Jan 25 2021
In his letter (https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2021/01/10/opinion-a-false-choice-has-been-presented-for-arts-center-lease/) Steve Schiller labeled the current discussion of the 801 Magnolia Avenue building a “false choice” between “an art center and no art center.” I agree and attribute this false choice to a false process.  City staff, and not the City Council, appears to have made the decision to open 801 Magnolia lease negotiations with the Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA):

“Given PCA’s investment in rehabilitating the City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue and its commitment to developing a viable gathering space, as well as its willingness to embrace changes to improve and expand benefits to the community, Staff believes it is appropriate for Council to consider PCA’s request to continue to operate an arts venue in this City facility”.  Staff Report, November 16, 2020

On its face, that sounds appropriate – staff recommending that City Council consider PCA’s request for a new lease.  However, staff appears to have instigated lease negotiations with PCA without direction from the Council.  I can find no notice of public or closed session meetings where this topic of the lease was agendized by staff to receive direction from the City Council.

This process puts the cart before the horse – the question of whether the 801 Magnolia  lease should be renewed should be addressed by the Council with negotiations proceeding as directed.  Instead, the lease was negotiated over the past months by staff and presented to the Council as a first reading of the lease ordinance, strictly limiting the questions from councilmembers and the public.  As currently drafted, the lease has substantial flaws that weaken the city’s access and use of this public facility.  (Piedmont Civic Association – Piedmont, California » Opinion: Four Major Flaws in Proposed Art Center Lease).

This process would have benefited so much from open public meetings at the Recreation Commission and the City Council.  As it stands, Piedmonters are being told that PCA will close if the lease is not renewed.  That is false and the fate of PCA is really in its own hands – PCA’s lease with the city expires June 3, 2021 with the option to proceed month-to-month after that.  PCA could operate indefinitely under those terms while the community engages in a public discussion of the use of the 801 Magnolia building.

For that to happen, Council needs to step in and give that direction and reject the second reading.   A second reading of the proposed lease is imminent and it is too late to make substantive improvements to the lease at a Council meeting.  Another oddity of this process is that the readings span the seating of a new council member.  Two council members had serious reservations about the process and lease terms at the first reading.  It would be appropriate for the new council member, not on Council at the first reading, to abstain from voting on a second reading and recommend staff hold public meetings at the Recreation Commission.

All council members can be reached by email at:   citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov.

Garrett Keating, Former Council Member

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 23 2021

Dear Councilmembers:

The Piedmont Center for the Arts is a rare gem at the center of Piedmont offering the community a local venue for top-notch visual and performing arts.  The Center has been a place of discovery- the discovery of the immense local talent within Piedmont and the surrounding Bay Area, as well as a venue for strengthening our sense of community. As a longtime Piedmont resident and former board member and President of CHIME (now part of the Piedmont Arts Fund), I find the Center to be a most worthy and cherished addition to Piedmont’s cultural life and spirit of community.

Born of local dedication, this endeavor to bring an affordable venue for high quality musical, performing, visual and literary arts to the center of Piedmont, accessible to all, has lived up to its mission and should be supported and protected by the Town.

The Center truly enriches the lives of Piedmonters by bringing a broad array of exceptional exhibits and performances to our very doorstep. Tired after a long week and not anxious to travel into San Francisco for a long concert evening? The Center affords you the opportunity to enjoy a short cultural evening at a fraction of the cost of a San Francisco performance. Want to expose your kids to exciting programs that might interest or inspire them, but don’t want to drag them into museums or travel to long performances? The Center is the answer. Stop by on a walk home from school or a Saturday at the park. Exposure to the arts
does not have to be difficult or out of reach financially.

I strongly urge the City Council to renew the lease for this exceptional community-building and well-run venue.

