Nov 1 2020

– Environmental Voting Guide written by Piedmonter Emily Ballati –

Things-are-Heating-Up-Guide-to-Environmental-Voting

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. 
Oct 25 2020

The City Council Is Not Being Open And Transparent About Measure UU. If They Were, Residents Would Have Received This Measure UU Letter.

Dear Piedmonters,

Before you vote on Measure UU, we thought there were a few things we needed to tell you. We did tell you that the City has no outstanding General Obligation Bonds, but we didn’t mention that we have LOTS of debts – $7 million in sewer loans, $13 million in Post Employment Benefits Payable, and $26 million in Pension Benefits Payable.

Oh, and if our pension portfolio returns only 6.15% instead of the estimated 7.15% (you can get 7.15% on your investments in today’s crazy market with bonds yielding close to zero, can’t you?), our Pension Benefit Liability alone increases to over $43 million.

Speaking of deficits, did we mention that our General Fund – that is, unrestricted money that the City can spend on anything – has a deficit of about $9 million?

We also glossed over the fact that the ordinance we passed estimates that the total cost of the “improvements” is $23 million, but that it allows us to issue $19.5 million in bonds. Guess who is paying for the difference?

We also haven’t mentioned it, but by reading the City Council minutes for the last six months, you can see that we know about the major deficiencies in our ability to deliver essential public services – the Police Chief, Fire Chief, and City Administrator are all on the record as saying that we do not comply with the Essential Services Act, that the fire station may sustain major damage in an earthquake, and that it may cost up to $51 million to fix these problems. That’s why we are looking at creating a Community Facilities District (aka Mello-Roos) to make it easier to issue bonds backed by another special tax on Piedmont homeowners in the near future. And because we generally ask for the maximum amount, it will probably be for the full $51 million.

Finally, we haven’t mentioned that 100% of Piedmont citizens rely on our Police and Fire Departments, while an estimated 25% of citizens use the pool.

So, if we had placed two bond measures on the November ballot – $50 million for Police and Fire, and $20 million for a new pool, we knew what would happen. Citizens would vote to maintain essential services, but they would turn down the pool.

After spending $56 million in 2006 and another $66 million in 2016 on School District Bonds (all that money is gone, and they still haven’t finished their projects), $10 million per year on Measure G, $2.6 million per year on Measure H, and $2.4 million per year on Measure T, citizens are getting a little tax weary. After all, aren’t our property tax rates some of the highest in California?

So, think carefully before you vote on measure UU. We’ll see you soon with our new $51 million bond request. You will HAVE to vote yes to maintain city services, but you can vote NO on Measure UU.

Andy Wasserman, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 17 2020

In this country and in this city, in particular, there is a significant discrepancy between the amount of money spent on private vs. public improvements. The current situation—crumbling public infrastructure—is the result of years of the community’s inability to fully commit to supporting our public facilities. I personally see Measure UU to rebuild the Piedmont Community Pool first and foremost as a simple question: whether we as a community value a pool or not?

City public improvements such as pools, parks, courts, tracks, and trails are the last remaining vestiges of what can be considered the commons—outdoor places that play a central role in both creating community and providing for the simple, nearby enjoyment of the outdoors. In an urban context, we would do well to not let our lives be limited to the experience of individual spaces, such as our cars or our homes. If we let our lives be connected only virtually by digital technologies we lose out in the richness of experience that our world has to offer. During this time of COVID, we have seen first-hand the division and mistrust, indeed the disintegration of the commons that virtual communities have fostered. A public pool in Piedmont will greatly enhance our City’s commons.

Public financing for a public improvement is appropriate. Does that mean that the City needs to have bids before agreeing on the Measure UU? Of course not. Do you go out and get bids for a bathroom remodel before you decide as a household that you need a new bathroom? No. You assess the problem, agree on the need for the improvement, limit the budget, and then hire the appropriate designers, contractors and other experts to bring your ideas to reality.

Cost, the desire to control costs, the existence of cost overruns, can always be brought up on any capital improvement project. It can always be used to shoot down an initiative, but this approach will not get us closer to a community pool. If the community can first agree on the need for a new pool to replace the now defunct facility, then Measure UU authorizes up to $19.5 million which will be overseen by a committee and issued based on the final design. Setting a bond limit now and having each household pay for the bond issue is appropriate. To be fair, I’m biased, and it is up to each of us to decide what to do with our money, particularly when it comes to benefiting the greater community. Yet, I would submit that to construct a beautiful, new, public pool facility in Piedmont in return for a bond issue that costs less than the price of a Starbucks Venti coffee per day, per household is an affordable and not unreasonable price for Piedmont residents to bear.

