Apr 18 2019

City/School Liaison Committee to Discuss Tobacco Grant Funding Possibly for a School Resource Officer or Other Purposes.

Monday, April. 22nd – 4:00 – 5 p.m. open to the public in the Piedmont Unified School District Offices, 760 Magnolia Avenue.

The Piedmont Unified School District and City of Piedmont will hold a meeting of the City/School Liaison Committee to discuss the California Department of Justice Tobacco Grant Award on Monday, April 22nd at 4:00 p.m. in the PUSD offices located at 760 Magnolia Avenue.

Liaisons are appointees chosen from the City Council and School Board. 

The discussions at this meeting will center on how Tobacco Grant funds might be used by the City and PUSD to bolster and/or develop tobacco mitigation efforts and additional health education programs focused on prevention for tobacco related issues and other student health efforts. This conversation is an outgrowth of previous discussions between PUSD, the City, and the community on the initial proposal to establish a School Resource Officer.

The City/School Liaison Committee is not a decision making body, rather it focuses on discussions of issues of mutual interest between the two agencies. The influential discussions are expected to be reported to their elected bodies for potential action and/or information.  This meeting is open to the public.  It will not be publicly broadcast or recorded. 

The agenda is available online at: http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/committees/agendas/city_school_liaison.pdf 

Apr 17 2019

Our Piedmont community will soon be asked to renew the School Support Tax that funds roughly 25% of the Piedmont Unified School District’s (PUSD) budget. Because the State does not adequately fund education, the School Support Tax is critical to maintaining the excellence of Piedmont schools.

The current School Support Tax (Measure A), approved by the community in 2013, taxes each taxable parcel the same amount. In recent letters, Mr. Rick Schiller advocates what he terms a “progressive tax” to replace Measure A. Mr. Schiller proposes that the next tax: (1) apply a uniform tax rate to the square feet of buildings on a taxable parcel, rather than a uniform amount to each taxable parcel, thus shifting more of the cost of schools to owners of large homes; (2) impose a lower rate on unimproved lots; (3) include an “income based senior exemption”; and (4) continue to include “compassionate SSI and SSDI exemptions,” which exempt property owners below certain poverty levels.

The next School Support Tax should fairly allocate a community cost and must indisputably comply with the law. Mr. Schiller’s proposal exposes PUSD to litigation risk that I believe would be imprudent to accept. Further, I do not consider Mr. Schiller’s proposed tax to be “progressive.”

I must start with the litigation risk (excuse the detail), which could impose unaffordable costs on PUSD and potentially leave our schools unfunded. Piedmont’s School Support Tax is a “qualified special tax” authorized by California Government Code § 50079, which provides such a tax “means special taxes that apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the school district, except that unimproved property may be taxed at a lower rate than improved property.” (Emphasis added).

In Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District, 214 Cal.App.4th 135 (2013), the Court invalidated Alameda’s school parcel tax (Measure H), which taxed residential and commercial properties, and commercial properties above and below 2000 square feet, differently. The plaintiffs argued that Section 50079 “means all taxpayers and all real property must be treated the same, and school districts are not empowered to treat different kinds of taxpayers, and different kinds of real property, differently.” Id. at 147. The Court agreed, holding that Section 50079 “does not empower school districts to classify taxpayers and property, and impose different tax rates.” Id. at 151. The Court found it could “sever” the invalid parts of Measure H, and upheld a parcel tax of $120 per parcel. Id. at 166-67.

Mr. Schiller, and others before him, have argued that Borikas does not bar a tax under Section 50079 based on a uniform rate per square foot (either of land or buildings). Borikas did not expressly rule on such a tax. However, Borikas found it must follow Section 50079’s text, and the text refers to “special taxes that apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property.” It does not refer to a uniform rate, but to a tax that applies uniformly.

