Piedmont Neighborhood News

What's happening in Piedmont, CA

Time To Vote; Vote For Ryan

Posted by drewbendon on March 3, 2008

In Piedmont we are extremely fortunate to have wealth, a good school system, parks and playfields, community activities and events and a beautiful environment. It’s easy to see the appeal of the status quo and why we might look askance at someone new who comes in and says we can change things for the better.

But change is critical component of progress. Through the lens of history we see radical ideas (democracy, abolitionism, women’s suffrage, etc.) become more than just mainstream, but fundamental tenants of our society. Because of my belief in the positive power of change, the ideas behind phrases like “we’ve always done it this way,” or “this is how we do it” are anathema to me – particularly in the context of political discourse. For the same reason I strongly value critical thinking, open and honest discourse and a public process that is informative, engaging and inclusive.

The Piedmonter, the Post and many supporters of Dean Barbieri and Margaret Fujioka have argued against the candidacy of Ryan Gilbert because he has not lived here a long time and has not served the requisite time on any of the commissions or committees in our community. That rationale perpetuates the status quo and limits the voices of newcomers, most of the people with young children and perhaps most significantly, the people bearing the highest relative tax burden. Length of residency is not a legitimate pre-requisite to office.

I am supporting Ryan Gilbert because he has exhibited the characteristics I look for in a leader. He is bright, thoughtful, accessible, friendly, enthusiastic and worldly. He is willing to question the status quo where necessary. He is not constrained by the history of how things have always been done, but is open to new ideas. He is committed to a “greener” Piedmont and has the intellect and personality to bring that goal to fruition. Ryan has three young children and therefore an incredibly deep stake in what will happen in our town as they grow up.

I think Margaret Fujioka would make a fine city councilmember. She is thoughtful and well spoken and I believe her when she says that she can be a consensus builder. But she doesn’t strike me as a leader, or at least not the kind of leader we need now. I was disappointed that Margaret, as a long time resident, didn’t loudly and publicly condemn the personal attacks made on Ryan in the Post.

Dean Barbieri is running on the state of the city. I would argue that the state of the city is more the circumstance of the time in which councilmember Barbieri has held office than anything he’s done. And I think if you look more closely, you find reasons to take issue with his role on this city council.

Piedmont has very little retail business, so we don’t have any possibility of sales tax revenue. We rely instead on real estate transfer taxes and a parcel tax to fund our operations at the level to which we’ve become accustomed. In the recent past, real estate transfer tax revenues have been high, so high in fact, that the city council did not need to levy a parcel tax and was able to sock away large chunks of money for projects at Hampton, Coaches Field, and a reserve in case they had to take over the pool. And they spent a large sum of money on consultants for the general plan and the civic center master plan. The real estate slow down though will have an impact on Piedmont revenues in the coming council session. In this context, we are better served by the skills Ryan has amassed in business; the most critical of which may be the understanding that you need to have a realistic end goal before you embark down a particular path.

The current city council has moved forward with planning for a significant renovation of Hampton Field, field turf and possibly lighting at Coaches Field, and has fully embarked on an exceptionally expensive civic center master plan with a $4,000,000+ parking garage and a large new pool complex that could run in the tens of millions. There is no funding currently for the civic center project and how to fund the project has not been integrated into the planning process. If the community can’t or doesn’t want to fund the project, the significant sums spent on the consultant will be wasted.

Councilmember Barbieri’s involvement in several issues that have surfaced in this past Council term raise questions in my mind as to his judgment.

