francisco
Nick Josefowitz
District #8

(Map)

Nick Josefowitz, Director

Stations Included: 

Balboa Park (partial), Embarcadero (partial), Montgomery (partial),

Counties Included: 

San Francisco
Bevan Dufty
District #9

(Map)

Bevan Dufty, Director

Stations Included: 

16th Street Mission, 24th Street Mission, Glen Park, Civic Center, Powell Street, Balboa Park (partial)

Counties Included: 

San Francisco

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GENERAL MANAGER GRACE CRUNICAN https://www.bart.gov/about/gm

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Members of Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan Task Force are:

Tracey Woodruff, Chair

Brett Hondorp

Margaret Ovenden

Steven Schiller

Bruce Wolfe

Aug 13 2017

No tax deduction allowed for ratepayers paying for city waste services.

Placing the cost of City Waste Services on private home garbage ratepayer billing rather than using the Piedmont General Fund Budget eliminates the tax deductibility of a legitimate municipal service, which should be covered by the Municipal Services Tax. 

How much municipal cost for waste services will be shifted from the city budget to individual residents’ in their required monthly waste removal charges? The recently received Republic Services bid provides no breakout of the cost of providing the city service that is billed to ratepayers.

Questions have also been raised about the ratepayer fees for City services without a benefit to the individual ratepayer, which may be considered an unauthorized required tax.  

Simultaneously, the City Council is moving ahead on considering a change to the City Charter to allow the city to accumulate more than the Charter prescribed maximum reserve of 25% of the annual budget. The city has been experiencing unprecedented increases in excess revenues which have been placed into various city reserve funds. Rather than using existing money for ongoing municipal services, such as city waste removal or the greatly needed pavement of substandard or damaged sidewalks, the city continues to ask for more funding from Piedmonters.

The voter enacted Piedmont City Charter states:

“The Council shall establish a fund known as the General Fund Reserve in an amount not to exceed twenty-five (25%) of the budget for the purpose of maintaining municipal services during periods of reduced revenues to the City, as well as meeting unforeseen contingencies and emergencies of the City.”

Council Moves Forward to Contract with Sole Source Bidder – 

On July 17th, the Piedmont City Council accepted the proposal submitted by Republic Services for waste collection services beginning on July 1, 2018, notably imposing huge rate increases particularly for backyard services and no rate break for seniors or the disabled.

Numerous residents have expressed dismay and shock at the cost of procuring only one bidder and the expensive end result.  It is not unusual for sole source procurement to result in unacceptably high costs. No breakout of the cost to go 30 feet into a backyard versus 100 feet or up many steep steps was offered.

Piedmont resident Alan Kong recommended “a re-procurement … with a non-responsive” penalty or  “a more stringent annual renewal cap.”

Despite the long lead time, a new less complex RFP for Piedmont property owners will not be sent out in an attempt to acquire waste removal charges in line with other communities. Detailed contract negotiations will proceed on the basis of the lone bid by Republic Services.

Concerns over the huge increase in rates for garbage collection have produced suggestions from a range of individuals.

“From what I have read in Mr. Benoit’s report may be indicative of inappropriate discussions by the proposers. In some industries such as sanitation/waste disposal, where there is limited to no competition, the eligible participants will divide territories/cities. Periodically these territories/cities will be redistributed in an RFP re-bid process. It seems odd that 2 proposers declined to bid altogether while of the remaining 2 proposers (Waste Management and Republic), there was a formal “no bid” citing safety. 

“Perhaps a re-procurement should be enacted with a qualifier that a non-responsive proposal will penalize/disqualify that party from future contract award considerations. Or implement a more stringent annual renewal cap (no greater than a legitimate index + X%, annually…and tie the contractor into a 5-10 year term contract with a stringent termination clause).

