Sep 20 2015

Piedmont’s Family Oriented Zoning and Short Term Rentals will be considered on September 21 at the Council Meeting – 

Short Term  and Overnight Rentals Are Generally Not  Legal  Under Piedmont Ordinances and the City Charter. 

On September 21, 2015, the Council will consider the issue  at 7:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611.

In May 2015, City staff reported to the City Council that although Piedmont prohibits Air BnB and VRBO type short-term rentals,  they are listed online on several sites. While many cities around the world have adopted regulations, oversight and special taxes on short-term rentals of apartments, homes, condos and second units, Piedmont has yet to respond as AirBNB type rentals continue to operate in violation of existing laws and the City Charter.  

Questions Regarding Voter Participation

The City Charter has in recent years been skirted by changing zoning uses and requirements without voter participation.  This has caused dramatic changes for Piedmont’s previously stable single family residential zoning.  The Charter states:

“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.”

Piedmont Law Does Not Allow Customers to Come to a Piedmont Residence. 

The Municipal Code currently states:

“The occupational use shall not generate pedestrian or vehicular traffic or parking needs beyond that normal to the district or neighborhood in which it is located. No business invitees shall be permitted to visit the premises;”

Piedmont law further states:

“No more than one room in the residence or any structure on the premises where the residence is located shall be used in connection with the home occupation, and under no circumstances shall a garage be used in any way related to such home occupation;”

Renting a room without using another room such as a bathroom or a kitchen is improbable.

 Permits Are Required Prior to Using a Home for an Occupation –

“All of the jurisdictions, like Piedmont, report that many hosts operate their short term rentals ”under the radar”. However, unlike most communities, it is relatively easy for Piedmont staff to identify illegal short term rentals because we have relatively few of them, we have active neighbors who report unpermitted activity, and matching an advertised rental with a specific property is generally not difficult for staff.” Staff report September 21, 2015

Piedmont’s current law  requires a permitting process that includes involving neighbors as well as City determinations for business use of residences. Since customers are not allowed to come to a residence, nor can there be use of the residence for publicity, short term rentals are currently not allowed.

During the discussion and consideration by the City Council on Monday, March 16, 2015, the rental of Piedmont rooms through internet companies, such as AirBnB,  the Piedmont Municipal Code requirement for use of a residence as a “Home Occupation” was not mentioned.

Piedmont’s Home Occupation ordinance states:

“There shall be no advertising, notices, publications or other written or oral means used to connect the occupation with the premises on which it is conducted and particularly there shall be no use of the address of such premises in any way connected with the occupation, provided that this shall not prohibit the use of name cards, stationery or invoices with the address of the premises.”

 “~  SEC. 17B.3 REGULATIONS ~

a. In order to conduct a home occupation on any premises located in Zones A, B, C, and E in the City of Piedmont, an application must be made by the resident proposing such an occupational use upon a form and in the manner prescribed by the City Clerk.

b. In addition to the application form the applicant must submit a rendering of the floor plan of the house showing which room or portion of a room will be used for the home occupation. This drawing should be accurate in its representation of the premises but need not be an architectural rendering.

c. The fee for a home occupation permit shall be non-refundable as set forth from time to time by resolution of the City Council.

d. The applicant or applicant’s representative shall mail to all adjacent residences (as defined in Sec. 17.2) a notice of intent to conduct business, the form of which shall be prescribed by the City Clerk. Said notice will set forth (1) The applicant’s name (2) The address of the proposed home occupation (3) The type of business to be conducted (4) A fifteen (15) day period during which comments on the home a fifteen (15) day period during which comments on the home occupation may be directed to the City Clerk.

e. The applicant or applicant’s representative shall provide an affidavit of service to the City Clerk as proof of satisfaction of Sec. 17B.3(d) above.

f. No home occupation permit shall be issued during the 15 day notification period.

g. Upon completion of the notification period, the application and any

g. Upon completion of the notification period, the application and any comments received shall be reviewed by the Public Works Director and City 17B-3 Home Occupations 17B-4 Administrator who shall determine if a home occupation should be granted under this section based upon the fact that none of the restrictions of Section 17B.2 have been violated or will be violated due to the proposed nature or conduct of the home occupation.

h. All persons receiving a home occupation permit shall be required to have a valid city business license. Lapse of six (6) months or more in a business license shall constitute grounds for cancellation of the home occupation permit.

i. Home occupation permits shall be valid so long as there is no change in the location or nature of the business and a valid city business license is on file in the City Clerk’s office and none of the restrictions of Section 17B.2 have been violated. (Ord. No. 349 N.S., §3; Ord. No. 388 N.S., §3, Ord No. 532 N.S §3, Ord. 709 N.S. §2)” 

Read Piedmont’s Home Occupation ordinance. 

