2/7/2012 Council Summary

Relatively short night, all things considered.  We started the evening with a closed session regarding existing litigation (no comment).

We then moved into a study session regarding park dedication fees, which was very interesting.  Basically, staff was looking for ideas and direction regarding how those fees should be put to use.  We’re increasing the park dedication fees for developers over the next two years, which will bring in a lot more money for new parks and better amenities at existing parks.  The projection is that at 200 new housing units added per year, we’ll raise some $130 million over 20 years.  That’s just a data point – housing could be more or less than that, of course.  Off the top of my head, some of the issues that were discussed were:

  • how to allocate the revenue – geographically, “local parks” versus “city-wide parks”, building new parks vs. improving existing parks
  • a broad discussion of the money involved with the new Morse Avenue Park (Seven Seas, sigh)
  • what to do about the golf courses, which are beginning to operate in the red
  • discussion about the city-owned houses next to Murphy Park and Orchard Gardens
  • whether or not to make capital investments in joint use parks (school parks and Baylands)

One of my concerns regarding this is pretty simple.  Building new parks is part of the plan, of course.  But that plan doesn’t matter much if we don’t have land for the parks.  So I want to make sure that the city has the means to jump at any opportunities for land purchases that might come along.  If that means keeping a financial reserve for park land purchases, empowering staff to do things it can’t do now, whatever, I want to know about it, and I want Council to get our ducks in a row.

We went into the main meeting next.  We had a Special Order of the Day to mark February and March as Sunnyvale Reads Months.  There were two announcements, one regarding recruitment for boards and commissions, one regarding KSUN being offline for two weeks.  Then came the consent calendar.  Items 1A, 1C, and 1E were pulled, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote, with one colleague recusing himself on an item too close to his home, and with me recusing myself on 1I, which is too close to my condo association.  Wording was added to the minutes from the last meeting, and 1A was approved on a 7-0 vote.  Questions were raised about payments for outside legal services regarding Onizuka, and then the list of bills was approved on a 7-0 vote.  And then a member of the public made comments about the city’s investment strategy, followed by approval of the investment report on a 7-0 vote.

We then had public comments, and a couple members of the public speak.  A good friend and Sunnyvale commissioner, Pat Walz, announced that he was moving out of the city for various reasons, one of them being the difficulty for first-time homebuyers to purchase a home in Sunnyvale (he is renting, now).  He talked about the value of infill and densification, and the need for Sunnyvale to take steps to make housing more affordable, largely by increasing the supply, but also by favoring Prop 13 reform.  Mayor Spitaleri then had some very kind words for Pat, who has really been an asset to the city over the past several years.  One Sunnyvale piece of trivia regarding Pat – he’s the only Sunnyvale resident to ever have served on two commissions at the same time (he’s currently a member of the BPAC and the Board of Building Code Appeals – Council made an exception for BCA boardmembers to serve on a second commission, and Pat is the only resident to have taken advantage of that so far).  Anyway, Pat has become a good friend through our mutual interest in city issues, and I’m really going to miss having him around. We share a brain on a number of city issues.  Big loss for the city, but I understand his reasons for abandoning us all.  Something about a wife and a baby and looking out for his family (that old excuse).

Also, Lakewood Village residents spoke to encourage Council to revisit the Lakewood Pool issue and see about re-opening it.

We then moved on to general business.  Item 2 involved a proposed new office building at Mary and Maude, the current location of the Post Office.  The developer is proposing a new 5-story office building there, feeding in to the long-term plan for the Peery Park industrial area.  Surprisingly, there were no members of the public present, probably in part because the proposed office building is predicted to actually decrease traffic in that area (as compared to the Post Office, where postal vehicles enter and exit at all hours of the day.  Councilmembers spent a lot of time talking about the possibility of installing a sidewalk along that portion of Maude, which is a bit challenging because of the presence of several trees in that area.  Staff worked with the developer, and they believe they can put in a sidewalk, possibly without removing trees, but without removing more than two of them at the most.  There was also a bit of discussion about the layout, which proposes having the building with a setback from the street.  The point was made that most of our modern design standards for places like El Camino emphasize no setback.  In the end, we approved the proposed development on a 6-1 vote.