This Council has handled the pool lease poorly. The opponents of the Piedmont Swim Club (“PSC”) were primarily unhappy because there simply isn’t enough pool space in town for all of the users and they blamed this on the PSC. The city’s own consultant reported that under the circumstances, with the lack of capacity, the PSC was doing a fine job managing the pool and that it would cost the city $300,000 annually if it took over operation of the pool (this is because PSC members subsidize public uses of the pool). At that point it should have been clear that the fiscally responsible path would have been to renew the PSC lease for the length of time it would take to plan, fundraise and build new pool facilities – if that is truly what the community wants.  Alternatively, the city could have gone to the voters and asked them whether they’d like to have the city run the pool and budgeted the cost of pool operation. The city council dragged this issue out for years before it finally did enter into new a lease with the PSC which costs the city $114,000 in lost lease revenue from PSC over the term of the new lease.

A few years ago Piedmont Soccer Foundation (“PSF”) came to the recreation commission and the city council requesting an experimental program of (I think) 16 Sundays with games at Beach Field. A large contingent of Beach Field neighbors supported the proposal, a few did not. In rejecting PSF’s request, the councilmembers, including councilmember Barbieri, were swayed, in large part, by the argument of the few neighbors that owned their property when the field was built that they were “promised” that there would be no games on Sunday. That is simply a bad basis on which to make public policy. Circumstances change. When Beach Field was built fewer children participated in organized sports in Piedmont, there was no lacrosse and PSF wasn’t faced with losing field space in Alameda. In the meantime there has been significant turnover in the houses in the area. The PSF proposal should have been considered on its merits and not dismissed because of a bad public policy decision made years ago.

My objection to the city council’s handling of the recent playfield restrictions is here. Councilmember Barbieri supported the restrictions as drafted.

The city council, with councilmember Barbieri taking the lead, roundly rejected the request of the League of Women Voters and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District that Piedmont join 40 Bay Area cities and 8 counties in adopting some form of legislation regulating wood smoke. This patently anti-environmental stance ignored the “many scientific studies have been published that correlate rising [particulate matter] levels with serious health effects, such as asthma symptoms, decreased lung function, increased hospital admissions and even premature death.” Click here for more information on this issue.

I can’t divine how Ryan would have voted on any of these issues, but I am certain that he would have viewed them with an open mind, without pre-conceived ideas, with an understanding of the fiscal consequences and, on the wood smoke issue, with an understanding that we all are responsible for the stewardship of our environment. Please join me in voting for Ryan Gilbert.

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4 Responses to “Time To Vote; Vote For Ryan”

  1. The life of a newcomer in Piedmont politics can be rough. I remember the candidate walking our neighborhood, trying to generate support for his candidacy for city council. I spoke with him on my porch about his plans, about moving to Piedmont, trying to affect change. He and his wife had young children, younger than mine, but not much. I could relate. Yes, he spent more than council members do to get his name out, but he was new and didn’t have the experience on commissions or parent organizations that other candidates might have.

    Yes, I remember the day in 2002 that Abe Friedman, our current mayor, came to our house in his first bid for council. I like candidates who actually get out and try to meet and talk with the people they are supposed to represent instead of a small, closed group of insiders.

    That’s why I voted for Abe in 2002 and today I voted for Ryan Gilbert for council.

  2. mannymyers said

    Where as I totally agree about change and the need for in in communitues, to summarily say that just because things were set up in a way that you don’t agree with lacks historical information. I refer to “In rejecting PSF’s request, the councilmembers, including councilmember Barbieri, were swayed, in large part, by the argument of the few neighbors that owned their property when the field was built that they were “promised” that there would be no games on Sunday. That is simply a bad basis on which to make public policy. Circumstances change. When Beach Field was built fewer children participated in organized sports in Piedmont, there was no lacrosse and PSF wasn’t faced with losing field space in Alameda. In the meantime there has been significant turnover in the houses in the area. The PSF proposal should have been considered on its merits and not dismissed because of a bad public policy decision made years ago.” It is not bad public policy when the goal is to get the fields in place with concensus building (I was on the TF2 [Turfed Field Task Force] and know all of the grueling hours and community meetings we held inorder to get all the fields we currently enjoy. And yes, we had issues with losing Alameda fields even then… And Lacrosse surfaced right at the beginning of the new fields, so it has always impacted them. Those neighbors that have been there for years were given certain guarantees about their quality of life issues and Sundays was the one hurdle that nearly scuttled citywide approval for that current field usage and field development. Piedmont has never been a community capable of supporting all of its athletic desires and never will be. Please be careful about “throwing out the old residents with the bath water.” I got my start here 45 years ago at Havens and toured all the way through the school district and then decided to come back for the schools as a parent. Frankly, it is Piedmont’s small town roots that also attracts people, so when things get thrust down people’s throats as “New Policy,” some of the old times will push back. It’s about community history as well as current events.
    BTW VOTE FOR RYAN G. I really like his perspective and in that respect, the old ways are not neccessarily the best ways. Good luck Ryan!

