Sep 18 2022

Dear City Administrator  City Council, and Public Works Director,

While street sweeping is conducted by a Public Works Department professional driving a very expensive street sweeping machine, our city’s street sweeping program is run like an amateur volunteer activity.  Effective street sweeping requires that the machine sweeps up fallen leaves in the gutters, otherwise those leaves wash down into our storm drains and clog them.  Yet, cars routinely park on streets scheduled for sweeping, so the machine just sweeps around them, missing most of the gutter leaves.

Why do cars remain on streets during sweeping days?

The answer is because clearing the streets depends upon an intensive and frustrating volunteer effort.  Local residents have to find out and remember when their street is scheduled for sweeping.  Then, volunteer residents have to tie or tape floppy cardboard “no parking” signs to trees or poles in front of their houses.  Then, they have to call the Public Works department to report and register that they have mounted the temporary signs.  Oh, and the report must be made three full days before the scheduled street sweeping day.  Then, on street sweeping day, the volunteer has to check to see if any cars are parked where the signs were posted, and if so, call the Piedmont Police to report a violation.  Then, this is the frustrating part, they have to wait to see if a cop will come out to ticket the violating parker.  Sometimes a parker has moved his car before a cop comes out.  Often, someone will park in the empty space after the cop has left, causing the volunteer to call the police department again to request street sweeping enforcement.

Whew!  It has taken a lot of time just to describe the process.  Most of our neighbors don’t have time to actually go through this process.  Last year, my wife, Karen, followed the city protocol – to the letter – because a lot of leaves have been accumulating.  She even raked the leaves away from the gutter into the street to help the machine collect them.  In spite of her efforts, four cars parked on the street, ignoring the signs she posted.  This is not the way to run a professional city service, and, the lack of adequate sweeping costs our city extra expense to clean out clogged storm drains.

The solution is not rocket science; it just requires looking at what most other cities do.

(1)    Establish a regular schedule for sweeping each street.

(2)   Post permanent signs saying “No Parking” on those specific dates and times.

(3)   Deploy police to enforce the regularly scheduled “no parking” rules.

(4)  Empower the street sweeping machine operator to report parkers to the police, for ticketing.

This is similar to the way Oakland conducts its street sweeping parking restrictions on Linda, Kingston, and other nearby streets in that city.

My wife and I are not going to continue performing this tedious volunteer work to aid the city’s street sweeping.  Many of our neighbors don’t do so either, because they are not home during sweeping times or because it is too much of a burden.  It is long past time for Piedmont to run its street sweeping operation professionally.

Taxpayers paid a lot of money for the street sweeping machine, and that money is wasted if the machine can’t clean the gutters because cars are parked on sweeping days.  This year, as street sweeping begins, please implement these suggestions and run our City maintenance program professionally.

Bruce Joffe, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 18 2022

The Piedmont City Council starting at 6:30 pm will consider the following at their Monday, September 19, 2022 meeting. Full staff reports are linked below the various noted items.

“In 2021, six small accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in Piedmont that received final building permit inspection would likely have rents affordable to residents earning low-income wages. Three ADUs finaled in Piedmont would likely have rents affordable to moderate income residents. Three new ADUs are so small (336 s.f. or less) that they would likely rent at rates affordable to households earning very low incomes, and another two ADUs (337 s.f. and 901 s.f.) were approved under prior City ordinances and have restrictions limiting occupants’ incomes and rents to very low rates for a period of 10 years. Finally, two new ADUs would likely rent at rates above moderate income due to their size and number of bedrooms. There were no single-family residences completed in Piedmont in 2021. For addresses, sizes, and numbers of bedrooms, see the list of completed ADUs for 2021 below.  See full staff report linked above.

