City outlines efforts to make Piedmont more inclusive

Julie Reichle

City Hall

In August, the Piedmont City Council passed a formal repudiation of racism, committing to an ongoing effort to own the city’s sometimes dubious history and make Piedmont a more inclusive and equitable place.

And on Tuesday, the council discussed the progress that’s begun in the five months since then and significant future work — perhaps most importantly, bringing more affordable and equitable housing to a city that, in 1924, actively chased its first Black family out of town.

“Housing is an area where our past and our future come together,“ Councilwoman Jen Cavenaugh said during Tuesday night’s discussion of the council’s “commitment to actively supporting a more equitable and less biased community.”

Piedmont, like all Bay Area cities, will need to be able to accommodate new housing over the next decade as part of the 2023-2031 Regional Housing Needs Allocation process. Piedmont will be called upon to find space for 587 new housing units during that period. 

City Administrator Sara Lillevand said that process offers “an opportunity for real movement toward a more inclusive community.” That planning process will play out gradually over the next months and years.

Lillevand on Tuesday reiterated the council’s August pledge to fight systemic racism in the city. “It’s examining and owning the city’s history, and examining the city’s policies, procedures and ordinances through the lens of anti-racism,” she said.

First steps

Helping with that process was the recent hiring of Cornelia Sylvester of Bay Area Coaching, a consulting firm that helps local governments address matters of implicit bias and historical racism. Also, city leaders have established relationships with the Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee and the Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign to help with these efforts.

The police department, in collaboration with the city’s Public Safety Committee, held community meetings for discussions about the city’s Public Safety Camera Program, and issued a community survey to suss out the level of support for those cameras. Police Chief Jeremy Bowers also said local focus groups’ input will help inform updates of the department’s strategic plan, which has been undertaken with an eye toward increasing equity and reducing implicit bias.

In response to a question from Cavenaugh, Lillevand said the city is working to include as diverse a group of residents as possible to attract diverse candidates for appointment to city commissions and committees.

Added Councilwoman Conna McCarthy, “I appreciate that we’re approaching this as a community, and that it has measurable goals along the way.” 

Vice Mayor Tim Rood praised Sylvester’s hiring specifically, and the city’s recent efforts in general. “This is important work, and I know it’s going to be continuing for a long time,” he said.

Acknowledging mistakes and past practices

Council members acknowledged there’s a lot to make up for, including the city’s “abhorrent treatment” of Sidney Dearing and his family, African Americans driven out of their Piedmont home in 1924. A city staff report says “public acknowledgement and an apology” for that episode is forthcoming.

Council members acknowledge Piedmont still isn’t necessarily a place everyone would feel comfortable or welcome. “We have a lot more work to do,” Councilwoman Betsy Smegal Andersen said.

Mayor Teddy Gray King said she sometimes ponders whether her grandfather, whom she described as “a laborer, a proud immigrant from Mexico,” would have a positive experience in Piedmont.

“I wonder if he would have been welcomed in Piedmont, as I have been welcomed in my adopted city,” she said.

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