Organized opposition to Piedmont’s parcel tax makes it very clear that the City Council presides over a divided electorate. This divide opened only in the last 5 years after two decades of relative harmony. Why? Because many Piedmonters believe that the Council majority allocates benefits to friends at the expense of the rest of the community.
Under circumstances still unexplained, the Council provided utility undergrounding to the city’s most exclusive neighborhood at a cost of $2.3 million paid by the remainder of Piedmonters. The Council also gave a $2 million subsidy to sports lobbies by building a soccer complex at Havens School, paying consulting and legal fees for a private scheme to build another soccer complex in Moraga Canyon, and assuming responsibility for a swim facility. And city staff, despite the recession, continued to enjoy benefit packages that two Council-appointed committees reported we could not afford.
Mere profligacy might not have evoked organized opposition, but resistance emerged when the Council majority began using its privileged position to punish those who questioned pork barrel politics. The Council spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars for lawsuits to intimidate homeowners who resisted utility undergrounding. Council members used their access to the local newspaper to attack citizens who dared criticize subsidies to sports lobbies, and to chastise voters who spoke out against the failed sewer surtax.
Now this abusive and divisive Council wants 66% of Piedmont voters to extend the city parcel tax. The Council, however, continues to give voters new reasons to reject the tax. The Council majority allowed those who wrote the ballot argument in favor of the tax to falsely claim that the Council unanimously endorsed the tax. Council members have kept opponents of the tax from speaking at Council meetings, resumed attacking critics in public fora, and tried to extort support by threatening to cut police and fire services if the tax fails. The Council shamelessly persists in this extortion despite the fact that proceeds from the tax since the last extension have gone for undergrounding utilities in our wealthiest neighborhood, subsidizing private sports clubs, and pursuing vicious legal action against homeowners.
The Piedmont City Council, in short, continues to behave in ways that make it unfit to manage the proceeds of a voluntary surtax. Those proceeds have become nothing more than a “slush fund” used to reward friends and punish critics. The residents of Piedmont deserve better governance and should withhold this tax until we get it.