Piedmont Neighborhood News

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City Council Candidate Q & A – John Chiang

Posted by Len Gilbert on January 25, 2010

Next up in our series of questions and answers is John Chiang, an incumbent. John’s answers below didn’t include the original questions, but you can reference them here.

John Chiang
City Council Candidate Questions

  1. Undergrounding

    1. I support private undergrounding utility districts, depending on the facts and circumstances for the particular district being formed, but they need to be restructured in the future so that the homeowners in the private undergrounding utility district cover all costs, including any cost overruns, and the City is not financially liable. The recent $1 million cost overrun has got to be one of the worst nightmares that the City Council had to face in many years. There was no right answer and the City Council had to choose the least costly alternative. The Council voted unanimously to complete the project to mitigate the damages and protect the City’s claim against the engineers whom the City relied upon. There will be a post-mortem review to be conducted by the Audit Committee of the City Council. Needless to say, I do not envision any private undergrounding utility districts being formed in the near future or for years until the process is restructured so that the City is not financially liable.
    2. I support the current minimum 70% threshold for determining if City Staff will spend time on a proposed private undergrounding utility district. As for the final approval, legally, if there is not a majority protest, the City Council has the latitude to approve the formation of the district. There is no bright-line test or legally required percentage to support the formation. Obviously, the higher the percentage of support the better, and it makes it an easier decision for the City Council. It all depends on the facts and circumstances, which is probably why there is not a mandated or stated minimum percentage requirement for approval. Again, as stated in the above response, any future private undergrounding utility district formation will be structured so that the City is not financially liable and that all costs are to be borne by the homeowners in the district.
    3. As noted above, the entire process needs to be restructured, including whether the City continues to facilitate the construction, and if so, the contracts and assessments to the homeowners needs to be adjustable so that the City is not liable for any cost overruns. I have some ideas, but again, the Audit Committee will seek advice and have recommendations that will be presented.
  2. City Council Staff Oversight

    1. We need to review and establish the appropriate governance between City Management and the City Council. The City Administrator is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the City and the Council needs to review existing protocols and determine what if any policies or procedures should be changed or established. There is a balance and the Council should not be in the business of micro-managing the Staff. There should be some level of reasonable oversight and appropriate and timely communication between both parties. Projects in general have been running well for the past 20 years or so, and it’s unfortunate that we have experienced in 2009 what some might say was the “perfect storm”. The key is that we need to learn from this fiasco and implement appropriate governance and procedures so that there is not a reoccurrence.
    2. I believe that there should be some dollar threshold levels for any change orders for major projects, but there has to be an appropriate balance. All major projects receive City Council approval before any dollars are appropriated for any given project.
    3. More time for extraordinary items for the public to digest, including the City Council, is very desirable and helpful, but it’s not always possible, depending on the urgency of the matter and circumstances. Also, it’s not good practice for the staff to bring up issues prematurely without having all the current facts and figures. Again, it depends on the time sensitivity of the matter. Special City Council sessions are always an alternative for time sensitive and critical matters.
    4. Major projects are publicly noticed today. To the extent that major project details are presented to City Council for their approval before any appropriation, it’s already posted today on the City’s website.
    5. Performance reviews, and related criteria, of City Staff are personnel matters, and thus are confidential and not publicly disclosed. The goals of the City Administrator and each of his department heads are discussed during the budget planning process, but can change during the course of the year. The Council has implemented over a year ago a performance based management compensation plan for the City Administrator and his management team members, which includes specific individual goals and group or team goals.
    6. Regarding the issue of when changes to personnel are appropriate, again, this involves personnel matters and policies, which are confidential. In general, the negative range of outcomes for any manager’s performance could include a reprimand to termination, depending on the facts and circumstances.
  3. Parks