  3. drewbendon said

    Thank you very much for reading and for your comments. Please keep reading/commenting after the election. We want to promote public discussion of issues and respect all viewpoints. Len and I don’t always agree either.

    I would never suggest throwing out out any residents in any community discussion. On the contrary, I have repeatedly worked to improve public participation in Piedmont policy discussions.

    But I do maintain that governments shouldn’t make specific promises. Instead, I believe that government should provide a fair and open public process, consider the desires and concerns of the entire community, gather all of the relevant data, and in that context make decisions based on what is right for the community as a whole. Policy based on promises only perpetuates the “back door” dealings that appear to be a hallmark of Piedmont politics. Incidently, I don’t know that the result on Sunday soccer at Beach Field would necessarily been different if the process had been different. The city council still has a responsibility to the neighbors at Beach Field. What I object to is the manner in which the decision was made.

    Given the constant concern regarding field space/use I have repeatedly suggested that the city council should have the city (together with the school district) perform a comprehensive review of actual field availability and use, getting solid information from the schools, rec. dept. and the sports clubs about their “needs” and projections and then develop a comprehensive strategy to maximize all of our public resources – for all residents and uses – before they make any decisions regarding use, lights, turf, etc. on the community fields. The city may get a “windfall” in this arena if the “Becker Plan” goes through and a new Beach-sized field happens at Havens, but lets get that assessment going and let the public see it.

    By the way, I think you should know that I live directly accross from where the proposed field will be at Havens and that my house will be much closer to the play area than any home bordering Beach Field. Depending on the landscaping we will see and hear everything that goes on there. But, I do not expect anyone to promise me that there won’t be play on Sunday, or lights, or anything else that specific. What I expect from my government is that when use decisions are made, they’ll have all of the relevant facts and will apply an open, fair and comprehensive public process before any decision is made.

