Jul 5 2018

On the afternoon of June 19, 2018,  a City Council/School Board Liaison meeting was held.  Members of the School Board, City Council, and their staff members met at the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) Administrative Offices on Magnolia Avenue to discuss various issues, which included: upcoming summer facilities projects, H1 Bond projects, solid waste management education, recreational renovations, and school safety.

Present at the meeting were School representatives: Board Vice President, Amal Smith, Board Member, Andrea Swenson, Superintendent Randall Booker, Director of Facilities, Pete Palmer, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Cheryl Wozniak. Representatives from the City were Mayor Bob McBain and City Administrator Paul Benoit.

The meeting began with Booker introducing the agenda and starting off the conversation with updates on the H1 Bond measure and the issue of the various District Summer facilities projects.  These projects include climate control renovations to elementary school facilities and the rebuilding of the 30’s complex at Piedmont High School for the high school’s new STEAM building, with construction beginning in June of 2019 as part of the H1 Bond measure.

During the April 2019 Spring break, the real projects begin removing the Alan Harvey Theater and drainage work on Witter Field.

“We’re starting these summer renovations at Havens Elementary, where five classrooms on the top floor can reach as high as 90 degrees while teachers are instructing students,” said Palmer. “The new climate control systems we will be installing are some of the most efficient units available on the market.”

Palmer explained that the same climate control systems would be installed in certain classrooms at Beach and Wildwood Elementary schools that are also at risk for reaching high temperatures.

“These new highly efficient systems will allow us to cut energy costs, which means putting more money right back into schools and facilities,” said Booker.

The High School’s new STEAM building will have 7 new classrooms, expanding the capacity of the school’s computer lab facilities. Booker stressed the importance of adding these new classrooms and computer facilities because 50 students had to be turned away from the school’s computer program during the previous school year due to insufficient class space.

“It’s great that we have so many students interested in computer science; however; right now we just don’t have the space.  With these new facilities, we will be able to accommodate everyone,” said Booker.

Booker noted the School District was exploring options to install a new computer system that would cut down on the purchasing of expensive Computer Processing Units (CPU) by allowing as few as one control CPU unit to feed many students’ computer monitors without the need for them to have their own CPU unit.

Palmer related a break in the waterline under Wildwood Schoolmates, requiring a temporary waterline and the closing down of El Cerrito Avenue, as well as P.E Hill, in order to fix the break.

Witter Field will be closed during the installation of new LED field lights, which would be more directive, project less light on neighbors, and be better for player safety visibility. Palmer stated the installation should go quickly unless the current light structures are revealed to have rusted bolts or fixtures, in which case they would need to be cut and repaired during renovation.

Booker discussed the High School Master Plan beginning construction in March 1, 2019, when the closure, salvage and abatement of the Alan Harvey Theater will occur,  along with the closure and drainage renovation of Witter Field.

An inspector from Division of State Architects (DSA) will come to survey the Witter Field area and check its Americans with Disability Act  (ADA)  compliance.  Witter Field has areas of concern, such as the Wildwood steps leading down to the field, which are not ADA compliant, according to Booker.

A passing inspection regarding the ADA and approval from the state are necessary prior to construction, as clarified by Vice President Amal Smith.

City Administrator Paul Benoit addressed the issue of solid waste management.

“We only received one bidder for Piedmont’s solid waste contract. Waste Management as a firm did not want to do backyard service, and Piedmont doesn’t want to give up backyard service. We’ll be continuing to work with Republic Services as our contractor,” said Benoit.

In addition to the City’s new contract with Republic, Abbe and Associates, a green education and waste management consultant, will aid the community, including the schools, in environmental awareness and sustainable living.

When Vice President Smith raised questions as to expectations with Abbe, Benoit replied that the consulting firm’s community-wide involvement will be collaborative with no set expectations or requirements.

Mayor Bob McBain stated that Abbe would work in situations managing waste from City events like the Harvest Festival and everything Abbe does should be constructive leading to reduced waste and proper disposal.

“It’s not gonna work, if it is a burden to everyone,” McBain said.

There are pending renovations and resurfacing of several tennis courts.   Linda Beach Tennis courts are desired by Pickleball players. Pickleball is a hybrid game of tennis and ping pong. The Piedmont Pickleball Association rents the Linda Beach courts on certain weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon for $12 an hour according to Benoit, and will continue to do so until school begins on August 13th.

Mayor McBain stated there is the possibility for the City and the Piedmont Pickleball Association to work together in order to resurface the Middle School courts to be used for the sport when not in use by the schools.

Benoit introduced the topic of School Safety which he stated was a big topic.  While School Safety was talked about at the staff level, thus far it had not received extensive discussion at the Council level. School Safety has risen in salience as the national climate around school shootings has intensified at an alarming rate.   There are uncertainties on how to move forward with this initiative in Piedmont, according to Benoit.

Superintendent Booker brought up the implementation of onsite security personnel in Piedmont schools.

“From experience and time spent with Albany High School, I found the presence of a police officer on campus an extremely effective and beneficial resource,” said Booker.

Booker went on to explain that the presence of a security person on campus at the High School, such as one on-duty soft uniform officer from the Piedmont Police Department, would be helpful. These resource officers in soft uniform, meaning they are wearing uniform pants and Piedmont Police Department polo shirts instead of a full patrol uniform, would receive very specific and intensive training to acclimate them to a campus environment. The resource officer would carry the same equipment that other police officers do on their belts, including a firearm.

“I would consider myself a strong advocate for the resource officer as a solution to school safety, as in my experience they are incredibly effective at communicating safety,” said Booker.

