Feb 21 2018

Piedmont League of Women Voters Joins Individual Citizens Expressing Great Concern About the Lack of Citizen Participation and Quick Timing of Proposed Revisions to the City Charter – 

Councilmember Jen Cavenaugh suggested the newly proposed office holder limits appeared to be a solution looking for a problem.

As Piedmonters find out about proposed Piedmont City Charter changes, concern has grown.  In years past when important City Charter changes were proposed, community involvement was primary.  The majority of the City Council at their February 5, 2018 meeting made no attempt to require outreach to Piedmonters.  Only Councilmember Jen Cavenaugh desired more civic engagement prior to placement on the June ballot, which would postpone the Charter ballot to November, 2018.

The City Charter requires all proposed Charter changes be placed on a Piedmont ballot and approved by Piedmont voters prior to becoming law.

The Charter changes were agendized by Mayor Bob McBain and the City Administrator with little time for general public input.  After the February 5 introduction of Charter changes, the next Council meeting for consideration has been scheduled for March 5, 2018.  A Council meeting typically would have been held on February 20, following President’s Day of February 19, however that meeting was cancelled making the Monday, March 5, 2018 the next and last regularly scheduled Council meeting to take action on the ballot measure for it to qualify for the special election in June.

City Attorney Michelle Kenyon told the City Council the numerous changes to the Charter came from the City Administrator, the City Clerk and the Council members. The public was not involved or informed of Charter changes until release of the staff report for the February 5 Council meeting.

Mayor Bob McBain immediately suggested that the June 2018 ballot measure only offer two proposed Charter changes, which evolved to: 1. Exclude former two term officials from seeking public office until an eight-year waiting period has elapsed.  2. Remove from the Charter the budget limitation of 25% in Piedmont General Fund reserves. 

 The Council has shown interest in changing the limit on General Fund reserves from the current 25% limit. To avoid the accumulation of reserves in the General Fund, the Council has recently established various reserve funds where excess money has been placed in an effort to avoid exceeding the 25% limit. 

Cost to the City of up to $55,000 to vote on the Charter changes in June instead of November 2018.

The unexpected urgent placement of the ballot measure requires Council action within weeks of their first public introduction.  The incomplete and unavailable form of the possible ballot language must receive Council action by March 8 if it is to be on the June 2018 ballot.  (See Alameda County election deadlines below).  The expedited timing eliminates the opportunity for broad citizen participation prior to a ballot measure and would cost Piedmonters up to $55,000 than  waiting for the November election when there would be one ballot measure at a reduced cost. 

Some Council members suddenly want Charter changes for Special June Ballot, rather than waiting for November Election.

City Clerk John Tulloch told the Council that City Administrator Paul Benoit had informed the Superintendent of Education Randall Booker the Council wanted to place further limitations on out-of-office former officials seeking election to the Board of Education.   Benoit’s conversation took place prior to public information or Council consideration.

City Attorney Michelle Kenyon explained that the City Council and ultimately the voters rather than the School Board would make the decision on term limit requirements.  Kenyon acknowledged that this was an “important change” to the Charter.  

Importance of the Piedmont City Charter 

The Piedmont City Charter is the underlying legal basis of Piedmont governance.  Previously when significant changes to the City Charter were considered, a Charter Review Committee was appointed by the Council to review, carefully consider issues in open meetings, and then make recommendations to the Council.

The proposed Charter change limiting former office holders’ return to the City Council or School Board originated with Mayor Bob McBain.  McBain explained to the Council he had been approached about office holder term restrictions and had decided it would be beneficial to end prior officer holders ability to ever serve again.

McBain stated he felt it was unfair, and created an uneven election if past officeholders, who he referred to as “incumbents,” sought election after an absence of only 4 years.  He noted that many people want to serve and there are many volunteers.  This City Council has had the practice of recycling prior commissioners and committee members between the various boards, raising a question of the appointments excluding new willing volunteers. Though he had suggested a permanent exclusion, McBain was later convinced during the meeting that an eight year absence from  service was an acceptable time limit for an individual to once more seek election.

Council member Jen Cavenaugh stated that only one person in recent years had wanted to come back and returning past office holders were able to hit the ground running.  She was repeatedly interrupted by other Council members during the meeting when she attempted to speak. 