The cost of public work is fundamentally different and higher than the cost of private work. The restrictions (for example pay rates), qualifications (for example must have done similar public scale projects for at least 5 years), requirements (for example must be bonded to a certain level) placed on the contractors have made this type of project buildable by only a small handful of well-qualified, large, and yes expensive construction firms. They can and will deliver – but there is and, indeed there should be, a cost to that. The City’s stringent requirements (ensure the project is close to zero net energy, make no dust, no noise during school hours, protect our kids when they walk by the project) result in costs that are nearly all avoidable on a private project.

However, the project will have a cost estimator who will work in conjunction with the City, the pool committee, the design team and the contractor to carefully review priorities, and expenses. Every attempt should be made to value engineer the project given the ‘fixed’ budget as defined by the bond measure. One can haggle the details of cost, and certainly the City should hire (an additional expense!) a project manager who is vigilant about controlling costs, but now is not the time to haggle these details when the pool design has not even been finalized.

We are all concerned about global warming, acting locally to reach goals of carbon neutrality for Piedmont. Pools have negative environmental impacts, as do many activities we enjoy. However, to begin to mitigate these impacts, we have to begin to collaborate more as a community and less as individuals competing for limited resources. If we can get to a place where we can agree on the benefits of a pool, then let’s work together to drive down the costs both environmental and fiscal to a point where they balance the benefits to us all as a community.

A single public pool has less of environmental impact than hundreds of private pools when compared to the relative community benefit. A new pool also can be designed with appropriate sustainable technology to heat, filter and re-cycle the water to adequately meet the needs of users. Solar thermal panels could be used to heat or pre-heat the pool water. Perhaps hybrid photovoltaic/thermal systems installed on the bottom of the pool could be employed that capture solar radiation for pool heat or facility power. Another consideration is the use a shallow water storage tank that can retain solar heat and be used to warm the main pool in the early mornings. The ancillary facilities can be net-zero buildings with photovoltaic solar panels, as well as passive heating and cooling. Again, if we can come together as a community around common goals for a sustainable pool, solutions can be developed.

To the extent that the pool will benefit both Piedmont residents and our neighbors in Oakland and surrounding communities, I think that we are fortunate to be able to share our resources for the benefit of the greater good. Without a doubt, Piedmont residents benefit from such community resources as Lake Merritt, the Oakland Museum, the Rose Garden, and currently the public pools in Lafayette, Alameda and Berkeley albeit a long drive from home. We will not improve our community or the world by walling ourselves off from others.

Our current decrepit and undersized pool does not properly meet the needs of the Piedmont community and our schools. Furthermore, the pool does not meet health and safety standards, in particular current ADA or Universal Design requirements. The outdated facility simply can’t accommodate the community demand from individuals, families and teams. A new pool will provide for this currently unmet demand with a proper Piedmont aquatics facility.

Please join me in support of Measure UU. We can come together as a community and replace this deteriorated aquatics facility with a new pool for future generations to enjoy.

John Ware, Piedmont Resident, Architect, Engineer

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 15 2020

When the City took over operation of the pool in 2011, I was asked to help design how the pool would operate.  The system we came up with generated twice as much revenue as other public pools and saved the City a lot of money.  I spent over a thousand hours in that effort.  I was motivated to do so for two reasons: I wanted to be sure the City’s operation of the pool was a success and I was concerned that, if the pool got too expensive, the City might lose interest in it.  I brought those same concerns to the discussions that led to the current pool proposal.

We need to build a pool that meets the needs of the schools as well as the rest of the community.  Under the facilities sharing arrangement between the City and the schools, the schools get to use the pool just as the City gets to use the schools’ gyms and sports fields.  We are the same taxpayers who would be called on to fund a school pool.  It makes no sense to have two pool facilities, one for the schools and one for everyone else, across the street from each other.

It’s time to have one facility that works for everyone—designed so the Piedmont swim team doesn’t have to rent additional space in other communities and spend hours a week commuting to practice; designed so the high school water polo and swim teams don’t have to practice at night or commute to other pools; designed so kids can both play and have swim lessons after school, all with lap swimmers having room to swim and finally being able to swim their laps when they get home from work at night.