The tax imposed on small vs. large parcels/homes would be different under a “per square foot” tax. Further, looking to Section 50079’s legislative history, Borikas rejected Alameda’s claim that it would be unfair for “all parcels [to] bear the same tax, regardless of size,” noting: “The Legislature was aware, however, that uniform parcel taxes were considered ‘more inequitable’ than ad valorem property taxes because all parcels, regardless of size, are subject to the same tax. … Nevertheless, the Legislature made no adjustments or provisions in this regard.” Id. at 158 (emphasis added); accord id. at fn. 27.

Nothing since Borikas has removed the risk that a Piedmont “per square foot” tax under Section 50079 will be ruled invalid. In 2014, SB 1021 was introduced in the California Legislature to amend Section 50079 to expressly authorize a “per square foot” tax—it did not pass. In 2018, the Legislature adopted AB 2954, which amended Section 50079 to allow school districts to tax unimproved property “at a lower rate than improved property,” but did not authorize a “per square foot” tax.  While the reference to a “rate” rather than an “amount,” provides an argument that uniformity refers to “rate” also, there is no ruling on point.

Mr. Schiller notes that the Alameda Superior Court has twice upheld Alameda School District’s later parcel taxes, which impose a “per square foot” taxes. However, the Alameda Superior Court also upheld Measure H, and the lawsuits against Alameda’s later taxes were settled before the First District Court of Appeals, which issued Borikas, ruled on appeal.

Mr. Schiller also relies on Dondlinger v. Los Angeles County Regional Park, No. B284932 (2019), but that case addressed Pub. Resources Code § 5566, a different statute, which expressly states that a park district may establish a “rate” which “is to be applied uniformly.” Further, Dondlinger is a Second District decision; Piedmont is in the First District, which is governed by the Borikas decision.

Until the First District Court of Appeals or the California Supreme Court upholds a “per square foot” school parcel tax, or the Legislature amends Section 50079 to expressly allow such a tax, I do not think it is prudent for PUSD to take the litigation risk of asking Piedmonters to approve such a tax. Litigation could cost $100,00 to $500,000, depending upon motions, trial and appeals. PUSD does not have that to spare. Moreover, to feel secure in spending the tax revenue, PUSD would have to file a validation action, but that simply ensures any litigation starts quickly.

While it is possible that no Piedmont property owner would challenge such a tax, there is no way to remove the risk. (Note that Alameda’s parcel taxes have been challenged three times). PUSD could not spend the tax revenue until any litigation is resolved, as PUSD would have no way to pay back the taxes collected if the tax ultimately were held invalid. Further, because PUSD cannot fund its school budget without a parcel tax, if the tax was challenged, PUSD would have to run another parcel tax election immediately, at additional significant expense. Under Mr. Schiller’s proposal, PUSD (and every Piedmont family with school children) would take this risk so that owners of small homes could pay less than owners of large homes. There are times when accepting litigation risk is necessary. This is not one of them.

I also believe that the School Support Tax must be fair to Piedmont residents. The Piedmont schools benefit every resident. For nearly everyone, our children have gone, are going, or will go to school. Piedmont residents have shared the cost of public education no matter where they are in this cycle. Moreover, the excellence of the Piedmont schools is why Piedmont homes are so valuable. Further, an available and excellent public education is fundamental to civil society, and we all have a civic duty to ensure it. Asking the owner of each taxable parcel to pay the same amount seems fair to me. I include unimproved parcels as the Piedmont schools make those parcels valuable.

A “progressive” tax generally is perceived as taxing wealthy people more by increasing the tax rate at higher levels of wealth or income, and is supported by the notion that those who have more money can afford to pay more tax toward community needs. In claiming his proposed tax is “progressive,” Mr. Schiller equates a building’s “square feet” as equivalent to wealth or income, and assumes that owners with more “square feet” can afford to pay more. That may be true in some cases, but certainly not all.

