Q&A with City Council Candidate Betsy Smegal Andersen

Betsy Smegal Andersen is one of six candidates vying for three seats on the City Council. She is currently serving her first elected term on the City Council, after having been appointed to fill a vacated council seat in 2017. This is her second time running for public office.

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

I am 52 and have been in Piedmont for over four decades! I grew up here (PHS ’88) and moved back in 2000 with my husband to raise our family.

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

I practiced Estate Planning, Trust and Probate law for nearly 20 years in Oakland and San Francisco. For the past five years I have proudly served on the Piedmont City Council.

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

I have been volunteering in some capacity nearly my entire life. Recent volunteer leadership positions include: 

  • City Councilmember (current)
  • Chair of the Recreation Commission
  • Vice-Chair of the Aquatics Master Plan Steering Committee
  • Member of the Public Safety Committee
  • Member of the National Charity League, Oakland-Piedmont Chapter
  • Co-Leader of Girl Scout Troop 30291, Wildwood School
  • Emergency Prep Coordinator, Wildwood School
  • Board Member, Legal Assistance for Seniors
What inspires you to run for office?

Many people have asked me what inspires me to run for a second term on City Council. When I ran the first time, I was passionate about my desire to serve our amazing town, and my enthusiasm has only grown after five years in office.

Specifically, there are three main reasons I seek re-election. First, there are several important projects in process that I would like to see through, including the rebuild of the Piedmont Community Pool and the long-overdue renovation of our Police and Fire 911 Dispatch Center. Second, with Sarah Lillevand’s announced retirement as City Administrator this spring, I want to play a role in hiring an amazing replacement to fill her shoes. The City Administrator is a critical role, both serving our community and supporting our senior city staff. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I appreciate that what makes Piedmont a unique and vibrant place is our willingness to step up and volunteer for leadership positions. If re-elected, I would be honored to continue contributing my time and my talents toward strengthening our community.

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

I am currently in my 5th year on the City Council (one as an appointee, four as an elected Councilmember), and prior to that I chaired the Recreation Commission and served on the Public Safety Committee. My educational background is helpful for serving on the Council, I majored in Public Policy at Duke University and then earned my law degree at UCLA Law. My background as a lawyer taught me how to navigate the law, including relevant work in long-term generational tax planning. I have lived in Piedmont most of my life and understand the importance of clear communication between the City and all its residents.

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

One of the most challenging issues that impacts everything we do is how we leverage technology to communicate and convey important information. While our migration to zoom (due to the pandemic) initially increased resident participation, this is waning. And so we are actively trying, as a City with a small staff, to seek ways to create both transparency and participation to help residents stay connected to the issues they care about.  

I’m very excited that the City Council was able to allocate funding for our City’s first ever City Communications Program Manager, Echa Schneider. I have confidence that she can help our community better leverage technology to streamline communication and promote resident engagement.

What do you see as strengths of the Piedmont community?

Piedmont is an amazing place to live due, in large part, to the enduring legacy of volunteerism. Our community is strong because our residents are willing to volunteer their time and talents for others. Whether it’s organizing a block party for the 4th of July, volunteering on a city committee, or raising money for our schools, Piedmonters are willing to put in the work to foster a strong sense of community. We are all beneficiaries of our collective hard work, and I believe that our city leadership should reflect and honor the commitment we have made to one other.

What will be your top priority if elected?

My top priority will be to work with members of our community, city staff, and our top-notch recruiter to identify and hire a new City Administrator. Sara Lillevand is retiring next spring, and we want to avoid the time and expense of hiring an interim city administrator. Sara leaves Piedmont in excellent fiscal shape, and with an amazing senior management team including Police Chief Bowers, Fire Chief Brannigan and Recreation Director Chelle Putzer. We relied on them heavily during the pandemic, and they kept our community on track. I would like to continue to support them, as well as our hard-working staff and of course the entire community as we seek to hire a new City Administrator.

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

During my time on the City Council, I have become increasingly concerned about hazard mitigation and emergency preparedness. Most of our residents, and I am including myself here, are woefully underprepared for a major wildfire or massive earthquake. I think my family’s earthquake kit, if I can find it, has 10-year-old protein bars and clothes that no longer fit. I recognize that we are all just emerging from a global pandemic and we are exhausted from the constant bad news. But I also know that in the long run, we will all benefit if we can carve out time this fall to restock our emergency supplies, think through an evacuation plan (or two!), update our emergency contacts, and sign up for AC Alerts.

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

I have pursued leadership positions my entire life. My leadership roles in Piedmont started when I was in elementary school at Wildwood, and continued throughout my years as a student at PUSD, as a parent of PUSD students, and currently as a civic volunteer.

It is through these experiences that I learned three important lessons that make me a thoughtful and inclusive leader: First, be present. It is impossible to lead if your head is somewhere else. Second, ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you, it won’t make sense to other people either.

And third, perhaps most importantly, listen. People often assume the best leaders are the best speakers. Of course public speaking skills help, but listening is the real key. When residents take the time to email me, or speak at a meeting, I listen. What people say matters, and the fact that someone took the time to weigh in on a local issue means they really care about what is happening in Piedmont.