It’s not too expensive.  The bond measure is about financing, not cost. You can’t bid the project until you have detailed construction drawings and no one would pay to have those drawings done until they knew they had the financing and the project would proceed.

The increased cost estimate from 2016, when the conceptual design was initially approved, simply reflects that it will be built at least six years later, and, in fact, it is in line with what we understand other neighboring communities are doing.  When you are arranging for financing, you need to build in room for interest rate fluctuations and other contingencies.  Measure UU is simply authorizing bonds.

You don’t have to issue or spend all the bonds that are authorized, but you have to be sure the bond cap is high enough to more than cover the anticipated cost, because you can’t go get more bonds approved in the middle of the project.

The City Council didn’t prioritize the pool over public safety, by putting the pool on the ballot.  The fact is our infrastructure is old and needs to be addressed.  The pool is on the ballot because there already was a plan to deal with the pool, which had been analyzed, researched, and discussed for years.

The public safety issues just came up.  We don’t know enough about them and there isn’t a plan to deal with them yet.  It isn’t a question of picking one over the other.  If Piedmont is going to be the community you moved here to live in, we have to address them both.

The question is simple: does Piedmont want a pool or not?  If we do, it makes no sense to build an inadequate pool.  It’s time to have a community pool that finally meets the needs of the whole community.

Join me in voting YES on Measure UU! 
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Jon Sakol, Piedmont Resident
Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 14 2020

Click below to view the League of Women Voters Piedmont Forum on Pool Bonds: Measure UU.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2Sb1tqucBs

Proponent speaker: Betsy Andersen

Opponent speaker: Andy Wasserman

Oct 9 2020

When I think about Piedmont, the iconic image that comes to mind is the center of town – the 4 schools, the tennis courts, Piedmont Park and City Hall.  And, in the middle – the pool. We live in a really beautiful place and the pool is a vital part.

This picture fades when you foresee the pool drained and the site pad-locked. Further, it is difficult to imagine it replaced by anything else. I can’t see, and don’t want, it “developed” for alternative (commercial) purposes. That’s not Piedmont. What belongs there is a pool. This is where our kids learn to swim. This is where my parents took me to learn to swim. Why would we take that away from our community and future residents? A cost/benefit analysis falls woefully short of responding to that question. Nobody applies that logic to the other amenities.

We rightfully take pride in our city. We should be a community that does not require a “fiscal” conclusion to support inherently valuable projects. We have parks, fields and courts for our citizens and students to pursue their athletic interests. Swimmers and water polo players deserve the same. Make no mistake, the pool augments the quintessential Piedmont “selling point” – the Schools.

Should UU fail, Piedmont High School and it’s swimming and water polo teams will be without a pool. Would some families opt for private schools that have pools? Seems likely. Replacing the pool is a great opportunity. The proposed plan ties the pool and the tennis courts together and creates a modern and attractive recreational facility. This is more than a replacement – it’s an improvement.

Think about recent projects. Does anyone regret remodeling Hampton Field? Do we wish we hadn’t spent the money to replace Havens? Of course not. All things have a lifespan whether we are talking about civic amenities or personal property. Well, the pool’s life has ended and it is our responsibility to get it replaced.

Those that oppose Measure UU because they ‘don’t use the pool’ or ‘don’t like how it will be funded’ should consider the risks of shuttering the pool. How does creating a blight improve our city? Whatever the objection, in the long-run this project enhances Piedmont, which benefits us all. Because Piedmont’s a community and not just an address, we owe it to the past and future to get this done.

Please vote ‘YES’ on UU.

Chris Hart, Current President Piedmont High School Boosters, Prior President Piedmont Baseball Softball Foundation