The resource officer would report to the Piedmont Chief of Police and the hope is that the officer costs would be paid half by the City and half by the School District.

McBain emphasized the need for the City to find the money for the resource officer and introduce the idea to the community.

Benoit informed the attendees that the City is actively recruiting for a new Fire Chief.

Report by Joe Creason, Journalism Intern

Jun 21 2018

PIEDMONT CITY COUNCIL TO HOST TOWN HALL MEETING ON POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE PIEDMONT CITY CHARTER

Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers

Comments in this article are in response to the City’s public notice and were written by the Piedmont Civic Association aggregating some of the comments by Piedmonters knowledgeable and concerned about the proposed Piedmont City Charter changes. 

The City’s meeting notice was provided by Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit and  John Tulloch City Clerk /Assistant City Administrator, a recently created position,   

Town Hall Meeting – Monday, June 25

“The Piedmont City Council will hold a town hall meeting on Monday, June 25, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers to receive public input on possible amendments to the City Charter, which may be placed before the voters at the City’s General Municipal Election in November 2018.”

“The discussion of possible Charter amendments began in June 2017 and Council has subsequently discussed the issue at meetings on February 5, 2018, March 5, 2018, April 30, 2018, and June 4, 2018.”

BIG CHANGES TO THE CITY CHARTER

The proposed City Charter changes were devised by the City Administrative staff and the Piedmont City Council to potentially be voted upon by the Piedmont electorate at the General Election in November 2018. For the proposed changes to take effect, Piedmont voters must approve the changes.   All portions of the Charter were not considered in the Charter review.  For instance, Piedmont’s method of borrowing money was not taken up, nor was a clarification on the controversial zoning language in the Charter.  Also, when a mayor recently resigned, the Council  arbitrarily created a new position outside of the Charter called an “Acting Mayor.”   These items and others were not addressed in the proposed changes.

A number or Piedmonters and the Piedmont League of Women Voters had asked the Council to involve the community in the City Charter changes, however all considerations were made at the Council level garnering little public participation and no input from City commissions, committees, or a special committee charged with assessing potential City Charter changes.

ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES

Administrative changes, although de-emphasized in the City’s  presentations on proposed Charter changes, represent the greatest alterations to Piedmont’s form of City Administrator government.  Piedmont has had the City Administrator form of government for generations, and most would agree Piedmont has done well during those many years under the City Administrator form of government. As will be read below, authority historically held by the City Council is being transferred to the City Administrator.

The proposals to change the City Charter would take authority from the City Council and transfer it to the City Administrator.

The Council would retain authority to hire Department Heads, such as the Police Chief, City Clerk, Fire Chief, Finance Director, but the Council could not fire their appointees.  The Department Head termination authority would be granted solely to the City Administrator, presenting a new and different complexity to Piedmont  governance.

The City Administrator in Piedmont, by the current Charter language, has the responsibility for the administration of the City – the day to day operations and administration of the City. The City Administrator reports to the Council on employee performance.  The current Charter language states the Council can direct top managers, however the Charter also makes it clear the Council members are not administrators and  as individuals cannot act to “direct” the managers or the City Administrator.

Taking the authority to direct Department Heads from the Council, as a whole, and bestowings the authority solely upon the City Administrator, is governance commonly considered a City Manager form of government with a directly elected mayor, which Piedmont does not have,.   In Piedmont, the Council appoints from their members an individual to be Piedmont’s Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor has essentially the same authority as the other four Council members other than what is allowed by the Charter or granted by the Council.  In recent years, Council observers have noted more authority has been given by the City Administrator to mayors than the Charter allows without consideration by the  Council as a whole.

 UNLIMITED RESERVES 

The original idea for reviewing the City Charter arose at a Council meeting when it became apparent Piedmont revenues greatly exceeded the Annual Budget 25% limit in the General Fund Reserve. One or more Council members wanted to accumulate larger amounts of money in the General Fund Reserve.  The Charter limit on reserves was intended to stop Councils from excessively taxing Piedmont property owners.

Much of the increase in Piedmont revenues stems from the sale of property resulting in transfer taxes and a higher basis on Piedmont property taxes.  To retain the excess revenues  when the 25% General Fund Reserve limit had been met, the Council has directed the excess  revenue into various newly established reserve funds,  At the same time, the City Council has continued to levy the full voter approved property tax, plus an annual percentage increase regardless of the windfall tax revenues.  The practice of placing excess revenues into special reserve funds has been put into practice without changing the City Charter.

The following language in quotes is from the City notice followed by PCA comments:

“At its June 4th meeting, the City Council directed staff to schedule a town hall meeting in order to allow residents an additional opportunity to review the changes that have been discussed at previous Council meetings. This is an opportunity for residents to ask questions and express their opinions on the proposed Charter amendments prior to the Council placing a measure on the November ballot.”

Unlike past reviews of the City Charter, there has been no comprehensive look at the entire Charter nor an independent committee focused on the pros and cons of the proposed Charter changes.

Presumably, the Council does not want to put something on the ballot that is likely to be rejected by Piedmont voters.  Yet, the Town Hall Meeting comes after Council decisions have essentially been made regarding proposed changes to the City Charter. The Council must now decide if their proposals will be accepted by Piedmont voters and if it is timely to place the proposals before the voters.  Each time the Charter is placed on a ballot, it incurs cost for the City.

“Because the Charter is effectively the City of Piedmont’s constitution, the City Council wants to receive as much resident input as possible on the proposed amendments.”