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Unintended Consequence of Promoting Second Units in Piedmont –

To provide affordable and low income housing in Piedmont, City policies have promoted second units, granting variances and retroactively allowing apartments in homes. The City has sought and gained awards for this approach to providing for low income and affordable housing. However, rather than becoming rental housing for full time lower income families, these new units have proved ideal for AirBNB rentals. As online short-term rental services have mushroomed, these housing options have opened Piedmont to a commercialization never seen before and according to staff, in most cases without payment of Piedmont’s rental income tax to the City.

From the City’s view, although the one-time weekend renter does not occupy any seats in Piedmont schools or request city documents, the second units are not providing affordable or low income housing for permanent residents, as intended by City policy. Meeting goals for housing units are defeated by the transfer of housing to short-term rentals as a hotel or bed and breakfast.

As Piedmonters commercialized their properties, Piedmont’s desire for low income and affordable housing has been partially undercut by some property owners’ desire for increased income by converting their house or second unit to short time rentals.

Staff states in their September 21 report:

“Piedmont does not have the tourist draw of beaches, shopping or entertainment venues the cities with the largest problems have. In fact, based on reading reviews left by people who have rented Airbnb listings in Piedmont, they tend to be in town for local social events such as weddings and anniversaries, or regional events at UC Berkeley.”

In the staff report there is no assessment of safe, convenient, lodging near Piedmont.  For those residing in Piedmont, it is generally known that finding safe, nearby lodging can be challenging, making Piedmont homes and second units desirable and potentially in high demand for short term lodging.

Full time Landlord Duties May Be More Onerous than Occasional Weekends –

Piedmonters with second units often consider being a year-round 24- hours-a-day landlord too great a nuisance. Some have opted to rent for few days only when it is convenient through online services instead, knowing that parents bringing their students to Berkeley or Mills College won’t be doing much cooking, complaining in the middle of the night, withhold rent, or exercise the right to “repair and deduct” and they will be gone in a couple of days. AirBnB vets the renters and collects the payment for the hosts.

Express your opinions and ideas. Alternatively, you may watch the City Council hearing on KCOM, cable 27 or by logging on to the city’s website at www.ci.piedmont.ca.us: on the right hand side of the homepage under the “City Council” heading, click on the “Online Video” link, then click on the “September 21, 2015” heading, click on the “Video” or “In Progress” link, and start watching!

Written comments may be sent to the City Council, c/o Piedmont City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611 or by email to: jtulloch@ci.piedmont.ca.us. Correspondence received by the City Clerk is considered part of the public record.

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“Additionally, as a means of reaching as many Piedmont residents as possible, staff was directed to continue to work with the press to make sure that there was high level coverage, and to continue to send direct notices and reports to the email list of people wishing to participate in the discussions.” Staff report dated September 21, 2015.

Read the entire staff report here.

Editors’ Note:  PCA is on record requesting all City public notifications, press releases, agendas and agenda staff reports, thereby allowing PCA to inform our hundreds of readers of City news. PCA was not included on the recent notification list regarding short term rentals as were some other media outlets. 

Jan 24 2015

With Superintendent search surveys and forums a plenty, the question remains – What do Piedmonters expect and want from their schools?

Taxpayers, parents, and empty nesters have trusted that Piedmont schools are doing the best they can with significant homeowners taxes in addition to community donations.

Piedmont schools are excellent by most standards, but they can be even better in meeting ever changing educational needs.  Many readers, associates, community members, teachers, students, and parents may not make it to the scheduled forums or even fill out the still available > survey on the Superintendent search.

Various suggestions for future improvements and changes to the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) have arisen during the search process. Some of these are:

–  Increased transparency in policy decisions –

Rather than after the fact, parents, school employees, and the Piedmont community should be brought into decisions early on through open and free expression of ideas. Censorship of speakers, particularly teachers and students, is not appropriate at public PUSD meetings. (See Student report on the 12/10/14 PUSD meeting.)

