Q&A with City Council Candidate Jen Cavenaugh

Cavenaugh is one of four candidates vying for two seats on the City Council. She is an incumbent seeking a second four-year term.

What is your age and how long have you lived in Piedmont?

My husband and I (52) moved to Piedmont 17 years ago from San Francisco when we had two sons, Jackson age 2.5 and Salem, 6 mos. Our daughter Shelby was born in Piedmont shortly thereafter.  Like many Piedmonters, we were drawn to Piedmont for the quality public education and beautiful city. I grew up in the Midwest and didn’t have family nearby so we were looking for a community with shared values in which we could put down roots and raise our family. I quickly became involved in our schools once my oldest started kindergarten. My three kids all attend(ed) Piedmont public schools and I make it my mission as a Council Member to be a strong partner for our schools in every way possible.

What you do for work, either in or out of your home?

I am the primary caregiver for my three now teenagers and two dogs, Shasta and puppy Bailey, as my husband has a very demanding IT consulting job that requires long hours and long commutes. 

I am deeply involved in our community, especially with our youth.  

In addition to the volunteer work discussed below, I have a deep commitment to the social/emotional development of our youth: I developed Healthy Relationships programs for the Recreation Dept, led the high school Coaching Boys into Men and Athletes as Leaders program rollout, and serve with Change a Path Foundation, a donor circle to fund anti-sex trafificking initiatives.

For over a decade I was the General Manager (and below average player) for the Baja Bombers adult softball team.

Have you worked or volunteered in the Piedmont community (or elsewhere) previously? If so, in what capacity(ies)?

I have a long history of and passion for community service. During this current crisis, I have been a weekly volunteer with the Alameda County Community Food Bank and have supported AC Census 2020 outreach. 

Equity and inclusion are priorities for me: I am an active member of Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee and the Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign, Let’s Talk Co-program Organizer, and Different Together Program Advisor through Glide Memorial Church. 

In Piedmont, I served on the city’s Budget Advisory Committee and was the Recreation Department Community Outreach Project Leader. I have been volunteering in our schools since 2005, including on every Parent Club Board and as President of Piedmont Language School. I am an active member of the League of Women Voters and Piedmont Connect.

In Oakland, I taught strategic decision-making skills to underserved youth through Game Theory Academy, developed a professional mentoring program, and was Co-Founder of the Oakland Treasure Hunt.

What inspires you to run for office?

I have a passion for public service and I love our community. One of the reasons I first ran for office in 2016 is because my then 10-year old daughter and other girls in Piedmont deserve role models of women seeing and serving in leadership positions. At the time we only had one woman on City Council and historically only one third of our Council Members have been women. Since my election, I have worked to increase the equity and diversity of our council appointments since these roles are often the pipeline to city leadership.

What are your qualifications to be on the City Council? Any special skills or experience the voters should know about?

I have dutifully served on the City Council for one complete four-year term. I am active in the region and the state to partner with other city leaders for mutually beneficial solutions. Prior to joining the City Council I served on the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee and led a strategic Recreation Department Community Outreach consulting project.

I earned an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BS from the University of Illinois.  My education and professional experience in finance, management and technology add value to the Piedmont City Council as we budget conservatively and shore up our infrastructure and implement our Information Technology strategic plan. As a business professional, I had strategic and financial responsibility for large consumer products businesses and was an IT management consultant. I am honored to put my experience, work ethic, and dedication to work on the Piedmont City Council.

What do you see as the most challenging issues currently facing the city?

We are a small city with limited resources and staff, and it is essential that we budget conservatively and address past unfunded liabilities, including our streets and sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities. We have old and ailing infrastructure as many of our municipal buildings are over 100 years old.

The city has historically not funded facilities maintenance and as a result has built up a significant backlog of deferred maintenance. Further, many of our old facilities, including our public safety buildings, our aquatics and other recreational facilities and the city’s information technology infrastructure are not suited to deliver the services Piedmonters value and the law requires in the 21st century.

While city revenues are stable, funds for significant capital projects cannot be covered by annual general fund revenues.  As the Budget Advisory Committee noted, the city will have to identify “other sources of funds, such as the issuance of bonds, …since it is not possible to fund costs of this magnitude through expense reductions.” 