The Town Hall meeting will not include a comprehensive discussion and exchange of ideas on the Charter changes – the pros and cons – for each public speaker is typically given only 3 minutes to address even this voluminous subject. Decisions were made by the City Council and staff on the proposals to be considered at the meeting.

Depending on citizen input on the proposals, the Council may or may not decide to place the changes on the November ballot.  The Council could defer action pending further consideration of unintended consequences and/or benefits to Piedmont. 

Some of the proposed amendments to the Charter are as follows: [The order of the City changes has been changed here to prioritize important issues first. The most significant proposed changes were previously placed by the City staff toward the end of their announcement, which might lead readers to assume the administrative changes are minor.] 

  • ” In Article 3 – Administration, several changes are proposed to clarify reporting structure for the Officers of the City (Department Heads). At the April 30th meeting, Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they are directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

This is one of the most important, if not the most important change being proposed to the City Charter. The above statement by the City hints at the split authority of the Council.  For example, the Council would appoint Department Heads, but the Council could not dismiss problem Department Heads, creating confusion and potential problems for the City Administrator, who would be the sole authority in dismissal, “serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.”

Department Heads in Piedmont have always served at the pleasure of the City Council and could be directed by the Council as a whole, but not by individual Council members.  For example, the Council might direct the Police Chief to step up night patrols: the Council might direct the Finance Director to find ways to save the City money; the Council might direct the Recreation Director to develop more programs for senior citizens. The Department Heads were held accountable to the City Council with advice from the City Administrator.

In meeting identified needs of citizens, the change proposed totally eliminates the Council’s authority to direct Department Heads.  The Council authority would  be transferred to the City Administrator.

Piedmont, as a small city, has thrived under the City Administrator form of government; the City Manager form of government found in other, many larger, cities, with a directly elected mayor, has the potential for creating new problems regarding Council authority and responsiveness to citizens.

  • ” In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.”

The General Fund Reserve limit of 25% originated from concern to not levy more taxes than was necessary to operate the City while providing an emergency reserve during an economic slump or great emergency.  The City Council and City staff in recent years have  diverted excess revenues from the significant property and transfer tax windfall into various fund reserves.  There is no language proposed to limit the Council’s ability to tax property owners.

  • ” In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.”

Bidding requirements are one way to publicly open up the procurement of public services, consultants, contractors, and other City needs rather than continuing with current contractors on a long term basis without going through an open bidding process.  Most  cities and the state encourage open bidding to benefit taxpayers and the community at large.

  • “The Council also directed staff to prepare amendments to several other sections of the Charter to remove outdated provisions and modernize language.”

This part of the City Charter proposals presents many questions for it is largely unidentified.  What  provisions and what antiquated language?  Why not list the outdated provisions? New Department Head positions have been added with no general public notice.  Is Piedmont’s bureaucracy inadequate to serve our small community? Once new positions are added to the Charter, employment cost can be greater and more permanent.

  • ” A modification of City Council term limits to lengthen the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office again from four to eight years after leaving office. (Section 2.03)”

The change listed above is of little impact for the City Council has only had two Council contenders seeking re-election after a 4 years hiatus. One contender was elected, the other was not.  Changing this in the Charter is of debatable value.

  •  “An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council to allow the Council sixty days to fill a vacancy. If the Council doesn’t act within those sixty days, a special election would be called to fill the vacancy. Under current provision, the Council has thirty days to make an appointment and if it doesn’t act, the Mayor can make an appointment. (Section 2.05(c))”

A thirty day period in which to fill a vacant Council seat is common for elective bodies.  Waiting 60 days to fill a vacant seat potentially leaves the Council vulnerable to inaction on important civic issues when there are only four members of the Council and a split vote occurs.  There has never been a time when the Council could not fill a vacant seat during the mandated thirty day period.

  • ” A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis. (Section 2.07 (a))\”

Councils throughout the area hold two or more regular Council meetings per month. Language could be proposed to accommodate changes in schedules. 

  • ” The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)”

Prohibition against employment discrimination is the law and does not require a Charter change.  Including the proposed language in the Charter will make no change to how Piedmont handles employment discrimination because Piedmont honorably and consistently follows state and federal laws barring discrimination.

  • ” The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments.”

The Board of Education must take a position on the City Charter changes by resolution. The details of the proposed changes are not noted here.

  • “A marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed amendments is available on the City’s web site at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.   Pursuant to section 9.07 of the Charter, any proposed amendments must be presented to the qualified voters of the City for approval.”

The marked up version has been difficult to follow, making the sweeping changes difficult for the public to understand.

  • “Public comment is invited and encouraged at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.
  • The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.”

The full staff report for the meeting can be accessed > HERE.

COMMENTS MAY BE SENT TO THE COUNCIL MEMBERS AS BELOW:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Betsy Smegal Andersen bandersen@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 420-3048 Unexpired Term Exp. 11/18
Jun 19 2018

City staff together with Groundworks Office, outside consultants for the Linda Beach Plan, have developed a framework to guide the next iteration of the Linda Beach Plan.

Based on robust feedback from the community, Park Commission, Recreation Commission and City Council on the 35% Linda Beach Master Plan Concept, City staff together with Groundworks Office has developed the following framework to guide the next iteration of the plan.

1. The Skate Spot will be removed from the master plan and a subcommittee of the Recreation Commission will study other spaces in Piedmont to potentially serve this need.

2. The Tot Lot will:
a. be designed to primarily serve children under the age of 5
b. be similar in size to the existing facility
c. keep kids contained in a safe area
d. have natural shade
e. be readily accessible by stroller with adequate stroller parking
f. have access to restrooms and changing tables

3. How and where to best serve the emerging desire for Pickleball in Piedmont will be studied by a Recreation Commission Subcommittee. In the meantime, Pickleball will be removed from the master plan.

