Piedmont Neighborhood News

What's happening in Piedmont, CA

Candidate Q & A – Garrett Keating

Posted by Len Gilbert on January 26, 2010

Below are Garrett Keating’s answers to the candidate questions.

You can also read responses by Julie Watters, Jeff Wieler, and John Chiang.

  1. Undergrounding

    1. Explain your position on city-supported undergrounding districts.

      It is established city policy that General Funds not be used to pay for undergrounding. Piedmont does facilitate private undergrounding through the management of project bidding and oversight of construction by city staff. I support both policies but clearly we need to revisit the management/oversight service the city provides to these undergrounding projects. In providing this service to the districts, the city should not assume any responsibility for cost over runs, bond payments or legal liability for these private projects. Recent management of the Piedmont Hills Undergrounding District has identified deficiencies in the contracts and oversight of these projects that can expose the city to liability and those deficiencies need to be corrected. Regarding cost over runs, there needs to be a mechanism to prevent the city from having to use public funds to complete a private project. The most efficient way to do this would be to factor an appropriate contingency into the property assessments for the project. Unused contingency would be returned to the property owners. As to the city’s liability, stronger language releasing the city from liability is needed in its agreements with the private undergrounding districts.

    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?

      First, I think many residents are not clear on the city undergrounding policy and need some background. In Piedmont, the private undergrounding of neighborhood utilities starts when 70% of the properties of a proposed district sign a petition to obtain cost estimates and conduct a neighborhood vote. Once the vote is taken, assuming a majority of the district votes in favor, City Council has the discretion to accept that vote and have the assessments liened against the properties. Council’s decision binds all the properties in a district to pay the assessment, which can range from $25,000 to $50,000 per household. In Piedmont, district votes historically achieved majorities of over 70% but recent votes have fallen below 60%. Local governments have the authority to set specific vote thresholds for what is an acceptable level of majority support. For example, Tiburon, Sausalito and Berkeley have required at least a 60% majority vote for districts to be approved. In Piedmont, each district is approved by Council on a case-by-case basis and that has lead to different approval standards and problematic Council voting—at times, council members have been recused from voting, resulting in a deadlocked council or a reduced 3-vote body. City Council should adopt a 60% majority vote standard to improve neighborhood support for these districts and reduce the contentious debates that have arisen about undergrounding.

    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 not take on any risk in these private undergrounding projects and the simplest answer is to factor a contingency into the private assessments that covers the potential for cost overruns. This has been the contractual approach to undergrounding in Piedmont—geotechnical and soils testing apparently have never been conducted for undergrounding but instead a “rock clause” and large contingency were included in previous contracts to cover potential over runs – and previous undergrounding projects came in at or under budget with this approach. With Piedmont Hills, the contingency was not nearly sufficient and the city found itself in a position where it incurred charges but could not collect additional funds from the district in time. Assessments prepared in advance of the neighborhood vote have to present a range of the potential cost to the property owner thereby giving the city authority to apply additional liens to the properties in the district if the project goes over budget.

  2. City Council Oversight of Staff

    1. How closely should the council oversee the city staff?

      Oversight of staff is the responsibility of the City Administrator and the performance of city managers should be considered in his annual evaluation. City Council recently adopted a performance-based compensation system that links salary raises for the city managers to performance. At its annual budget session, Council adopts goals and objectives for the City Administrator and it can charge him or her to do a better job of staff oversight if Council perceives a problem. These annual goals and the performance criteria are determined each year at the June budget session and should be put on a meeting agenda for public comment.

    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?

      It is the job of City staff to manage projects and see that projects adhere to the budget and specifications. Unforeseen circumstances come with any project and staff should have discretion to spend funds to sustain an ongoing project to avoid costly delays. That discretion is limited by the overall project budget and staff cannot take actions that would jeopardize a project so spending limits are appropriate to ensure cost control and council oversight.

      In addition to spending controls, better communication between staff and Council is needed and Havens SM and PHUD offer examples of this. The underground gas line at the Havens SM site was known to the construction manager who claims PG&E informed him the gas line was inactive but was later told the line was active. The verification of that information was not the responsibility of city staff but it should have been confirmed earlier in the siting process. PHUD is just the opposite—the potential for bed rock to influence the cost and completion date of this project was accounted for in the contracts and so its discovery in July should have alerted staff to potential cost overruns and delays and the need to notify Council. Both projects show the need to inform City Council about significant changes to projects as soon as possible so Council can direct what actions for staff to take. In particular, with PHUD, staff continued work on the project without the available funds to complete it. Dollar limits may have prevented this but staff should have informed City Council of its negotiations with the contractor and the overruns as they occurred.

