3/20/2012 Council Summary

Wow, this was a long night.

We started the evening with a closed session regarding negotiations with SEA (Sunnyvale Employees Association), the largest of the city’s bargaining units.  I can’t say what happened, but I can recap where we stand with the various units, since there have been any number of closed sessions and contract votes in the past few months.  As of right now, every unit came back to us and offered the city concessions in exchange for a contract extension, except SEA, and council has now voted to accept all of those concessions.  Most of the units’ contracts would have expired this year, including SEA’s.  So right now, the other units all have contract extensions good through 2014 or 2015 depending on the unit, and SEA’s contract is about to expire (in July, I believe).  That’s simply where we stand.

This was followed by a study session about possible changes to city ordinances regarding conversion of mobile home parks.  And this was the first council study session I ever attended which actually took place in Chambers instead of the West Conference Room.  That’s because a lot of people were interested in this topic.  Unfortunately, a series of miscommunications from people other than city employees caused mobile home residents to think this topic was about something other than what it was.  So we had a lot of people who attended the Housing and Human Services meeting on this topic, wanting to discuss something else.  Some of that happened again at this study session.

It was a bit contentious, but not so much by the residents.  Only one or two residents wanted to speak on this topic.  Mostly, people representing mobile home parks spoke, concerned that this was going to lead to sweeping changes to what they can or can’t do with their property.

But this wasn’t driven by some great need to make improvements, simply because mobile home parks don’t get sold that often – certainly not the larger ones.  We needed to look at this issue as part of the state-mandated Housing Element update, and we’re examining the ordinances and seeing if anything warrants a change.  That’s really it.  I don’t know if there’s any pressing need for changes or not, or what staff may propose.  There were a number of possibilities discussed, ranging from “cities never do this” to “cities sometimes do this but we don’t” to “most cities do this and we don’t”.  Staff will be returning to us with some proposals at a later date.

Then we got into the regular meeting.

We started with a special order of the day recognizing Arbor Day, and acknowledging all of the work done by our city’s arborists.  This was followed by recognition of National Library Week, coming up shortly.  I took this opportunity to make a number of points about the popularity of our library, most of which are covered in this Sun/Merc article.  We then got into the meat of the meeting.

Two items were pulled from the consent calendar by colleagues – 1E, an amendment to our Trust Agreement for post-employment welfare benefits, and 1G, approval of a contract extension for the Communications Officers Association (COA).  The balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote.  One question was asked regarding 1E, and that item was then approved on a 7-0 vote.  We then got into 1G, the COA concessions/extension, which took quite a while to resolve.

Council had previously had a closed session about a proposed set of concessions and contract extension for COA, which represents the 19 people who perform Sunnyvale’s 9-1-1 response system.  This vote was supposed to ratify the agreement in principle that we passed in closed session (which is the way these votes go – we don’t bring them to a public vote unless there is a tentative agreement in place).  But this was complicated by a rather misinformed letter that a resident sent out in an email blast, suggesting that this vote was something other than it was, tying it to many unrelated items, and generally not understanding how our 9-1-1 model works.  The letter implied we were proposing to cut them a break, when in fact they were offering significant concessions to the city.  So one speaker thought we were giving the COA employees a break while raising various taxes (including property taxes), when the deal was actually a substantial benefits concession, and when we’ve not had any talk about raising taxes (nor can we raise any taxes without a public election).  Others thought we were giving our people a 10% bonus for no reason (we weren’t).   It’s very disappointing when irresponsible actions like this result in misinformation being spread around, but it happens.  That’s why I work hard to maintain this blog.

Anyway, here is the deal that was negotiated:

  • COA freezes their salary for the next three years, no matter what the survey says.
  • The salary freeze includes a modification to the salary survey at the end of that term, resetting the baseline pay so that the subsequent 2014 survey doesn’t just restore three years of raises to the employees.  This is important.
  • Each year for the next three years, COA increases  their contribution towards the employee portion of their retirement costs by 1%, first one occurring in July, capping at 3%.
  • Whenever the rest of the units adopt a two-tier pension scheme, COA agrees to immediately do the same.

This year’s salary survey would have resulted in an 0.8% cut to their salaries, and that is replaced by a 0% freeze.  But that is offset and then some by the 1.0% that they give back immediately this year.  And going forward, with the economy having finally recovered, the prediction is that the next couple of surveys would otherwise have resulted in raises for COA members.  So the city saves a little immediately, it saves the cost of raises plus an additional 1% next year, and it saves the cost of more raises plus an additional 1% the year after.

While that’s meaningful money that the city saves, the element that’s actually most important is the two-tier agreement.  Under CalPERS rules, we cannot reduce retirement benefits unless we reduce all of the non-sworn employees at the same time.  And with this agreement, every unit has now agreed to a “me too” two-tier condition except SEA.  This is why all of the units have been negotiating with the city at the same time – so that all of the bargaining units can be in sync on this point at the same time.  One of my colleagues explained this during the meeting (and he did so very well), but it’s a confusing point, so it’s worth spelling out.  We cannot simply adopt new CalPERS terms for COA, then adopt them for SEIU, then for SMA, and so on – everoyne but PSOA and PSMA have to switch at the same time.  Likewise, PSOA and PSMA (the two units of sworn employees) also have to be done at the same time, but we’ve already negotiated for and received that.