Diana Meservey, Piedmont Resident


Hello all Piedmont City Council members:

The Center has been one of the most successful public/private projects that has happened in the city where I have resided for the last 26 years, and over the 40 years our firm has worked in it.  At a time when the arts in general are struggling, it’s even more important that we keep this particular flag flying.
If you were to ask the average Piedmonter whether they would consider eliminating an arts institution they would respond with a resounding “No Way!”
Thanks in advance,
Steve Nicholls, Oakland Resident


Please renew the lease of Piedmont Center for the Arts which is a vibrant center that enhances our community. It is lovely that in this downtown area just a couple of blocks there are essential services, the paper, the rec center pool and tennis courts and also the art center, a lovely building. Why isn’t the beautification society involved to make sure the center is with us for some time to come? There are enough bookings requests to last for years. Please do the right thing in the second hearing and give them a lease!
Tabatha Thomas, Piedmont Resident
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Jan 16 2021

The Piedmont City Council will be asked to approve $106,000 to hire Paul Benoit, former Piedmont City Administrator, to Serve as Special Assistant to current City Administrator Sara Lillevand on Pools Construction.

Measure UU was the first successful capital bond measure in the City’s history. The $19.5 million bond was approved by 68.5% of Piedmont voters on November 3, 2020.  Measure UU bond funds will be used to Pay Benoit the $106,000 maximum annual cost of the proposed employment agreement.

Benoit  served as Piedmont’s City Administrator from 2014-2019 leading the process to develop the Aquatics Master Plan Conceptual Design, which was accepted by the City Council in 2016.  As a California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) beneficiary retiree, he will be subject to certain restrictions in order to avoid putting his retirement pension in jeopardy.  The City must enroll and report the hours worked to CalPERS through the system currently used to report payroll.  His initial tasks will include leading the efforts to hire project management services as well as the architectural design team.

Staff report:  Consideration of the Appointment of Paul Benoit as a Retired Annuitant to Provide Special Assistance to the City Administrator with Measure UU Projects and Approval an Employment Agreement


Jan 11 2021

The proposed lease for 801 Magnolia – West Wing creates a totally exclusive use of a public building by a private group.

As now President Sue Malick of the Center for the Arts, said to the City Council in March, 2011, “public buildings should be used by the public.”  And such use should never exclude citizens of our Piedmont community.

The proposed new lease contains absolutely no obligations for the Center to share the space with the community or even to spend funds on further capital improvements there.

The original, 2011 lease worked because the original Board of Directors of the Arts Center obligated themselves in that lease with the City to do specified work with private money to make this wasting asset a habitable, useful building and a gathering place for community arts & performances.

Only three of the original Board Members are still serving on the Arts Center Board; the majority of the Board members have a different vision. Since 2018, they have worked to eliminate all community events and to simply operate “an affordable venue rental.”

No-one is saying the Arts Center cannot be in this public building or that they cannot continue to rent it out for talented musical performances enjoyed by all. This is NOT about art; it is about control of a public asset—in this case a big public building!

The Arts Center proposed lease gives the Board the right to exclude anyone they want. There have been many verbal and written representations of what the Board intends to do; however, the actual proposed lease frees them from any and all inclusive community use or, in fact, any obligations whatsoever.

Once the lease is signed, the Center can do what they have been doing for the past two years, i.e. excluding all community use and just operating a rental venue for a profit.

I have struggled to find any reason for a City to completely outsource the running of a public building to a private group.

During the 8 years I was responsible for running this public building, the City of Piedmont conducted zero oversight of the building or our operations. They never checked the operation of the handicap lift installed for the City’s benefit, whether there was, in fact, acceptable handicap access, the smoke and fire alarms (which do not exist) or even if this 1905 building was safe in the event of an earthquake.  The City has attended to earthquake concerns and retrofitting with all of the other City buildings.

It was just as if the City was so happy someone else was running this “tear-down” for them, and “Hey, it’s art!,” so the City doesn’t need to be responsible. Is this negligence and considerable potential liability, now going to be continued for another 10 years?  Is that what this is really about? 