 Broadcast of budget processes on the City’s cable station KCOM and Piedmont website 

The Piedmont School District’s pivotal “Budget Advisory Committee” meets without being recorded or broadcast and is largely away from public view.  To be informed on school budget issues, a person should not have to be physically present at a meeting.  Affordable recording and broadcast methods are available.

–  Focus on teaching rather than buildings –

In recent years, there has been a continuous stream of needed school building improvements.  Increased attention on teaching each student according to their needs should be the priority.   Technology should play a roll in teaching along with increasing students’ technological skills. When there are teacher performance problems, the District should be ready to assist teachers.

 Improved communication between school and home –

Numerous nearby and distant school districts have adopted internet communication systems that inform students and parents of assignments, test dates, behavior problems, overdue homework, and academic issues on a daily basis.  In Piedmont, teachers are not required to report their homework assignments on line. Individualized student information is not always available for students or parents. Conferences between teachers and parents are often elective rather than a standard.

  Schools comparisons made on an equal basis –

Some students leave Piedmont schools. What are they looking for in another school? Is Piedmont keeping up? Although Piedmont is a unified school district, comparisons should be made to other high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools on an individual basis.

Dec 8 2013

The City Council on December 2, 2013, adopted without voter approval an ordinance changing a zone use contrary to intent and wording in the City Charter. Zoning changes known as reclassifications have been under the strict authority of voters for well over a half century, perhaps since the origin of Piedmont in 1907.   However, voter approval requirements were dismissed December 2, as the Council assumed the role of making zoning changes without voter approval by means of permanent Conditional Use Permits for individual parcels of land.

Charter language –

The City Charter states that voters must approve zoning use changes under “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 owner 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 Charter  Emphasis added.

New interpretation of residential use –

The Council approved a new interpretation of residential use allowing single family residential use to be interchangeable with multiple family (apartments) residential use. Since its beginning, Piedmont has been a primarily single family residential city evidenced by history and the limited commercial buildings and apartments in the City.  The state, working through staff and consultants, persuaded the current council to change the Charter interpretation without following traditional and established law requiring Piedmont voter approval.  

The Charter states specifically:

“provided that any property owner 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. “

The Charter language shows a change in use is reclassification requiring voter approval – examples:  “for uses ” and “only use.”

Piedmont governance is based on the City Charter –

The raison d’etre for the organization of Piedmont’s governance through the City Charter was to establish the principle that the very small community of Piedmont would let the citizens make major decisions about governance and content of the community to an extent difficult in larger cities where officials have greater authority to make zoning decisions for the citizens.

No Piedmont vote proposed –

Not once during Council consideration was a motion made to place the matter on a Piedmont ballot. Election timing, costs, ballot arguments were forgone in preference to Council determination of what was appropriate for Piedmont avoiding the risk of allowing voters to approve the change.

New City Attorney sways Council –

The pivotal junction in the Council’s decision was the opinion of a new temporary City Attorney, who verbally convinced the City Council that “residential is residential.” Leading to a decision that single family residential use allows multifamily residential use under a Conditional Use Permit when individually granted by the Planning Commission.

Council approval of zoning change –  

The Council’s approval of Mixed Use (apartments in conjunction with business) in the Commercial Zone D changed the use allowed in the zone. Mixed use language has been placed into the revised Chapter 17 of the Piedmont City Code by the City Council. Where apartments were not allowed, they will now be allowed through a conditional use permit process in the Commercial zone.  This change expands the multifamily residential zone parcel by parcel enlarging the multifamily zone.   Establishing a pathway through new interpretations of the Charter, opens the door for all of Piedmont to change without voter approval. 

Council avoids voter approval while potentially impacting all of Piedmont –

The Council forfeited the long held interpretation, intent and definition of Charter zoning language which defined the classification of a zone as its use.  Piedmont zoning laws specifically allow single family dwellings in all areas /zones. The new interpretation establishes a gateway for all of Piedmont to have its zoning changed through new special permits approved by the City Council.

Precedent of  interpretation of “residential is residential” –

Upon repeated questioning from Council members concerned about precedent setting based on the new interpretations, the City’s attorney stated no precedent would be set. There was no explanation on how terms as “classification /reclassification” and “residential is residential” could be established now, yet not set a precedent for future application of the same words.  Nor was there an explanation on how parcel by parcel use changes leveled with the Charter.