City Clerk John Tulloch had initiated outreach to other cities to see what exclusions on past officials they included  in their Charters.  He spoke of no outreach within Piedmont. 

On February 13, Mayor McBain and City Clerk Tulloch made a presentation to the School Board.   Following McBain and Tulloch’s presentation, the School Board was not prepared to take a position on the Charter changes.  See Superintendent’s report below.

The City Council has not taken final action to place the term limit issue on the June 2018 ballot and despite the School Board’s inaction, Mayor McBain preemptively proclaimed to the School Board that the service limits impacting the Board members would be on the June 2018 ballot and he hoped that the School Board would vote for the new limits on public service. 

McBain’s proclamation was on a split Council vote with Council member Cavenaugh seeking further information and citizen involvement prior to expending money for the ballot measure in June. 

Given the few past office holders out of office for only four years, the limitation and barring of candidates appeared to be targeting specific individuals.

Deadlines for June 2018 Election Ballot:

Close of Nomination Period for the June 5, 2018 Direct Primary Election –  March 09, 2018

Deadline to file Arguments In Favor/Against a Measure on the June 5, 2018 Direct Primary Election – March 14, 2018

Deadline to file Rebuttals to Arguments In Favor/Against a Measure on the June 5, 2018 Direct Primary Election – March 19, 2018

Ballot arguments are filed with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.


The Board of Education current Policy 9110 states in regard to terms of office:

“BB 9110 Board Bylaws Terms Of Office:  The Piedmont City Charter contains the following provisions relative to the Board of Education: 1. The Board shall consist of five members elected from the city at large for a term of four years. Board members shall be elected at the times and in the same manner provided for members of the city council. Only qualified voters of the city shall be eligible to hold the office of Board member. No person who has served two full consecutive terms as a members of the Board shall be eligible to hold office until one full intervening term of four years has elapsed. Any person who serves as a member of the Board for more than eighteen months of an unexpired term shall be considered to have served a full term.”


TO: Board of Education   FROM: Randall Booker, Superintendent  DATE: February 13, 2018   RE: POSSIBLE AMENDMENTS TO THE PIEDMONT CITY CHARTER



At its June 19. 2017 meeting, the Piedmont City Council directed staff to review the city charter and point out provisions that may be outdated. Subsequent to that meeting, Councilmembers also reviewed the charter and made suggestions regarding provisions they thought might need amendment.

At the February 5, 2018 City Council Meeting, City staff presented on the culmination of this review. As part of the discussion, a Councilmember suggested a possible revision of term limits (which in turn, could affect the [Piedmont Unified School District] PUSD School Board). City staff then requested direction from the City Council on further proposed Charter amendments and the possible placement on a ballot for consideration by Piedmont voters.

The following are the proposed changes that could specifically affect PUSD:

Article II – City Council
Section 2.03 Term of Office

Article VII – Public Schools
Section 7.02 Membership, Term of Office

Board Bylaw 9110

A question was raised as to whether Piedmont should amend the existing term limits provided for in the Charter. Currently, the Charter (and Board Bylaws) limits Councilmembers (and by extension Board of Education Members) to serving two consecutive terms. The current provision, however, does not prohibit a Councilmember (or Board Member) who has served two consecutive terms from running again after a full term (four years) has elapsed. The question for Council (and Board) consideration is whether there is a desire to impose stricter term limits than currently exist.

If there were such a desire, an option described for Council (and Board) consideration would be to limit Councilmembers (and Board Members) to serving two full terms in office. Should the Board wish to consider this option, both Section 2.03 and Board Bylaw 9110 would need to be revised as follows:

No person who has served two (2) full consecutive terms as member of the Board shall be eligible to hold such office again. until one full intervening term of four (4) years has elapsed. [Editors Note:  This appears to have been an error.]


Review the City’s proposed changes to the City Charter and, by extension, Board Bylaw 9110 and provide direction to the Superintendent.

Read the Piedmont League of Women Voters letter to the City Council HERE.

Feb 12 2018

Piedmont League of Women Voters has sent the following letter to the Piedmont City Council urging adequate community input prior to placing proposed Piedmont City Charter changes on the June or November ballot. 