What do you see as strengths of the Piedmont community?

The people. 

Our staff are hard-working skilled professionals who care about the city and its future as much as residents do. They regularly go above and beyond their job descriptions to deliver superior customer service to Piedmonters. 

Our residents are well-informed about the issues, thoughtful in their feedback, and generous in their commitment to maintaining what’s great about our city while moving us forward. The spirit of service can be seen in the countless volunteers who give of themselves year-over-year to bring events and services to the community that we all cherish as we make memories raising our families in Piedmont.  Piedmonters are thought leaders and want our community to be good stewards of our resources and the environment so we set up our children and grandchildren for success. 

What will be your top priority if elected?

As a City Council Member for the last four years, I have made it my priority to balance fiscal responsibility with a commitment to improving Piedmont’s aging infrastructure and enhancing public services.  We are a small city with limited resources and staff, and it is essential that we budget conservatively and address past unfunded liabilities, including our streets and sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities. If Measure TT passes, the city will have the necessary funds so we can begin to address decades-long deferred maintenance.

If Measure UU passes the city will quickly begin a process of designing a pool facility that meets the aquatics needs of Piedmonters. The conceptual plan will be fully developed with considerable input from the community so we construct a safe, sustainable, and affordable facility for all children, adults, families, seniors, and our schools to enjoy. A Citizen Bond Oversight Committee will be selected to monitor the use of bond proceeds and share their perspective with the community. 

Do you see yourself being especially involved in any particular city issue or program, whether or not it’s your top priority?

Yes, I am passionate about issues of equity and inclusion and the social-emotional development of youth. I leverage my deep community connections to engage and promote diverse perspectives, develop mutually beneficial solutions, and increase equity and inclusiveness. I am an active member of Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee and the newly formed Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign 

I am an active partner with my School Board colleagues working to develop sexual assault prevention board policies and curriculum promoting healthy sexuality, preventing unintended pregnancies, and improving the social-emotional development of youth. I launched a Healthy Relationships program for youth that is now offered through the Recreation Department to address these issues. I am active in Alameda County through program management with Change a Path, a donor circle supporting anti-sex trafficking programs, and Game Theory Academy, a youth financial literacy program.  

Talk about any leadership roles you’ve held and what you learned from them.

During the economic downturn of the late 2000’s, I joined the Piedmont Language School (PLS) Board and went on to serve as President. Prior to my time with the organization, the school had been experiencing five years of enrollment declines and suffered unsustainable operating losses.  As a Board we underwent a complete organizational overhaul including curriculum evaluation, pay freezes, rebranding and logo redesign, Executive Director search, outsourcing 80% of the programming, 60% price increase, and significant program expansion. Despite the dramatic change in a short period of time, we expanded enrollment, delivered a higher quality product, introduced financial stability, and charted a sustainable course for the future of the program. Success for PLS was possible due to a dynamic board of diverse individuals who used data-based decision-making and best practices in language acquisition to deliver a superior product to Piedmont students. 

Share an example of your decision-making style.

My decision-making style on Council is grounded in comprehensive research, community engagement, and data-based decision-making.

One example is how I approached city staff’s REACH codes plan for further electrification and solar power in residential buildings. First, I read the background material and met with staff extensively to answer questions and clarify their early recommendations. Second, to continue to educate myself and hear from the community, I attended almost all of the town hall events hosted by staff, met with community leaders from Piedmont Connect, and read every community email to understand all sides of the issue. I weighed staff’s recommendation for how well the plan aligned with the city’s goals, analyzed the cost effectiveness, scope, scale and feasibility of the recommendations.

When it was clear that some members of the community were misinformed and needed more time to understand the proposal, I advocated for additional community outreach. In the end, the implementation of the city’s Climate Action Plan is a high priority for the city and I will continue to work with residents to ensure the plan is actionable and reasonable.

What project have you worked on that you are especially proud of?

Before serving on Council, I led a strategic Recreation Department Community Outreach consulting project with then Recreation Department Director Sara Lillevand.

