3/6/12 Council Summary

Sorry for yet another delay.  Work has been a bit intense.

We started the evening with two closed sessions, one being discussion about ongoing labor negotiations with the Communications Officers Association (the city employees who do emergency dispatch) , the other involving the Downtown.  Then we got on to business.

There were a handful of public announcements – for board and commission recruitment (there are a lot of vacancies this time out), for the Miniature Art Show to benefit Sunnyvale Community Services, for Sunnyvale Rotary, and for the Sunnyvale Democratic Club.  Two colleagues asked the rest of us to reconsider aspects of last meeting’s vote regarding reducing speed limits to 15 MPH near all Sunnyvale schools (none from the prevailing side agreed).  Then came the consent calendar, which had a lot of action this week.

Staff and a member of the public pulled 1H, the EIR for the Mary Avenue Overpass.  And a colleague pulled 1A, the minutes from the last meeting.  The balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote.

The colleague asked to have the March 6th minutes amended to include specific arguments made by the colleague in dissent on the Evelyn Avenue general plan amendment issue.  The minutes were then approved on a 5-2 vote.  I actually dissented on this.  We have a policy of using action minutes, to supplement the full video recording of the meetings.  And those minutes primarily list the actions taken and nothing else.  I don’t get any of my own arguments listed in the action minutes, nor do I request that they be listed – because that’s the way action minutes are supposed to work.  But I lost that argument.

Staff pulled the Mary Overpass EIR to clarify the intent of the action.  It has been suggested elsewhere that the project has been killed and won’t be pursued.  There were also some concerns regarding the Mary Avenue bicycle realignment project, which had been rolled into the overpass EIR.  So just to clarify, the intent, here’s the scoop.  The realignment will now be pursued independent of the overpass EIR.  The two projects had impacts on each other, and as long as they were both active, they needed to be done together.  Once the decision was made to delay the overpass EIR, we needed to make clear that we didn’t intend to delay the realignment, and that wasn’t quite made clear in the staff RTC.  So staff clarified that.  Regarding the overpass itself, there have always been two high priority projects in that area of the city – the overpass, and dealing with the Monster Interchange (101/237/Mathilda).  During the strategic planning workshop, staff made the argument that while the overpass is a minimum of 10 years away, the Monster Interchange can be dealt with relatively quickly, and relatively cheaply, with a comparable effect on congestion in that area.  So staff argued to deal with the Monster Interchange first and delay the overpass.  And if the overpass is delayed, then the EIR needs to be delayed too, since a substantial delay in the project would make an EIR done now “stale” by the time the work started.  Council agreed, and this item is the result – we voted 7-0 to reject all EIR proposals at this time.  A second motion was made to return the bike lane project separately in a reasonable amount of time, and that also passed on a 7-0 vote.

The end result of this is that any pursuit of the overpass is probably delayed by another five years.  And I’m speculating, but at that time, we would probably re-evaluate the need for an overpass, in light of the improvements to the Monster Interchange, in light of changes to traffic patterns at Ellis, in light of increased business activity in the Moffett Park area, and any number of other changes that may happen between now and then.

We then had public comments.  Members of the public spoke about a barking dog problem, VTA bus routes, CalPERS, and the DISCLOSE Act.

Item 2 involved Governor Brown’s pension reform proposal, and what the various elements would mean to Sunnyvale (the answer is some would have dramatic impacts on our finances, some are meaningful reforms that wouldn’t mean much to Sunnyvale, and others don’t really matter much to us).  After some discussion, we voted 4-3 to bring this back for a possible endorsement at a subsequent meeting.  I agreed.  I have some problems with one or two of the specific proposals, but I think it’s worth further discussion.

Item 3 involved switching our elections to even years, an ongoing debate.  There wasn’t much discussion, since the topic is well-known to most of us by now.  Two speakers spoke in favor of a switch.  After that discussion, a motion was made to direct staff to draft the appropriate resolutions to put this on the November 2012 ballot.  There was some discussion, and that motion failed on a 3-4 vote (I dissented)  A second motion was made to direct staff to draft the appropriate resolutions to put this on the November 2012 ballot.  Again, there was some discussion, and this motion passed on a 4-3 vote (I dissented).

This topic is basically one of Sunnyvale’s “religious wars” – people either support it or don’t, and it’s hard to convince someone familiar with this topic to change positions, whatever that position may be.  For me, the end result of such a change is obvious and negative.  Doubling the number of likely voters will double the cost of elections.  This money won’t come from resident donors – it will come from special interests.  It will also become impossible for candidates to canvass even a majority of likely voters, meaning that elections will be decided much more by mailers and endorsements than by voters meeting with candidates and making up their minds that way.  I don’t think that elections decided primarily by mailers and big money are good for Sunnyvale.

None of that would matter if an even-year switch would actually get more voters interested in and involved with Sunnyvale issues, because that’s supposed to be our real goal.  But experience in neighboring cities with even-year elections shows that it doesn’t actually do that.  Fully half of the additional voters that vote in those cities’ even-year elections only vote on the national and state issues, and they don’t even bother to vote on city and school issues.  Particularly now that 80% of voters vote absentee, it has never been easier for someone to vote, and whether it’s an odd or even year, the effort is identical.  The fact that voters choose not to vote on city elections is their choice, and it’s one that they’re free to make.  And there are many reasons why they don’t – many are new residents who simply don’t know Sunnyvale issues enough to want to vote.  Switching to even year elections doesn’t change that.

The real advantage to odd-year elections is that Sunnyvale voters can focus on Sunnyvale issues, and Sunnyvale candidates can focus on reaching the voters who are actually interested in the election.  That can’t and won’t happen with an even-year election – we get lost in the noise of the state and national campaigns, and candidates can’t tell the interested voters from the uninterested ones.  Odd-year elections do more to focus and foster voter interest than even-year elections possibly can.  And holding odd-year elections makes elected office more reachable by non-monied, grassroots candidates than even-year elections would permit.  We’ve elected small-money candidates three times in the past five years, something that just doesn’t happen in even-year cities.

Anyway, that’s mostly what I said during the debate.  But obviously, I lost.  Ah well.

And that was about it.  We had our IGR and non-agenda reports, and we finished in about two hours.

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