February 9, 2018

Mayor Bob McBain

City of Piedmont

120 Vista Avenue Piedmont, CA 94611

Dear Mayor McBain,

The issue of revisions to the Piedmont City Charter and the governing of our city are of considerable concern to the Piedmont League of Women Voters (LWVP) and equally, I am sure, to all the residents of Piedmont. In fact, recently our League conducted an in-depth study and developed a position on local elections which, among other things, included criteria for selecting our mayor.

After viewing the City Council meeting of February 5th our board met and discussed the implications of the Council’s action regarding revisions to three items of the City Charter: term limits for the City Council and PUSD School Board, provisions for filling a vacant seat and general fund reserves. The quick timing of this action is of great concern because it does not allow for adequate community input and discourse between the Council and residents prior to adopting and placing these items on the June ballot.

The League of Women Voters has a position that “believes that democratic government depends upon informed and active participation at all levels of government. The League further believes that governmental bodies must protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.”

Therefore, LWVP urges a public meeting for a two-way discussion on these proposed charter changes so that the public has sufficient opportunity to share its input with the Council and for the Council to consider any revisions to the three proposals. If there is insufficient time for a two-way discussion with the public, we then urge the Council to reconsider its decision to put these charter changes on the June ballot.

In addition, with respect to those City Charter amendments proposed for the November ballot, we respectfully request that the City Council engage in a meaningful and adequate dialogue, as noted above, before any amendments are placed on the November ballot.


Katy Foulkes
President, League of Women Voters Piedmont

cc All City Council members

Paul Benoit, City Administrator

John Tulloch, City Clerk

PUSD School Board

LWVPiedmont,  325 Ramona Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94610 lwvpiedmont@gmail.com

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Feb 10 2018

Application Deadline Fri. Mar. 9th – 5:00 p.m.

The City of Piedmont is looking for a few talented volunteers for vacancies on commissions and committees. Interested residents may > apply online or download the > Application for Appointive Vacancy. Applications are due to City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue, on or before the deadline of Friday, March 9, 2018 at 5:00 p.m.

Commission/Committee No. of Vacancies No. of Incumbents Eligible for Reappointment
Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee 2 2
CIP Review Committee 1 1
Civil Service Commission 2 2
Park Commission 2 1
Parking Hearing Officer 1 0
Planning Commission 1 0
Police & Fire Pension Board 1 0
Public Safety Committee 2 2
Recreation Commission 1 1

Interviews with the City Council for these positions will be scheduled for the evening of Thursday, March 15, 2018. No appointments will be made without a Council interview.

You can read about the duties of the commissions and committees by clicking here.

Residents with questions are encouraged to call the City Clerk’s office at (510) 420-3040.

Feb 4 2018

Big changes have been suggested for how Piedmont is administered. 

City Administrator form of government is evolving toward City Manager form of government, further limits on Council terms, increase in tax funds held in reserve, reduced meeting requirements, etc.

On the Monday, February 5, 2018 Council agenda is an item that potentially starts a change to long held principles within the Piedmont City Charter. The City Charter is in the domain of the voters of Piedmont, who must approve any changes to the City Charter..

When the Charter was updated and revised approximately 35 years ago, a citizen Charter Review Committee appointed by the City Council was established to develop recommendations for City Council consideration.  After review of the recommendations, the City Council placed the recommended revised Charter on a Piedmont ballot, and it was readily approved by Piedmont voters.

The Piedmont City Charter specifies expenditures, revenues, budgeting, decisions to be made by the Council, decisions to be made by voters, personnel roles, zoning, loan mechanisms, etc.

City staff actions are subject to Council direction and Council action in many instances is subject to citizen approval of major issues such as zoning, taxation, borrowing, and reserve fund limits.  Some staff members over the years have resisted  the requirement of gaining Council approval in a public forum before taking action on policy matters.  The result has led to some policy actions taken without Council authorization.

The City Council has exceeded its authority in some instances, supporting a reinterpretation of the City Charter diminishing voter controls.

Recent issues questionable under the City Charter reinterpretation have been:

  • Election process for selecting a mayor following a resignation
  • Loans taken out without voter approval
  • Refusal to allow a citizen vote prior to making zone use changes

City Administrator form of government evolving toward City Manager form of government –

Piedmont has for generations benefited from its City Administrator form of government, giving citizens and their elected representatives the primary authority and responsibility over numerous governmental actions.  The proposed Charter changes in a number of instances would alter this authority.