4. Two Tennis Courts will remain in the plan but not at full regulation size. North-South orientation is preferred but not necessary.

5. Multi-age recreation opportunities (eg. bocce ball) will be explored for incorporation in the park.

6. Design will emphasize Linda Avenue as the main entry to the park including moving ADA access from Howard Avenue to Linda Avenue.

7. We will continue to examine opportunities for indoor recreation program space.

8. The park will include picnic tables and an area suitable for small gatherings like birthday parties.

9. Significant landscape buffers will be included along Howard Avenue.

10. A stormwater plan will be refined and clarified.

11. The park will be designed such that it can be closed and secured at night.

12. The Master Plan will acknowledge sensitivity to existing trees clearly identifying trees that will remain as well as conceptually noting replacement trees.

The City staff and Groundworks staff are currently working on adjustments to the Linda Beach Park project schedule, but tentatively, the next iteration of this plan is scheduled to be presented at a joint meeting of the Park and Recreation Commissions on September 5, 2018.

Jun 10 2018

Piedmont’s “new waste disposal contract” with Republic Services relies heavily on the company’s ability to properly recycle garden cuttings, kitchen waste, paper, plastics, glass, etc.  Questions have arisen as to whether Piedmont’s waste is actually being recycled or is merely headed to a landfill site?

Republic Services apparently was sending recycling to China. Recently China has decided to stop accepting it and our “recycling” will end up in landfill. At premium prices!

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/09/568797388/recycling-chaos-in-u-s-as-china-bans-foreign-waste

“Western states, which have relied the most on Chinese recycling plants, have been hit especially hard. In some areas — like Eugene, Oregon, and parts of Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii — local officials and garbage haulers will no longer accept certain items for recycling, in some cases refusing most plastics, glass and certain types of paper. Instead, they say, customers should throw these items in the trash.”