“During the calendar year 2021 the City of Piedmont gave final inspection approval to building permits for 16 new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in 2021. In addition to the 16 that received final inspection approval, the City of Piedmont issued building permits for 23 new ADUs. Zero (0) building permits were issued for new single-family homes, bringing the total number of building permits issued during the 2015-2023 term up to 96 permits. The City’s issuance of building permits for new housing units exceeds the overall goal set by the State of California in the RHNA for the 5th Cycle Housing Element by 36 housing units. However, production of very low-income units has lagged, resulting in a total since 2015 of 18 building permits for very low income units, where the RHNA goal is 24. The following staff report provides background and analysis on the annual progress report.” Staff report.

Agenda and participation details:

https://cdn5-hosted.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_13659739/File/Government/City%20Council/Agenda/council-current-agenda.pdf?v=T0ocGxUAQ

Sep 15 2022

There are 6 candidates seeking election to 3 seats on the Piedmont City Council. Voters can vote for up to 3 of the candidates. The election is on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. The candidates are shown below in alphabetical order with their ballot statements copied beside their photographs.

Betsy Andersen

Betsy Smegal Andersen

City Council Member

My education and qualifications are: My priorities on the Piedmont City Council have been community health and safety, financial stability, and strong city-school relations. During my time on Council, we have renovated Hampton Park and the Corey Reich Tennis Center, invested $3.75M for future pension needs, facilitated in-town COVID-19 testing, allocated funds to modernize police and fire dispatch, and maintained a balanced budget. Currently, we are rebuilding the city-owned Piedmont Community Pool, thanks to voter-approved Measure UU. As a lifelong resident, I appreciate the challenges and opportunities as we develop strategies to meet our climate action goals, address the state housing crisis, and replace aging infrastructure. Prior to serving on Council, I volunteered on the Public Safety Committee to promote emergency preparedness and chaired the Recreation Commission with a focus on improving recreational facilities and opportunities for all ages. I attended Piedmont public schools, majored in Public Policy at Duke, earned my law degree from UCLA, and practiced law for nearly two decades. My husband, Robert, and I raised our daughters here, Jane (PHS ’18) and Ellie (PHS ’21). If re-elected, I will continue to listen thoughtfully to all voices as we work together to strengthen the community we call home

Sonny Bostrom-Flemming

 

Nancy “Sunny” Bostrom-Fleming

My education and qualifications are: Once upon a time there was a chubby little rich boy who lived in a mansion. He was driven in a limousine to school where he faced name calling, shoving, pinching. His mother sang, taught him piano & knitted him sweaters. He earned two doctorates. One music, one in theology, trained as a Presbyterian minister, married, had two children, four grandchildren, & millions of stepchildren. You might be one of them. His name was Fred Rogers and he lives in your heart. He never forgot the pain he experienced when he was helpless as we all have been or will be. His sweater is at the Smithsonian. My name is Sunny. I ran before. I promoted cameras at Piedmont’s entrances that keep your family & pets safer. My father taught me to swim when I was six months old. When I went to Katrina to help I realized that African-Americans are at a great & deadly disadvantage as far as swimming education is concerned. We can start a program to promote water safety for all children in America, saving thousands of lives. The issues before us are among the most important in our histor

Jennifer Long

Jennifer Long

Appointed City Council Member

My education and qualifications are: I am running for City Council to serve our beautiful community and maintain its greatness as it grows and evolves. With an impending pool build, critical infrastructure repair (and or replacement) and housing development, Piedmont is poised to be a city with the future in mind. In these unprecedented times, our city needs leaders who understand the interests of our citizens to maintain its excellent schools and outstanding public services such as the police and fire department. My perspective as a current member of the council and my direct engagement with the Piedmont community allow me to get to the essence of what is needed to create and maintain a safe, inclusive, and fiscally-sound community. My experience as a current city council member, attorney and life coach provide me with a solid foundation to tackle the matters that lie ahead for Piedmont. Through my work in various community organizations and with my connections to a variety of community members from sports teams to schools, I have a deep understanding of what makes Piedmont the outstanding community we all love and how to make it evolve into a city we will continue to be proud of in the future.