Unlike the proposed changes, the City Council, rather than the City Administrator, currently has the responsibility to appoint the top administrators of the City.  Some of these positions include:

  •  Police Chief
  •  Fire Chief
  •  Public Works Director
  •  City Clerk
  •  City Engineer
  •  Finance Director

The process for changing the Piedmont City Charter, foundation of Piedmont governance, will receive consideration by the City Council on Monday, February 5, 2018, on how to proceed with review and any updating of the Charter.

Residents interested in following this issue can attend the meeting, observe the Council live on Cable Channel 27 or from the City website under videos. This item is last on the agenda.

Read the staff report regarding Charter changes HERE.

Read the agenda HERE.

Feb 3 2018
The following is a letter sent to the Piedmont City Council on February 2, 2018 regarding proposed changes to the Piedmont City Charter.
Several of the proposed changes to the City Charter seem to be a step back from the volunteer leadership that has served Piedmont well and reduce the ability for residents to observe and participate in their local governance.  Other than a logistical need to extend the period to allow for appointments, I don’t see how most of these recommended changes improve our local governance.  Specifically:
Section 2:03 Terms of Office:  No rationale for this change is provided in the staff report, so if the council member or members proposing this could elaborate, it would help Council and the community understand why this change is being considered.  Term limits offset entrenched politicians, and for better or worse do facilitate change.  But they dilute experience.  These limits are directed at political and entrenched interests, problems we do not face in Piedmont.  Our Council has always operated as non-partisan governance, based on volunteerism, which allows anyone to participate.  The current code acknowledges this with the 2-term limit and enhances that spirit by allowing experienced volunteers to run again. John Chiang, Michael Bruck, June Monarch, Chuck Chakratavula – Why would the city prevent these volunteers from serving again if they choose to?  There is no need to make this change and doing so sends the wrong message to the community.
Section 2.07 (A) Meetings:  from my experience the current schedule is essential to giving direction to and providing oversight of city staff.  Workshops could be conducted as regular meetings if the total workload is an issue. And a full August recess would be appropriate.  Recent events this past year –  the conduct of elected officials and school staff – have demonstrated a real value in holding regularly scheduled meetings – the ability for the public to attend and express opinions on rapid developments. This has been valuable to giving direction to Council and the implementation of swift action.
Section 2.12 – Ordinances in General: this is obviously needed.  I would advocate for more explicit notification of code changes that potentially have a material effect on someone’s property. For example, the set-back changes and right-of-way permissions adopted in the recent Chapter 17 revisions. These meetings were noticed, however the specific changes to set-back rules were not explicitly presented.  City notification should make these kinds of changes more apparent to residents.
Section 4.03  The Budget:  Examine the suggestion made in the staff report that the 25% CAP was historically intended to prevent wasteful spending. To the contrary, I’ve always heard it was intended to do just what it does now – be a reserve during downturns in revenue, which did happen in the past in Piedmont.  As transfer tax projections show, those downturns are becoming less and less likely and the current reserve level has more than adequately met such events.  With the downturn in 2008 the transfer tax was $1.7M and the city hardly skipped a beat.  No layoffs, no service reductions and within in 2 years the tax exceeded $3M.   Leave the reserve CAP as is and consider instead, mechanisms to forgo the municipal services tax in years of high transfer tax receipts – I recall we did this in 2012 when the transfer tax was $3.4M.  Consider the results of your recent community polling – 50% of respondents found housing costs to be problematic – should the city be stock-piling tax revenue when half of Piedmont households find housing costs too high? 
If you proceed with eliminating the CAP, consider a Charter change that would direct excess transfer tax revenue to the School District after a fixed level needed by the city has been achieved.  Unlike the city with it large reserves, the School District has little and is facing new mandates to set aside reserves that will drastically impact the service provided by the school district.  Ironically, it is the influx of new residents coming to Piedmont for the schools that are driving the windfall in municipal tax reserves.
Garrett Keating, Former Member of the City Council
Read the Council staff report HERE.
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Feb 1 2018

Recreation Supervisor Marissa Clavin Resigns  –   Michael Murphy Appointed Interim – 

Marissa Clavin has resigned her position as Recreation Supervisor for the City of Piedmont effective February 1, 2018. Her resignation comes on the heels of an extended medical leave.