“However this is resolved, the seemingly damaged party will be the residents of the City of Piedmont. There are easy answers to this situation.” Alan Kong

~~~~~~~~~~~

“What the City has left out in its online explanation of the process and in response to Mike Rancer’s thoughtful comment, is that Waste Management, which services many Oakland streets right next to Piedmont, wanted to use a different type of cart that matched to a lift on the trucks which would reduce their concern about worker injury. Piedmont did not want to investigate this thinking backyard service would not be possible. The Jan. 17 2017 staff report included my letter and research material; that material has Oakland provider Waste Management’s rate sheet which clearly shows Waste Management providing both curbside and backyard service.”  Rick Schiller

~~~~~~~~~

“Are the City’s requirements asking for something that is far too expensive? Maybe relaxing some of the requirements would result in lower prices, and more competitors for the contract.”  Bruce Joffe

~~~~~~~~

“Maybe the problem is that Piedmont is too small to generate competitive bids or economies of scale. Given that Piedmont is completely surrounded by Oakland, and many of our streets cross the boundary into Oakland, has the city considered talking to Oakland about joining their contract and consolidating services to improve efficiency and lower our cost? It would be the height of negligence if our City Council simply rolled over and accepted this non-competitive bid. ”  Michael Rancer

~~~~~~~~

“Those are enormous rate increases – did Republic provide a quantifiable basis? They admitted they blew the last bid – you have to wonder how good this estimate is. And their flat rate for backyard makes no sense – all Piedmont backyards are not created equal. Staff’s formula may have been too complex for Republic, so make it simple – scale backyard service to lot size.

“Bad month for ratepayers – sewer, garbage and water rates all go up.”  Garrett Keating

~~~~~~~

“Rick Schiller is to be commended for the extensive research and persuasive recommendations that he made.

“I hope that the shocked ratepayers will remember this when City Council election time comes around again. As a reminder: “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?”

“Politics tends to be forgotten. Writing those quarterly checks is the “gift” that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving. ” Jim McCrea

~~~~~~~~~

“July 14, 2017
Piedmont City Council
c/o John Tulloch, City Clerk

July 17 Agenda: New Republic Services refuse contract.

Dear Mayor Wieler and Council,
It is what it is: one bid from Republic Services. Regrettably the preliminary cost estimates are for substantial increases of 60% for curbside service and 120% for backyard service. Considering the considerable increases, it is most unfortunate there will be no accommodation for seniors over 70. Staff indicated such an accommodation leaves the City vulnerable to legal challenge yet, perplexingly, this specific accommodation is common elsewhere and has not been legally challenged.

The Staff Report states “backyard service would be available to disabled residents at curbsides rates.” What is the mechanism for disabled qualification?
Mr. Benoit indicated, when we spoke at the Linda Triangle opening, that the new contract would include unlimited curbside green waste. This is most appropriate in lush, expansive Piedmont with its many large lots. Unlimited curbside recycling also seems appropriate and is in harmony with Piedmont’s embrace of ecological concerns.”   
Rick Schiller

~~~~~~~~~

“I find it odd and inconsistent that Piedmont finds a senior exemption of backyard service at curbside rates contrary to State law as many Municipalities have this exemption. In Marin County Almonte, Alto, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Homestead, Marin County, Mill Valley, Strawberry and Tiburon provide exemptions for backyard service at curbside rates for (1) any age 70 Senior on signature alone that requests the service and (2) any disabled person with a doctor’s letter. The City of Berkeley has the same two exemptions and lowers the qualifying age to 62 and does not require a doctor’s letter for the handicapped exemption (form and code attached). City of Albany has both a disability exemption and an age 62 low-income discount exemption (see attached p 7). Santa Clarita has an age 60 low-income discount exemption (see attached p 7). No doubt there are many more California cities with an age based senior exemption of backyard service at curbside rates.”  Rick Schiller

~~~~~~~~

“I think that there should be a provision that someone at age 75 (or pick a comparable age) or older should automatically be entitled to backyard collection at curbside rates. Will some noses get out of joint if they are thought to be “too old” to haul the cans to and from the curb and they don’t feel that way? If so, let THEM opt out of the reduced rates. “ Jim McCrea

~~~~~~~~~~

“I have not followed the Piedmont waste issue closely, but I did have a caution that may be useful. The City of Oakland spent a great deal on staff, consultants and public time to craft a detailed and specific RFP that outlined a great number of demands and requirements. Unfortunately, their efforts were rewarded with only one responsive bid from their current provider, Waste Management. This caused no end of trouble for the city ending up with recirculation of the EGO, eventual litigation and very increased rates. The 2016 Grand Jury report covers this problem pretty well. Piedmont should not repeat Oakland’s path on this. Also, collusion between garbage companies is not unknown. ”  Michael Henn

~~~~~~~~~

“Good news- the proposed contract has significant reductions in service levels in that unlimited recycling/composting and individual curbside pick-ups are eliminated from the contract which should lower rates. These services were likely the reason rates were increased so much in the last contract so their elimination now should lead to lower rates. Likewise, the scalable backyard service formula should result in a more accurate (and higher) rate for this service, again leading to a rate reduction for curbside service, the majority of Piedmont’s service.