Square feet alone does not establish the value of a home (consider age, quality or location). Owning a large home does not establish wealth other than the home itself (it may have been bought long ago) or a ready ability to pay higher taxes (a young family may have stretched to buy a home with sufficient bedrooms, or a retiree bought a large home years ago).

I also do not support an “income-based senior exemption.” Age does not determine whether a homeowner has a ready ability to pay the School Support Tax.  Nor is current income a true measure of wealth or ability to pay.

Moreover, per the last census, roughly 20% of Piedmont residents were over 65. Assuming roughly 20% of homeowners also are over 65 (it could be higher), exempting any significant number would either underfund the schools or impose a significant burden on the remaining taxpayers.

Further, under Proposition 13, those of us who have owned a home here longer (and are usually older) pay less property tax than young families who have bought a home more recently.  PUSD’s existing income-based SSI and SSDI exemptions (see Section 50079(b)) provide relief to those who are truly in severe financial distress, regardless of their age. That seems an appropriate balance between a homeowner’s ability to pay and the needs of the community.

I support the current Measure A structure—each taxable parcel paying the same amount to support our schools, with narrow exemptions for those truly in financial distress.

Richard W. Raushenbush, Former Piedmont School Board Member

Mar 27 2019
  • Middle School courts repaved for Pickleball purposes
  • Wildwood Gardens streets changed to one way
  • Stairway to Oak Avenue from Wildwood Gardens
  • Fencing and improvements to Blair Park along Moraga Avenue 
  • Improvements to Witter Field drainage and various enhancements
  • Water fountain in Piedmont Park near Witter Field for dogs and people

The purpose of the CIP Review Committee and citizen proposed projects can be read by clicking below:

> CIP 2019

Revised Proposal worksheet can be read by clicking below.

> 2019 Proposal sheet revised

Various City Wide projects are: Aquatic Center, Linda Beach Park, Recreation Center and Veterans Hall improvements, Coaches Field improvements including lights, and Public Security Cameras.

The Committee meetings are open to the public and any resident that wants to attend is welcome. The next meeting is scheduled for April 9th at 7 pm in the City Council conference room to the left as you enter Piedmont City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue.  Recordings of the meeting are not made and there are no broadcasts or minutes of the meetings. 

For more information, contact Nancy Kent at NKent@piedmont.ca.gov

Mar 8 2019

In honor of Women’s History Month, Dress Best For Less shares the origins of Dress Best for Less.

In 1982, Wendy [Webster] Willrich, along with Jeanne Clark and other mothers of Havens Elementary School children, started collecting clothing and household items to sell to the community in order to raise money for the schools. This was the genesis of what would later become Dress Best for Less.

The enterprise quickly outgrew the space at the school and decided to open the Dress Best for Less shop at its original location on Piedmont Avenue where the store remained for almost 3 decades until moving to its current location  at 3411 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610. 

For 37 years (and counting), DBFL has raised funds for the Piedmont Education Foundation.  DBFL is the single largest contributor to PEF, with donations totaling over $1 million dollars.

In addition, DBFL is proud to contribute to the community at large, regularly donating to community groups in the East Bay and beyond, such as Bay Area schools, St. Vincent de Paul, animal rescue organizations, Oakland Children’s Hospital and more.

To this day, Dress Best for Less remains a woman-run organization. The bulk of the DBFL team are volunteers, most of whom are mothers of current and former Piedmont School children.  DBFL is living proof of what a few dedicated and driven woman can accomplish.

Donations are always needed.

Marking Room:
799 Magnolia Avenue,
Piedmont, CA 94611
Phone – 510-653-0221
Monday – 10:00am – noon
Tuesday – 9am – 4pm
Wednesday – 9am – 4pm
Saturday – 10am – noon

DBFL Store:
3411 Lakeshore Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610

510-658-8525
shopdbfl@gmail.com

Tuesday-Saturday
11:00am – 6:00pm

Information> http://dressbestforless.org/

Mar 8 2019

At the Capital Improvements Project Review Committee (CIP) meeting a request concerning City funding for better court surfaces at Piedmont Middle School (PMS) was made by Rick Schiller, Pickleball enthusiast.

