Wow, a long night, indeed.
We started the evening by presenting a Certificate of Congratulations to Anjini Karthik. She was this year’s grand prize winner in Synopsis’ Science and Technology Championship, for a project that none of us could really understand (it had something to do with biofuel production, that much I got).
There was one announcement from the public, about Saturday’s Democratic Club of Sunnyvale meeting, and then we moved on to the meeting. The consent calendar was approved on a 6-0 vote with no items pulled. There were no public comments.
Item 2 dealt with our 18-month review and update of the city’s green building standards. We passed these standards in 2010, and we built into the process an 18-month review of the standards to see if they’re working and see if changes are required. In this case, there was the added complication that staff was proposing an update to the Moffett Park standards – and an applicant wanted to immediately take advantage of the update (items 3-5). To make matters worse, the timing was such that the Sustainability Commission wasn’t included in the review of this item. To make matters even worse, Council was aware that one of the SC’s members is well-versed in green building standards, and another actually works professionally as a green building rater. This didn’t go over well with at least half of the Council, who really wanted the SC to review this. But an SC review would set back items 3-5, which have significant impacts to the city, since they partially involve Google’s expansion into Sunnyvale.
There was a fair bit of discussion as to how to handle this. In addition, a couple of members of the SC spoke as members of the public, making a pretty compelling case that the residential green standards in particular should be raised. That got to me in particular, but there’s a real danger in making arbitrary or rash calls like that from the dais without proper review or opportunity for staff input. So the real issue became how to handle all of the conflicting priorities with this issue.
In the end the motion was to approve the staff recommendation, and to return the standards to the Sustainability Commission for review in the next 12 months or sooner, and that motion passed on a 5-1 vote, which I supported. I wanted to go even further than this, though. I wanted the SC to review the standards as soon as convenient (as in, in the next month or two) and return them for possible revision. I also wanted to make one immediate change. It seems that we require commercial buildings 5k-25k to be built to LEED silver – but we require city buildings the same size to only be LEED certified. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I want to raise the city building requirement to LEED silver as well. But since we’ll be reviewing the standards again fairly soon, and since we won’t be building any city buildings of that size in that time frame anyway, I was content to go along with the motion. But I still really want staff to act on this a lot more quickly than they’re proposing.
Items 3-5 were heard together. 3 and 4 involved design reviews for two pieces of property near Moffett Towers, and 5 involved modifying an existing development agreement to accommodate the changes proposed by 3 and 4. So if 3 and 4 passed, 5 needed to pass, and if 3 and 4 failed, 5 was pointless. And 3 and 4 were also invalid if 2 didn’t pass. Got all that?
In item 3, Jay Paul proposed adding a fifth office building and a multi-level parking structure to the Ariba complex. In item 4, Jay Paul proposed adding a fourth office building and a multi-level parking structure to the northern complex. All of these would exceed the city’s floor-area ratio (FAR) limits under normal conditions. But Jay Paul also proposed building the buildings to LEED certified gold, and retrofitting all of the Ariba buildings to LEED gold as well. At that point, the city’s updated green building standards allow the FAR limits.
Not too surprisingly, the focus of the discussion was on the traffic impacts of these projects, and there was more than a little talk about the Mary Avenue Extension Project. But there was a really interesting development as part of this project. The developer is paying the city and Mountain View to examine and possibly improve the Ellis freeway exit as a traffic mitigation measure. This was a real surprise, because we’ve always wanted to improve that interchange to help deal with traffic into Moffett Park, but we’ve never had the means to do so (in no small part because it’s Mountain View’s call to begin with). Now, it appears that we do. That alone is a big win. In fact, one member of the public, who has historically been critical of the MAEP and related efforts, was very complimentary of the whole project.
After a fair bit of discussion, we voted 5-1 to approve the proposed designs for the two parcels, and then we voted 6-0 to update the development agreement.
Item 6 involved appointing new representatives to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) and to the San Francisco Regional Water System Financing Authority. And with very little discussion, I was appointed to both positions on a 6-0 vote. It wasn’t much of a competition. It was in our interest to appoint someone who may be around for several years, which eliminated all but two of us. And given my interest in environmental and sustainability issues, as well as no interest being expressed by my one other colleague (or maybe he was just willing to yield to me), it wasn’t that a big deal.
Item 7 involved establishing city positions on six League of California Cities resolutions. They were 1) supporting revising the state code to recognize alternative means for public noticing, 2) tort reform that includes “loser pays” for lawsuits, 3) raising public awareness about issues involving bullied children, 4) supporting the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which would ban incarceration of youths younger than 18 in adult prisons, 5) replacing the death penalty with life without parole, and 6) honoring the City of Bell for its progress in dealing with its municipal corruption. This is the kind of issue that Councilmembers love talking about at length, and we didn’t disappoint.