“Bad news – for recycling, this contract is a serious step backwards. Specifically, the contract calls for a 60% diversion rate, a rate the city had already achieved before the advent of the cart system 10 years ago. And it ignores the 75% diversion rate that council set by resolution – the stretch goal for this contract is 70% by 2028. Many other east bay cities are achieving 75 % and our city has routinely been above 70%. Staff assumes that with the reduction in unlimited recycling, green waste will go to the landfill instead and result in an underestimate of our true diversion rate – this happened in the past. But it won’t now – Alameda County has banned the dumping of green waste in land fills and green waste is now properly sorted and credited. The contract should at least adjust the diversion targets to 65, 70, and 75% at a minimum to maintain the current level of recycling in town. To do the right thing, the contract should set the target at 75% as directed by Resolution 38-08.

“General Plan Goals and Policies: the staff report lists the numerous goals and policies this contract addresses (wish that had been done with chapter 17 revisions) but many are really not related to this service contract. To make true headway with our Climate Action Plan, this contract should require the use of biodiesel vehicles – this is likely the largest source of truck traffic GHG emission generated by the city and the city could achieve major reduction by mandating this in the contract.”  Garrett Keating

~~~~~~~~

“May I suggest that a requirement be included that the carts be placed back on the curbs after emptying. When the carts are left in the street, as they usually are, they occupy parking spaces where parking is very limited to begin with. I asked the company to include this in its instructions to its drivers, but compliance lasted approximately one week. This is a minor irritation but an irritation nonetheless.”  Susan McCreary

Read prior PCA article HERE.

Read City web page on waste services HERE.

Jan 22 2017

 

Have you read the 535 page staff description of proposed changes to Piedmont’s zoning?  

Rather than simply affecting the commercial and “civic center” zones, this proposal has become a massive set of changes affecting essentially every Piedmont single family residence (SFR).

The changes appear to include:

  • reducing minimum square footage required Single Family Residence lot size by 25% 
  •  reducing frontage – reduced by 33% (90 feet to 60 feet)
  • reducing side setbacks by 50% (to as little as 2 feet (using language that falsely appears to expand the setback!)
A simple proposal for “Grand Avenue zoning fixes” appears to have expanded exponentially. If this proposal moves forward, it could potentially significantly increase the density of Piedmont’s residential areas.  It would allow substantially larger structures next to your home . . closer to your home, allow many larger lots to be subdivided, and allow much larger second homes on one lot.
Is there any description in the voluminous city documents of the total eventual impact on our city?  Will these proposals, in combination, lead to a tear down of many old Piedmont homes? Will residents only find out what’s really in this massive proposal after the Council passes it?
Unfortunately, no effective executive summary of the 535 pages is provided, nor any effective notice of specifics in this massive mission creep.
Changes having the potential to transform Piedmont should not be obfuscated within a 535 page document.  It now seems to cover everything from Airbnb rules . . to parking . . . to 4-story civic center buildings with zero (0) setbacks . . . to increasing density for virtually every Single Family Residence lot.   All important issues – and in some cases “hot-button” issues for Piedmont.

The multiple issues encompassed in this hydra-headed proposal should be dealt with separately, with appropriate opportunity for public input for each.

Staff was initially simply working on clean up language in the ordinance and a few zoning changes affecting the Grand Avenue commercial or civic area. Why have Single Family Residence changes been slipped in? Does the citywide impact on single family residences, commercial, and public property make a citywide vote necessary . . . . or at least desirable?

For those who have a few spare days to review it, the 535 page staff report is here:

http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/publicworks/docs/planning/ch17revisions/2016-11-10_report.pdf

The Council will be educated at a Council Study Session on Monday, January 23, 2017 starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber, 120 Vista Avenue.   Live viewing will be from the City website and on Cable Channel 27. The meeting will be video recorded.

Comments can be sent to the Council as a whole at the following link:

citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

Comments and contacts for individual Council members are as follows:

Jeff Wieler, Mayor

jwieler@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 428-1648

Robert McBain, Vice Mayor

rmcbain@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 547-0597

Jennifer Cavenaugh

jcavenaugh@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 428-1442