At their March 5, 2019 meeting, the City Council appeared positive concerning new asphalt at PMS. The Tennis/Pickleball sub-committee report contains the specific recommendation for Pickleball.  Sub-committee Chair Steve Roland spoke in support for City funding of new asphalt and Pete Palmer, in charge of Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) facilities, stated PUSD has no issue with this,  but the School District has no funds to pay for resurfacing of the courts.

“While bids are not finalized, about $60,000 gets us a new asphalt surface – no cracks! – with new poles.  About another $85,000-$90,000 gets a tennis court quality overlay. The three courts at each of the three PMS venues are too cramped and the best option is likely striping two Pickleball courts parallel to the three badminton courts, if that can be worked out. The green on white striping at Oakland’s Bushrod courts works well.”  Rick Schiller

Traditionally past projects approved by CIP have had partial private funding.

The Eight month trial at Hampton and Linda-Beach Courts will have a neighbor survey in 4 weeks from the start of Pickleball usage.

Mar 6 2019

In 2013, our current flat rate per parcel School Tax was passed by voters to replace the previous Tax based on a five tier parcel size levy, a modestly progressive tax. Our School Board expressed sincere regret at eliminating the progressive tax but believed it had no choice other than to tax all parcels regardless of size at the same rate because of the 2012 Boricas v Alameda USD Appeal’s Court decision.

Of the 3,921 School tax parcels in Piedmont, 76% of Piedmont homes are on parcels under 10,000 square feet (“sf”). These taxpayers previous $1,989 and $2,260 tax became $2,406 in 2013, a 6% to 21% increase.  Owners of undeveloped parcels went from $1,009 to $2,406, a 238% increase. However, a small percentage of taxpayers benefited as owners of large parcels, commercial buildings and multi-unit buildings saw reductions of 7% to 80%. Some large commercial buildings previously taxed at $5,052 went to $2,406, a 52% decrease. 20,000 sf lots went from $3,378 to $2,406, a 29% decrease. A multi-unit building went from $11,907 to $2,406, an 80% decrease.

A progressive tax based on per square footage of building space is used in Alameda and other districts. The current Alameda tax passed by 74% in 2016 was challenged in 2017 on the validity of levying a tax on building square footage. Mar 4, 2018, the Alameda Schools per square footage of building tax was found legally valid in Alameda County Superior Court. Jan 31, 2019, a California appellate court validated a local agency’s special tax calculated on the basis of square footage of improved structures (Dondlinger v. Los Angeles County Regional).

Piedmont Schools previously embraced a partially progressive tax and now has an excellent progressive tax option that is far more equitable by using building per square footage. I propose the following progressive tax:

(1) Tax will be at $1 to $1.05 per square foot of building size. The District will determine the exact rate needed to provide funding at slightly above the current level.

(2) $4,999 will be the maximum tax for any building.

(3) Currently some multi-parcel estates are subject to multiple taxes and some are subject to one tax (GC 53087.4). So that all multi-parcel estates are treated uniformly and given that many multi-parcel estates have large homes that will be assessed at the maximum tax, a contiguous parcel exemption will be included. No property owner for a single home will pay more than $4,999.

(4) $1,099 will be the rate for unimproved lots.

(5) A 2% annual cost adjustment will be included.

(6) The tax may include an income based senior exemption at a rate to be determined so as not to cost the District more than 2% of the what the total tax revenue would be without this exemption.

(7) Compassionate SSI and SSDI exemptions will be included. These are not aged based.

        Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 28 2019

On February 27, 2019, the Piedmont School Board voted 4 – 1 to reject a grant to place a School Resource Officer – SRO – (Armed Police Officer) in Piedmont’s secondary schools. School Board President Amal Smith supported the SRO grant. 

