5/15/12 Council Summary

Another long night.

We started the evening with a joint study session with the Planning Commission regarding a general plan amendment study involving the industrial space next to DeGuine (most of which is currently occupied by Spansion).  There is a proposal to convert it from industrial to various density housing, and we got something of an update on what has been discovered so far and what it may mean.  The developer is asserting that the current buildings are obsolete, and that the property is not well suited for industrial development.  So the proposal is to convert most of it to housing and park space, with the southern portion becoming commercial.  The developer was required to commission an economic study about the affects of the change, and the study states that the net impact to the city, after all costs and benefits are added up, is a net positive change to revenue.  This somewhat goes against conventional wisdom, which is that industrial and commercial space is net positive to city revenue (significant tax generation, relatively low demand for services), but residential is net negative to city revenue (lower tax generation, relatively high demand for services).  But at today’s Budget Workshop, the Community Development Director supported that claim somewhat (in general, but not necessarily specific to that proposal) by saying that conventional wisdom on this topic has been changing in recent years.  When housing involves density, high-end developments, and significant improvements to the land, the resulting increase in taxes and spending by the occupants can be revenue positive.  Staff and the developer will be getting a peer review of the economic study to try and validate its findings.  One of the themes that Council kept returning to was the concern that rezoning the land may be the tail wagging the dog – that the proposed change is not necessarily for the city’s benefit, but rather for the proposal’s benefit.    All in all, interesting.

We then moved to the general meeting, and it was announced that item 3 had been pulled and will be considered at a later date.  I believe there was a problem with the public noticing of the item.

First up was a number of Public Safety awards, for officers and individuals who performed life-saving and otherwise remarkable public safety service to the community in the past year.  I’m sorry that I didn’t get names and details, because the cases were very interesting.  One of the most interesting involved an incident last September where a resident allegedly killed her baby and then threatened to jump off of the 101/Mathilda overpass.  The dispatcher who was on duty was given an award for outstanding performance in general, and his actions during that event were called out for commendation.  Apparently, the homicide was discovered and reported first, which resulted in significant resources being tasked to the scene.  While that happened, the call came in about a woman on the overpass, and the dispatcher had no patrol officers available for dispatch.  So in something of a departure from standard procedure, he then used the GPS systems in the city’s various fire engines to identify a unit close to the event, and he dispatched it to the scene.  This is something that’s only effective because of our Public Safety (dual training) model – it wouldn’t have been practical in a city with a conventional police/fire model.  And the first responders managed to keep the woman from jumping.

Next was recognition of Foster Care Appreciation Month.

We then had announcements, and there were a few – for Hands on the Arts on Saturday, and for a couple of other events.  Then came the consent calendar, and half of the items were pulled off of consent by colleagues.  We then passed the balance of the consent calendar on a 7-0 voteThe list of bills and claims was passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  Item 1E generated some debate – a proposal to use park dedication fees to pay to defend against a legal challenge to our park dedication fees.  After some debate, we voted 4-3 to take no action on this (meaning staff now needs to find a way to fund it out of the general fund).  I disagreed on that one.  The public safety reclassification item was pulled to ask some questions, and it was then approved on a 7-0 vote.  The appointment of new NOVA Workforce Board members was pulled for dissent, and we passed it on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  And the final tract map item was pulled to ask questions, but it was passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

Item 2 involved a proposal to permit live amplified accoustic music at Da Kine Cafe at Fremont and Sunnyvale-Saratoga.  In short, the cafe has the space and right to support about 38 people at any given time (including staff), and they’re proposing adding live music in a small space neighboring some apartments and homes.  So there was concern about noise, as well as some complaints about rowdiness or other bad behavior in the area or directly associated with the business, and that provoked some scrutiny of the proposal.  The owners were asking for permission to play music until 10 p.m. from S-W and until 1 a.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, which didn’t sit right with some of the neighbors, but which was well-received by many patrons of the cafe.  Always a tough call.  After some discussion, the motion was made to grant the permit but limit it to 10 p.m. Thursday to SaturdayAn amendment was then made to boost that to midnight.  I’m not sure what the Sunday-Wednesday limit was – 8:00, I think, but I’m not positive.  After some more discussion, the amendment passed on a 4-3 vote (I agreed).  This completely changed the intent of the original motion, and I suspect it caused the motion’s supporters to oppose, while those who opposed the original motion now supported it.  And the resulting motion then also passed 4-3, with the maker and second of the original motion opposing (I supported it).

This was a tough one, because the neighborhood has some valid concerns, and this isn’t the most peaceful area of the city.  But there was some pretty compelling evidence that the cafe isn’t responsible for most of the rowdiness in the area, and the cafe is actually on the far side of the building from residences, with other businesses in between.  I still have some concerns, but the motion includes a 6-month review of the changes.  So I’ve got some confidence that we can act if this doesn’t work out.

We then went to item 4, consideration of changes to our taxicab regulations.  We’ve had some recent problems, particularly near the CalTrain area, and there are some holes in our ability to enforce the rules (a violator can simply reapply and get reinstated).  We had some discussion about various options available to us, and a number of drivers and owners showed up to speak about their concerns.  A motion was then made to approve staff recommendation:

  • Require drivers to renew their permits at least 30 days before expiration or face a late fee.
  • Require drivers to maintain daily trip manifests
  • Require drivers to provide proper identification on receipts
  • Disallow permits to people convicted of certain problematic offenses
  • Require franchises to be responsible for their drivers
  • Disallow renewal of franchises that are denied renewal for two years
  • Disallow drivers that are denied renewal for two years
  • Expand the DPS Director’s authority to revoke/suspend/deny drivers permits

This passed on a 7-0 vote.  A motion was then made to place a measure on the ballot to give administrative authority to staff on taxicab issues (which the Charter currently delegates to Council).  After some discussion about the legality of it, the motion failed 2-5.  I dissented, not because it’s necessarily a bad idea, but because we’re a year and a half away, and I don’t know enough about standard practices and some other issues to approve a $48k ballot measure.  Equally important, staff stated that there is likely no improvement in staff efficiency by passing this (just a reduction in Council time), so I can’t yet say that such a ballot measure is worth the money.  I might be open to this next year (and it’s not the kind of ballot measure that requires campaigning, so there’s no need for lead time).

Then came my issue, the subcommittee recommendation of two changes to Board and Commission practices. One was to shorten terms for certain H&HS and BPAC commission slots to properly stagger the terms and not have half of a commission term out at the same time.  The other was to adopt a ranked-choice paper ballot method for appointing commissioners, much the way we vote on study issues.  There was some discussion, mostly from me, and then I moved adoption of the subcommittee recommendation, with two additions.  First, to make sure that the term limit effects of the changes on incumbents who are up for reappointment next week be spelled out by staff, so we understand the potential result.  Second, to specify that we are staggering one “category 1” BPAC commissioner in 2012, and one “category 1” and one “category 2” commissioner in 2014.  And this passed on a 6-1 vote, with no explanation of dissent.  One item of discussion was the vote on the 22nd, and the Mayor said that due to how new this is, we will be voting in the traditional way, and not on paper (our proposal was to give the Mayor discretion over the mechanism, depending on circumstances).

That was mostly it, after some IGR reports.  But this was the last meeting for David Kahn, our City Attorney.  He had some kind words to mark his last meeting, and everyone on the dais had very kind words in response.  His departure is a serious loss for the city, but it’s for the best for David, so I can’t begrudge it.

Next up was today’s all-day budget hearing, followed by another meeting on Tuesday.  Then we get a bit of a break to catch our breath.

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