Teddy Gray King

tking@ci.piedmont.ca.us

(510) 450-0890

Tim Rood

trood@ci.piedmont.ca.us

239-7663

Comments for PCA publication can be submitted at the bottom of this article.

Jan 20 2017

Did you know the City is considering big changes to what you, your neighbors, developers, and the City can construct in Piedmont? Once proposed Piedmont laws are approved, resident concerns can become moot. 

Some of the issues:

  • No surveys of Piedmonters’ preferences
  • Scant public input
  • Short term rentals recommendations (airbnb, etc.)
  • Zone use changes without citizen vote
  • Numerous building rule changes 
  • Reduction in parking requirements
  • Zero lot line construction
  • City Staff review and decisions on projects rather than control by citizen commissioners who know the community standards best
  • Building requirements for public property removed
  • No public workshops
  • Exclusion of public input in staff documents.

Study Session: 6:30 p.m., Monday, January 23, 2017, City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  Viewable from the City website and on cable Channel 27.

Ask your neighbor, friend, or any resident if they are aware of the zoning and building changes being considered for Piedmont and you will likely get a shoulder shrug.  Despite the fact that the Planning Department and the Planning Commission have spent enormous amounts of time reviewing Chapter 17, engagement with the residents of Piedmont has been minimal.  The mammoth amount of documents present challenges to even a hardy observer of Piedmont zoning and construction rules.

Recently, the City Council on January 11, 2017 held a “Study Session” in an unrecorded meeting in the Emergency Operations Center of the Piedmont Police Department.  The purpose of the meeting was to educate the City Council about staff driven changes to Chapter 17 of the Municipal Code. Piedmont residents could not watch the proceedings from their computers or TVs because the meeting was not broadcast or recorded. Relative few residents attended that meeting or other prior meetings.

When is the public going to be educated on the proposals? 

Were hundred or thousands of Piedmont residents expected to go to the Piedmont Planning Commission meetings and wait for hours to be heard or to learn about the proposed changes?  When was the opportunity for an open exchange of ideas between policy makers and Piedmont residents? The residents who attended a Planning Commission meeting often found the allowed 3 minute time snippet for input often ignored rather than engagingly discussed?

Some changes purport to clean up Chapter 17, the ordinance controlling construction in Piedmont, other proposals change rules: allow the City to build whatever it wants on public property, change zone uses without voter approval, increase density, reduce parking requirements, and so forth.

The changes are too numerous and undelineated to list here.  All changes have not been listed by the City in a cohesive and manageable form. The voluminous public documents overwhelm the reader. Rather than small pieces considered in an orderly manner, interested residents are faced with about 500 pages of documents to slog through.  Yet the City presses on without surveying residents or setting up workshops as done with garbage, recycling, and recreation.  No round table discussions, extensive outreach to residents, or on line surveys have been provided by the City.

One speaker at the recent “Study Session” suggested minimally sending a comprehensive and specific letter to all Piedmont residents. An announcement was subsequently sent on January 17 to all Piedmont addresses.  The City announcement is brief and does not alert or inform the recipient of the numerous significant changes proposed.  Readers are directed to the mountains of information online without issues enumerated. The “public hearings” held by the Planning Commission praised in the announcement received little publicity and little public attendance or engagement.

The City relies on unfounded legal documents, an outdated poll, and the obscure generally unknown Piedmont General Plan, which was approved following limited public input with contradictory internal statements and inconsistencies.

Public Engagement During the Election –

Public engagement was frequently mentioned during the recent 2016 Piedmont election, however thus far the public has been largely screened out of the zoning and construction change decisions by indeterminant consideration times, difficult or no broadcast of considerations, unclear documents, and confusing data.  Organization of the material for ready residents understanding has been lacking.

As of this writing, the City has planned no further actions to inform and engage the Piedmont public.  The planning staff is pushing ahead for a prompt adoption of the voluminous ordinance on March 6, 2017.

Is the public intentionally being disregarded by a lack of clarity and opportunities for meaningful involvement?

The following letter from the Planning Director was sent to those who took the initiative to ask to be informed.  The links lead to complexities difficult for most residents to sort through.   _______________________