The City does not seem willing to take responsibility for the proper management and care of one of its largest public buildings, especially one they acquired to tear down. The City Council action in December 2020 revealed their intent to outsource control and liability for 801 Magnolia Avenue—and do it under the guise of supporting “the arts.”

Council members perhaps realized that the citizens would not know about the City’s negligence – people love going to arts programming there and the City Council will look great for supporting the arts! However, there is just no justifiable reason to create such exclusive control of a public building in a small town with few publicly-accessible spaces.

Giving the Arts Center Board 450 hours a year of free rental usage in the building at 801 Magnolia under Recreation Department control would certainly be a huge “support for the arts” by the City.

I sincerely hope the 2021 City Council will take time to investigate and publicly report on the safety and soundness of the 801 Magnolia building for public use, and consider alternative proposals for its use which would be inclusive rather than the currently proposed exclusive use.

The same musical performances would all continue for the town to attend and there would still be a “Piedmont Center For The Arts”.

Nancy Lehrkind, Piedmont Resident and Founder of the Piedmont Center for the Arts

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 11 2021

Dear Council members,

We understand that the City Council will discuss renewal of the lease for the Piedmont Center for the Arts in the next few weeks. I’m writing to support renewal of the lease, preserving this important treasure for the City and its neighbors.

We live on a split lot, paying property taxes to both Oakland and Piedmont. Over the past few years we have enjoyed musical concerts, plays and art exhibits at the Center and sincerely hope that, once the Covid crisis has abated, we can return for future programs.

We have enjoyed many enriching performances in the short time the prestigious Piedmont Center for the Arts has been part of this small community.

I’m writing to add our voices strongly urging the Council to renew the PCA lease so it can continue to bring high quality art and culture to Piedmont. We have a treasure right here in our backyard which we must protect.

Mary and Andrew Moyce


My name is Valerie Corvin and I am a co-founder of the Piedmont Center for the Arts. I recently stepped down from the PCA Board to pursue other endeavors, but I served 9 years as program director, visual art program director, and juried art show administrator.

As a board member and with no paid staff, I have put in countless hours at all hours of the day and night to help PCA grow into the City of Piedmont treasure that it is. The people of Piedmont love PCA. I have been thanked probably a thousand times by people who have attended events at the Center. Resident truly appreciate having an arts center as part the offerings of City of the Piedmont. It ranks up there along with the school system and our well-run town.

PCA is a selling point used by many realtors why one should choose to live in our town. I have been told it is one of the top 5 selling points of Piedmont cited by realtors. PCA is now part of the fabric of this town.

Now is the time to have civil dialogue and find ways for the City and the Center to work together for the benefit for all citizens of Piedmont.

I believe that members of the PCA Board are more than ready to work with the City to create policy and accessibility to the building to support the needs of interested groups. PCA has been a good tenant and is willing to continue to be a good team player with the City. The arts are important part of our society and add an important dimension to our lives. Please renew the PCA lease.

Thank you.

Valerie Corvin, Piedmont Resident and Co-Founder of Arts Center


Good afternoon!

It has come to my attention that the Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) is about to go before the City Council for the second reading of their lease renewal.  And I need to let you know how much my family and I value PCA.  Upon moving here three years ago, we stumbled upon PCA and were thrilled to learn of their chamber music series.  We have subscribed ever since, and pray that their lease will be renewed.  It’s one of the very bright spots in the area, and something we’re very much looking forward to coming out of COVID.

All the best to each of you this year.  And thanks for listening.

GaryHurd, Piedmont Resident


My husband and I have attended many concerts at the Piedmont Center for the Arts and have thoroughly enjoyed each event.
I have also enjoyed the art exhibitions.
The Center has become an integral part of the community and has brought enjoyment to the citizens of Piedmont and their guests and at our doorsteps.
It is my recommendation that you renew their funding so that they can continue their excellent mission.
Suzy Locke Cohen, Piedmont Resident
Dear Council members,
 I urge you to approve the lease renewal for the Piedmont Center for the Arts.
I’m a local artist who has used the facility for a book release party and art show and found it to be a delightful venue for both. It’s also a top notch space for concerts and recitals.
It is in fact a one of a kind resource for the local art community that would be sorely missed.
 Your vote to extend the Center’s lease would be greatly appreciated.
    Michael Manente – Oakland Artist and Business owner
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Jan 10 2021

Run by one group or a fully utilized community center?