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of the loss of Marissa Clavin on PRD,” said Recreation Director Sara Lillevand. “We are grateful for all she accomplished here in her relatively short tenure and wish her nothing but health and happiness in her future endeavors.”

Longtime Schoolmates Site Coordinator Michael Murphy has been appointed as Interim Recreation Supervisor to fill the newly vacant position. Mr. Murphy has served the City at Havens Schoolmates for more than 35 years and understands the inner workings of the Recreation Department as well as the Piedmont community. As a participant, coach, parent, and staff member, Mr. Murphy is well suited to oversee Piedmont Recreation Department (PRD) sports programs, which is one of the primary areas of responsibility of the position he is filling. He also has a thorough understanding of PRD Summer programming and will be able to provide solid leadership during the department’s busiest time of year.

“The Recreation Department is very fortunate that Michael Murphy will assume the role of Interim Recreation Supervisor,” Ms. Lillevand stated. “His knowledge of Recreation Department programs and the community make him a great fit for this position. I am grateful for his willingness to step up and in to the role of Recreation Supervisor.”

Longtime Wildwood Schoolmates Site Coordinator Sena Weidkamp will join David Hopkins to lead Havens Schoolmates for the remainder of the school year.

The search for a permanent Recreation Supervisor will be held off until decisions about future staffing models for the department are made.

Contact: Recreation Director Sara Lillevand – January 31, 2018 –     420-3070

Jan 26 2018

Let’s Talk!

Building a More Inclusive Piedmont Through Deliberative Dialogue” is a two-part workshop designed to help us engage in an enriching community dialogue to listen, learn, and understand one another better, respectfully.

These free workshops are on Monday, February 5, Saturday, Feb. 10, and Sunday, Feb. 11, have been created especially for the Piedmont community.

A free luncheon will be offered on Saturday and Sunday.

The workshops are a collaborative effort developed and paid for by the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee, PUSD, and the City of Piedmont with support from the Piedmont Education Fund.

Lets Talk! workshops teach skills we can use to engage in more civic discourse during these divisive times. We encourage attendees to sign up for one or both sessions: Session I is an introduction and identification/celebration of diversity in our community and Session II offers continued workshopping.

The workshop will be led by Sara Wicht, a developer of Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” curriculum and trainer used by Piedmont schools. Everyone, from middle school/high school students to golden agers, are welcome to these free workshops.

Lunch will be offered to all attendees on Saturday and Sunday. For more information about session topics and to register visit:>  www.padc.info/lets-talk-workshops.html

Monday, February 5 – Session I only

8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Piedmont Community Center

Saturday, February 10 

8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., Session I – Introduction (followed by a free community luncheon)

1:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Session II – Continued 

Piedmont Veterans’ Hall, 401 Highland Avenue 

Sunday, February 11 

8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Session I, Introduction (followed by a free community luncheon)
1:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Session II – Continued
Piedmont Veterans’ Hall, 401 Highland Avenue 

Free and for all Piedmont community members – please register: www.padc.info/lets-talk-workshops.html

Workshops have been developed and paid for by the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee, Piedmont Unified School District, and the City of Piedmont with support from the Piedmont Education Fund.

Dec 27 2017

Piedmont property owners face important property tax deduction changes on their 2018 income tax statements. 

This site does not provide tax advice, however there is information to indicate paying the full  2017-18 property tax by December 29, 2017 (Friday) may save taxpayers money because of the IRS deductibility rule changes for 2018.

Some property owners have wondered if they can pay even further ahead for 2018-19 taxes.  According to Alameda County Tax Collector Henry Levy, the answer is NO.  See below. 


Residential Homeowners Encouraged to Consider Paying Their Second Installment Property Taxes for 2017-18 Fiscal Year by December 31, 2017 to Maximize Potential Federal Income Tax Benefit

The Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector, Henry (Hank) Levy wants to remind all taxpayers, especially residential homeowners, that they may want to consider paying their second installment property taxes for 2017-18 fiscal year by December 31, 2017 (Sunday).

