Letter to the Editor | Addressing PCA lease does not mean the arts center must go

In his letter (https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2021/01/10/opinion-a-false-choice-has-been-presented-for-arts-center-lease/) Steve Schiller labeled the current discussion of the 801 Magnolia building a “false choice” between “an art center and no art center”.  I agree and attribute this false choice to a false process.  City staff and not City Council appears to have made the decision to open 801 lease negotiations with Piedmont Center for the Arts (PCA):

“Given PCA’s investment in rehabilitating the City building at 801 Magnolia Avenue and its commitment to developing a viable gathering space, as well as its willingness to embrace changes to improve and expand benefits to the community, Staff believes it is appropriate for Council to consider PCA’s request to continue to operate an arts venue in this City facility”.   

Staff Report, November 16, 2020
Putting the cart before the horse

On its face, that sounds appropriate – staff recommending that City Council consider PCA’s request for a new lease. However, staff appears to have instigated lease negotiations with PCA without direction from Council. I can find no notice of public or closed session meetings where this topic of the lease was agendized by staff to receive direction from Council.

This process puts the cart before the horse – the question of whether the 801 lease should be renewed should be addressed by Council with negotiations proceeding as directed.  

Instead, the lease was negotiated over the past months by staff and presented to Council as a first reading, strictly limiting the questions from councilmembers and the public.  

As currently drafted, the lease has substantial flaws that weaken the city’s access and use of this public facility (piedmontexedra.com/2020/11/letter-to-the-editor-the-proposed-pca-lease-is-flawed).This process would have so much benefited from open public meetings at the Recreation Commission and City Council.  

As it stands, Piedmonters are being told that PCA will close if the lease is not renewed.  

That is false and the fate of PCA is really in its own hands – PCA’s lease with the city expires June 3, 2021 with the option to proceed month-to-month after that. PCA could operate indefinitely under those terms while the community engages in a public discussion of the use of the 801 building.  That discussion would likely lead to PCA being the principle tenant.

For that to happen, Council needs to step in and give that direction. A second reading of the proposed lease is imminent and it is too late to make substantive improvements to the lease at Council.

Another oddity of this process is that the readings span the seating of a new council. Two councilmembers had serious reservations about the process and lease terms at the first reading.  It would be appropriate for the new councilmember not on Council at the first reading to abstain from voting on a second reading recommend staff hold public meetings at the Recreation Commission. 

City Council can be reached at citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov.


One thought on “Letter to the Editor | Addressing PCA lease does not mean the arts center must go

  1. Many have expressed interest in exploring what other uses are possible for 801 Magnolia that can coexist with the art and culture programming. Furthermore the programming by the Art Center Board has become more limited than in past years. A public discussion is needed before City Council gives complete control of the building to a private group for $1. Instead City Hall negotiated a ten year lease (changed to seven) without a public hearing and many residents were denied an opportunity to enter the conversation until the first City Council hearing in November where City Hall anticipated a “done deal” with a single outcome. Indeed, in August the Art Center Board had been assured by Mayor R. McBain that they will have the votes to approve. That’s troubling public process with only one outcome allowed.

    As the lease converts to monthly in July, I suggest Council slow this down and reduce the divisiveness this process has created. Restart with a more open public discussion by referring to either the Recreation Commission or a Town Hall type meeting. Let’s find a way that the Art Center Building continues as a wonderful space for a variety of performance and art, and expand scheduling so that other performance groups, culture activities and community uses have access to 801 Magnolia.

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