Madam Mayor and Council Members

My comment on 801 Magnolia Avenue is that it is seems premature to sign a long-term renewal lease.  There seems to be a false choice being discussed – it is not an art center or no art center, but a choice between only a very much part-time art center run by one group and a more fully utilized community center with more options and activities.

The PCA may be the right option. However,  there are quite possibly other opportunities to also utilize the facility.  I walk past the center on a regular basis, and it seems to be very under utilized (yes, pre-Covid) – it does not seem to quite be the viable and thriving arts venue some describe, nor a diverse program and artist venue, as indicated in the staff report.

In summary it has not been a thriving community or art center, thus I think we could possibly have an art center as well as a broader community center with more diverse uses.  I hope  that some options and broad community input can be solicited before the building is locked up with one user for another seven or ten years.

I looked over the staff report and noticed a couple things:  the list of something like 280 activities seems like a lot but that is actually less than one activity per day (some it seems at an hour or two);d looking over their calendar from 2019 it seems like there are many, many hours when the center is not used.  And, the audience for many of activities at the Center seem to be focused primarily on one particular demographic of interests.  Next the lease terms for non PCA activities, such as City activities seems very constrained and not conducive to any regular scheduled activities – and third it seems that the City staff did not discuss any alternatives in the report – the ‘as compared to what’ question is not addressed.

As an aside, most of you know me for something different, but I am also actually an artist and active in parts of the East Bay art community. There are many many artists in our broader community  – and thus, there are plenty of artists, with diverse backgrounds and art, out there that could be utilizing the space for more than an event or two every few days.

I also raise my points because I have felt for a long time that there is a significant need in the City for indoor community space activities – particularly for seniors and youth – such as via a youth and./or senior center, e.g. similar to the senior centers in Berkeley. I also always thought that 801 Magnolia would be a good option for those uses. Perhaps our highly capable Rec Dept can run 801 and likely way more fully utilize it – including allowing PCA to have its activities via a long-term agreement.   This is just one option that can be explored.

In summary, please consider both an art center with alternatives that include much fuller use of the building, before signing a long-term lease, with a constrained termination clause, that seems to limit the building’s use and basically puts control in the hands of just one group, as altruistic as they may be.

Thank you.

Steven Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jan 10 2021

The City has received the following letters urging renewal of the $1 a year lease of 801 Magnolia Avenue for both commercial and Arts Center use.

Dear Ms. Mayor and City Council Members:

I have been so proud of our town for using a piece of property long neglected for such a constructive use as the Piedmont Center for the arts. It has been amazing how beautifully it has grown into a class theater, music performance  and artist venue.

I was surprised to learn that there is some question about its continuing in the current use. I do hope it will continue so that we may enjoy more of the art, music  and theater in the future.

Thank you.  It’s a good life!
Beth DeAtley, Piedmont Resident


Dear City Council,

Music, drama, art, right in the center of Piedmont.  How lucky we are that we, and our children, can see the Piedmont Chamber Music Festival, plays performed and directed by local residents, and art by Michael Stehr and others.  The Piedmont Center for the Arts has become a beloved and necessary addition to our vibrant community.