Bridget Harris

Bridget McInerney Harris

Estate Planning Attorney

My  education and qualifications are: I seek election to the City Council to serve the community with a strong commitment to public safety, fiscal discipline, realistic growth and common sense. I believe we can improve our community’s engagement regarding the increased housing requirement imposed by California by introducing more public forums and clear accessible diagrams of what is being discussed and debated. Importantly, I would advocate that all residents should vote before any park or city land is used for multi-family units within the city of Piedmont. Another top priority is public safety with additional support for the police and fire departments; improving both facilities and funding. I would be honored to put my knowledge, work ethic, and love for Piedmont to work as your City Council member. I earned my B.S. from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, my JD from Gonzaga University, and my Taxation LLM from Georgetown University. I have practiced tax law locally for more than 40 years. We have resided in Piedmont since 1986, raising our four children here. I serve on the Executive Boards of the Piedmont Boy Scouts and Order of Malta Clinic in Oakland, a provider of free medical care to uninsured patients in our community.

Tom Ramsey

Tom Ramsey

Architect

My education and qualifications are: Piedmont’s a great town. 25 years ago, my family moved here for the public schools, and now that our daughters graduated PHS, we stayed for the friendships, location, and services delivered by the city. I value safe neighborhoods, and I expect fiscal responsibility. Our town does have work to do. We have a pool to build as construction costs increase. We have public facilities with deferred maintenance issues. We have the difficult task of navigating the state mandates for housing density in a small town already built out and full of beautiful historic homes and civic buildings. I’m an architect, a problem solver and for over 30 years I’ve been building and leading diverse teams around the Bay Area. I’ll leverage my professional experience and my seven years on the planning commission to continue to accommodate growth while preserving Piedmont’s physical character. I’ve served on committees: Seismic Advisory, Design Guidelines, Measure A1 and I’ve worked with Piedmont’s youth through Scouting’s Community Service Crew for over a decade. I’m confident that when our town is fully engaged and works together, we can successfully resolve the issues in front of us; that’s what makes Piedmont a great town. vote4tomramsey.com

Jeanne Solnordal

Jeanne Solnordal

Broker

My education and qualifications are: I am running for the City Council to bring a much-needed perspective and balance to our beautiful city. Many voices are underrepresented, especially those residents who oppose the plan to add 587 units of affordable housing to Piedmont at a cost of around $850,000 per unit. I am well-educated, having earned a Juris Doctorate degree in 1994 after working for the IRS for 18 years. In 1994 I obtained a Broker’s license and established a property management company which I still run. My legal (landlord/tenant) and tax accounting experience will be very helpful to Piedmont going forward. I will work to prioritize the city’s needs and will be fiscally responsible with your hard earned taxpayer dollars. My family has lived in Piedmont since 2002 and our children attended Piedmont schools. I served as a Girl Scout leader, President of Millennium Parents Club, a school volunteer, and assisted in organizing the Spring Flings and Harvest Festival. Currently, I am serving on the Public Safety Committee. Piedmont is a unique and desirable place to live. Let’s keep it that way.

The League of Women Voters Piedmont is holding a virtual City Council Candidates’ Forum:

When: Thursday, September 22, 2022 @ 7:30 pm
Where: online via Zoom and YouTube

Register to receive a link to join the live Zoom webinar. This event will also be live-streamed on YouTube and the recording will be available there for future viewing.

Register

Editors’ Note: The League of Women Voters and the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) are separate community organizations. PCA does not support or oppose candidates for public office.  All candidates and the community are invited to submit information about candidates, including endorser lists to the link on left side of this page.