The Piedmont Civic Association made an inquiry to Piedmont’s provider, Republic Services in Richmond, asking about the destination of Piedmont’s recyclable waste.  There has been no response.  Our email, which was copied to the City Council, is below:

~~~~~~~

PCA

PIEDMONT CIVIC ASSOCIATION

June 1. 2018

——Media Inquiry—–

Republic Services

3260 Blume Drive, Suite 100

Richmond, CA 94806

piedmont@repsrv.com

Manager: Richmond, California, Republic Services

RE: Actual disposition of Piedmont, CA recyclable waste

Recently, the Piedmont Civic Association was informed, as validated by the New York Times on May 29, 2018, that much of Republic’s collected recyclable waste is going to landfills rather than going to reuse.

We are asking what is the disposition of Piedmont recyclables including glass, paper, plastic, etc.

The residents of Piedmont have exceeded their goals set for recycling waste materials and keeping reusable materials out of the landfills.

Please promptly reply to our inquiry so we may include your response in the forthcoming article on our well established website:

www.piedmontcivic.org

Thank you,

PCA Editors

editors@piedmontcivic.org

 

Jun 10 2018

Flawed process for changing the Piedmont City Charter has produced new issues and unknown rationale.  Concerns have focused on such proposals as: Unlimited reserve funds, changes to management of employees, elimination of Council bimonthly meetings, elimination of posted notices, and questionable designations of City officers. – 

The following letter was sent to the Piedmont City Council –

TO: City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov
RE: Comments Regarding Proposed Changes to City Charter June 3, 2018

Dear City Council:

I am writing to oppose the proposal to amend the City Charter, for two reasons: 1) process, and 2) substance.

PROCESS

I respectfully submit that the process is flawed and should be revisited. Here are some thoughts in that connection:

First, what is the problem we are trying to solve? Although the June 4, 2018 Staff Report states that the City Council has been discussing changes to the Charter since June 2017, it does not contain reasons for the proposed changes. Without a “statement of the problem,” how does the Council know what changes need to be made? And if we make changes to solve undefined problems, might the proposed changes create unintended consequences?

Second, what are the pros and cons of the proposed solutions to the problem? The Staff Report does not provide pros and cons, or alternative solutions to address perceived problems with the current Charter.

Third, shouldn’t workshops be held to determine the level of public support for the changes before they are submitted to Piedmont citizens for a vote? Deciding to put the Charter changes on the ballot without adequate public input is a backwards process.

SUBSTANCE

In addition to having serious concerns with the process the Council is following in this regard, I also have some substantive issues and questions:

Section 2.03. Because the Staff Report does not indicate what problem this “out of office” change attempts to solve, it’s not clear that this change is needed. If there is indeed a problem to be solved, and there’s public support for such change, a corresponding change should be made in Section 7.02 concerning the School Board.

Section 2.07 would delete the current requirement that the Council meet at least twice a month, and instead would only require that the Council meet “regularly.” This is totally inadequate. While I can understand that a twice monthly meeting requirement might be out of step with what is currently considered good governance and might make it difficult for some otherwise qualified candidates to serve on the Council, this change goes too far and could allow meetings only every other month, or quarterly. At a minimum, this section should provide for regular monthly meetings.

Section 2.08 states how the Mayor is selected. Should we consider having the Mayor be elected by the voters, as in many other communities?

Section 2.12(D) would eliminate the requirement to post ordinances on bulletin boards, in favor of using the City website. To ensure that citizens know they should look on the website for ordinances, I suggest that the City also be required to post a notice describing the ordinance (if not including the entire ordinance) in one or more newspapers of general circulation.

Article III’s changes are problematic. First, I’m not sure it is a good idea to give the City Administrator so much power without Piedmont having a citizen-elected Mayor to partner with the City Administrator. If public input indicates support for giving the City Administrator the power to manage and dismiss all City officers, but having the Council keep the authority to eliminate or consolidate these officer positions, then this Article should be overhauled completely (for instance, deleting from the Charter the listing of City officers, since if the Charter states that the City “shall” have certain officers, it’s unclear that the Council could eliminate such positions without an amendment to the Charter).

Section 4.03 proposes to eliminate the 25% ceiling on the General Fund Reserve. This proposal is outrageous. Piedmont’s taxes are much higher than those in comparable cities. Many (those on fixed incomes, or young couples, for instance) struggle to afford the current rates. While keeping adequate reserves is important, there’s been no case made by Staff or the Council that the City needs more than 25% in reserves. The cap should stay.

Section 4.10 governs franchises. It’s unclear what this section is intended to cover. Is this a section that should be considered for updating or deletion?

Section 4.11 proposes to eliminate the requirement that all public projects be competitively bid. This is unacceptable. A requirement to competitively bid ensures that public funds are spent wisely. Competitive bidding should be the rule, and deleting this language opens the door to wasting public funds.

Article V. If the Charter is being examined fully, the Council might consider whether most of the provisions of Article V belong in the Charter, or could instead be moved to an ordinance. While the updating of Section 5.02 is admirable, the law keeps changing. To eliminate the need to constantly update the Charter, it might be easier to simply say that the City will not discriminate on any prohibited basis.

Sincerely,
Kathleen Quenneville, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. 
Jun 5 2018
     In reply to Superintendent Booker’s response to my recent article “A Costly Mistake”, the salient issue is whether or not the high school can get by without adding eight portables for a period of three years. I am not an educator, but I can add and subtract.

    The high school now has 39 designated classrooms on the campus, two of which are used for other purposes. A normal school day includes seven periods. The Administration building currently has 8 classrooms used by 12 teachers for a total of 52 periods a day, nearly 100 per cent utilization of the 56 total periods. When the Admin building is demolished, there will be 31 classrooms remaining on the campus with a total of 217 teaching periods in each school day.

    The PHS Staff Directory provides the specific classroom and number of periods assigned in that classroom for each member of the faculty. My tabulation shows that at present the Math Science building has a surplus of 8 periods, the Library has a surplus of 18 periods, and MHS has a surplus of 28 teaching periods. If the district temporarily cancels out ceramics, MHS will have a surplus of 32 periods. Total underutilization will then be 58 of the 217 periods, six more than the 52 needed to accommodate all of the teachers on the staff including those displaced by demolition of the Admin building. The 31 remaining classrooms will be no more heavily used than are the existing classrooms in the Admin building — and for 1.5 years under my proposal instead of 3 years.

    Making enhanced use of the library conference room and subdividing just one of the existing classrooms into 4 smaller seminar rooms would provide additional flexibility. The PHS principal’s office can be conveniently relocated across the arcade to the rooms now occupied by the teacher’s lounge and teacher’s resource room in the library. Teachers might, in fact, benefit by sharing the student lounge with the students. And storage space, even if temporarily rented, is relatively easy to provide.

