PIEDMONT -- The City Council is considering a scaled-back installation of license plate readers, subject to development of the annual budget and review by the capital improvement and budget advisory committees.

Police Chief Rikki Goede presented an amended report to the council at its Monday meeting. She recommended 10 to 12 sites in town, down from the 24 sites originally proposed. The project is still pricey -- for an estimated cost of $673,274. That includes 39 cameras, electrical installation, system interface and mounting. The city would pay Verizon Wireless about $760 per month for Internet fees.

The devices read the license plates of vehicles entering and leaving town, identifying any "hits" on plates such as stolen vehicles, missing persons or Amber Alerts involving a vehicle.

Goede stressed the data is viewed and used solely by police as a tool for follow-up investigations. License plate readers came to the forefront in the wake of three recent home-invasion robberies, and a spike in property crimes.

Some speakers at Monday's meeting strongly supported the idea, while others felt spending that much money was an overreaction.

"This is not an efficient way to go about this issue," Leon Bloomfield said. "Take a hard look. This is premature and potentially misguided."

Lyman Schaffer said Oakland's serious crime problems spill into Piedmont, and he feels a sense of urgency. John Ehrlich, retired from San Francisco Police Department, believes the readers will help prevent crime. If the word is out that Piedmont has license plate readers, crooks will go someplace else, he said.

License plate reader programs in Claremont and Tiburon are successful as a crime deterrent, Goede said.

The council also listened to several proposals by groups who want to use the city-owned east wing of 801 Magnolia Ave. Piedmont Center for the Arts operates a vibrant cultural arts venue in the west wing of the building. They used private funds to renovate the space, added bathrooms and agreed to install a handicap lift, which is pending.

PCA founder Nancy Lehrkind said the center could expand its arts programming to include rehearsal space for children's choir and theater, senior's classes in music, quilting and painting, lectures and film screenings.

The center would once again use private funds of $25,000 to $40,000 to rehabilitate the east wing and agreed to install a child-sized bathroom if that was necessary.

Recreation Director Mark Delventhal said his department would use the space for various recreation programs for adults and/or children, including a preschool, thereby generating some money for the city. The estimated cost for city-planned renovations was $125,000 to $150,000.

Debbie Dare of the PCA board of directors told the council, "A preschool is not in keeping with the arts center. Where would the children play?"

Councilman Garrett Keating noted there are stringent regulations for spaces that children occupy at a preschool. "Young children and an art gallery is not a good mix," Joseph Gold said.

Hope Salzer proposed a center for world languages and culture in the empty space. Deon Lim outlined a comprehensive program for "Hacker Scouts," a 21st century high-tech learning atmosphere similar to a mini-Exploratorium that incorporates math, science, engineering and arts with drop-in labs.

The council settled on considering a two- to three-year pilot agreement with PCA that could supervise programming open to many community groups that would use the space, with a focus on the arts.

Councilman Jeff Wieler said, "I see no concrete purpose for the space by staff" at this point. "I don't like the idea of spending $150,000. I'm cheap."

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