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 8 2020
“There are three good reasons to vote No on  Measure UU Pool Bonds.”
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I sincerely thought Piedmont learned a valuable lesson after the Hills Under-grounding debacle and the famous and equally outrageous Blair Park proposal that was thankfully averted due to its handful of determined and fiscally responsible citizens.
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Based on the estimates of a half baked design can be categorized as oversized, under-budgeted, and perhaps, can also be described as a trivial issue given the current needs of Piedmont to improve its police, fire and government buildings, combat climate change, improve roads and public transportation systems, etc., etc.
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Lastly, I hear the proponents claim it is cheap money so lets go ahead and spend it. There is no such thing as cheap money; money is only cheap when you spend others money and not yours.  Given the current use, money would be spent most wisely if the existing pool is renovated at a fraction of the proposed $19.5 million aquatics facility by competent people to continue to serve those who use the pool and perhaps limit its use only to the residents of Piedmont.
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PHS and private swim teams, middle and high school PE class, adaptive PE, the PHS water polo teams, adult fitness swimmers, and senior water aerobics do not need a new aquatics facility that costs $19.5 million, it needs a well maintained and managed functioning pool.
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Please reject Measure UU by voting No on UU.
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Sinan Sabuncuoglu
Architect and Piedmont Resident for over 35 years
Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 5 2020
WHAT ABOUT THOSE OTHER CAPITAL PROJECTS?
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Supporting Measure UU seems like a “mom and apple pie” decision, but according to the most recent Budget Advisory Committee report the City has an additional $52 Million in capital needs for which there is no plan. Importantly, the list includes seismic retrofitting of our police, fire and Veterans buildings.
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When people are asked why they choose to live in Piedmont, public safety services are high on the list.  It appears that the pool bonds are being proposed without reference to the larger context of all needed capital projects. Why has the pool been given the highest priority?  Why has there apparently not been a systematic prioritization among all capital needs?
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If the pool bonds are issued, will that minimize the City’s ability to obtain additional financing for these other important needs? Might the pool bonds make residents less likely to approve another bond?
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With Piedmont being among the most highly taxed of comparable cities, we cannot assume that Piedmont’s residents could afford still another bond or that the City could take on additional debt while retaining its credit rating.  The City’s Q and A’s on Measure UU makes no mention of this context.
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Kathleen Quenneville, Piedmont Resident
Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 24 2020

New Pool Can Serve All User Groups

We’ve known for 20 years or more that the beloved Piedmont pool was wearing out.

I first got involved in 2005, when my kids were small, by joining the board of the Piedmont Swim Club. The antiquated private nonprofit model, with a City-imposed restriction to Piedmont residents and cap on the number
of members, wasn’t a good fit for an obsolescent facility that needed a lot of capital investment.

Following the City takeover in 2011, a thorough and inclusive master planning process developed a practical and detailed master plan for a much larger new facility that can meet the needs of the entire Piedmont community as well as comply with current health, safety and accessibility codes.

Many different user groups use the pool – kids, families, swim lessons, teens and young adults, PHS and private swim teams, middle and high school PE class, adaptive PE, the PHS water polo teams, adult fitness swimmers, and senior water aerobics – and none of these activities can continue in Piedmont without a new aquatics facility. And because of its age and condition, continued repairs to the existing facility couldn’t address all the code issues, would likely involve unplanned closures, would not be cost-effective, and wouldn’t address the accessibility issues or the simple lack of water space for all the currently programmed activities.

The master planning process included an operational analysis by an expert aquatics consultant, which found that the new aquatic center can come close to covering its operating costs by accommodating many more users at the same time. The new aquatic center will have much more water space, including a large shallow area with zero depth entry for babies and smaller kids that’s connected to a “medium pool” area for older kids and lessons. A completely separate competitive pool with a moving bulkhead can accommodate lap swimming and team practice at the same time.

Piedmont needs to completely replace the pool, and Measure UU is the way to make that happen. Please join me in voting Yes on UU to build an aquatic center that will serve the community for another 50 years or more.

Tim Rood
City Councilmember

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 16 2020

Reopening of Witter Field September 16, 2020 –

Consistent with public health orders issued by Alameda County that are intended to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Piedmont Unified School District has reopened Witter Field for community use.

Individuals can access Witter Field from the Wildwood Avenue steps, Piedmont Middle School’s “PE Hill,” or the El Cerrito pedestrian gate. The Windsor Avenue gate, Wildwood Elementary School playground, baseball and softball fields, batting cages, and Witter Field House restrooms will remain closed.

Individuals must wear face coverings, maintain at least six-foot social distancing from others who are not part of the same household or living unit, and avoid all social interaction when sick with a fever, cough, or other COVID-19 symptoms.

The District previously closed Witter Field due to widespread and persistent lack of compliance with the Alameda County order at the Field, and similar issues led the City of Piedmont to close the Linda Beach Playfield, as noncompliance poses a serious public health risk.

Witter Field is an important community resource and the decision to reopen the facility was made based on supportive public input. The Field will remain open as long as users comply with the public health orders issued by Alameda County.

Questions or comments? Please contact Director of Facilities Pete Palmer at ppalmer@piedmont.k12.ca.us