Sep 7 2022

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

  • Specific diagrams of any new and safer roads near schools and in the Morago Canyon Area where housing is proposed, including cost projections for road improvements.
  • The state is looking for zoning changes to increase housing density. How is Piedmont proposing to comply with the City Charter and Piedmont voters rights on zoning changes increasing density?
  • High density housing in Piedmont is being proposed to a height of 6 stories.  This height is greater than existing buildings in Piedmont.  How does this not change the character of the city and stay in  compliance with Piedmont ordinances and design review standards?
  • Currently, a small number of dwelling units are in the Moraga Canyon area. How will services be provided including: transit, pedestrian access, monitoring of low-income and affordable rents, public safety access, etc. –  for the hundreds of new dwelling units proposed? How will the additional workload and costs be covered ?
  • The Housing Element once adopted by the City and the Department of Housing and Community Development becomes a “property use right. “ On city and private property, what are city and voter controls over development and costs after the Housing Element has been adopted by the City Council?
  • The City is not required to build the housing.  However, the use of City land is essential to meeting the large numbers of dwelling units required of the HE.  What right does the City have to participate in leasing, selling, or assisting in the use of public lands per the State Constitution Article 34 and the City Charter without voter approval of the zoning use changes?
  • Commercial developers paired with government money await the opportunity to build in Piedmont as supported locally by influencers in and outside of Piedmont.   What is the schedule to provide  Piedmont voters with their right to vote on the HE zoning changes prior to final adoption?
  • Outreach efforts by Piedmont have been clouded and confused by partial information and changes to the proposed HE.  Why isn’t or wasn’t a mailed survey sent to every residence in Piedmont to learn of voters concerns and interests?
  • What are the requirements for building high density dwelling units in Piedmont, including: height limits, density, street configurations, utilities, public safety, trees, transit, parks, sewers, water, landslides, fire protection, parking, lighting, open space, etc. ?
Sep 5 2022

Piedmont’s Emergency Operation Center to be replaced by a new Dispatch Center.

On September 6, 2022, the City Council will consider a contract in the amount of $296,556 for consulting services for design and construction oversight to relocate and renovate the Dispatch Center.  The work is being paid for by funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.  The final cost of the project is estimated at approximately $2,300,000. 

Recently, much discussion has been held in public meetings about the possibility of building dwelling units in conjunction with Police and Fire Department and a City Hall master plan construction.

The Highland-Vista-Magnolia Avenue locations have been noted as potential sites for dwelling units in the proposed Housing Element.  Public comments questioned compounding congestion in the already heavily used Central Piedmont civic area containing 5 schools, the Community Church, Police and Fire emergency facilities, City Hall uses, refurbished tennis courts, Recreation Center, and the soon to be built large new municipal pool complex.

“On October 4, 2021, City Council prioritized the relocation and renovation of the Police Dispatch Center as the highest and best use for American Rescue Plan Act funding. Since that time, staff drafted and issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to engage firms to provide Architecture and Engineering Design Services. COAR Design Group (COAR) was selected from the five proposals received by the May 9, 2022 response deadline. The fee for COAR’s Design Services, which will cover all services extending from conceptual design through construction administration support, is $296,555. For reference, the fees proposed by the five responding firms ranged from $243,000 to $438,000.”

READ THE FULL STAFF REPORT BELOW:

https://piedmont.hosted.civiclive.com/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=18859599

The RFP, photographs, floor plans, and requirements are included in the link above.

Sept. 6 AGENDA  >HERE.

Aug 17 2022

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

Presentation information has not been provided by the City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 2 2022

PIEDMONT POLICE DEPARTMENT PRESS RELEASE

This morning August 2, 2022, at approximately 7 am, Piedmont Police dispatchers received several calls regarding gun shots being fired in the area of Sunnyside Avenue and Oakland Avenue. Our investigation has revealed that two vehicles were involved in a road rage incident that ended in six-gun shots being fired at the victim and their vehicle. The suspect vehicle was described as a newer white Alfa Romeo with temporary paper license plates.  The sedan was occupied by three subjects, at least one armed with a handgun. The victim’s vehicle was struck twice, but no one was injured. 

The investigation is ongoing.

