Late, I know. It’s been a busy time.
We started with a joint study session with the Planning Commission, to discuss the various levels of approval for different types of applications and appeals. It was mostly an educational session for the various decision-makers, and it didn’t really represent any sort of plans to change policy or process.
We then went to the general meeting, which started with a special order of the day to recognize the winners of this year’s Earth Day Poster Contest. This is almost as much fun as the annual fire poster contest (not quite as good, because there are fewer kids with this one). Then it was on to the main meeting. There were a couple of initial announcemnts (Columbia Neighborhood Center reopening, a pitch for the Sunnyvale Community Players, and an upcoming candidate forum).
A colleague pulled the list of bills and the MidPen Housing budget modification, and a member of the public pulled the Remington paving contract item, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote. After a minimum amount of discussion the list of bills was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). And after a minimum amount of discussion, the MidPen budget modification was approved on a 6-1 vote (again, I agreed). The Remington issue was questioned by the owner of the shopping center at Remington and El Camino, who was concerned about some Remington access issues. Council directed staff to take the concerns offline and discuss them with the owner, and the contract was approved on a 7-0 vote. Then it was on to general business.
A couple of members of the public spoke about employee compensation issues.
Item 2 was approval of a special development permit for an 8-unit townhouse complex on Fair Oaks at Taylor. This went very quickly with virtually no discussion, and we approved it on a 7-0 vote.
Item 3 involved a suggested update to Sunnyvale’s Green Building Program. This wasn’t quite as quick, as there was a fair bit of discussion about the increase in green building points, and how burdensome and effective the proposed increase would be. After some discussion about this, we approved staff’s recommendation, with the addition of an electric car charger requirement for public facilities (the requirement was already present for residential facilities), on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). This is always a little tough, because I don’t like increasing the burden on building and expanding homes. But sustainability is a serious issue, and staff and the Sustainability Commission made a compelling case for the upgrades being necessary and positive, and that made the call a lot easier for me (and clearly for most of my colleagues).
Item 4 was a tough one – approving a general plan amendment to study to increase the zoning of an Evelyn property to Residential Very High Density. There is a small business park on Evelyn near Walt’s Cycles which is this pocket of commercial property surrounded by dense residential (two sides have 3 stories and the third has two). A developer is proposing pretty dense apartments there, up to 65 units per acre, and there was some debate about the appropriateness of that density at that location. After some discussion and very little public input, we went to try for a motion. First, the motion was made to approve staff’s recommendation across the board. There was then some debate about a proposed amendment involving Murphy Park, and whether or not the noticing for the meeting permitted such an amendment, and the amendment was ruled out of place. And then the original motion failed on a 3-4 vote (I seconded the motion, so I supported it). Then there was a motion to approve the General Plan Study, but with density only at 48 units per acre. This one failed on a 2-4 vote with one abstention (I dissented). Then there was a motion to return the item so that the withdrawn amendment could be considered, but it wasn’t seconded. Then there was a motion to go on to the next issue, which wasn’t seconded either. Things were getting a bit grim at this point. There was a motion to expand the Downtown Specific Plan to include the area in question, but that wasn’t seconded. Finally, I moved to approve what was basically staff’s recommendation, but to study both 65 and 48 units per acre in parallel. And that motion passed on a 5-2 vote. Boy was that a tough one.
I don’t know that I would support the tentative project that this developer is considering. It’s a little on the dense side. But it’s in a good location for such a project for a number of reasons. It’s surrounded by dense housing. It’s in close proximity to CalTrain, which is a good thing. And the loss of commercial space in this case is very small. This is just a study, not any sort of project approval, and I want to know more, so I supported it.
Next up was item 5, renewal of a taxicab franchise, where staff was actually recommending denial of the renewal. Staff made the argument that the applicant had been late to pay his fees five times, and that he did not have the required number of permitted drivers. There was a fair bit of discussion about what had happened and what should happen now, and we voted 7-0 to continue this item to our next meeting. Because this issue is continued, I’m not going to comment much on this, because of Brown Act concerns.
Item 6 involved the annual approval of the downtown Business Improvement District. Basically, the downtown businesses agreed to form an association with mandatory taxes that go towards an improvement district, and this requires annual review and approval of the BID and its budget. This was a bit more complex because in addition to the approval, the Sunnyvale Downtown Association asked the City to contribute $27k per year to enhance the Association’s efforts, something we haven’t done before. And it was even more complicated since Vice Mayor Whittum had to recuse himself, leaving six of us. After some discussion, I moved to approve the BID but not the request for matching funds. There was some discussion, and that failed on a 3-3 vote. Then there was a follow-up vote to approve the BID with a one-time $10k contribution, and that passed on a 5-1 vote (I dissented).
I’ve had some concerns about the BID in the past, but particularly in light of the economy, I thought they’d done a great job this year. They really stepped up for the annual tree lighting when we couldn’t help out, for instance. So I was completely supportive of approving the BID again. But I couldn’t justify giving them general fund money, not in this economy, and not when we give no money to the Chamber of Commerce, or the Moffett Park Business and Transportation Association. But I was on the losing end of that vote.
This was followed by another tough issue, the 2012/2013 NOVA staffing overview and proposed workforce reduction (item 7). NOVA is an odd duck, in that it’s completely grant funded, but Sunnyvale runs it. So we manage it, but we don’t pay for it, and neither do the other six cities that it serves. Grant funding for NOVA goes inversely with the economy – when it gets bad, funding improves, and when it improves, funding decreases. And the economy is improving. So staff proposed across the board cuts to NOVA’s staffing, based on a rather serious decrease in grant funding. This is a tough situation, but we don’t have a lot of choices. If we try to fund NOVA ourselves, then we end up paying for services for other cities. We’ve tried to get the other cities to agree to supplement NOVA funding in the past, and they’ve never been willing to help out. It’s unfortunate, but there aren’t any good options. So we approved the staff reduction on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
Item 8 was another interesting one, approval of a contract for Michael Martello to serve as our Interim City Attorney. There was a brief discussion about the contract, and we approved hiring him on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). Technically, we actually approved using his law firm for our legal services, but he will be acting as our Interim City Attorney. This was a pretty easy call for me. He was asking the same total compensation as our current City Attorney, he was available immediately, he was interested, and he is highly qualified. We don’t have a lot of options in a situation like this, not when we lose our city attorney just two weeks later, and not when we have such a highly qualified candidate. We’ll be a lot more deliberative when we fill the permanent position, and Mr. Martello will do a good job in the interim.
Then we adjourned to the Redevelopment Agency where we approved the consent calendar on a 7-0 vote, and we approved the one general business item on a 7-0 vote.
A pretty long night – 4 1/2 hours for the general meeting, not including the study session beforehand.