Attorney based interpretation of Charter language on other cities rather than Piedmont. –

The advising attorney relied on current practices in other cities with no relationship to the Piedmont and expounded on the term “reclassification” as being a broad term applying only to a very consequential change in zoning when an entire zone would be changed to another use.  

In fact, the opposite is true in Piedmont. It has been the practice of the City to require voter approval of use changes even when a single parcel’s use was changed from one use zone to another.  This was implemented recently, when Piedmont voters readily approved reclassifying 801 Magnolia Avenue, the site of the current Piedmont Center for the Arts previously zoned Single Family Residential Zone to Public Facilities Zone. The process and ballot measure involved one parcel.

Previous Councils defined “classification as the use”. –

Another example of the established definition of “classification” as “use,” was in 1987 when the Council voted to create two separate single family residential zones, one for single family residential parcels with a minimum 10,000 square feet (Zone A) and another zone for single family residential parcels with a minimum 20,000 square feet (Zone E – Estate).   This was done by the Council without voter approval on the basis that there was no change of use. The Council stated that the use within the zone was not changing, consequently it was not a new zone, even though one zone was reduced, Zone A,  and Zone E, the Estate Zone was created out of Zone A.  In Chapter 17 of the City Code, there are two separate single family residential zones, Single Family Residential (Zone A) and Single Family Residential Estate (Zone E), approved by the Council because the use did not change.

No written legal opinion on the language interpretation presented –

Despite the pivotal nature of the new definitions of classification and reclassification, as of this publication, no prior written legal opinion on new definitions and interpretations of the City Charter language have been provided to the public and, evidently, not to the Council or Planning Commission before their decision to accept the new interpretations. Several requests by the Piedmont Civic Association were made to City staff for prior written legal opinions, yet to date no response or information has been forthcoming.  

Every Piedmont property impacted by the new interpretation of the Charter 

The new interpretation of the Piedmont Charter language “classification and reclassification” and “residential is residential” creates a conundrum of issues. The most controversial is establishing an interpretation impacting every Piedmont property in every zone. Since every zone allows single family residential, every Piedmont parcel is a potential apartment site based on Council action allowing use changes.

Zoning change lacks Design Review Guidelines for Highland/Vista and Grand Avenue –

The change becomes effective January 1, 2014, however, the Council and Planning Commission have not considered laws to control height, set backs, parking, hardscape, etc. within the zone, leaving a void.  Discussion of separate conditions for the two commercial zones (Highland/Vista and Grand Avenues) were deferred, while the ability to build Mixed Use projects on all properties will be law.

Zoning is important to Piedmont –

Zoning has been the mainstay of Piedmont.  Neighboring communities have faltered, while Piedmont has remained stable and sound largely based on zoning.  As the state continues to want higher density housing, the new interpretation of the City Charter removes the strength provided by the Charter language requiring voter approval prior to zoning changes.

Council approval of the new interpretation might be the most expedient appeasement of state requests, but it has weakened Piedmonters ability to govern their city through voters rights found in the City Charter.

Option available to City Council:

The City Council can act to consider the broader implications and future of Piedmont zoning by following the City Charter and allowing voters of Piedmont to vote on the proposed changes to Zone D Commercial, thus protecting the remainder of the City from “new definitions and interpretations” that  remove voters from the process.

Editors’ Note: The Piedmont Civic Association takes no position on whether apartments should be allowed in Commercial Zone D or any other Piedmont zone. The Piedmont Civic Association takes a definite position advocating adherence to the language in the Piedmont City Charter  which states voters must approve changes in zoning use classifications.  

The Piedmont Civic Association does not support or oppose candidates for public office or ballot measures.  

Feb 8 2013

Due to technical difficulties some of the links on the Piedmont Civic Association website are not operating properly.  Until the problems are corrected, please send OPINIONS, INFORMATION, and ARTICLES to www.editors@piedmontcivic. org.

We apologize for any inconvenience and if we have missed any submittals, be assured our goal is to receive and publish information in a timely manner.

Thank you,

PCA Editors

Nov 13 2012

During the recent Measure Y campaign, the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) received numerous Comments and Opinions, some of which have raised the need to restate our publication guidelines.  PCA encourages reasoned discussion of civic issues through Comments and Opinions, and readers’ responses to specific Comments and Opinions are welcomed when they further debate and discussion. Personal attacks directed at individuals, however, do not meet PCA guidelines.