I generally supported the proposal.  One of my big concerns was traffic, because I suspect the new development will change the traffic flow in and out of the property.  Right now, traffic is mostly in and out of the Maude exit, but the new development places a parking structure near the Mary entrance/exit.  So I’m just a little worried that people will try to do wacky stuff to head southbound on Mary.  But only a little, and I’m sure it can be mitigated if it happens.  So it wasn’t enough to cause me to oppose the motion, or even try to make changes.  I was otherwise a strong “yes” vote.

Item 3 involved the city’s legislative advocacy positions on topics of interest to the city, and this ended up being more involved than I anticipated.  We started by discussing just how effective the city’s legislative advocacy really is.  The consensus seemed to be “by ourselves, not much”.  The real value, currently, seems to be in giving the League of California Cities ammunition to act towards positions we favor.  They don’t always do so, but they’re on our side of issues much more often than not.  The suggestion was made that Sunnyvale might actually need a paid lobbyist to advocate on our behalf, and examples were given of just how effective a lobbyist can be, even for a city of our size.  It was suggested that we may revisit this topic during Friday’s strategic planning session.  After discussion ended, a motion was made to cease all legislative advocacy efforts, and it failed for lack of a second.  This was followed by a motion to accept staff’s proposed changes to our legislative advocacy positions, and that passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

Item 4 involved changes to Council policy regarding boards and commissions.  We had already approved the general changes, but staff had to return to us with the specific wording.  The biggest change is probably that we are requiring a commission spokesperson to address Council on any non-consent item, when the commission only has action minutes (meaning “all of them except the Planning Commission”).  The logic is that the action minutes aren’t always enough for us to get the gist of commission discussions or concerns, and we’d like to hear from the commissions more directly (and have them present so we can ask questions, even).  So I moved acceptance of the changed language.  A friendly amendment attempted to change the language regarding chair and vice chair elections in a way that was possibly easier to understand.  But the proposed language actually changed the nature of one aspect of the policy changes, so I declined it (it was well-meant, I just disagreed with it – and looked something like a deer in the headlights in the process).  And the language changes were approved on a 6-1 vote, with minor changes to staff’s recommendation (I obviously supported it).

Item 5 involved a specific resolution to deal with a newly-elected councilmember who is also a retired Sunnyvale employee.  Because of that combination, he is forced to pay a significant amount of money out of his own pocket to receive the same medical coverage that other councilmembers get automatically while in office.  And he’s paying a lot to get the coverage – about 1/4 of his Council salary.  This is an oddity in CalPERS rules that we can’t really change, unfortunately.  So the proposal was to have the city reimburse him for his out-of-pocket expenses, so that he is receiving the exact same benefit that every other councilmember is offered.  And after some questions to set everything straight, we voted 6-0 to reimburse him (with himself as the recused vote).  This was a bit difficult, because it seems like we’re giving away a benefit to a councilmember.  But Sunnyvale is still an employer, and we have an obligation to treat our employees fairly.  For me, this was a fairness issue, and penalizing exactly one employee because of odd circumstances beyond his or our control simply isn’t fair.  And since there was no dissent, not even from the most fiscally conservative of our councilmembers, it appears like it was the right thing to do.

That was it for the meeting proper.  We then had IGR reports and councilmember comments.  We got a presentation of the general timeline of events involving the Lehigh shooting, which was really interesting to hear.  Also, a colleague raised concerns about the Council practice of emailed staff questions.  For any given meeting week, we get the agenda and RTCs at the same time that you can get them – Thursday nights.  We then have until Sunday night to submit any questions to staff regarding the agenda issues, and staff emails responses back to us on Monday or Tuesday.  Concern was raised about the openness of that process, and what the public interest may be regarding this.  So a motion was made and seconded to discuss the practice on a future agenda, but it failed on a 2-5 vote.  I was a bit on the fence with this, having had “what if” discussions with the City Attorney about this practice on a number of occasions.  I don’t believe there’s an actual problem with the practice, so to me, it is a choice between increased transparency and increased effectiveness of staff and Council.  That’s always a tough call.  I wasn’t the only councilmember concerned about making changes that might reduce the effectiveness of our process or have us or staff showing up unprepared to cast very important votes in an informed manner.  Without this process, you would see a lot of issues discussed, questions raised that couldn’t be answered without further issue, and votes subsequently delayed until future meetings.  Or councilmembers casting votes without having all of the necessary facts.

That’s about it.  We have our strategic planning meeting on Friday, then nothing until the 28th.

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