After this dark time in our country’s history we need the joy and hope that the arts can bring.  May the Piedmont Center for the Arts continue to be a bright light in our community.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Ann Benson, Oakland Resident


Dear Council members,
As a longtime Piedmont resident, I  was totally thrilled to finally see the building at 801 Magnolia Avenue used for something good!  The PCA is one of the truly great success stories for our city!  Not only has it given me many evenings of delight and joy but has opened my eyes to the vast artist’s living in our city for so many years! It is an institution which must stay alive just as every other historic institution in Piedmont. (I cite Mulberry`s, Ellen Driscal theatre, Japanese Teahouse, etc.) Especially in these dark times of covid, when so many of us have and are being exposed to hatred, bigotry and dis-ease, we NEED PCA  more than ever!  Please vote to continue the lease for this extremely valuable institution in February!
Concerned citizen and art lover,
Sherry Jacobs, Piedmont Resident

Please renew the lease for this treasured asset.

It is unique, and one of the Crown Jewels of the town. The board of directors of this non-profit offers diverse programming and community support.  The Center serves the residents with programs supporting local artists, lectures and performances which support local actors and musicians, and programs for children – truly a wonderful asset for Piedmont.


John Callahan


Dear Councilmembers,

As a Piedmont resident for over forty years, I think the Piedmont Center for the Arts has been one of the best additions to the local cultural scene in my lifetime. I find the offerings to be consistently high quality and highly varied, the venue to be intimate and  extremely appropriate to both the performances and the audience, and above all, I am proud to live in a community that can support such an endeavor at the truly local level.

I appreciate that the venue itself is well appointed and cared for, that it is accessible to all, and lends itself so well to the variety of cultural arts events that I have attended which include music, drama, and exhibits.

I surely hope the city council will renew the lease of this enriching institution with a resounding vote of applause to its devoted volunteers.


Elaine Horwitz Bachrach, Piedmont Resident


My name is Jonathan Ring and I have been a Piedmont resident for 22 years.  My wife and I have raised our 2 children here.

I also am a professional musician beginning my 30th season with the San Francisco Symphony.

Having an arts center here in Piedmont has been vital to our quality of life and to the cultural enrichment of our city and its citizens.  With such a huge emphasis being put these days on technology and its accompanying short attention spans, it is a welcome respite to have a place in our city where one can come and experience music unfolding over a longer period of time than 3 1/2 minutes, take the time to sit and ponder a piece of visual art, or reflect on a theatre performance which confronts important issues of the human condition and of society.  This exercise of looking inward and reflecting is one we don’t wish to be lost with our children’s generation.  It is the meaning of truly being human, and our arts center is a vital provider of this most important commodity to our city.

Life does not come down to money, power or opportunity.  Fully living life is fully being human, and the art of human expression is what the Piedmont Center for the Arts provides for the city of Piedmont.

Please ensure that it remains the important resource that it has been and that it has the full, unending support of the city government so that Piedmont residents can continue to take advantage of what the arts here have to offer.  Tax revenue, property values, etc. are all important things to consider, however I would argue that human revenue and human values are more important.  We all wish our city to be populated with caring, intelligent, sensitive and enlightened citizens – this is what the Piedmont Center for the Arts provides and must continue to provide to the residents of Piedmont.

Jonathan Ring, Piedmont Resident


We are losing so much with this pandemic.  It would be a shame to lose the Arts Center as well.  Our family very much appreciates having this resource.  Please do what you can to make sure that our town continues to support the Center for the Arts.
Matt O’Connell, Piedmont Resident
I have lived in Piedmont for over 30 years & am so appreciative of our beautiful parks, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds as well as our exceptional services.
The Piedmont Center for the Arts is such a gift to our city & part of the reason that our city is such a special place to live. As a lover of the arts, I was thrilled when the center opened.
From art shows, to concerts, to the numerous special events, the center truly enhances our sense of community & importantly supports our local artists.
I am so hopeful that whatever issues have arisen can be quickly resolved.
Please join with supporters of the center to insure that the lease is approved and the Center can continue as an important community resource.
Thank you for your consideration.
Dana Corvin, Piedmont Resident

Dear Members of the Piedmont City Council:

I am writing to urge you to renew the lease for the Piedmont Center for the Arts at your February meeting.