    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?

      Meeting agendas are determined by the city administrator and mayor, often well in advance of the 72 hour requirement and draft agendas certainly should be posted with more advance notice to the public. At the end of each Council meeting, staff could at least provide comment on what the likely agenda items will be at the next meeting. Staff should be given the 72 hour deadline to complete reports but if they are detailed or controversial, I always have supported holding over items to the next meeting to obtain public comment and staff should be expected to account for such comment periods. That did not occur with the PHUD matter and a special meeting was required to allow sufficient public notice and comment. Publishing meeting agendas earlier would likely increase public comment and thereby provide Council with more direction. Staff should avoid scheduling hearings at Council or Commissions during the holidays and school vacation weeks.

      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?

      Yes when feasible. I have worked closely with neighborhoods in the installation of a playground and other civic improvements and such a policy would have assisted the public process and proper completion of the projects.

    4. 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?

      Regarding methodology, the current Council adopted a performance-based compensation system for the management staff which is a vast improvement over the simple salary survey used previously. The system provides uniform measures of performance Council uses to evaluate the City Administrator and which we discuss in closed session. I think this has been an effective way to assess his performance. A major part of this process is the setting of annual goals for the administrator and management staff and that is not given enough attention by City Council in my opinion. Staff has ongoing services to maintain and this is a large part of staff’s responsibilities however Council needs set goals for staff to meet needs expressed by the community. I would make this a standing agenda item for Council to address publicly prior to adoption of the budget in June.

    5. 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?

      Because of its size, Piedmont has a small city staff that requires good coordination of effort to both provide city services and address new initiatives taken on by the city. This structure has benefited from the long-term service of our departments managers with most having 20+ years of service. It will be important to transition our management team in a way that captures this experience as managers retire. Council needs to align our management change-over with the long-term planning concepts for the city (sport fields, Civic Center, information technology) so that the experience of existing mangers can be transferred to new staff.

  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 Blair Park proposal has been brought forward by a group of residents who want to assist the city in developing additional field space, a goal I agree with. As designed, the plan requires extensive infrastructure to accommodate fields at Blair Park, which is the undeveloped piece of city property bordering Moraga Avenue across from Coaches Field. The Blair Park proposal is part of a larger project proposed for Moraga Canyon which includes the installation of artificial turf and field lighting at Coaches Field. The EIR currently being conducted for the Moraga Canyon project will provide valuable information on the impacts of this proposal on traffic on Moraga Avenue and on the neighborhoods around the canyon. The canyon has some potential for field expansion and we need to carefully evaluate that through an EIR process and our commissions before we can proceed with any project.

      Once the EIR is completed, I support evaluating all options available for meeting the field space needs of the city. There are several field options for the city to consider. A city-sponsored commission previously recommended moving the Corporation Yard across to Blair Park and developing more field capacity in its place. Local colleges are soliciting proposals for the development of leased fields on their campuses. Neighboring communities have created a Joint Powers Agreement to develop the new fields on Route 80 at Gilman Avenue and are seeking new partners. Oakland-based soccer clubs have expressed interest in developing new fields and the potential for new fields in these communities needs to be considered. I certainly would consider relocation of the Corp Yard to a site in Oakland but need to know more about the costs and logistics. In addition to examining the feasibility of these different options, cost estimates and benefits of these field options need to be determined.

      Our goal should be to find the most cost-effective field option that provides the greatest increase in field space. I am the parent of three children playing sports and I know first-hand the limited practice time and travel burden our current field capacity places on families. The city’s current fiscal position cannot support the building a field at this time so the city should take the time now to review all options and engage the community in this decision.

    2. Davies Tennis Stadium

      I would direct staff to inquire about the purchase of Davies Stadium. The feasibility of converting this to useable field space would also need to be determined—I don’t think we need more tennis capacity. The City should contact the Oakland Recreation Department, the Oakland soccer clubs (Rockridge and Montclair) and Skyline Lacrosse Club to see if a coordinated effort of these groups could identify property in Oakland that can be used collectively. We do that now in Piedmont with several of these clubs.