You are receiving this email because you had asked to be notified of any activity by the Planning Commission or City Council related to revisions of City Code Chapter 17 (the Zoning Code) and/or revisions to regulations of short term rentals.

Notice

As noted on the City of Piedmont’s website, the City Council has undertaken the process of considering a recommendation from the Planning Commission regarding updates to the Planning and Zoning Provisions of the City Code, the City’s Design Guidelines, and Policies and Procedures related to Planning matters in early 2017. The Council held a study session on January 11th and will be holding another study session as follows:

Study Session: 6:30 p.m., Monday, January 23, 2017, City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  [This session is evidently going to be broadcast from the City website and on cable channel 27 as it is being held in the Council Chamber where video streaming is available.]

The City Council will not be taking action at the study session.

Following the study sessions, the Council is tentatively scheduled to take the first step in considering the recommendation for adoption at its regular meeting of March 6, 2017.

      Regular Meeting: 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 6, 2017, City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue

Documents on the City Website

The staff report to Council dated March 6, 2017 [It is unknown why this 522 page report has been produced and dated prior to hearing from the Council or public.], the Planning Commissioner’s Summary and Navigation Tips, and other documents related to this project are available on the City’s website at www.ci.piedmont.ca.us. The webpage also contains links to previous staff reports, meeting minutes, the General Plan, the current Zoning Code (Chapter 17) and the Zoning Map.

Public Engagement

The opportunity for public input is available throughout this process. Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend the study sessions and regular meetings at which the City Council will consider this item. Questions about the project and requests to receive email notification of activities related to Zoning Code revisions should be directed to Planning Director Kevin Jackson at kjackson@ci.piedmont.ca.us or (510) 420-3039.

Written comments to the City Council on this matter may be submitted by clicking the following link > citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us  or 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611.

Please let me know if you wish to be removed from this email distribution list.

Sincerely,

Kevin Jackson, AICP, Planning Director, City of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611 Tel: (510) 420-3039 Fax: (510) 658-3167

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For more City produced information, click here.

Article updated on January 21, 2017

Sep 27 2016

FREE AND OPEN PRESS – Transparency and Community Engagement

The Piedmont Civic Association website is an open forum for resident exchange of civic commendations, advocacy, opinions, concerns, proposals, and ideas. Our medium, the internet, allows for extensive discussion and opinions, prompt posting of reader comments, and, if needed, corrections.

PCA’s open and free access is the only available media outlet exclusively serving Piedmont residents on civic issues.  PCA has frequently been told by readers that opinion letters sent to other media outlets and informational items were never used by other local media.

PCA attempts to print all civic information submitted by Piedmont residents.   The Piedmont Civic Association editorial policy can be found here.

While encouraging civic discourse and civil exchange of ideas on any side of civic issues, including criticisms and praise of policies, PCA does not allow personal attacks. Every attempt is made to focus discussions on policy, factual information, and civic actions.

For example, in recent weeks, controversy has arisen regarding Piedmont Unified School District employment of a full time Athletic Director responsible for high school athletic programs and scheduling of school athletic facilities.  A number of opinions have been printed here on the subject. PCA welcomes these opinions and is open to receiving opinions on all sides of this issue and all civic issues.

PCA believes that substantive discussions are part of a healthy democracy – open and free exchange of ideas. 

A PCA goal is to keep Piedmont residents involved in Piedmont civic matters: inform Piedmont residents, encourage community engagement, provide transparency to government, and engender civic involvement.

 Readers may comment below on this and every article, for below each article is a place to comment.  Readers may send an opinion, news article, or photos to PCA at the address below:

editors@piedmontcivic.org

Thank you for reading, sharing with neighbors, and commenting.

The Piedmont Civic Association is an all volunteer association of interested Piedmont residents. No dues, no lists, no ads, no exclusion, just civic information provided by Piedmont residents, volunteers who care about Piedmont.

 Comments and letters appearing on the PCA site are unsolicited.