The due date for the second installment of the 2017-18 fiscal year property tax is February 1, 2018 and delinquent after April 10, 2018.

However, the new income tax law will limit the amount of the itemized deduction for property taxes paid after January 1, 2018. Taxpayers should check with their income tax advisors, but many taxpayers will lose an income tax benefit by waiting until next year to pay the second installment if the new income tax law is enacted.

Taxpayers can use all the payment options that are usually available. We at Alameda County recommend e-check payment option, which is payment through the web via a bank transfer called an ACH. However, taxpayers may continue to pay by cash, check, or credit card.

Visit the Alameda County website at www.acgov.org/propertytax or call the office at (510) 272-6800, if you need help locating your second installment voucher.

Unfortunately, the Alameda County office is not able to collect taxes for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Bills for that year will not be prepared until September, 2018.

Alameda County Tax Collector

Read an article regarding Alameda County Property Tax payments HERE.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors. 
Dec 19 2017

Dear Piedmont City Council Members,

In addition to questions of propriety and potential tricky First Amendment issues with the City being the Landlord for a press organization, and the potential optics of the Council being seen to essentially provide a subsidy to a news organization, both of which are very important to consider, I have some core public policy concerns around the decision to allow the Piedmont Center for the Arts  (PCA) to sublet City space to any commercial entity at market rates.

  1. The PCA has apparently stated to the Council that it cannot survive without this Sublet Rent

This in itself raises some very troubling questions about the financial stewardship and oversight by the Board of the PCA.  If this is true, it begs the question of whether the City needs active oversight of the PCA.  Here are the facts sourced from the Form 990 filings of the PCA, all which would seem to indicate that it is more than financially viable:

–          In its first 4 years of operations, the PCA was more than self-sustaining with income of $10,000 – $33,000 a year (average of $19k a year from 2012 – 2015)

–          Since its inception, the PCA has had an annual fund raising campaign with active solicitation letters and mailers sent out broadly to residents; the most recent one that I am aware of was in Oct/Nov 2015

–          The PCA has raised, on average, approximately $20k a year in donations from the community, separate and distinct from any revenue from program events, i.e. pure charitable contributions

–          During these years, its rental income from subleasing the space, was not that substantial: Bay Area Children’s Theater was paying $7,200/ year (through 2015)

Therefore, if something changed dramatically in 2016 that no longer makes the PCA financially viable, it begs the question as to what has changed so dramatically in programming and/or community support (donations)?  Either should be cause for concern for the City because one of the main contentions of the PCA when it was established was that it would be self-sustaining and would require no further support from the City.

  1. The PCA received a very generous donation of $100,000 in 2012, which more than guarantees its financial independence

In 2012, the PCA received $100,000 from the Thornborrow Foundation, in the form of an unrestricted grant.  This grant was invested and, to the best of what I can gather from the 990s, has over the years grown to $135,000 plus.

Given this more than generous endowment, and the fact that most of the PCA’s programming is self-sustaining (and if it is not, that raises the question of what has changed in the PCA’s mission), does it not raise the question of why the City of Piedmont should be further subsidizing the PCA to the tune of $50 – $70k a year?

In other words, if the PCA needed $x a year to be financially viable, they should have put that in the original lease and the City would then have considered the implications of giving that additional subsidy to the PCA.  The whole reason that was not necessary was that it was part of the original deal that the PCA made with the City, and what the City’s (and the public’s) understanding of the terms were: give us the building, we will raise funds to renovate it and then we will be completely independent from the City and self-sustaining.

[Extra information on the PCA’s programs: Artists’ rentals (raises revenue), Music recitals (pay for themselves through ticket sales), Juried Art Show (more than pays for itself through entry fees), Theater (??)]

  1. Allowing the PCA to sublet the space to a Commercial Renter is in effect the City increasing the PCA’s subsidy substantially

The financial terms of the original “contract” of the City with the PCA can best be summarized as: you, the PCA will renovate and maintain 801 Magnolia and use the space exclusively to bring Arts to the community.  In return, the City grants you use of the property for 10 years for a nominal rent.  Any way you look at it, this was the City subsidizing the PCA, albeit for a very community-beneficial cause, a cause that I fully support.  (God knows, there should be more set aside for the Arts everywhere!)  The subsidy in this instance being the rent the City could otherwise have obtained from renting out the space itself to a commercial renter for 10 years.

