8/23/2011 Council Summary

A pretty brief night, at least as far as the audience was concerned.  I hear that wasn’t the case for Monday’s Planning Commission meeting

We had a couple of interviews for commission applicants before the meeting, followed by a closed session regarding the recent Town Center auction (no direction given, no action taken).  Then we moved into the meeting, which started with no special orders, no presentations, and no announcements. Councilmember Lee was absent to perform his reserve duties, which left just five of us.

We actually had two items pulled off of the consent calendar, and the rest of the consent calendar was passed 5-0. Item 1A, last meeting’s minutes was pulled to verify that some corrections that were provided after this week’s agenda was released made it into the minutes, and that passed on a 5-0 vote.

But the other item pulled was 1E – authorizing acceptance of grant money for a bicycle lane project on Pastoria, which provoked some discussion and comments from the public. This raised some concerns because the project may result in removing parking spaces along Pastoria, due to its narrowness. And any time the city talks about depriving residents of parking, it’s a big deal. But the first step in the process is to do a study and see what configurations are possible and what’s best. And prior to any action being taken on Pastoria, there will be opportunities for the public to comment and a vote by the City Council. So this passed on a 4-1 vote. I supported it because I need the results of the study and the resulting public comment to know what we need and what we should do with that street. Without it, I can’t make a smart decision.

Then we moved on to general business.  Item 2 was discussion of utility bill assistance for low income, fixed income, senior, and disabled utility customers. This provoked very little discussion because the RTC was pretty compelling. In short, we looked into whether we could or should subsidize “at risk” residents’ water and garbage rates, through general funds, through alternate pricing, or through other means. But it turns out there isn’t much we can directly do, legally. State law requires uniform pricing of municipal utilities, so we have to charge everyone the same regardless of circumstances. If we used investor-owned utilities, then the owners could opt to subsidize some users (and some choose to do that). But we don’t. So instead, we approved a voluntary donation program so people can opt to assist “at risk” residents on a 5-0 vote.

Item 3 involved updating our municipal code to deal with solid waste problems, and there were two specific problems we dealt with. First, we’ve had problems with illegal trash haulers operating in Sunnyvale, mostly involving dumpsters related to contractor work. A contractor will come in to do work, a hauler other than Specialty will deal with the stuff at a very low bid, and disposal and fees don’t get paid properly. Second, state law requires loads to be covered when they’re being transported, but that doesn’t happen a lot in the city, mostly with pickups. Uncovered loads increase litter and storm drain cleanup throughout the city, which is an issue.  So staff proposed two fixes. First, there was a mandatory wait period of five days before staff could act on illegal haulers, which is usually enough time for them to do their business and disappear.  Staff proposed reducing the wait to one day.  Second, staff proposed charging trucks a $15 fee if they attempt to dump an uncovered load, and the fee would include the cost of a tarp which would be provided to the driver.  We liked this, so we approved it on a 5-0 vote.

Item 4 involved responding to the County Grand Jury regarding fire and emergency dispatch services throughout the county. The Grand Jury examined countywide services and issued some recommendations. Unfortunately, in doing so, the Grand Jury really failed to properly understand how Sunnyvale’s Public Safety model works, with our unified police and fire services. So a lot of their recommendations weren’t applicable, and a lot of their assertions simply weren’t true in our case. The Grand Jury was correct in other cases, and pretty much every such case was one where we’re already pursuing whatever they suggested. So with some minor wording changes, we approved the City’s response to the Grand Jury on a 5-0 vote.

Item 5 was a bit more contentious – dealing with maternity leave for board and commission members. This was brought about in an expedited way because a commissioner has to take time off unexpectedly soon to deal with a pregnancy, and she would otherwise be in danger of violating Council policy under the circumstances. So the proposal was to simply add “maternity leave” to the list of excused absences for commissioners. There was a bit of pushback – the suggestion was made that no change was required since “illness” is listed as an excused absence. But we nevertheless added “maternity leave” to the list of excused board and commission absence reasons on a 4-1 vote. My position was pretty simple. We should never force a commissioner to choose between attending meetings and putting her health or the health of her baby at risk, we can get by just fine if one commissioner has to miss a couple of extra meetings, and we should not be sending a message to our commissioners that pregnancy is something they need to avoid while serving. And I think we’ve accomplished all of that with this vote.

We then had some IGR comments, mostly regarding VTA committees, and we then adjourned to the Redevelopment Agency.

The consent calendar passed 5-0, unsurprisingly, leaving us with our one issue, approving an Enforced Obligation Payment Schedule. You’ve probably heard all of the news about how the state is trying to eliminate redevelopment agencies, and this was part of all of that.  If we want to keep our downtown redevelopment agency alive, we will be required to pay a lot of money (which cities are openly referring to as a “ransom” payment), and we have to provide short-term and long-term reports on exactly what debt our agency has and what payments they have to make.  This item involved approval of the short-term report.  The long-term report and a decision on the ransom payment will come later.  I did, however, take the opportunity to vent about the bad behavior by a lot of other agencies in forcing these choices on us.

And that’s about it.  In and out in a little more than an hour. We’re off until September 13th, so see you then.

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