PCA does not support or oppose specific ballot measures or candidates for public office.

Sep 18 2016

Little Public Involvement in Zone Use Changes

The Planning Commission did not make a recommendation to the City Council on whether voters or the Council can make final changes to land uses within zones.

The Planning Commission has considered the Planning Department’s proposals with little resident participation.  In our City of over 10,600 residents and over 3,800 households, a total of only 17 individuals have participated in Planning Commission meetings to provide input that impacts all Piedmont property, resident lives, and long term uses of land in Piedmont.  Former Planning Commissioners and the public in general have noted they were unaware of the considerations.

 Changes proposed are vast and long reaching.   Too numerous to list here, but some changes include:

  • reduced parking requirements
  • interchangeable land uses between zones
  • extensions to buildings
  • intensified use and development in the Civic Center (near emergency services and 3 schools)
  • increased staff consideration and approval of proposals
  • elimination of all building requirements for the Public Zone (This includes all public properties.)
  • changed building standards including elimination of privacy attributes.

Voters Right Eliminated Without a Charter Change –

For decades the application and interpretation of the Piedmont City Charter referred to classification and reclassification as land uses within zones requiring voter ratification. Recent proposals by the Planning Department and opinions by Piedmont’s new City attorney takes away the right of Piedmont voters to approve zone land use changes.

The newly devised legal interpretation allows any use to be in any zone as long as the boundary lines are not moved and the City Council approves the land use change. Required voter approval of land use changes have been dismissed without changing the City Charter.

Unlike recent Recreation Department’s outreach to Piedmont residents, important zoning changes have lacked public input – no round table discussions, well attended public meeting, free exchange of ideas between the Planning Commission and residents, or polls and surveys.

The Planning staff will present an update on proposed changes to Chapter 17 at the City Council meeting September 19, 2016  in City Hall.

The staff report can be read here. 

A PCA article on the questioned legal interpretation of land use changes in Piedmont can be read here.

Aug 25 2016

A problematic new legal interpretation of Piedmont’s decades old City Charter makes land uses interchangeable amongst zones and removes Piedmont voter from their right to decide on land use.

According to the Piedmont City Charter both classification and area of a zone must be submitted to the voters for approval prior to a change. Classification and area are separate and distinct terms in the City Charter; however, this is not recognized by the City’s new legal opinion, linked below.

After Planning Commissioners along with residents requested a written legal opinion on how the Council could find authority in the Charter to allow changes in land use without voter approval, the City finally produced a legal opinion on July 27, 2016.

This legal opinion came eight years after a seemingly extra-legal land use change in a zone from Public to Multiple family residential to allow the development of the expensive townhouses on the former site of the PG&E substation. Thc movement of property from one zone to another and changing the use was accomplished through the General Plan without voter approval as noted in the EIR for 408 Linda Avenue:

“The zoning for the project site is Zone C, Multiple Density Residential. The land use designation for the site was converted from Public/Quasi Public to Medium Density Residential with the City Council adoption of the updated City of Piedmont General Plan in April 2009.” pages 1 & 2

http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/publicworks/docs/408_is.pdf

According to the City Charter* voters have control of land use. 

The City Charter states: “ 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.” 

The size and area “reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area,” are separate from the classification/use. The Charter states, “no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election.”  Classification and area are not synonymous.  According to the Charter both, classification and area must be submitted to the voters for approval.

The Charter further defines “classification” by stating: “provided that any property which is zoned for uses other than or in addition to a singlefamily 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.  This clarifies that classification is specifically the use: “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.” 

The  words “and” and “use” are pivotal in any discussion of voter rights regarding zone area and classification/land use.  City terminology regarding zones states the classification/ land use assigned to the zone – Single family residential, Commercial, Public, and Multifamily – in the City Code, the General Plan, and zone descriptions. 