    Other issues may need to be resolved, but the high school can get by without adding eight portable classrooms, and the district could proceed now with the demolition of the Admin building. That much is indisputable.

William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Jun 2 2018

Piedmont City Council to Consider Proposed Charter Changes June 4, 2018, 7:30 p.m. City Hall:

If the City Administrator’s requests to change the City Charter are approved, the City Council could take a back seat in Piedmont’s governance.

Piedmont City Administrator Paul Benoit proposed eliminating the long-time appointment power of the City Council in the City Charter. 

The City Council has always appointed and hired key administrative positions – Police Chief, Fire Chief, City Clerk, Finance Director, Public Works Director, etc. However, the Council told Benoit on April 30, 2018 they wanted to retain the Council’s hiring authority per the City Charter.  Yet Benoit apparently convinced the Council that he, the City Administrator, should be the sole individual authorized to fire or terminate key managers, taking authority away from the Council in an unusual change to Council authority.

Readers will find the administrative changes repeatedly diminish the authority of the Council forfeiting their authority to the City Administrator.

The form of government proposed by Benoit is usually termed a City Manager form of government joined by a strong mayor, which Piedmont does not elect.  Oakland has a City Manager form of government as does Alameda and Astoria, Oregon, where Benoit was employed for many years prior to coming to Piedmont. Each of these cities have a separately elected Mayor.  Piedmont’s mayor is elected from within the Council  by the five Council members. 

Many are familiar with Oakland struggles, but perhaps less familiar with Alameda’s recent troubles when the Council terminated their City Manager over a hiring situation. Piedmont has not had such disruption and the City Council has worked collaboratively when selecting officers such as the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and others.  It has been stated that it is better to have 5 members of the Council selecting  the City officers rather than one unelected person – the City Administrator – making the selections and terminations.

Despite pleas for an independent committee to study and evaluate proposed changes to the Piedmont City Charter, none was formed by the City Council.  The Administration driven proposals have moved forward following a Council Study Session.  

This PCA article points out some of the critical issues, but as with any City Charter the devil is in the details, of which there are many.  The Council, apparently, will be presenting forums after they decide what should be placed on a Piedmont  November 2018 election ballot to seek required ratification

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Below are various changes noted by City staff as substantive.  Readers will note in the full draft linked below there are many other important issues.

   The pros and cons of the changes have not been presented by staff.

Important administrative changes of the Charter were listed last in the staff report linked below. The order has been changed here. 

  • ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROVERSY: Council would hire top managers, but could not fire them. In Article 3 – Administration – Council directed staff to clarify sections in this article to make clear that the City Council appoints Department Heads, but that they will be directed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator.
  • The Council acted against the recommendation of the City Administrator and decided to retain their long held ability to select and appoint (hire) Department Heads per the current Charter requirement appointments for Department Heads, while letting the City Administrator be the only individual who fire the Department heads.
  •   ISSUE: The Council relinquishment of their ability to also terminate (fire) Department Heads –  the Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Director, City Clerk, etc. presents potential new problems for the City Council authority.
  • New positions have been added to the list of permanent City of Piedmont positions.  The number of  Department Head employeeswill be permanently placed in the City Charter potentially making it more difficult to consolidate or eliminate positions. 
  •  ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL;  NO LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF RESERVE FUNDS. In Section 4.03, the limit on the General Fund Reserve of 25% is proposed for removal. In addition, an aspirational minimum for the General Fund Reserve of 15% of the General Fund operating budget is inserted.
  • Elimination of the amount of money the City can place in reserve, while continuing to tax property owners has been one of  the more noticed proposed changes to the City Charter.  The original goal of limiting reserves was to control taxation without a purpose. In recent years, the Council and Administration has circumvented the limitation by building up reserves in numerous specials funds presenting a bountiful amount of money stored by the millions for special purposes.   The change appears arbitrary. 
  • ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL: BIDDING and PURCHASING:  In Section 4.11, bidding requirements are changed to remove a low threshold for costly formal bidding requirements, rather leaving it to the Council to set the thresholds for formal bidding by ordinance.
  • Many City service providers are currently not obtained through a formal bidding process. Regardless of cost to the City, old friends, contractors,  and work companions often continue for years without ever going through a formal procurement process.  Some suggest Piedmont has not always performed due diligence with the millions of dollars spent for outside services and have suggested stronger language rather than more relaxed requirements. Piedmont adopted a stronger procurement, liability and project policy led by the League of Women Voters of Piedmont.  There has been no comment on the impact of the proposed Charter change to the policy. 
  •  
  •  The proposed amendments also modernize the prohibition against employment discrimination to include all classes protected under U.S. and state law. (Section 5.02)  This makes Piedmont Charter language compliant with U.S. and state law without impacting Piedmont’s current compliant practices.
  • The provision for filling vacancies on the Board of Education is changed to match the proposed amendments for the City Council, as described above for Section 2.05 (c). Staff consulted with the Piedmont Unified School District which agreed that this amendment, along with one other technical amendment to Article 7 should be included in the proposed amendments. There is no validation provide for the Board of Education position on the Charter change. 

POLITICAL: LIMITING SERVICE BY FORMER COUNCIL MEMBERS.  The proposal would increase the period of time during which a former Councilmember is ineligible to run for office from 4 to 8 years after leaving office.

 Only two Council members have in the past 3 decades attempted to be re-elected following 4 years of ineligibility.  One former Councilmember was not re-elected, another was elected, but recently resigned over a scandal.  A local newspaper’s publicity for those two candidates influenced the election more than the candidates’ efforts.

POLITICAL: HOW LONG SHOULD THE COUNCIL HAVE TO FILL A COUNCIL VACANCY.   An amendment to the provision for filling of vacancies on the City Council would be extended to allow the Council 60 days rather than just 30 days to fill a vacancy.

 Recent history has proven the Council has been able to readily fill numerous Council vacancies within the allotted 30 day time period. The intention of the Charter was to expeditiously fill a vacancy for a full Council composition of 5 members rather than unnecessarily remain at 4 or fewer members. 

  • CONTROVERSIAL: WHEN TO HOLD COUNCIL MEETINGS A requirement that the Council hold two regular meetings per month is eliminated. The proposed language would require the City Council to hold meetings on a regular basis.

    Change could be arbitrary. 