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

      I think staff has started on this in that discussions were held with Merritt College and Mountain view Cemetery but more investigation of these and other options is needed. What field space we can build in Piedmont most likely won’t be regulation-size for our oldest players so it would be advisable to have some access to regulations-size fields as we do now in Alameda.

    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. The City should contact the Recreation Departments of these neighboring communities to see if joint projects are a possibility.

    5. In general, do you favor artificial or natural turf for play field surfaces? Why?

      In general I support natural turf but in Piedmont, it depends on the location. Low spots like Linda Beach and Witter could not support grass due to ground saturation but I think Coaches Field, equipped with better drainage, could and it would give our children more play surface options. And I think a grass field at Coaches is better for the environment in that area of Piedmont—the grass field provides habitat to of wildlife that is valued by the neighborhoods around Coaches.

      I reviewed the Calendar Report prepared for the installation of artificial turf at Coaches and it found no difference in the safety of the two surfaces. The major benefit of artificial turf is the increased playing time and we do need that in Piedmont. As we investigate new field options in the coming years it may be possible to find more of a balance between artificial and natural turf in Piedmont.

  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?

      The traffic analysis for the General Plan predicts an increase in traffic volume on many of Piedmont’s connector streets—Linda, Moraga, Grand and Oakland Avenues—due mainly to increased commuter traffic. And the 2008 speed survey found increases on many of these same streets compared to 5 years ago. This increased speed was the reason for the new crosswalk on Linda Avenue that I and others initiated and we should look at improving pedestrian safety on other streets where speeds have increased as well. I support efforts to reduce speeding and improve pedestrian safety and hope to do so as a coordinated effort to improve bike access to and reduce cars in the Civic Center.

    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?

      When Council rejected the traffic island proposal for Oakland Avenue, it did implement a crossing guard at El Cerrito Avenue and that has improved safety on Oakland Avenue during the school day. With the imminent opening of the new Havens School, the City should study the new traffic patterns that develop and revisit traffic solutions for Oakland Avenue. My amendment to the General Plan changing Oakland Avenue pedestrian safety from a 5-year priority to a 2-year priority will ensure that the next Council addresses this problem. With two children going to school in the Civic Center, I frequently cross El Cerrito Avenue, on foot and by car, and there is a sight-line problem at that intersection that the city could address immediately with very little funds. And a single traffic island at the Fairview/Latham/Jerome intersection might also reduce speeds on that stretch of Oakland Avenue. These are two low-cost options the city can undertake but the city does need to examine the entire street and design a comprehensive traffic solution.

    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?

      I cross this bike lane every day and it is highly used by commuters and recreational cyclers so extending it makes sense. I would need to see how it could be designed—many residents and businesses on that section of Grand rely on the street parking so that would have to be preserved.

    4. What can Piedmont do to further encourage public transit, car pooling, walking, and biking for local activities?

      Piedmont can take fairly simple steps to reduce automobile use and many are spelled out in the General Plan and draft Climate Action Plan. Access to public transit in Piedmont is very good and better coordination among users of public transit and the casual car pool could increase its use. The city could facilitate this by developing more car pool zones in town. Simple infrastructure can increase biking and walking—more bike lanes and locking stations, more “wheel-friendly” walkways for bikes and strollers, and incentives at the school district to reduce automobile use. I have been requesting that city staff send representation to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans Working Group which will be updating Alameda County’s Countywide Pedestrian and Bicycle Plans over the next year and a half.

  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)?

      I see burglary and robbery as the two major public safety issues. The incidence of these crimes is low but they have slowly increased in my four years on City Council and present the greatest risk of physical harm to our residents. Burglaries actually declined in the 4th quarter of 2009 and this coincided with direction from Council to the Police Department to take steps to increase public awareness of crime prevention tips. More diligent outreach from the Police Department to residents to implement these prevention tips and to set up neighborhood Crime Watch groups is needed. I would like to see increased patrols in those neighborhoods where robberies have occurred.

    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.

      Yes, the Police Department should target specific high-traffic areas for increased patrol during school commute hours.

Note: Garrett was unavailable earlier; his responses came to me after the other candidate responses were submitted and Julie and Jeff’s had been published.

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One Response to “Candidate Q & A – Garrett Keating”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Len Gilbert, Don Ahern. Don Ahern said: Candidate Q & A – Garrett Keating « Piedmont Neighborhood News: I support efforts to reduce speeding and improve p… http://bit.ly/b3KFhz […]

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