Anyway, there was a lot of discussion to try and clear up all of the various misperceptions.  The big one was over the 9.5% bonus, with many people, including the letter-writer, not understanding why that bonus exists.  It’s pretty simple.  Most cities hire one set of police 9-1-1 responders, one set of fire 9-1-1 responders, and one set of medical responders.  When a call comes in, the first operator routes the call to the appropriate person to handle it.  We don’t do that.  We cross-train all of our 9-1-1 people in all three disciplines.  This is actually very important.  Most 9-1-1 calls are medical, and a lot of calls require the 9-1-1 operator to dispatch help, then give the caller verbal guidance (mouth-to-mouth, stopping bleeding, whatever) until the first responders arrive.  Whether it’s a police emergency or a fire emergency or a medical emergency, whoever you call will know what to tell you for all of the scenarios, without getting someone else.

But more important, we don’t have employees sitting around in our 911 call center waiting for their particular type of emergency to occur.  This lets us keep fewer people on duty without any loss of service (in fact, with better service), which saves us money.  And we pay our people more for two reasons.  First, we properly compensate them for the higher skill level that we require them to have and maintain.  Second, we have to make sure we don’t lose those employees after paying more to train them up.  We don’t want to train someone up, then have them leave after two years for a better offer in another city.  The down side to this model is that you have to pay more attention to employee retention than other cities, and we do that.  But the lower headcount makes this a net win for us in a big way.

Anyway, after a lot of discussion and some fiery rhetoric on all of this, we got to the voting.  The initial motion was to return this item to a public hearing so that residents could discuss this in more detail.  That failed on a 2-5 vote (I dissented – we’d already discussed this a lot).  The following motion was to ratify the tentative agreement, and that passed on a 5-2 vote (I agreed).

And with that, we finally finished the consent calendar.

We then had a couple of speakers during public comments, and it was on to the general business.

Item 2 was the approval of a new operator of the Sunnyvale Tennis Center, and this turned out to be entirely non-controversial.  The operator was thrilled with the deal, staff was very positive about the deal, and members of the Sunnyvale tennis community showed up to voice their support.  Not a single nay-sayer.  After a little discussion, I moved to approve the agreement, and the motion passed on a 7-0 vote.

Item 3 was consideration of extending smoking bans in Sunnyvale, and this was… less than unanimous…  Staff recommended extending existing bans to cover public parks, giving the city manager power to establish a ban at other public property locations, and banning smoking in or within 20′ of an outdoor dining area.  Staff presented the results of the public survey that they took, which had 400 respondents and about 2/3 support for the bans.  Then the public spoke, and there were a lot of different opinions.  Many residents showed up to support it.  Some Murphy business owners showed up to oppose it.  The head of the downtown association showed up to say (I believe) that a majority of its members supported it, but it wasn’t unanimous by any means (and that he personally had concerns).  There was talk about how damaging second-hand smoke in public spaces really is, and whether we should differentiate between parks and golf courses.  After some wrangling, we got organized and started casting votes.

The first motion was to ban smoking in parks other than golf courses, and that passed on a 5-2 vote (I think that’s what it was – it definitely passed).  I seconded that one.  The second one was to ban smoking on golf courses, and that failed, I think on a 2-5 vote (I supported it).  The third one was to give the city manager authority to ban smoking on other public property, and I think that one passed on a 6-1 vote.  The next motion was to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas, and I believe that failed on a 2-5 vote (I supported it).  That made the final issue, banning it within 20′ of outdoor dining, a moot point.  The final motion was one I made to clean up our existing ordinance to reflect changes in the state law, and that passed on a 7-0 vote.   In fact, for the bans that did pass, I believe we didn’t actually approve the ordinance – we asked staff to come back with cleaned-up wording reflecting our desire.  So it will be returning to us for first and second readings, to be passed again.

This was all tough for me, because I take civil liberties seriously – people should have the right to do even unwise and self-destructive things, if they don’t affect others.  The question was whether or not they affect others in this case, and these were somewhat marginal cases.  But I wanted to err on the side of public health, and this kind of thing is on the decline anyway.  So I found myself more supportive of the proposed bans than I expected.  But my colleagues only agreed in a couple of cases.

Item 4 involved creation of a citizens advisory committee to provide staff feedback on the Lawrence Station Area Plan.  This is part of the grant that we got to do this work.  We talked about it a little bit, and then we voted 7-0 (I believe) to form a Council subcommittee that will pick the citizens who will serve on the committee.  The subcommittee will consist of myself, Councilmember Moylan, and Vice Mayor Whittum.

Item 5 involved more feedback from the council subcommittee on community event and neighborhood grants.  They took my request to exclude dues-paying organizations from eligibility, but decided to disagree, and instead to deal with such organizations on a case-by-case basis.  No action was required by us.

Item 6 involved consideration of AB 1648, the updated CA DISCLOSE Act.  And I felt bad for the couple members of the public who waited until the end to give their feedback (all of it in support of the Act).  The Act would create additional requirements for clearly identifying the major donors behind various political campaigns.  After a little discussion, we voted to endorse AB 1648 on a 7-0 vote.

That was about it.  We had some IGR reports (that were very quick because of the late hour), and we adjourned at around 11:15.

We’re off for two weeks, back on April 3rd.

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