Piedmont’s former Deputy City Attorney Linda Roodhouse, who worked closely for years with Piedmont’s long time City Attorney George Peyton wrote:

June 7th, 2012 at 2:13 pm   <Context

“Staff is correct on the general scope of the Council’s legislative authority. I was the deputy City Attorney for Piedmont for many years and advised the planning department. I was also the City Attorney in Orinda for 11 years, until 2006. In both cities, I had a major role in the creation of new zoning codes. In Piedmont, the boundaries of a zone and the general land use within the zone are subject to voter approval. The City Council decides the specific rules and regulations within any zone, but the rules and regulations must be consistent with the charter description of authorized uses in a zone.”  emphasis added

 Linda Roodhouse, Resident

A project has now been proposed for the Shell Station on Grand and Wildwood Avenues. The City changed the land use in this zone, the Commercial zone, to allow multiple family residential, without voter approval.  The City Attorney stated the zone change was allowed because there was single family residential in the Commercial zone, so multiple family residential was permitted and the zone land use was changed without voter approval. There is now yet another proposal by the Planning Department to change land use in Piedmont’s Public zone ( parks, open space, buildings, facilities, etc.) to allow commercial/business land uses without gaining voter approval.

None of the present City Council Members, Planning Commissioners, City Attorneys, City Administrative staff, including Planning were involved when in 1980 the revised City Charter was overwhelmingly approved by voters.  Language in the revised Charter perpetuates long held voter rights in Piedmont.  There was never any intention or mention by voters, attorneys, elected officials, or administrative staff, for voters to  relinquish land use control to the City Council through the City Charter, City Codes, or General Plan, and this fact is repeated in all of these documents.

The Piedmont City Charter provides for enforcement and amendments:    

“SECTION 9.06 CHARTER ENFORCEMENT

The provisions of the Charter shall be enforced, with violations punishable in the manner provided by State law and by City ordinance.

SECTION 9.07 CHARTER AMENDMENT

Amendments to this Charter may be proposed by the City Council or by the initiative process, as prescribed by this Charter and by State law.

All proposed Charter amendments shall be presented to the qualified voters of the City at a general or special election. If a majority of said voters voting upon a proposed amendment vote in favor of it, the amendment shall become effective at the time fixed in the amendment or, if no time is therein fixed, thirty (30) days after its adoption by the voters. ” emphasis added

If the City Council wants to change the language in the City Charter, the City Council must place the change on a Piedmont ballot.  Changes have been made from time to time throughout the years.  However in regard to taking away Piedmont voters right to determine land use decisions in Piedmont, no proposal has ever been placed on a ballot. 

The current attempt to change land use in the Public zone to allow commercial uses and the previous yet not implemented change to the Commercial zone to allow multiple housing without getting approval by Piedmont voters demonstrates how land uses are being considered interchangeable from zone to zone.

A ballot measure specifying zoning changes for both size and land use could potentially receive approval by the voters, but the Piedmont electorate are being excluded from these decisions based on the City attorney’s new opinion.

The City’s new legal opinion apparently did not consider the precise language in the Charter and the extensive documented history of placing zoning changes/reclassifications before Piedmont voters.  The new legal opinion appears rely on external interpretations and non-compliance with the Charter.

The Piedmont City Code states in regard to zoning:

SEC. 17.35 CONFLICTING REGULATIONS To the extent that provisions of this Chapter 17 conflict with or are inconsistent with any other ordinance or rule previously adopted, the terms of this Chapter shall control the construction, alteration or other improvements of property, except as to ordinances and rules which are subject to voter approval pursuant to the terms of the City Charter, which are not intended to be modified or repealed by any such inconsistency. (Ord. 488 N.S., 10/87) 

The City Charter Article on zoning is below: 

ARTICLE IX. General Provisions 

SECTION 9.01 GENERAL PLAN The City Council shall adopt, and may from time to time, modify a general plan setting forth policies to govern the development of the City. Such plan may cover the entire City and all of its functions and services or may consist of a combination of plans governing specific functions and services or specific geographic areas which together cover the entire City and all of its functions and services. The plan shall also serve as a guide to Council action concerning such City planning matters as land use, development regulations and capital improvements. 