As the department was experiencing new leadership for the first time in decades, the timing was opportune to engage the community about how well the department currently met their needs and solicit ideas for what could be done better in the future. The comprehensive plan included focus groups, town halls meetings, and an in-depth online survey to gather input from as many community members as possible.

I delivered a 40-page report to the department and Recreation Commission which served to set a new direction for the next chapter in Piedmont recreation. 

City Council members must navigate a wide range of community opinions and demands. How will you handle those pressures?

My role on City Council has been my top priority these past four years. I leverage my deep community connections to engage and promote diverse perspectives, develop mutually beneficial solutions, and increase equity and inclusiveness.

I am a lifetime learner and love the variety of issues the City Council addresses in serving residents, homeowners, and businesses in Piedmont. Thorough research of the issues that come before Council ensures that I am informed and have carefully considered all sides of an issue.

These past four years I have demonstrated an ability to leverage strategic-thinking and fact-based decision making so our Council decisions best meet the diverse needs of our community.

What do you think about the proposed bond measure to replace the pool?

I am a strong supporter of Measure UU. I grew up swimming and ensured that all of my kids learned to swim at a very young age, as it is an essential life skill that all Piedmonters deserve to learn; however we no longer use the pool as a family because there is not enough room for all the users who would like to use the pool at any given time.

Our treasured Piedmont Community Pool has served our community for over 56 years, well beyond the 30-50 year expected lifespan. It has been an essential asset to children, families, seniors, HS athletes, and swim teams. Sadly, our current pool can longer be repaired without incurring huge costs to determine the source of the 3000-gallon daily water leakage, fix the crumbling decks and replace the essential systems. This may be our only chance to fund a new facility as the pool is on track to be closed permanently. But now is the right time:  interest rates are low, the city is in sound financial shape with no real debt, and future construction projects will only be more costly. Measure UU will provide the funds necessary to construct a safe, sustainable, and affordable facility. 

What do you think about current taxes in Piedmont? Too low, too high, just right?

California taxes in general and Piedmont’s in particular are high. Since the city consists of 99% residential parcels, property taxes are the city’s primary revenue source and account for 70% of the City’s General Fund revenues. 

Although we live in a small city, Piedmonters receive all the benefits enjoyed by much larger cities such as full-service police, fire and ambulance services, public works, planning, and recreation.

Piedmont does not have a diverse tax-base to provide revenue sources such as significant Business Tax, Retail Sales Tax or Transient Occupant Tax. Thus, residents do not have business partners to share the tax-burden. We value highly-skilled professionals in each of our departments and provide competitive benefits packages to employees.

More than two-thirds of our city budget covers our public safety workers, which is a top priority for Piedmonters. In the past the city has accrued unfunded liabilities for infrastructure and pension costs, from which we have worked these past four years to recover. Our goal is to budget conservatively, work to ensure that current services are paid for by current residents, and set aside funds for future foreseeable needs.

How would you deal with improving and maintaining City facilities?

This has been a top priority for me since my work on the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee. As a City Council Member for the last four years, I have made it my priority to balance fiscal responsibility with a commitment to improving Piedmont’s aging infrastructure and enhancing public services.

I employ fact-based, long-range planning to ensure we maintain our beautiful, historic essential services buildings, civic infrastructure, streets & sidewalks, storm & sewer systems, parks & recreational facilities. With old & ailing infrastructure, the city must inventory needs and allocate resources to address deferred maintenance and make long-overdue capital investments as needed. Passage of Measure TT will provide much-needed funds to help address our backlog of deferred maintenance. However, large-scale capital projects will require other sources of funds.

Essential long-term investments and planning for the future sustainability of our community and the planet will be essential for future generations, who will love our community as much as we do.

Between the city and the schools there are many shared facilities and programs. What is your perspective on city-school partnerships and collaboration?

I have meaningful long-term relationships with PUSD administration and School Board Members. As a long-time school volunteer, I am deeply connected to the issues our students face in the classroom and our community.  For example, as a parent of three teenagers, I have been partnering with our schools for over five years to reduce gender-based violence, and promote healthy sexuality, including access to sex education and pregnancy prevention resources.

As a Council Member, I leverage this perspective to effectively collaborate with my School Board partners, develop creative solutions to shared problems, and make effective use of our limited resources including facilities.