So I took the lead. First, I proposed supporting #1, which passed 5-1. I proposed supporting #3, which passed 6-0. I proposed supporting #4, which passed 3-0 with 3 abstentions. I proposed supporting #5, which passed 4-0 with 2 abstentions. And then I pulled a surprise and proposed opposing #6. Bell is the city in southern CA which made the news when it was revealed that its city manager was raking in around $700k/year, and four of its five part-time councilmembers were making over $100k/year. My reason for opposing commending their municipal cleanup was simple – you wouldn’t compliment someone just because he stopped kicking his dog, and this is no different to me. And it actually passed 3-2 with one abstention.
At that point, I was done, but a colleague proposed supporting #2. That failed 1-3 with 2 abstentions. I abstained, because I was torn on that one. Cities really do need tort reform, because we’re just besieged by frivolous lawsuits, and loser pays would help. But there’s a big down-side to “loser pays”, in that it also acts to discourage justified lawsuits from being filed by citizens with limited means. So I wasn’t comfortable taking a position on that one.
Item 8 was related – voting on Peninsula Division officers for the League of California Cities. I moved to support the proposed slate, and it passed 6-0.
Item 9 was a bit tricky, the appointment of an ethics subcommittee and publishing of a campaign ethics brochure. We do this before every election, but this one slipped through the cracks a bit, and we’re getting to it late. There was discussion about how much of this was necessary, specifically the “last word” debate. This is a debate that we organize for right before Election Day, in the event a candidate launches a last-minute negative attack ad. Some of my colleagues place a lot of value in it. But with the increase in vote-by-mail, I believe it’s become a lot less important to have this kind of thing, simply because last-minute campaigning has become a lot less significant. Regardless, we voted 6-0 to create the subcommittee, consisting of Councilmembers Lee, Spitaleri, and Moylan.
Item 10 kind of broke up the mood of the room, because we were getting a bit punchy and starting to get a little loose. But 10 was serious and bad news, so nobody was in a joking mood for it. This involved the state-mandated ransom payment in order to maintain our redevelopment agency, payment which is $3.65 million up front and an estimated $900k per year every year afterwards. The alternative is to lose $134 million in revenue over the next 20 years, money that is badly needed to get our downtown finished, and money that includes some $61 million for affordable housing directly in Sunnyvale. The state cynically calls this as a “voluntary program”, but given the significant damage to our city that the state threatens to do, there’s nothing voluntary about it. And, of course, it’s also blatantly illegal under last year’s Proposition 22, a constitutional amendment that the state seems to have no interest in actually honoring. I vented in a particularly blunt fashion at the end of our previous meeting about this, so I was more brief this time, but still rather blunt. Nevertheless, I made the motion to opt in to the program and make the ransom payment, and it passed on a 6-0 vote. This is contingent on the courts failing to do the right thing and upholding the “voluntary program” as being constitutional – otherwise we won’t have to pay the ransom.
Item 11 was my big issue, since it involved the subcommittee that I chair. We looked at two issues, whether or not to continue requiring commissions to hold July meetings just to elect chairs and vice chairs, and whether or not to create a council liaison policy for commissions. I kind of went on and on on this one. Ah well. We pretty quickly approved allowing commissions to elect chairs and vice chairs in July or the next available meeting, except for the Board of Building Code Appeals (which is a bit odd in its meeting schedule). We also clarified that a newly-elected chair takes office after the election meeting is over, and not immediately after the vote (which is something that commissions seem to interpret differently, depending on the commission). Both were a 6-0 vote.
The rest was trickier, since staff recommended creating liaisons, but the subcommittee voted 2-1 not to recommend liaisons (listing a bunch of alternatives instead). So we discussed it a bit, and I was pleasantly surprised that we voted to approve a council liaison process on a 6-0 vote, returning this to the subcommittee for specifics, and including the commission chairs in the process of developing the specifics. After a false start, we returned to the list of specific alternatives that were proposed (we neglected to give them consideration, thinking that they and the liaison program were mutually exclusive, which they weren’t). I’m going to get this wrong, and I didn’t write down the votes. But I believe we approved the following:
- requiring commissions to have the chair or designated alternate present commission positions on all non-consent calendar items
- holding regular (quarterly or otherwise) meetings of chairs and possibly vice chairs, with the full council present.
- supporting a public, online e-notify mechanism for all board and commission agendas
The final issue was appointing residents to vacancies on the Arts and the Housing and Human Services Commissions, and we appointed Shawnte Santos to the Arts Commission and Patti Evans to the H&HS Commission. Congrats to them.
There was some more non-agenda back-and-forth, and we ended the meeting around 11:15. A very long night, but some good things happened