    1. Regarding Blair Park, there is in process an EIR and the Council and community are waiting for the outcome, report and future discussions on the findings. There is no question that there is the need for additional sports field space for our youth, especially with the change in the availability of the Alameda sports fields within 2 years. The evaluation of moving the corporation yard over to the Blair Park space was evaluated over 20 years ago. The end result was the decision to build Coaches Field, as it exists today. We can certainly look at this and other alternatives again.I value public/private partnerships and it’s how a number of great projects have been developed in town. Developing Blair Park is one option for additional sports field space that has been brought forth and is another example of a potential public/private project.
    2. There have been some preliminary discussions by some private citizens and I would support looking into the viability of purchasing the Davies Stadium, but it will realistically have to be a longer term option given the state of the current economy. On the flip side, it could be an opportunity for Piedmont, given the City of Oakland’s rising deficit.
    3. The city has evaluated some alternatives (e.g., Merritt College, the Mountain View Cemetery, etc.) and can look at other feasible alternatives or options. There is no one ideal or perfect solution. I am open to looking at other possible options.
    4. Yes, the current economic climate may present Piedmont with other alternatives or options as to sports field space, but it will take time and financial resources to identify and investigate the options.
    5. There are pros and cons with both artificial and natural turf. I would have to look at or get professional opinions as to the safety of artificial turf before making a final decision. Assuming that it can be demonstrated that artificial turf is safe and the total cost (including installation and maintenance) is less in the long run, I would favor artificial turf since you can get more field space time.
  4. Traffic and Transportation

    1. Pedestrian safety is very important, and especially involving our school children. There are a wide range of traffic calming options and alternatives. With the appropriate studies, I am supportive of speed reductions, especially near schools. I would start with the least evasive and cost effective alternatives. Enforcement is also important.
    2. I agree that there are pedestrian safety issues on Oakland Avenue, especially with excessive speeds. I would be supportive of revisiting the issue and putting it on the agenda for discussion. The last time this issue was discussed was several years ago and there was not Council agreement as to the best solution. We can also look at whether there are new traffic calming solutions available today that are cost effective and not intrusive. I recall that there were concerns with the solutions last time, including comments by some Council Members and the public’s concern that Oakland Avenue would look like or turn into a slalom ski run.
    3. Regarding connecting the existing bike lanes on Grand Avenue to the ones around Lake Merritt; that would be a great idea, which would require consensus and agreement with the City of Oakland and residents, in addition to the availability of funding. One possible funding source would be the Alameda County CMA which has as a focus the increased availability of bike lanes and congestion management relief. The bike lanes on Grand between Cambridge and Rose were one of the supporting arguments in support of the traffic signal that was funded by the Alameda County CMA and installed on Grand Avenue in that area. The last time a somewhat similar proposal for expansive bike lanes to and around Lake Merritt was discussed (I believe on Lakeshore Avenue), I recall that there were many opposition comments from Oakland residents as to the impact it may have on traffic plus safety issues. With the improvements around Lake Merritt today, maybe it’s time to test the waters again.
    4. As to further encouraging public transit, walking, biking – there were similar recommendations by the Environmental Task Force. We have an efficient casual car pool option available today. We need to further educate the members of our community. If there can be a reasonable and convenient public transportation alternative to connect our residents with BART, that might be another option to explore.
  5. Safety and Security

    1. The most recent Police Report for the calendar year 2009 showed that our crime statistics have increased over the prior year. Much of the increase appears to be “crimes of opportunity”. We need to continue and further educate our community of the importance of locking or securing our residences, being careful of our surroundings, not leaving valuables in our cars in plain sight, and other safety precautions. Crime Reports and Safety Precautions are posted on the City’s website and more can always be done. Our Police and Fire departments are more than willing to present safety precautions at neighborhood meetings.
    2. Yes, Piedmont Police should be regularly present in high traffic areas during commute and, including school drop off and pick up hours in the impacted areas of our city, to enforce speed limits and cell phone driving laws. Also, the parking of unmanned police cars is an additional effective deterrent that is utilized today.

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