The aquatics facility is one such example of shared facilities as this is a city-owned facility that is shared by our schools for HS swimming and water polo teams, PE classes for students to learn-to-swim, whole grade end-of-year parties and adaptive PE. Every Piedmont student uses the pool and will lose access to aquatics programs without a new city facility.

These types of city-school collaborations are essential for a community with limited recreational facilities, parks and open spaces. 

What would you do to create more affordable housing available in Piedmont?

Pre-pandemic, the Bay Area and most of CA was in a housing and homelessness crisis the likes of which we have not previously experienced. The current health crisis has created some housing reshuffling, however many Californians remain vulnerable to losing their homes due to unemployment, renters are facing mass evictions, and those who are housed are spending unsustainable portions of their monthly paychecks on housing alone.

The Piedmont community is a high opportunity area since we offer high quality schools and community services and are located close to jobs and public transit. Though we are a small city, we clearly need to do our more so we can be a part of the solution.

The city is embarking on a process to reevaluate our plans for providing housing of all types, specifically to meet our Regional Housing Number Allocation that comes from the state. The process will look at lot size minimums, ADU guidelines, multi-family housing, zoning, and many other aspects of our housing element to identify options for new housing. We already have many examples of alternate housing styles embedded in our community that can serve a template for what works in Piedmont.

We will look to creatively provide housing that integrates into our community while maintaining the essence of what makes Piedmont special and without impacting the property values of current homeowners. No small order, but we are up to the task.

What would you do to promote diversity in Piedmont, including among City staff?

Women’s and BIPOC voices continue to be underrepresented in all aspects of our lives from corporate boardrooms, legislative bodies, the criminal justice system, and access to capital and support for entrepreneurship.

At the local level, I am working to recruit, train, and support diverse candidates for local office so more women and BIPOC community members have a seat at the table where decisions are made. I am actively working with Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee and Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign to foster and promote an unbiased and inclusive community.

Last month our city council passed a resolution unequivocally rejecting racism and committing to “review and revise (our) policies, procedures, ordinances, values, goals, and missions through an anti-racism lens.”

I have an active presence on regional and state bodies, such as League of CA Cities, to elevate these issues beyond our community.

What would you do to improve environmental sustainability in Piedmont?

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to our health and the environment. Evidence of the effects can be felt in countless ways, including the air we breathe today due to extreme wildfires and recurring droughts.

Piedmont has made a commitment to do our part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, as 70% of emissions come from cities, according to Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan 2.0. As Piedmont is almost exclusively a residential city, we will need to work together to do our part in our homes and transportation choices.

“In 2015, the three largest sources of GHG emissions in Piedmont were building electricity use, natural gas use for space and water heating, and petroleum-fueled personal vehicle use.”

We will have the greatest impact if we reduce our consumption, shift to 100% renewable energy sources, walk, bike and take public transportation or drive an electric car, and switch to electric appliances. Fortunately many residents embrace the plans and want to be a part of the solution because the city cannot achieve our 2030 goals through municipal changes alone.

What do you think about current recreational opportunities in Piedmont, and do you have other ideas for adding, subtracting or changing programs?

Piedmont’s Recreation Department (PRD) is a treasure that touches the most residents of any department in the city. Over five years ago, I led the PRD Community Outreach process that confirmed that youth programs including sports, after-school enrichment and summer camps are the heart of PRD.

In our research we especially wanted to hear from residents who are not users of PRD programming. What we learned is that PRD usage tended to drop-off in the early teens years and the program offerings reflected that decline. As a personal interest, I had worked to bring Healthy Relationships programming to Piedmont and PRD was willing to bring the programming under its umbrella.

Since then PRD has expanded its teen offerings and there is likely more need there upon which we can build. The second opportunity area we identified was for adult programming of all kinds. This programming is just beginning to be developed and there is considerable opportunity for expansion. Unfortunately, this current health crisis has wreaked havoc on all city departments, PRD included, but once the crisis is behind us, I am confident the community will see much more from PRD in all of these areas.

Learn more and contact Jen Cavenaugh with questions at www.jen4piedmont.com.

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