    Residents often plan their public participation schedules around knowing when the Council will meet  – the first and third Mondays of each month. With recent changes to the Zoning Code, not knowing when the Council will next meet to consider a matter opens up conflicting issues. From high school students to public participants, having regularly scheduled meetings, a standard for most cities,  is beneficial.  If three (the required amount) Council members cannot attend a regularly scheduled  meeting, then the meeting would fall to the next day or week. Going on the City Council is known to require certain meetings per month thus allowing the Council and public set dates for planning purposes. Scheduling of matters can be crucial to the consideration of many issues and the orderly functioning of government.  Reducing the frequency of Council meetings puts them at a disadvantage in providing the leadership the citizenry expects of their elected officials.

Amendments are also proposed to a number of other sections of the Charter to remove stated outdated provisions and modernize language. Click to read a marked up version of the Charter containing each of the proposed Charter amendments.

READ the full STAFF REPORT > HERE.

Citizens are invited and encouraged to comment at this meeting. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov or by US Mail to City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA  94611. All comments submitted will become part of the public record.

The meeting will be televised live on KCOM-TV, Channel 27, the City’s government TV station and will be available through streaming video on the City’s web site www.ci.piedmont.ca.us.

For further information, contact Assistant City Administrator/ City Clerk John O. Tulloch via email at cityclerk@piedmont.ca.gov or via phone at (510) 420-3040.

May 31 2018
A Costly Mistake

On November 8, 2016, following a well-orchestrated campaign, 73% of Piedmont voters supported a $66 million bond issue to modernize and add classrooms to the high school campus, which includes the Millennium High School.

Subsequently, the Board approved selection of an architectural firm (HKIT) and proceeded with a plan focusing on two major projects: a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) Building that is expected to cost $37.5 million, and a new Alan Harvey Theater costing $16.3 million. Together these projects, including necessary demolition, account for 81.5% of the $66 million bond and will take about three years to complete, during which time the schools will be without a theater. The STEAM building includes 19 classrooms, and the theater adds a drama classroom. Eight existing classrooms will be demolished, so the net gain will be 12 new classrooms, a 30% increase in the number of classrooms but with no new teachers added and only a modest increase projected in high school enrollment. The balance of the bond money will be spent on modernizing existing classrooms and other needed improvements on the campus.

In sequence, the approved plan is to demolish the theater in the summer of 2020, and construct a new three-story STEAM building on its site. When STEAM is completed, the existing Administration Building will be demolished, and a replacement theater with a drama classroom will be constructed on its site.

Well before the election, Superintendent Booker established a Facilities Steering Committee to report directly to him. This committee, a mix of school staff and Piedmont residents, reviewed the Facilities Master Plan prepared by QKA Architects that included a list of needed school projects that totaled an estimated $137 million, twice the district’s current bonding capacity. Hence, the list had to be cut in half. The committee then decided that the highest priority should be given to the high school and its need for more and better classrooms. After thoughtful deliberation, the committee decided on three site plan options for consideration, and these were the only options open for discussion at three Town Hall Meetings held in April, 2017.

At some point in the process, the committee was told, mistakenly in my opinion, that if the Administration building was demolished before the STEAM building was completed, the high school could not function without first installing eight portable classrooms at a cost of $5 million. This effectively eliminated one of the three options, and ultimately led to the Board’s adopted plan. Board President Sarah Pearson said, “One of the reasons rebuilding a new theater [on the site of the Administration building] became such an attractive option was because of the cost of interim housing and not having much space. It was the most pragmatic decision — not to put money in portables.”

The fact is that a careful review of the high school teachers and their assigned classrooms showed that the school could function perfectly well without the need for costly portables during construction.

My detailed analysis found that of the 39 designated classrooms, eight in the Administration Building are nearly fully utilized, but the remaining 31 are typically underutilized. In fact, one designated classroom is now being used for storage and another for school publications. There would be some minor inconveniences, but these are far outweighed by the multiple advantages of constructing a new STEAM building on the site of the existing Administration Building, and a new or revamped theater at its present location.

Total construction time and campus disruption would be cut in half from 3 to 1.5 years, a significant saving in construction cost escalation.Moreover, there is no immediate need to replace the theater. ADA access and other suggested improvements could be made at a cost of less than $10 million. Only minor structural upgrade is needed. If theater replacement is deferred until additional bonding capacity is available, first phase funds would be available to address the much-needed Middle School upgrades, a rational trade-off.

In December 2017, I sent an e-mail to the Board and staff outlining in detail how this could be accomplished. To date, I have received no substantive reply, except a comment by Dr. Pearson that it is too late to make these changes. I do not believe this. It took only about 4 months for the construction documents for the Alan Harvey Theater to be prepared in 2014. Similarly, HKIT could most assuredly revise the construction documents needed for the two buildings in a relatively short period of time. They would not be starting from scratch. Even if the two projects have already been submitted to the State Division of Architects — and I don’t know that they have— it is not too late to consider revisiting the issue and make these siting improvements given the multiple advantages of time and cost.

 William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
May 22 2018

The following is a letter provided by Piedmont Superintendent, Randall Booker, written and signed by all of the Superintendents in Alameda County. 

An Open Letter to California’s Next Governor

The children of California deserve better. They deserve better than underfunded schools, stretched resources, eliminated programs, and a lack of essential services. They deserve better than shuttered buildings, achievement gaps, and inequity.

They deserve great schools to match the fast-changing, dynamic world in which they will attempt to find their place. They deserve well-paid teachers, state-of-the-art facilities and technology, relevant and rigorous programs, small classes, and pathways to college and career.

They deserve more than merely “adequate.” They deserve more of the good news that Governor Brown delivered last month, when he announced an infusion of much-needed funding for public education.

Kofi Annan, the former General Secretary of the United Nations once said, “Education is the premise of progress in every society.” We could not agree more, and we seek a new leader in our state who agrees as well.

California public schools, which educate more than six million children in this great state, still face a serious fiscal crisis despite the recent increase in state funding, and we do not believe it needs to be this way. As the superintendents and educators who proudly represent the diverse, vibrant communities of Alameda County, we come directly to you as a candidate for the highest office in our state, demanding change to the troubling narrative of funding inadequacy and to make public education in our state the top priority.