Hearing SRO opposition statements by numerous students, teachers, parents and community members, the Board made the decision to reject the SRO grant devised by Police Chief Jeremy Bowers and Superintendent Randall Booker.  The grant had been applied for prior to consultation with and acceptance by the Piedmont School Board and Piedmont City Council. To accept grant funding for the SRO, Board and Council approval is required. 

There was a complaint concerning lack of notice prior to Board consideration and insufficient community involvement regarding the SRO proposal.

After rejecting the grant, the Board undertook an off-agenda discussion regarding redirecting efforts to reach school goals. 

Interest in obtaining a full time Piedmont police officer assigned to the Piedmont schools was brought up by Board member Andrea Swenson. 

Superintendent Booker appeared unwilling to give up the concept of an SRO; however, upon hearing the emphasis on additional professional opinions and greater community involvement to solve identified problems, he informed the Board the upcoming grant deadline meant grant amendments would be difficult to obtain. 

It was unclear if Superintendent Booker would or would not  be coming back to the Board with a new approach to gain grant funding through a revised proposal.

Feb 12 2019

February 11, 2019

Randall Booker, Superintendent, Piedmont Unified School District – 760 Magnolia Avenue – Piedmont, CA 94611 rbooker@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Robert McBain, Mayor, City of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue – Piedmont, CA 94611 rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov

Re: Retention of Police Officer to Serve Full-Time in Piedmont Unified School District

Dear Messrs. Booker and McBain:

I write to you on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont. Our organization supports the importance of transparency in local government and a high level of education within the Piedmont Unified School District. It is our understanding that the Board of Education will be voting during its upcoming February board meeting on the issue of whether to employ a full-time police officer in the school district as a School Resource Officer. We are also informed that should the Board of Education approve the employment of this officer, the City Council will then vote on whether to approve this position since the officer would be a member of the Piedmont Police Department.

Our League Board has discussed this issue and we believe that a decision by the Board of Education and the City Council on this matter is premature at this time, and as such, would be counter to our positions on local government and education.

Specifically, we are concerned with transparency and the ability of the Board of Education and the City Council to make an informed decision on this matter with the information currently at their disposal. For example, we are concerned there is a lack of information surrounding the explicit objectives of having a police officer on school campuses, what training the officer would be required to fulfill, what weapons the officer would carry or retain on campus, what the officer’s objectives would be, how success or failure will be measured, and what consequences may arise for the students as a result of having an officer on campus. These are just several among many unanswered questions that we feel should be addressed prior to any formal decision-making processes and, in fact, long before students, teachers and parents are surveyed on their views on the issue of hiring such a police officer to serve in the schools.

We thus urge both the Board of Education and the City Council to exercise due diligence in gathering information about both the benefits and potential consequences in hiring a School Resource Officer, and to fully communicate and share information with all stakeholders in this community about these details before holding any formal vote on the matter.

Sincerely,

Nancy A. Beninati,President, League of Women Voters Piedmont

Feb 11 2019

For school year 2019 -20, Piedmont’s School District faces a drop in Elementary School enrollment. Middle School enrollment will also be down. (See attached chart in downloadable staff report.) The elementary students could be reassigned to equalize class sizes between the three elementary schools. Or, students living outside Piedmont may be admitted to fill the classroom spaces.

When space is available, students may be admitted, under certain conditions, from outside of the School District based on the state law called >“Open Enrollment”. Under the law, students from underachieving school districts may be allowed to transfer into higher achieving school districts based on classroom and teacher availability.

Implications of Program Capacity

“The District’s programmatic capacity as defined [in the staff report] will be utilized in making decisions about the placement of resident students who, in some cases, must be redirected to sites that are outside of their neighborhood school zone when capacity will be exceeded. In addition, programmatic capacity will guide the District’s ability to accept or deny and place inter-district transfer requests [students from outside of the Piedmont Unified School District].”