The Piedmont Police Department is actively investigating this crime.  Anyone with information associated to this event is asked to contact Detective George Tucker at (510) 420-3013 or (510) 420-3000. If this vehicle is seen, call 911 immediately and reference this event. 

Jul 26 2022

Should Piedmont adhere to the the City Charter with voter control over zoning uses/classifications or forfeit control to the City Council?

What should come first – voter approval of zoning reclassifications/use changes or City Council approval of the Housing Element (HE) requiring the reclassifications/use changes?

The question is not whether or not proposed changes are good or bad; the question is who has the right to change the zoning usage/classifications? State laws have limited control over city zoning laws. 

The currently proposed Piedmont Housing Element defeats the Piedmont City Charter.

The City Council proposes to change usage on public property to multiple family zoning via the Housing Element (HE).  Piedmont Parks, the Arts Center, City Hall, Veterans Building, Blair Park, Skate Board Park, and Corporation Yard – historic buildings and uses are proposed for change of use.

Once the HE has specified in writing the locations of the required 587 new housing units and is approved by the City Council along with the state, the City of Piedmont is required to adhere to the zoning changes specified in the HE.  The Piedmont Housing Element and General Plan are firm government commitments to to the state, commercial developers, individuals, organizations, groups, property owners to be implemented during the 8 year HE term. 

The process being utilized by the City Council makes zoning changes/reclassifications the sole authority of the City Council rejecting the language within the City Charter that  requires voter control over changes/reclassification of zones.

Will Piedmont voters have an opportunity to approve the change of use/ reclassification per the City Charter, or will the City Council put zoning changes in the HE and require voter approval of the zoning changes after the HE is approved? Piedmont’s proposed HE requires zoning use/reclassification turning parks and public property into multiple housing. 

It has been publicly stated and proposed that park land would be declared surplus property and sold or reused/reclassified without voter approval.

Piedmont’s five zones are classified as: public, commercial, multi-family, single-family and single-family Estate – with all zones permitting single-family housing.   In Piedmont, the use determines the classification of a zone.

“Classified, Reclassified, and use” are keywords within the City Charter.

Voter approval on zoning is well established in Piedmont per the voter approved Piedmont City Charter.  Only voters can change zone usage/classifications.  Adherence to the City Charter is not a matter of how much it cost to adhere to the Charter; adherence is a matter of law. 

The words “classification and reclassifications”, describe the “use” within a zone as can be seen by reading the City Charter copied below:.

City Charter ARTICLE IX. General Provision

SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM The City of Piedmont is primarily a residential city, and the City Council shall have power to establish a zoning system within the City as may in its judgement be most beneficial. The Council may classify and reclassify the zones established, but no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election. No zone shall be reduced or enlarged and no zones reclassified unless a majority of the voters voting upon the same shall vote in favor thereof; provided that any property which is zoned for uses other than or in addition to a single-family dwelling may be voluntarily rezoned by the owners thereof filing a written document executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury stating that the only use on such property shall be a single-family dwelling, and such rezoning shall not require a vote of the electors as set forth above..  

Since all zones allow single-family development, Michelle Kenyon, Piedmont’s contract City Attorney, stated in regard to the HE’s proposed changes that multiple family housing is housing, and therefore allowed in all zones.   Kenyon has used other cities’ definitions of “classification and reclassification”, rather than relying on language found in Piedmont’s City Charter with “use” determining a classification.

City Attorney Kenyon has instructed the Piedmont City Council and Planning Commission that Piedmont voter approval of the proposed land use changes/reclassifications are not required because: no new zone is being created; no zone is  being enlarged; no zone is being reduced.  Importantly, Kenyon’s advice results in the ability of the City Council to change the use/ reclassification of zones without voter approval.

City Charter ARTICLE IX. General Provision:

SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM (Excerpt from above)

“provided that any property which is zoned for uses other than or in addition to a single-family dwelling may be voluntarily rezoned by the owners thereof filing a written document executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury stating that the only use on such property shall be a single-family dwelling, and such rezoning shall not require a vote of the electors as set forth above.”