I have enjoyed performances and exhibits at the PCA, both as a member of the audience and as a performer, and I assure you it is a rare and treasured venue for the small and intimate types of performances that both artists and audiences love.

Although I am a resident of Oakland, I admire the fact that Piedmont is able to have such a wonderful arts program, and I appreciate the efforts of the volunteers who make it possible.  This beautiful facility provides the perfect place for their dedicated work and for many artists’ talents to find expression.

I hope you will recognize what an amazing gift the PCA provides to your community and those in the surrounding area.  Piedmont is lucky to have the PCA, and I hope you will allow it to continue by renewing its lease.

My sincere thanks for your consideration.

James A. Haverkamp, Oakland Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 29 2020

– The Proposed Piedmont Center for the Arts Lease Is Flawed –

On November 16, 2020, three City Councilmembers voted to approve a 7-year renewal of the City’s lease of 801 Magnolia Avenue to the Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA), rejecting a motion to allow more public input first. Because the City Council will have a second vote on the proposed lease, Piedmonters still have an opportunity to express their views by writing to the Piedmont City Council at: 


The threshold question for the City Council is whether to continue PCA control of a City building.

Public comment was split between those appreciating PCA’s role in hosting arts events and those who hoped that 801 Magnolia could become more of a “community center” where arts is one use, but not the only use.

Most Piedmont non-profits rent City or School facilities as needed (e.g., Education Speaker Series, Diversity Film Series, Piedmont Soccer Club); PCA could do the same for its arts events. The City Manager stated that Recreation Department programs could fill any unused City space and the PCA space is often unused (even pre-COVID), other than as a quiet space for its commercial sub-tenant.

This is not a choice between arts and no arts, but rather how best to maximize community benefit from limited City spaces. If the City Council decides to renew PCA’s lease, the proposed PCA lease has four major flaws. As a result, it fails to achieve the goals set forth in the City Staff Report. The lease is at:


(1) Future City Construction.

The proposed lease prevents the City from terminating the lease until January 2024 at the earliest—and then only if the City is conducting significant renovations of the Police, Fire or Recreation buildings. (See Sections 1.8 & 9.2).

The City, however, plans to seek voter approval of bonds to renovate or rebuild City buildings in Spring 2021. The City’s building plans might include relocating City staff to 801 Magnolia Avenue while construction is ongoing or even a new structure at the 801 Magnolia Avenue location. The City could be ready to begin construction in Summer 2022, but be blocked by the PCA lease, as construction costs increase during the delay.

The simple fix is to amend the lease to allow the City to terminate without cause on 180 days’ notice (note that the City’s lease to the Piedmont Educational Foundation allows termination without cause on 90 days’ notice).

(2) City Use of 801 Magnolia Avenue.

Because the 801 Magnolia Avenue space has been unused much of the time (other than PCA’s sublease to The Piedmont Post), the City seeks the right to hold “City Sponsored Activities” there or to rent it out for “City Private Rental Activities.” A good idea, but the proposed lease puts unwarranted hurdles in the City’s way.

The proposed lease would allow City-Sponsored Activities, but only (i) with advance notice, (ii) if the City cannot go elsewhere, (iii) if the City mitigates PCA’s concerns about “unreasonable interference” with “Tenant’s use,” and (iv) the City tries to relocate its activity if PCA asks. (Section 4.2(c)). City Private Rental Activities, allowed only if PCA has nothing planned, face similar restrictions. (Section 4.2(b)).

The simple fix, consistent with the City’s ownership on behalf of all City residents, is to allow the City to schedule any activity there that is compatible with any arts related activity previously scheduled by PCA. At a bare minimum, a City right to terminate without cause on 180 days’ notice will ensure good faith cooperation on both sides.

(3) Revenue for City Expenses.

In 2011, the City gave PCA a no-rent lease because PCA agreed to pay to perform long-deferred maintenance on the building. In the proposed lease, PCA pays no rent, but is not asked to perform any work. By contrast, another non-profit, the Piedmont Education Foundation, pays rent of $19,020/year for less nice space inside Veterans Hall.