School District Staff Report

The School Board will consider the enrollment and capacity issue on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 8:45 p.m. in Piedmont City Hall Council Chambers, 120 Vista Avenue. READ the Agenda below for timing: >https://agendaonline.net/public/Meeting.aspx?AgencyID=1241&MeetingID=70531&AgencyTypeID=1&IsArchived=False . The meeting will be broadcast live on Cable Channel 27 and from the City website under videos of the School Board meeting of February 13, 2019.

VIII. INFORMATION/DISCUSSION 
VIII.A. Enrollment and Capacity Study 
Time Certain:8:45 PM Speaker:Randall Booker, Superintendent READ Downloadable Staff Report: >Background – Enrollment 
Feb 4 2019

City Council Consideration of Police Officer in the Piedmont schools.

Draft minutes of the January 7, 2019 City Council meeting to be considered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. :

“Police School Resource City Administrator Paul Benoit indicated that the Police Department had applied Position for and received a grant from the State of California to possibly fund a School Resource Officer (SRO) position. He indicated that the application timeline for the grant did not allow for City Council or the Board of Education to discuss the possibility of a SRO prior to the application. Mr. Benoit recognized that the application for and receipt of the grant was ahead of preferred sequence of events.

“Mr. Benoit stated Chief Bowers and Piedmont  Unified School District Superintendent Booker would conduct public outreach and return to the City Council and Board of Education for determination of whether or not to accept the grant and establish the SRO position.

“Mr. Benoit indicated that the grant offered a grant opportunity and, should the Board of Education and City Council choose to move forward, a discussion would need to take place before the grant funding expired as to whether the program would continue and how it would be funded.

“Chief Bowers summarized his and Superintendent Booker’s discussions for a SRO and discussed existing programs offered to students by the Police Department. He indicated that a reliable and consistent presence in the schools is necessary to foster true and trusting relationships between students and the Police Department. He informed the Council of the duties and effectiveness of an SRO.

 PUSD Superintendent Randall Booker stressed the importance of assigning appropriate tasks to the SRO, and the dangers of involving a SRO with school discipline. He discussed the importance of hiring the correct person for the position, ensuring that they have core values of service and education. He provided statistics on the need for caring adults on campus and a stronger, positive connection between students and officers.

“Chief Bowers explained the grant funds, which would cover the first three years, and discussed the proposed community engagement. Chief Bowers indicated that he and Superintendent Booker would visit schools as well as parent and community groups to discuss and hear feedback on the proposed program. They would then return to the Board of Education and City Council, which will decide whether to establish the program and accept the grant.

“Public Testimony was received from: Sunny Bostrom-Fleming indicated support for an SRO and commended Chief Bowers for applying for the grant.

“Tonda Case, Co-President of Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee, questioned whether a SRO was an appropriate solution for Piedmont. She suggested increased public engagement and outreach to determine if a SRO is necessary.

“The Council acknowledged the work of the Police Department in applying for the grant. They commended the relationship between the City and the PUSD. The Council agreed with the proposed outreach program, making suggestions as to how outreach could be most effectively undertaken. The Council requested the Board of Education make a decision on whether it wanted to pursue the program before the matter is brought back to the Council for consideration. (0785, 0765)”

Communicate with the City Council:

Robert McBain, Mayorrmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayortking@piedmont.ca.gov
Jennifer Cavenaughjcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov
Tim Roodtrood@piedmont.ca.gov
Betsy Smegal Andersenbandersen@piedmont.ca.gov

 To send comments to  all Councilmembers > citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us. To send via U.S. Mail, use the following address: City Council, City of Piedmont, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611

Communicate with the School Board:

Amal Smith, President, amalsmith@piedmont.k12.ca.us
Cory Smegal, Vice President, csmegal@piedmont.k12.ca.us
Andrea Swenson, aswenson@piedmont.k12.ca.us
Sarah Pearson, spearson@piedmont.k12.ca.us
Megan Pillsbury, mpillsbury@piedmont.k12.ca.us