As noted above, the City Charter allows property owners in the multifamily or commercial zone to rezone their property to exclusively be for single-family zoning.  The City Charter in this section informs the definition of “classification and rezoning” as “use” in the zones.  It is unknown how the Kenyon opinion accommodates the zone use/ classification  language written into the City Charter. 

Timing:

The City Council has known for over a year, there would be significant challenges to Piedmont zoning to accommodate 587 new housing units in Piedmont; while other cities have allowed voter participation, Piedmont voters have not been given a chance to act on the zoning per the City Charter, The deadline for placing a ballot measure on the November 2022 ballot ends in August. 

What if voters do not approve the HE changes?  Are voters no longer permitted to approve  or disapprove the zoning changes?  Does the City Council plan to follow outside counsel advice and eliminate voter approval?

Jun 20 2022

 STATEMENT BY RALPH CATALANO TO THE PIEDMONT CITY COUNCIL ON JUNE 20, 2022.

Tonight’s agenda lists this hearing as new business — but that’s not quite accurate.  This hearing (scheduled, disappointingly, at 5:30 p.m. on our federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the US) is a continuation of a meeting of roughly a century ago. At that meeting, the Council gave into the worst instincts of constituents and directed staff to use city resources to drive an African American family from Piedmont and thereby making clear that minorities were not welcomed in the community.

The long arc of history has since bent toward justice, and State law requires you to identify sites for about 215 units of low-income housing. But history has also repeated itself because constituents have urged you to isolate all or nearly all the units in Blair Park, physically separated from Piedmont proper.

Sixty years of research into the costs and benefits of low-income housing tells us three things.  First, low-income housing remains, unfortunately, stigmatized — it’s typically not welcomed in established neighborhoods. That’s why the State has had to require communities like Piedmont to accommodate such housing and that’s why some of your constituents urge you to concentrate the units in Blair Park, physically apart from Piedmont proper. Second, the benefits of low-income housing are greatest when the housing is least stigmatized by the host population. Third, stigma is reduced when low-income housing is dispersed throughout the community.

The hard truth is that research tells us that concentrating low-income housing in Blair Park will, by virtue of sheer physical and social isolation, create the most stigmatized circumstance imaginable in Piedmont.  Make no mistake – putting all, or nearly all, mandated low-income units in Blair Park would be the most stigmatizing choice you can make.

If you approve language in the draft Housing Element that leaves open the option of cynically isolating Piedmont’s low-income housing in Blair Park, tonight’s meeting will be, like that a century ago, continued until justice calls upon some future city council to explain why low-income families live segregated, by city policy, from other Piedmonters.  Be assured that the then City Council will think of you the same way you think of the Council that, a century ago, used the resources of the city to make clear that African American families were not welcomed in Piedmont.

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jun 19 2022

Civic spaces and places are what makes a community.

The Housing Element is not a policy direction to explore ideas … it is focused on delivering sites for development, the feasibility of which has already been established.

Putting the Vista tennis courts where the high school students play on the chopping block, potentially jeopardizing the viability of vitally needed police and fire station retrofitting, removing the Piedmont Center for the Arts, and putting housing on the Highland Green that serves as the 4th of July parade staging area are extraordinary steps that are in the Housing Element that the community is not aware of, and potentially hugely destructive to the community fabric. The City needs to slow down process and more thoroughly analyze these proposals and get community feedback before the element is forwarded to the State.

The City can both protect its civic spaces and accommodate it housing needs in a thoughtful manner. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. By preserving our public and recreation spaces, Piedmont would also be preserving these for the enjoyment of new residents.