PCA’s 2019 balance sheet shows over $406,000 in assets and its 2018 and 2019 profit & loss statements show income exceeding expenses. After public comment that PCA could afford to pay rent (like most non-profits using City or School facilities), PCA’s Treasurer stated that PCA could “do more,” i.e., pay rent. The City has stated that it needs revenue to fund maintenance. Accept PCA’s offer!

(4) Equal Access.

In the past, PCA has turned away those who did not meet its definition of “arts-related.” The Staff Report says PCA agrees to more diverse programming, but the proposed lease would narrow PCA’s Approved Uses from a “venue for exhibits and performances” to “arts-related” activities only, plus its sub-lease. (Section 1.1).

In theory, the City Private Rental Activities provide another path for residents to rent the 801 Magnolia Avenue space, but, as noted above, the City’s rights are restricted. Even if that is fixed, PCA has the first right to schedule events. The lease should require PCA to rent space to any Piedmont resident for any event compatible with the space.

I encourage Piedmonters to share their views on the proposed PCA lease, as it will determine the use of 801 Magnolia Avenue for the next 7 years.

Rick Raushenbush, Piedmont Resident and Former Piedmont School Board

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.  The Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA) is a separate organization from the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) that originated in 1986 and provides this news site. 
Nov 17 2020

November 16, 2020 on a first reading, the Piedmont City Council split their votes on extending a $1 per year lease for seven more years to a private organization, Piedmont Center for the Arts, of Piedmont’s property at 801 Magnolia Avenue. 

For several hours more than a dozen speakers testified for and against the proposed lease extension of the 801 Magnolia building. The current $1 per year lease will expire in June 2021. 

Mayor Bob McBain, whose term on the Council is ending and who sets the agenda, noted he had promised the Arts Board and others, he would have a vote on the lease extension of the Piedmont Center for the Arts.  McBain acknowledged he and City Administrator Sara Lillevand had been meeting with the Art Center Board for months and in August he had informed others, including Lillevand, there were 3 votes on the City Council in favor of the lease extension.

With no publicity or public notice by the City, the matter was addressed favorably primarily by the Board of the Art Center. Other speakers concerned about the lease noted the lack of public input and need for alternatives to the problematic proposed lease.

All speakers supported use of the facilities for the arts while offering suggestions to protect the City’s interests and increase community involvement.

At the close of the public hearing and Council discussion,  Mayor Bob McBain preempted the other Council members and made a motion to approve the lease extension.  Vice Mayor Teddy King seconded his motion.  Council member Betsy Andersen, who was the 3rd Yes vote, asked that the term of the lease be changed from 10 years to 7 years.

Council member Jen Cavenaugh made a substitute motion seconded by Council member Tim Rood to table the matter in order to allow additional information based on questions and concerns plus more time for public input prior to approving the first reading of the proposed long-term lease of the property.  McBain, Andersen, and King voted against the motion, and it failed.

McBain and King’s motion was approved by Andersen, McBain and King gaining a first reading to extend the lease for 7 years. Rood and Cavenaugh voted no.

The matter will return in December, or later, to the Council after a new Council is seated in December.   McBain will have be termed out of office and his seat will be filled by Conna McCarthy on December 7, 2020.  Council member Jen Cavenaugh reelected to a second term on the Council will serve for another 4 years.  Council members, King, Rood, and Andersen will remain on the Council for two more years.

