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Archive for January 23rd, 2010

City Council Candidate Q & A – Julie Watters

Posted by Len Gilbert on January 23, 2010

Last week I sent out a series of questions to the Piedmont city council candidates. All candidates received the same questions and I’m publishing the answers as given, with only a minimum of formatting and editing consistency applied so you get a feel for the candidate’s style as well as their answers, which are in bold below.

I’m starting the series off with Julie Watters.

Julie Watters
City Council Candidate Questions

  1. Undergrounding

    1. Explain your position on city-supported undergrounding districts.
      The City has an official policy of not subsidizing undergrounding districts and should adhere to it. In the case of the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding District, the staff, and perhaps Council, failed to implement this policy for reasons as yet unclear. I believe we need an independent review of the circumstances that led to this problem so we can avoid it happening again. At the very least we should try to discover what the Council knew of the overruns and when they learned of them. We, as citizens, can hold our professional staff accountable only by holding our Council members accountable.
    2. Given the recent problems with the Piedmont Hills and the Sea View undergrounding districts, should the city require a yes-vote that is a higher percentage than a simple majority? Why or why not? If yes, what is a high enough threshold to ensure fairness for all the residents in a proposed district?
      Yes: in the past, the city has required a 60 percent vote and only recently changed to a 50 percent requirement. I believe the city should return to a 60 percent vote requirement. This has worked well in the past and the city has not shown a credible reason for changing the vote requirement.
    3. If you believe the city should support future undergrounding districts, what measures will you take to ensure the homeowners in the district pay the entire project cost and that the city is not liable for overruns?
      The city should conduct an independent audit to determine the cause of the Piedmont Hills District overrun. It should use the results of the audit to determine what policy changes are needed to ensure that taxpayers are never again required to subsidize private districts. The city should have standards for the level of engineering investigation that is needed in order to determine construction costs and ensure that a peer review of the engineers estimate is carried out. In addition, the budget should have a contingency that is adequate to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
  2. City Council Oversight of Staff

    1. How closely should the council oversee the city staff?
      The Council should hold the City Administrator responsible for the actions of staff.
    2. Recently city staff has made costly errors in the Havens Schoolmate placement and the PHUD cost overruns. Should there be dollar limits on the amounts that the public works director or city administrator can approve with higher amounts requiring council approval?
      Most cities have such limits and I believe Piedmont should also. For a city with a budget the size of Piedmont (with a $20 million dollar budget), I would recommend requiring Council approval for items in excess of $25,000
    3. Do you support posting Agendas and staff reports dealing with extraordinary items ahead of the legally mandated time frames in order to ensure that all residents and interested parties have the opportunity to participate in hearings? The legal requirement is 72 hours advance notice. How much time should the community have to review, investigate and digest the material before it is asked to comment on it?
      It would be difficult to have a hard and fast rule requiring posting in excess of the legal limit. However, the Council should set a goal for the City Administrator to review the Council meeting schedule and to the extent possible post extraordinary items at least a week in advance of a Council meeting. If the City Administrator cannot meet that goal, he should publicly explain why it cannot be met.
    4. Do you favor posting project plans, schedules, and drawings of all city projects on the city website at least 10 days prior to work beginning? If not, why not?
      This should be done. City projects are under the control of the City and tasks should be scheduled so there is ample opportunity for community review.
    5. What criteria and methodology does the City Council use to assess the performance of the City Administrator? Do you think that the criteria and methodology are adequate? If not, what changes to the process would you recommend?
      It would be appropriate to review the process in light of the problems recently uncovered. This should be done, however, after the City conducts an independent audit of the events that led us to the overrun.
    6. The stability of Piedmont’s government has both beneficial and detrimental aspects, please describe these and identify if, or when, a change in personnel in some area of city administration might be beneficial?
      As noted earlier, the City Council should hold the City Administrator responsible for the performance of his staff. The Council should establish clear goals for staff performance and hold the management responsible for implementing those goals.
  3. Parks

    1. What is your position on the proposed development of Blair Park? Would your position change if the Blair project were scaled back slightly and moved across the Moraga Avenue to the corporation yard? Have you considered moving the corporation yard, possibly even to Oakland, so that that large piece of relatively flat land could be used to expand the existing field at Coaches Field?