The Piedmont Housing Element should be set up for success, rather than failure, and include actual sites where the City can fulfill its housing needs, rather than sink time and energy into sites where housing is unlikely. While including housing as part of the Civic Center is a noble sentiment, it is impractical in the timeframe of this Housing Element planning period, as I will discuss below. The City should be aware of the following State laws and other requirements, which among others require the City Council to make certain findings at adoption time that the City would not be able to responsibly make for the Civic Center sites:

STATE LAW REQUIREMENTS TO BE MINDFUL ABOUT FOR CIVIC CENTER SITES

Demonstrate Realistic Development Capacity at Designated Sites

Where there are existing uses, “..Existing Uses — The housing element must demonstrate non-vacant and/or underutilized sites in the inventory that can be realistically developed with residential uses or more-intensive residential uses at densities appropriate  ….and evaluate the extent these uses would constitute an impediment to new residential development.”  See https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/building-blocks/site-inventory-analysis/analysis-of-sites-and-zoning.shtml. The City needs to show the community the analysis used to arrive at feasible housing capacity at existing civic uses and tennis courts. E.g., there is no housing feasible where the tennis courts are. The examples cited so far are of tennis courts on top of parking structures such as at UC Berkeley, which is very different than tennis courts on top of housing, that too affordable housing. The Housing Element is not a policy direction to explore ideas … it is focused on delivering sites for development, the feasibility of which has already been established.

Required City Council Findings at Adoption Time That Existing Uses Will be Discontinued

State law states that “If a housing element relies on nonvacant sites to accommodate 50 percent or more of its RHNA for lower income households, the nonvacant site’s existing use is presumed to impede additional residential development, unless the housing element describes findings based on substantial evidence that the use will likely be discontinued during the planning period. In addition to a description in the element, findings should also be included as part of the resolution adopting the housing element.”https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/building-blocks/site-inventory-analysis/analysis-of-sites-and-zoning.shtml.

Thus at the time of Housing Element adoption, the City Council will have to make findings that the tennis and basketball courts at Vista and public safety uses at the Civic Center will be discontinued during the planning period (2023-2031). I do not believe it is possible to make this finding given that there are no plans to relocate these uses to other places, unless the City does not want high schoolers and other community members to play tennis or does not want police and fire departments. If the City Council does not believe this finding can be made, it is better to drop these sites now rather than finding that we are short on sites at adoption time.

Required Rezoning for Shortfall

The City would need to commit in its Housing Element to a process and timeline to make sites it owns available for residential uses. The draft Housing Element currently lacks this, and HCD would most likely want to see this detail included. Under the Housing Accountability Act, should housing not be feasible at a site and there is a shortfall mid-cycle, the City will have to proactively undertake a rezoning program to find sites elsewhere to make up for this shortfall. This means doing a Housing Element Update and EIR all over again mid-cycle in three or four years, and tying the City’s hand in being able to proceed with rehabbing the public safety buildings until alternative housing sites are in place. Thus, In designating the Civic Center sites I believe we are just kicking the can down two or three years, rather than solving any housing problems. We should be focused on finding and delivering those alternative housing sites to meet our housing needs and obligations now, rather than five years later.

CITY CHARTER

Reclassification of zones under the Piedmont Charter requires a vote of the people. If the City Council wants to reclassify the Public zone (which allows a de minimus one house at every parcel in the city) to permit high density residential and thus make this zone Public/Residential, this should be submitted to the voters and placed on the upcoming November ballot. Lack of legal certainty will not inspire confidence on part of any developers the City may wish to attract.

PHYSICAL FEASIBILITY OF SITES AT THE CIVIC CENTER

Not finding any drawings or information in the Housing Element on methodology to determine housing capacity at Civic Center sites, I sat down over the weekend and tried to understand this for myself.