    Thanks again for reading,
    Drew

  4. raidrunner said

    I am compelled to put the thoughts and reactions I have shared with many over the past weeks down here. As you read this, you will “sense” frustration in the “tone” of my words.
    Unlike Ryan, Margaret, and Dean, I actually grew up in Piedmont, went through the school system, and decided to raise my family here with my wife, Sara, after we considered many other towns and cities in the Bay Area. I’ve seen the status quo, and what’s changed.
    Piedmont is a beautiful city. We have always had great schools and low crime, and generally great weather. We should, since it’s not cheap to get into Piedmont or stay. We’re fortunate to have great Recreation services, and a Public Works Department that does an amazing job keeping our city as clean and vivid as possible.
    The number of cars per household has increased, along with the “stuff” many residents can’t either organize or throw away in their garages. So our narrow streets are crowded with parked cars, especially Blair where Dean lives. Having survived the Oakland Hills fire, and provided on the spot emergency care since I was a critical care nurse at the time, I know how important it is for cities in the hills to have clear roads for emergency vehicles.
    Another change I see in Piedmont is the number of very large, residential construction jobs – many that are complete tear downs. I understand laws and regulations have changed, but “back in the day”, we didn’t have terms like “trophy properties” and “McMansions”. It’s interesting to see that few, if any, of the construction projects use “green” methods, like pre-fabrication offsite.
    The pool has always been institutional. As kids on the swim team, it didn’t matter. We were tired from our workouts and all that mattered was how cold was the water, how much chlorine was in it, and whether there was enough hot water for our showers. The available land foot print is not conducive towards a competitive swim facility. We’re not Heather Farms, unless the City would purchase/lease the Piedmont Reservoir land from EMBUD. There you have enough land to make a real aquatics center. As a former pro triathlete and trainer who has worked with the Cal swim team, I’d train my attention on that property than try and squeeze blood out of the current turnip.
    City planning, city maintenance, city innovations, and thriving, all require a skillset by those responsible for the work and City funding. We have allot of good ideas, but rather than having developed a cogent business plan for the city that includes a proforma with some quantitative measurement for the value proposition of the investments, such as Net Present Value, we tend to get spun up and spend money on activities that are later questioned.
    As a Park Commissioner, we and our colleagues on the Rec Commission, approved a wonderful design plan for Hampton Field. However, funding is an issue. We have allot of residents who want to “do something” with the pool. Again, we have no funds.
    So, what’s the plan? How and where are we going to get the funds? What is our City’s next 100 year plan? What’s the vision? How will we get there?
    These are questions that business executives and boards ask every day. Some struggle very hard to answer, and others struggle even harder to execute.
    People say, “Piedmont is a nice place.” Some say, “We can do more.” I’ll take it to another level, “We HAVE to do more.” By this I mean, Piedmonters need to get engaged and involved. Writing checks is nice, don’t get me wrong. But we need more residents to take charge of THEIR city. Show up and be heard. As a Park Commissioner, the only time we have an audience is when there is something that is going to impact an immediate, yet confined neighborhood. That’s not good enough. As I sit in my chair, I make decisions that impact us all, and the City. Who is holding me accountable? Did it matter to anyone that I am not an arborist, landscaper, designer, biologist, or some profession directly involved with flora, fauna, and design? I’m a businessman and clinician. I can appreciate the lenses which some of my fellow Commissioners apply towards our reviews. I know they appreciate my business lens. Together we make a strong team.
    So here’s my angst. I read allot of editorials bashing Ryan Gilbert. If he’s a “newcomer” who has not served time on any committees and commissions, then what has he done to deserve the rants that mature people took time and lots of energy to write, as well as our papers to print? Sure he opposed the undergrounding approach in his neighborhood. As a resident who cares for how our City “plans” and spends our money, I thought he did the right thing. I didn’t know him, but when I read and heard about his perspective, I thought, “Good for him”. The undergrounding in my area, which was the seminal project, really upset me, and my neighborhood due to the lack of planning that was done. In my business, planning misses like that result with terminations.
    My daughter who is 5 and learning to read, wanted me to read to her the letters. As I did, she would interject, “Daddy, why do those people sound angry?” I didn’t have a good response. She finished, “They don’t sound very nice. That means they can’t play with us.” When I got upset with our undergrounding debacle, I got engaged. I joined the Centennial Committee and later the Park Commission, rather than write letters to papers that can’t make a change, or take jabs at Council or Planning.
    So here’s my challenge for all those who challenged a “newcomer” with no experience: Regardless of whether Ryan is voted into office or not, I challenge all residents, but especially those who had so much negative energy projected at Ryan, to pick a commission and show up, get engaged, be heard, be active, and hold us commissioners, council, and Piedmont staff accountable. Not just for one meeting, but for a full year. At the end of the year, we will see whether we can re-purpose the negative energies into positive, and together heal as a City, together plan as a City, and together celebrate our incremental victories as a City. Looking ahead myself, if I ever decide to run for Council, please do me, yourself, and the City justice, by objectively scrutinizing me, my actions, and my candidacy based on attributes and skillset requirements other than my personal wealth, how long I have lived in Piedmont, campaign war chest, and other no-value add attributes.
    Let’s heal and move on.
    Respectfully,
    Jukka Valkonen

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