We sincerely appreciate the current efforts to put more funding into the system. They are welcome and necessary. Yet we are still profoundly disappointed to be ranked dead last or at the bottom of every important measure of investment in our public schools. This is unacceptable.

Billions of dollars borrowed from our children’s schools over the past decade have yet to be restored to 2007-08 purchasing power levels after adjustments for inflation. Staggering burdens in new costs and unfunded mandates continue to saddle local school districts. It may be true that money is not the only solution to raising academic achievement, but when California ranks near the bottom of educational investment nationally, it has an unmistakably negative impact, especially in a thriving and globally competitive economy. Our state cannot afford to continue to shortchange our public education system, to handicap generations of young people. Because California is the 6th largest economy in the world, there is no excuse for the poor funding of our schools.

The consequences of insufficient funding for California schools are not difficult to spot:

  •  California ranks 48th nationally in student-to-teacher ratio
  •  48th in students-per-staff-member
  •  49th in the number of counselors we provide our students
  •  45th in percent of taxable income spent on education and
  •  46th in the nation in per-pupil spending

Does being No. 46 truly exemplify the Golden State’s value we place in one of our most treasured assets, our children? We don’t believe it does.

Forty years ago, California was in the top 10 in every meaningful category related to public education. We’ve lost our place, stuck among the bottom five states for the past decade, and, as a result, we’ve lost ground nationally on critical achievement measures.

As the state has attempted to restore education funding to the pre-budget-cut levels of the last decade, billions in new, mandated costs have amounted to giving with one hand and taking with the other. Last June, state leaders passed a budget providing $1.36 billion in new ongoing local funding to K-12 schools, yet legislators also demanded we pay an extra $1 billion in brand new costs in order to fix issues beyond our control. The new unfunded mandates passed on to school districts, including but not limited to increasing pension costs, do not move the needle on student achievement. These costs are frequently counted and referenced by legislators as if we have those dollars to spend on teaching and learning… when, in reality, we do not.

The impacts of these mandated costs are disastrous to school districts. We simply cannot continue to do more with less, and the days of making it work are over as pressures mount across the system. Districts are already significantly shortchanged for services required to educate students with disabilities. Schools will close. Programs will be cut. Our valued teachers will not be able to keep up with the cost of living in our expensive state and they will leave. Community confidence will be undermined by the difficult decisions that boards and leaders across the state need to make.

As you travel across California, you can see the grim reality that is now defining the future of our state. The economy, jobs, housing, healthcare, and crime are all issues that can be addressed only if California steps up to meet the daunting challenges of dramatic underinvestment in our schools. A real fiscal solvency crisis looms over our public schools, and you only need to examine reports by California School Boards Association (CSBA) and others to know the stark circumstances we face now.

It is not enough to provide one-time monies as a replacement for on-going, consistent funding. It is not nearly enough to raise school funding back to the purchasing power we had in 2007-2008, especially given that California ranked in the bottom of school funding nationally that year as well. We must aspire to greater outcomes for California students. We hope you will commit to robust, consistent education funding as a public investment that will provide the best possible return the state has ever realized. We seek your commitment to springboard California into the top 10 funded states in the nation in order to maintain our state’s place as a leading contributor to the world economy.

We want you to take responsibility with us for educating the children of California, and we will not wait quietly for that to happen. We will band together, and we will rally our communities to join us to speak up and speak out. We will support a new governor who shows leadership; one who seeks partnership. And we will loudly oppose anyone who is not willing to make the children of this state their highest priority.

We thank you for committing to the citizens of California at such a critical time. Our families and students need your help.

READ the entire letter HERE.

May 19 2018

Higher Parcel Taxes for Piedmont Services and Sewers –

The Piedmont City Council will meet at City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue, on Monday, May 21, 2018, 7:30 p.m. to consider the items on their AGENDA. The meeting will be broadcast live on Channel 27 and from the City website under online videos. 

05/21/18 – 2nd Reading of Ord. 744 N.S. Amending Chapter 9 (Garbage) of the City Code to Conform to the New Collection Services Agreement

05/21/18 – Presentation from Boy Scouts of America, Piedmont Council

05/21/18 – PUBLIC HEARING Regarding the Proposed Budget and Fee Proposals for FY 18-19 and the Levy of the Municipal Services Tax and Sewer Tax

Parcel taxes for City services and the Sewer Fund Tax are proposed to be increased. 

a. Presentation of Report from the Budget Advisory & Financial Planning Committee

b. Report on the FY 18-19 Budget Proposal

Majority of Piedmont’s costs are for personnel. Excerpt below:

“While continuing the cost-sharing agreements and significantly reducing our future obligations for retiree medical, the new contracts approved by the City Council include adjustments to base pay designed to bring employee compensation to within -3% of the median for comparable cities in our region.

In addition, employees will receive compensation adjustments in each of the next three years designed to result in a 3% annual net pay increase. These compensation changes, after almost 7 years of declining net pay, bring our employees closer to median a result in an overall 9% increase in salaries as compared to the prior year budget, which conservatively assumed a 2% salary increase. In addition, as compared to the prior year projection (2017-18), the most significant changes in personnel costs are as follows:

 Health Insurance – Increasing $266,400 over last year primarily due to an estimated 10% increase in medical premiums and the conversion of two positions from non-benefited to benefit eligible. Premiums are adjusted by health care providers on January 1, 2019 and any increase above the established baseline will be shared equally between the City and employees.

 Retirement – Employee retirement costs are increasing $248,900 over last year. After a 4- year phased approach to benefit cost sharing, all City employees have assumed the full cost of their “Employee Contribution” in 2017-18. In addition, employees will continue to contribute a portion of the Employer’s Contribution. In 2018-19, CalPERS will begin phasing in the lowering of the discount rate from 7.5% to 7.0%. As a result, the City expects its contribution and unfunded liability payments to increase by 10%. In total, the City expects to pay approximately 18.3% of salaries in 2018-19 compared to 17.0% in the prior year.”

05/21/18 – Consideration of the Default Electrical Service Option for East Bay Community Energy Residential Customers

Piedmont’s proposed environmentally focused electrical energy program will impact all Piedmont PG&E ratepayers. The City Council action being considered is an effort  to lessen the use of energy sources determined to harm the environment, such as gas, oil, and coal.

 READ the report above for an explanation. 

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To send comments to the City Council as a whole, and/or regarding a City Council agenda item, please email citycouncil@ci.piedmont.ca.us. <CLICK

To send via U.S. Mail, please use the following address:

City Council
City of Piedmont
120 Vista Avenue
Piedmont, CA 94611