The recent Piedmont City Council meeting was the first for Piedmont's new city administrator, Paul Benoit.

Benoit comes to Piedmont after 25 years in Astoria, Ore., the past 14 years as city manager. During that time, he did a two-year stint as an assistant city manager and community development director in Alameda, so he is familiar with the Bay Area.

Benoit has already succeeded in bringing some of that famous northwest precipitation to our drought-stricken state, and those familiar with the cause for the drought -- the stubborn high-pressure zone dubbed the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" -- may appreciate that Benoit will lower the "pressure" that has developed in Piedmont over these past few years. It's a bad pun, but let's hope so.

Benoit's resume is replete with examples of stellar project management, but he also managed Astoria through bad times, overseeing a 15 percent budget reduction, renegotiating contracts with the municipal employee unions and reducing the pool subsidy.

When interviewing Benoit for the job, one clear character trait came through -- analytical -- which Benoit readily admits. Thorough and transparent analysis of capital projects such as sewers, underground utilities and fields have not always been available to the City Council in the past.

Benoit's experience with a diverse array of community development, rehabilitation and public-private projects will enable him to conduct the comprehensive cost-benefit-risk analysis that is needed as Piedmont undertakes large capital projects.


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A good example of this need was on display at a recent council meeting. The Hampton Field Master Plan is a $1.4 million project intended to fix the drainage problems of the field and refurbish the tennis and basketball courts in the park.

City staff proposed the expenditure of $130,000 to pay for construction drawings for the project in the event the council proposes to fund the project. In the wings are $500,000 in East Bay Regional Parks Measure WW funding that the city obtained from in 2008 for which the project is eligible (http://www.ebparks.org/planning/ww), as are other proposed projects in town.

Hampton certainly needs a drainage fix, but these are one-time funds -- what is the best use of these funds to improve Piedmont's field space? As the City Council is constantly told, more space and hours of use are needed for Piedmont's youth sports programs.

The proposal at Hampton marginally achieves this -- artificial turf is proposed for the baseball infield while the outfield, the worst of the drainage problem, will remain natural grass. Overflow from Tyson Lake was thought to be the source of the wet conditions, but as the Piedmont Hills utilities undergrounding project revealed, bedrock is close to the surface around Hampton Field. If the drainage problem is a perched water table above bedrock, will the project as designed fix that? It could be that an artificial turf outfield might be better for solving the drainage issues at Hampton Field. It certainly would extend hours of use for the field. A thorough hydrological assessment of the capability of the project to fix the actual drainage conditions should be conducted before construction drawings are prepared.

What other field improvements could be achieved with the WW funds? The alternative proposal in the Moraga Canyon Sports Field environmental impact report called for expansion of Coaches Field by extending the field more into the canyon. That raised potential (but never documented) wetland encroachment concerns, but what if the field was extended in the other direction, toward the parking lots? The Piedmont Soccer Club needs a 150-by-300-foot field in order to host league-sanctioned games and as the alternative proposal shows, such a field can be fit into the area of Coaches Field with minor adjustment.

Moving the 12 spaces nearest the field across the street to Blair Park would have the added benefit of providing vehicular access to that park. The maximum need for parking is on Saturdays and Sundays (game days), and overflow parking could easily be accommodated in the city's Corporation Yard. Still to be designed is the pedestrian crossing needed to go between Coaches and Blair, but a traffic analysis of the intersection at Moraga Avenue and Red Rock Road indicates that a roundabout at this location is feasible and would facilitate pedestrian crossings (http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/recreation/docs/mcsfp/roundabout_memo.pdf). The need for further analysis of this idea is imminent, as within the year the city will begin repaving the section of Moraga Avenue from Pala to the city border, a $500,000 project. Using WW Funds for a Coaches expansion in conjunction with pedestrian improvements to Moraga Avenue would provide greater increases in field space and hours of use than the Hampton Field Master Plan.

So City Administrator Benoit has an interesting analysis on his hands. I hope he and the City Council will take the time to study the potential for expanding Coaches into a truly multiuse field. Perhaps the most profound statement at the meeting came from Dimitri Magganas during the public forum: "Council members do the right thing, and city managers do the thing right."

Garrett Keating is a former member of the Piedmont City Council.