PCA is pleased to provide a public forum for Piedmont residents to  express their views. Ideally, opinions, comments, and responses to comments offer thoughtful insights and add new perspectives. Often, the most persuasive arguments acknowledge the valid concerns and objectives of those on the other side.

The PCA  goal is “to  maintain and enhance Piedmont as a desirable community through the informed participation of its residents.”  Comments and opinions that do not comply with PCA guidelines cannot expect to be published.

Oct 14 2012

Many Contribute Time, Effort, and Expertise  –

Many Piedmont residents are dedicated volunteers who contribute their time and talents to help make our community a better place to live.  Attention has recently focused on Michael Rancer, Chair of the 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee (MTRC), who for the past two years, has applied his expertise and knowledge of budgets and public financing to help shine a bright light on Piedmont’s financial issues.

In 2011, Rancer was selected by the City Council to serve on the MTRC, and was then elected Chair of the Committee by his fellow Committee members. The 9-member Committee met for months in Spring 2011 and, under Rancer’s leadership, produced an extensive analysis of the City’s budget and financial projections.  The report was praised unanimously by the City Council.

In the March 2012 local election, Rancer publicly supported Measure A, the sewer service surcharge, and signed the “pro” argument  in the Voters Handbook.

Rancer’s education and professional background make him well qualified to assess Piedmont’s financial and budget issues. Consider his resume:

At  the Piedmont League of Women Voters Forum on Thursday, Oct.11, Rancer represented the “No on Measure Y” portion of the presentations. During his presentation, he  commented that he thought the personal attacks against opponents of Measure Y  should cease. Rancer had good reason for his comment, since he is the subject of a verbal attack by Councilman Jeff Weiler posted on Weiler’s  Facebook page.  Letter to City Council requesting an apology from Council Member Wieler; Letter to Council Member Wieler.

As Chair of the  MTRC, Rancer carefully considered various aspects of Piedmont financial matters.  Despite originally supporting the proposed Piedmont parcel tax renewal (Measure Y), he reversed his position when, in his opinion, City actions recommended by the MTRC were not taken.

Piedmont is fortunate to have generous citizens, such as Michael Rancer, who donate long hours to serve on City commissions, special committees, the School Board, City Council and numerous other public service positions.  PCA applauds all Piedmonters who contribute their time and talents to making our community a better place to live and  believe that, regardless of their personal viewpoints, these dedicated individuals deserve our recognition and respect.

 

Jun 12 2012

Piedmont on the brink of ceding local control for $22,000

On Monday, June 7, the Piedmont Council rethought its plans to give up local control of landscaping rules to a regional agency, StopWaste.org A number of citizens objected to a proposal to conform Piedmont law to a set of rules devised by StopWaste, plus any future rules it decides upon.  The future revisions to Piedmont law could occur without notice to Piedmont residents.

Mayor John Chiang expressed concern about forgoing one-time money of $22,000 offered by StopWaste.  But, the City of Newark, has already declined the offer of money, based on its determination that a one-year grant will not cover the extra staff time and costs on an ongoing basis. The City of Pleasanton has also declined the StopWaste offer.

A principle . . . not just one issue > Click to read more…

May 4 2012

No Broadcast, No Recordings, No Minutes –

The City Council formed the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) in response to 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee recommendations.  The BAFPC will be providing advice to the Council on five-year financial projections and expenditures of more than $250,000.  The Committee is composed of Mary Geong, Steven Hollis, Bill Hosler (Chair), Tom Lehrkind, and Tim Rood.  The Members are taking their > Click to read more…

Feb 1 2012

Sewer Fund money is allocated to City Maintenance workers –

The full time equivalent of more than 5 maintenance employees is paid by using the Sewer Fund. (See chart below; see City sewer transfer charge detail.)   City documentation for 2010-11  indicates that the time of 4 of these employees is charged exclusively to the City sewer system.  Although not shown here, there is an additional charge made to the Sewer Fund for the compensation of administrative staff. > Click to read more…

Nov 26 2011

The Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) is a long standing, volunteer organization whose mission is to maintain and enhance Piedmont as a desirable community “through the informed participation of its citizens.”  Beginning in 1986, the Piedmont Civic Association historically has held forums, Town Hall meetings, made recommendations on civic topics, produced surveys, and published a newsletter. > Click to read more…