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 singlefamily 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.” emphasis added

The Piedmont Civic Association does not support or oppose specific ballot measures.  The Association supports following the Piedmont City Charter.

The Piedmont Civic Association advocates that the Piedmont City Charter, essentially Piedmont’s constitution, be followed and voters’ rights be known and followed.  As to the merits of voter approval of land use proposals being put forward by the Planning and Legal staff, the Piedmont Civic Association supports the Charter and allowing Piedmont voters to decide on what is their right to decide. 

The City has publicly stated the cost to put a ballot measure on a General election is minor. Even so, the City has every obligation to follow the law.  Questions of Charter language intent and definitions, voters must make the determination, and the Council must follow the Charter by putting the matter before the voters in regard to both area and land use in all zones.

The heritage and historic right of voters to determine land use in Piedmont cannot be removed by the new legal opinion.

The City Attorney’s recent legal zoning opinion of the City Charter can be read by clicking the link below:

Piedmont – Memo re Interpretation of Section 9.02 of City Charter

Jul 13 2016

The City Charter calls for the City Council to elect a Mayor and a Vice Mayor. The Former Mayor resigned the position leaving the seat vacant not “absent or disabled.” 

Piedmont currently has two Vice Mayors, Vice Mayor Jeff Wieler, called the acting mayor, and Vice Mayor Bob McBain. Both Wieler and McBain hold the Council elected position of Vice Mayor.

The Council did not rescind Wieler’s election as Vice Mayor prior to electing a second Vice Mayor, McBain, at the July 5, 2016 Council meeting. Two Vice Mayors are not authorized by the City Charter. Additionally, there is no position designated in the Charter as an “Acting Mayor” to fill a vacancy.

The newly coined title of “Acting Mayor” lacks the recognition that “Mayor of Piedmont” presents.

Jeff Wieler should be elected by the Council to be the Mayor of Piedmont with Bob McBain, continuing as the Vice Mayor. 

The vacancy in the Mayor position was created when former Mayor and Council member Margaret Fujioka was elected Alameda County Superior Court Judge in June 2016 and unexpectedly resigned  on June 21, 2016.  Fujioka is not “absent or disabled.” She is no longer on the City Council and has no standing on the Council.  Her former position as Mayor/Council member is vacant not “absent or disabled.”

The Piedmont City Charter states:

SECTION 2.08 MAYOR  Following each general municipal election, the City Council shall elect from among its member officers of the City who shall have the titles of Mayor and Vice-Mayor, each of whom shall serve at the pleasure of the Council. The Mayor shall preside at meetings of the Council, shall be recognized as head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes and by the Governor for the purposes of military law, but shall have no administrative duties. The Vice-Mayor shall act as mayor during the absence or disability of the Mayor. In case of the temporary absence or disability of both the Mayor and Vice-Mayor, the Council shall select one of its members to serve as Mayor Pro Tempore. Emphasis added.

_________________

The draft July 5, 2016 Council minutes state:

Election of Vice Mayor

City Administrator Benoit stated Vice Mayor Wieler had assumed the office of Acting Mayor, leaving the office of Vice Mayor vacant. He recommended the election of a Vice Mayor to ensure continuity in case the Acting Mayor is absent or otherwise unable to perform his duties. Mr. Benoit indicated that the Vice Mayor elected tonight would serve until the certification of the results of the November 8, 2016 General Municipal Election.

Public Testimony was received from: Dimitri Magganas indicated support for Mr. McBain serving as Vice Mayor.   The Council discussed Councilmember McBain’s leadership skills.

Resolution 62-16 RESOLVED, that the City Council City Council elects Robert McBain to serve as Vice Mayor of the City of Piedmont until the results of the November 8, 2016 General Municipal Election are certified. Moved by King, Seconded by Rood Ayes: King, McBain, Rood, Wieler Noes: None

Oct 22 2015

PCA readers can return to issues long after initial publication to read continuing discussions, new opinions and comments. 

If you are following a particular issue or item, you can always return to it by using the Search function on the left side of the PCA home page.  When the articles appear, click on the title to see the comments at the end. Once an article is published, it remains on our site where readers often make comments on the article for days, or even weeks.

For example, see the continuing discussions of: Dogs and Dracena Park, Water Use, Parcel Taxes, etc.

Readers are encouraged to provide us with updates, corrections, comments, opinions, or articles.  PCA news, published on the internet, allows corrections to be made after publication.

Comments, updates, and corrections> Submit at the end of each article.

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