Share an example of your decision-making style.

I believe my style is to be both informed and balanced. As a lawyer, I like to be prepared and I like to ask questions. If you have ever watched me in a City Council meeting, you know that I have read the staff reports, read the emails from the public, and I am ready to listen and ask questions. If the agenda item has created controversy, I will have done even more due diligence prior to the meeting, talking with community members and staff, researching information relevant to the decision we are being asked to make, and listening to what the community thinks. Sometimes it makes sense to slow down and delay a decision until we can hear more feedback from the public.

My “big picture” goal is to always work within the parameters of our Council authority, collaborate with staff and residents, prioritize common sense, and make the best decisions possible given the information and input we have at the time.

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

This is an easy one for me. Like many Piedmont residents, I am thrilled that we are in the process of rebuilding the Piedmont Community Pool. I have been involved in the development of the pool plan since its inception, and have worked actively on this project even before I joined the City Council. I am grateful to Piedmont voters and all the volunteers who came together to pass Measure UU in 2020.

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

The good news is that I am already handling those pressures! Having served on the City Council for the past five years, I understand both the possibilities and the limitations inherent in this role, as well as what it takes to do my job effectively. I am lucky to have shared this office with a great team of council members, as well as supportive friends and family. In my free time, I make sure to carve out time for exercise and quiet time to think through the issues.

What should the city’s priorities be when it comes to upgrading city infrastructure?

Maintaining and improving our streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks has always been and will continue to be a priority for Piedmont. There are currently two important capital projects in the works, including the rebuilding of the Piedmont Community Pool and a major renovation of our Police and Fire 911 Dispatch Center. 

Over the next four years, we need to focus on our aging civic buildings. Our City Hall, Police and Fire Departments operate out of spaces that are between 70 to 110 years old. Our community will need to wrap its collective big brain around the very real and likely expensive need to bring these core facilities up to current standards.

Piedmont is required by the state to meet new affordable housing goals. What is your view on the approach the city has taken so far to comply with the law?

Our city staff have worked really hard to make the state-mandated 6th cycle planning process transparent, and to provide relevant information to all residents at public meetings, through email, and via a robust and informational website at www.piedmontishome.org. There have been interactive maps, answers to FAQs, and the City has received input from thousands of residents. 

The Housing Element process is extremely complex, circumscribed, and at times, counter-intuitive. I am happy to discuss the details of the State requirements with anyone who would like more information, as I believe continued dialogue and understanding are critical to this process.

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

I am committed to doing what we can to foster an inclusive community in Piedmont, including among our city staff. The first step in promoting diversity is awareness. In August 2020, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution stating the City of Piedmont’s unequivocal rejection of racism. The resolution included our commitment to fostering a safe, inclusive and civil community through our policies, our programming, and our leadership. Since then we have been examining and acknowledging our City’s history, engaging in community conversations about policing in Piedmont, and reviewing City policies, procedures, and ordinances through an anti-racism lens. I am aware that Piedmont remains one of the most segregated communities in Alameda County; clearly there is more work to be done. I will continue to do the work and seek opportunities to strengthen our community so everyone feels welcomed, included, and valued.

Piedmont has recently received an award for its sustainability accomplishments and goals. What would you do to further Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan?

If re-elected, I will continue to push for progress towards significantly reducing greenhouse emissions as stated in Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan 2.0. The Council cannot achieve this goal alone. We need to encourage all Piedmont residents to make climate-friendly choices for both big ticket items (new EV, electric home appliances, etc.) and smaller daily decisions (bundle Amazon deliveries, walk or bike to school, etc.).

To support these efforts, I will continue to work with residents, city staff, EBCE, Stop Waste, the Alameda County Transportation Authority, and other Bay Area organizations, to keep the environment top of mind in all Council decisions, develop residential incentives for climate-friendly purchases, and seek opportunities to promote environmental education and stewardship.

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

People who know me know that I love all things recreation! I am currently serving as liaison to the Recreation Commission and it is truly my happy place. I can’t think of a better way to build community than by creating opportunities for Piedmonters to get off their screens, get outside (or at least out of the house), play, learn, and interact together. We all need more opportunities to meet one another and engage in fun activities together, and I believe the programs offered should continue to transform and grow to meet the community’s needs. For example, the Recreation Commission has recently formed a subcommittee on older adult activities, and will be brainstorming new activities in coordination with the PUSD Adult School.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with voters about your candidacy? 

Many Exedra readers know me, or have seen me in action at a City Council meeting or community event. I do my homework, listen carefully, and ask clarifying questions. I prioritize common sense solutions with a focus on building community. Above all, I care deeply about the success of the community we all call home. With three generations of my family living in town, I bring a thoughtful and inclusive perspective to the Council. If re-elected, I look forward to navigating future challenges together.

Do you have a website and email to share with voters? If so, please add below.

http://www.betsyforpiedmont.us | betsyforpiedmont@gmail.com

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