Some issues raised and not resolved prior to the Council approving the first reading of the lease were:

  • Why wasn’t the lease extension publicized in local media to gather public input?
  • How much more would it cost the City to operate the Center?
  • What is the financial condition of the Art Center, Inc.?
  • Who controls how the property can be used?
  • What is the value to the City of the property?
  •  Why are Art Center Board minutes and financial information not provided to the city regarding income and users?
  • Why are arts groups and other community organizations turned away in preference for commercial business activities?
  • How can revenue from the Center foster arts in the community?
  • The City recently stated it needed more money on two recent ballot measures. Why is the Art Center revenue stream of hundreds of thousands of dollars not considered a desired revenue source?
  • What is the status of the IRS 501C3 qualification given recent information on the Art Center?
  • Why are there terms in the lease that do not favor the taxpayers and City of Piedmont?
  • What information is available on cost-effective use of the building?
  • How can a private organization lease public property and then sublease to a commercial entity?
  • Why is the Arts Board allowed exclusionary control of the property and not include all segments of the community?
  • Why isn’t the building fully utilized?
  • Can conflicts  between commercial uses, recreation classes and art shows be resolved?
  • What are the CEQA issues raised by a resident who received short notice?
  • Will the new high school theater offer superior performance space?
  • Have parking demands been considered?
  • Where is the sub-tenant commercial lease?

Those satisfied with the lease extension spoke to:

  • Prior improvements made to the building.
  • Successful programs of music and art for Piedmont and the wider community.
  • Continuing benefit to the City at little cost.
  • Grandfathering the commercial newspaper sub-tenant lease
  • Expanding programs
  • Use by top artists
  • Volunteer commendation for a successful operation.

The Lease Extension approved by 3 council members is linked below:

Art Center Introduction and 1st Reading of Ord. 758 N.S. – Approving a Lease Agreement with Piedmont Center for the Arts for City Property at 801 Magnolia Avenue

Nov 12 2020

A controversial item has been placed on the November 16, 2020 Council Agenda…the lease of City property at 801 Magnolia Avenue, the Art Center.  Agenda here.

The Council composition is soon to change based on the recent election of Conna McCarthy to replace Bob McBain on the City Council. Given the lease terms and controversy, questions have been raised regarding the need to act prior to the seating of the new Council, which will occur within days in early December 2020. The current Art Center lease does not end until June 2021.

With over six months left on the lease, a citizen asked, “What is the rush?”  Others have called for a widely publicized community evaluation of the use of the City property, since one has never been undertaken.

Adding to the controversy, a proposed fee schedule for 801 Magnolia Avenue would not be developed and brought back to the Council until after the new lease agreement has been approved by the Council.

The staff report estimates the office space “market rate” rental at $50 per foot, by comparing it with the Veterans Hall office rental rate of $36 per square foot leased to the Piedmont Education Foundation, the  local non-profit organization benefiting Piedmont schools. The reason to compare a rental rate for commercial entities with the rental rate charged to a local non-profit is questioned.

Commercial rental space in Piedmont is at a  premium because of location and scarcity.  Plus, the City property at 801 Magnolia Avenue includes two much-sought-after parking spaces.

A number of citizens would like the fee structure to be a part of the lease discussion, prior to approval of any lease.  It has been proposed that the Recreation Department manage all use of the space to assure appropriate and full use of the property. The staff proposed agreement provides for City programs and events as well as private non arts-related rentals.

The building at 801 Magnolia Avenue was purchased with taxpayer’s funds.  If income from the property were to be maximized, it has been estimated rental income from various uses could bring in over $200,000 per year.

  • Who should manage the building?
  • What purposes should the property be used?
  • What use of this city property would be most beneficial for the community?

Opinion articles have been published on this site.


Opinion: Why Rush 801 Magnolia Lease?

Citizens have suggested various uses for the property.  Some are listed below.

— a community library,

— senior center,

— Dress Best for Less, drop off site and marking room, benefits schools and Piedmont’s local recycling goals,

— counseling/ tutoring space,

— recreation programs,

— meeting site,

— rentals for weddings, book reviews, receptions, celebrations,

— performances and art shows,

— recital and amateurmusical practice space.

The staff report is linked below

.Art Center Introduction and 1st Reading of Ord. 758 N.S. – Approving a Lease Agreement with Piedmont Center for the Arts for City Property at 801 Magnolia Avenue