Vista Tennis and Basketball Courts

Assumption in HE: Housing at 60 units per acre, 34 realistic housing units. The courts presently fill up the entire site. It is physically not possible to vertically integrate housing and whole bunch of tennis courts and bleachers on top of a residential building without extraordinary expense, and I am not aware of any examples in the Bay Area where this has been done. Tennis courts can go on top of parking structures as they have been at Cal for over three decades and industrial and office buildings, but not residential, as the building floorplate is entirely different. Is the proposal to remove tennis courts? The facilities were just renovated a year ago for something like $2 million. This idea does not seem even physically, let alone financially, feasible.

Center for the Arts

Where is the space for the five units? Will this be razed and replaced? Again, wasn’t this rehabbed a few years ago, and didn’t the City recently sign an agreement on this?

City Hall/Police/Veterans Building

The site area for this in the Housing Element includes City Hall, and the area is counted at 60 units per acre to calculate resultant housing. Neither tearing down City Hall, nor putting housing on top of it is a credible suggestion. The eastern half of the site is about 0.5 acres, and that is where the police and veterans building are located. It would be quite a structure that includes a new police station, rec. building, and 40 housing units (which, because of the small acreage, would actually be at 120 units per acre max)  all at the same small site.  It would require razing the existing facilities and starting from scratch, and be surely several multiples more expensive than the cost to rehab these, plus the higher cost for housing building and having the civic facilities support the resultant structural weight and complexity of housing above. Theoretically it could work if the housing can be on its own pad as staff mentioned for other examples they shared at the Planning Commission meeting, but looking at our site I don’t see any area where housing can just be squeezed in without messing with the existing buildings. Rehabbing the existing Veterans Hall and Public Safety buildings will also be a lot more environmentally sustainable and emit fewer greenhouse gases than razing these buildings and building something new, when the same housing can built more sustainably and be delivered to the community at lower cost by adding say one more story to the Mulberry/BofA site across the street, where housing is already planned, and provide an additional density incentive for the property owner to develop that site.

Highland Green

The width of this parcel during most of the stretch is 30 feet. With required front setback of 20 feet in Zone A, and rear setback of 5 feet, the remaining buildable width of housing would only be 5 feet. So, these sites are also physically not feasible. The loss of five units assumed here would not be that significant.

All of these sites are impractical given the dense fully built out conditions of civic facilities and the fact that we don’t any have vacant land there, and a distraction from the real work the City needs to do to deliver feasible sites.

PRACTICAL APPROACH TO MEETING THE CITY’S HOUSING OBLIGATIONS

I believe the most practical approach for the City to meet its RHNA is as follows, in order of importance:

•       Count every housing unit (including ADUs) expected to be completed between July 1, 2022 and January 1, 2023. These units, under State law, can be counted toward both the 5th Cycle (in which we are) and 6th Cycle (starting in 2023), because of data projection period overlap.

•       Count SB 9 Units. The City does not have a trend of these because the City has not allowed these in the past. With properly development rules and methodology, the City should attempt to have these counted now to bring the remaining need down, rather than just as Housing Element success stories later. There are many cities that have successfully counted these units, consistent with HCD guidelines.

•       Consider densities that are much higher than currently contemplated at Grand and Highland avenues, while developing standards so that these are well designed, with ground level retail and cafes, and housing above. Densities of 180 units per acre with ground floor retail and four stories of residential above (60 feet building height), with structured parking may be appropriate for Grand Avenue, and 120 per acre for Highland Avenue. If necessary, the City should add a real architect with experience in doing projects like these in the Bay Area to the out-of-town planning team.

•       Add missing middle housing (fourplexes, six-plexes, etc.) and smaller-scale multifamily development in some or many existing neighborhoods. Some of the City’s rules relating to allowable densities, lot sizes etc. may need to be modified. There may, again, be some City Charter issues involved, but these would be of lower magnitude than high density residential issues in Public zones.

•       Continue counting all the remaining single family and religious sites with the good work staff has done, although it remains to be seen if HCD will buy off on allowing so many of these to be counted.

•       Anything else needed should be added after the above has been done, and this remaining need would be modest.

Rajeev Bhatia, Piedmont Resident

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