      The Council has been warned by the City Administrator and Municipal Tax Review Committee that new capital projects cannot be undertaken without raising taxes or cutting services. The Blair Park project will require a currently unknown capital investment from the City. I do not believe the City will be in a position to make such an investment for several years. And when it is, the issue of how to finance capital replacement at the pool will be pressing. I believe that an investment in the pool ranks first because the pool is a”fact on the ground” and serves a broader segment of the community than a sports complex. The City, moreover, has committed more than $1.2 million over the last several years to play fields at both Beach and Havens Schools. The city staff has acknowledged that the EIR is costing the city general fund over $200,000 in addition to the private contributions. In addition, the EIR is only adequate for the proposed plan. If the plans change after the EIR is completed, additional funds will have to be spent on an addendum to the EIR or an entirely new EIR. The Blair Park plan should have received review by the Parks and Recreation and the Planning Commission prior to beginning the EIR. I am very concerned about the impact of the sports complex on traffic, safety and the environment. Moving the corporation yard, even to Oakland, may be perfectly reasonable, depending on where land could be found and how convenient it could be to city operations. I would be concerned about expanding the existing field at Coaches Field if it has an adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

    2. Tennis club. Should Piedmont approach Oakland about buying this land?

      The city should first determine for what purpose it would likely use the land. If it were to remain a tennis club, there would be no reason to buy the land. If it were to be another use, the city should determine what that use would be and have a citywide discussion. As noted above, the City Administrator has stated the city cannot take on any new Capital Improvement Projects without cutting services and/or raising taxes. Spending on a tennis club means not spending on other CIP projects, such as pool rehabilitation. The City needs to prioritize how it uses its funds. In addition, any new facilities would require maintenance and operation funds. The city has very limited funds to spend. Therefore it should not take on additional costs without understanding what services would need to be cut or how much the municipal services tax would need to be raised.

    3. Do you believe that the City has investigated all possible options for new sports facilities in or near Piedmont?

      No I do not.

    4. Do you think that the current economic climate might present Piedmont with an opportunity to investigate or review options for sports facilities located nearby in Oakland, Emeryville or Alameda?
      Yes, I pledge
      that if I am on the Council, Piedmont will look at all viable opportunities for more soccer fields.
    5. In general, do you favor artificial or natural turf for play field surfaces? Why?

      The community involvement, dialogue and process used to determine the appropriate playfield turf and padding material for the Havens fields was a good example of the open process needed. I think the question of artificial v. natural turf has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. There are many issues including: Financial – we must balance initial cost, maintenance costs and replacement costs; Use- what sports will be played on the field, how often will it be used, safety concerns; Environmental – sunlight exposure, sustainability, ground tires vs. organic corn husks, fertilizer, herbicides, etc.; Location – drainage, access, security.

  4. Traffic and Transportation

    1. Traffic calming is important to Piedmont’s residential and school-oriented lifestyle. Linda Avenue, Oakland Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Moraga Avenue all have large volumes of traffic, frequently driving faster than posted limits. Efforts at traffic calming have been proposed, but only the Linda Avenue cross walk has been implemented. What is your position on reducing the speed of traffic and improving pedestrian safety?

      Traffic calming can be a very effective means of slowing traffic and we need to fully investigate how to best utilize available methods. I believe we can improve pedestrian safety throughout the city by working with the schools to address students’ needs and utilizing the new General Plan to address those of adults.

    2. Despite having received a report that Oakland Avenue is dangerous, the city has undertaken no action to implement traffic calming or otherwise improve pedestrian safety on that street. Would you make pedestrian safety on city streets a priority during the next term and how would you do that?
      The Oakland Avenue situation needs to be addressed immediately. At a minimum, there is a need for an established plan that determines the most cost effective way to improve the situation. Grants are often available to improve pedestrian safety, but the city must develop concrete actions to be taken first. The Transportation Element of the new General Plan has an excellent discussion of pedestrian safety and an inventory of pedestrian pathways. We can use this element to develop a “Pedestrian Master Plan,” such as the ones developed in Alameda County and the City of Oakland.
    3. What is your position on bicycle lanes connecting our current bike lane (on Grand between Cambridge and Rose) to the Grand Avenue bike lanes being developed around Lake Merritt?

      This would be an excellent enhancement for bicycle riders in the entire area. The City should work with Oakland and aggressively pursue grant funding. The General Plan Transportation Element has a listing of the numerous grant-funding sources that can be pursued.

    4. What can Piedmont do to further encourage public transit, car pooling, walking, and biking for local activities?
      The Transportation Element of the General Plan has an extremely useful discussion of how we can encourage all of these activities. We need to aggressively pursue these options.
  5. Safety and Security

    1. Piedmont is generally safe. What do you see as the major public safety issue facing residents? How do you propose city council address those issues (if any)?

      Theft, burglary, and traffic and pedestrian accidents are major public safety issues. We are fortunate to have a Police and Fire Department committed to the community and extremely responsive to problems. The Council should address these issues by ensuring that one of the city’s highest spending priorities is support of public safety.

    2. Should the Piedmont Police be regularly present in high traffic areas during morning and afternoon commute hours to enforce speed and cell phone driving laws? Many of our major streets are used by Oakland residents as commute through-ways and those drivers may not be aware of our lower speed limits or that there are school children crossing Oakland, Grand, and Linda Avenues.

      I generally do not favor Council involvement in the day-to-day management of public safety professionals. I am, however, sympathetic to the argument that our police should have greater presence in the busiest areas of the City particularly near our schools at the start and end of the school day. I favor asking our public safety professionals to assess the costs and benefits of such a program.

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