Now the PCA has come to the City and said that the best use for a part of the space is for it to be rented out commercially.  The City’s rationale in providing a heavily rent-subsidized property to the PCA was to facilitate the bringing of Arts to the community, which the PCA has done an admirable job of.  That was the underlying rationale for the economic subsidy (rent-free for 10 years).  Hence the initial sublet clause in the original lease was that any rental would be aligned to the mission of PCA, i.e. bringing arts to the community (and which was the case from 2012 – 2106).  If that whole use condition is removed, and the space can now be sublet to any commercial renter, the entire public policy rationale of giving subsidized rent to the PCA, on that portion of the property, goes away.  Put another way, by allowing the PCA to sublet out space that it is receiving from the City at a heavily subsidized rate (under one pretext), to a commercial entity (whose purpose is completely unrelated to the PCA’s mission), at market rates, is tantamount to the City providing the PCA a substantial, additional subsidy. 

The question for the City Council then is this: shouldn’t the revenue that the City could obtain from itself renting out this portion of 801 Magnolia (and other parts of the building which it has exclusive use of), be part of the City’s overall budget and spending priorities?  Why is a decision to grant the PCA a further subsidy of $50k – $70k a year being taken outside of the context of several other more crucial spending priorities of the City?

My issue is not whether or not the City should be subsidizing an arts organization – God knows we need more of that!  The issue is that this is taxpayer money, valuable revenue that could be used to defray the cost of other City services. Whether or not it is appropriate for the City to spend that much to subsidize the Arts is a question that is most appropriately considered along with other budget priorities of the City, in a more considered process, open to public comment like any other spending priority.  If fact, the very decision by the City to allow a tenant to lease space commercially is an economic decision that the Council and Staff should have vetted no differently than they vet any other spending decision by the City.  Secondly, given the size of the subsidy here, if the PCA is no longer financially viable as they now claim, should there not be oversight of how this money is spent?  Essentially, the City is handing over $50 – $70k worth of potential taxpayer monies to the PCA Board, without any accounting for how that money will be spent.

  1. Any appearance that the Piedmont Post is not paying Market Rent implies that the City is Subsidizing a News Organization

Is Council aware of the actual terms of the sublease between the PCA and the Piedmont Post?  If the Post is not paying what would be considered “market rent” for use of space in the heart of the city, with two parking spaces, then essentially the City, as the landlord, would be subsidizing the Post, which exposes the City to a potential First Amendment lawsuit and the Council members to potential accusations of conflict of interest.  The same holds to a lesser degree to any other commercial lessee, i.e. the City will be subsidizing the entity if it is not paying “market rent”.


Gautam Wadhwani

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Dec 18 2017

Newspaper had already received pre-approval from City Administrator for a sublease of the public property at 801 Magnolia that houses the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

At the December 18, 2017  Council meeting starting at approximately 10:00 p.m., the Piedmont Center for the Arts was given approval of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) allowing space to be sublet to one local news organization, The Piedmont Post. The Council approval was on a narrow vote of 3 for and 2 against.

Voting for the motion to approve were Mayor Robert McBain, who praised the newspaper, Vice Mayor Teddy King, who was eager for  approval, and Council Member Betsy Andersen, the newly appointed member of the Council, who inquired about the hours of operation.

Voting “no” on the motion to approve the CUP were Council Member Tim Rood, who had noted his disapproval of the Post and Jen Cavenaugh, who had many lingering unanswered questions regarding the lease and potential of gifting valuable city resources to a business.

Unbeknownst to the public, and evidently, the Council,  City Administrator Paul Benoit had already given permission to the Arts Center to sublet their space to the Post if approval of a Conditional Use Permit was granted by the Council.  Benoit stepped into the Council discussion supporting the Post’s usage of the building.

Numerous questions went unanswered: basis of the lease to the Arts Center’s ability to sublet or use the City’s property at 801 Magnolia for profit businesses, while denying non-profit usage, ability of City Administrator to grant permission to sublet the property without public involvement, hours of operation, unknown sublease conditions, amongst other matters.

The City Code and lease were recently changed by the Council to allow businesses in the Arts Center building.