5/22/2012 Council Summary

A very long and emotional night.

We started the evening with not one but two closed sessions, the first regarding ongoing negotiations with SEA, the second involving the City Manager’s 6-month performance review.  As usual, not much I can say, other than “stay tuned”.

The open meeting started with a special order and a presentation.  Sunnyvale was recognized with its 22rd straight Government Finance Officers Association’s “Distinguished Budget Presentation Award”, for achieving budgetary best practices.  We do budget planning pretty well in Sunnyvale.  We then had a brief presentation regarding the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” (a video to encourage people to form teams and participate).  Then it was on to the general meeting, after a couple of announcements.

The list of claims and bills was pulled from consent yet again, the balance of the consent calendar was approved 7-0, and the bills were approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  There were then some public comments involving CalPERS.  Then it was on to the regular meeting.

Item 2 involved our semi-annual board and commission appointments, and it was a big list this year, with 32 people.  A brief note, once again, on how I vote for candidates.  There are differing philosophies on how to vote.  Some people vote for any qualified candidate and let the chips fall where they may.  For every commission, if there are N vacancies, I pick my top N people out of those I think are qualified, and I only vote for them.  My goal is to get the absolute best commissions we can get.  This is disconcerting to qualified people that I don’t vote for, and there are two qualified members of the Planning Commission that I didn’t vote for.  But it’s usually no reflection on them – it’s a reflection of the competitive nature of some commissions, and often the highly qualified list of applicants that we get.

Anyway, I’m going to go from memory.  Here are the people that we appointed:

  • Sustainability Commission: Barbara Fukumoto and Gerald Glaser (I voted for both)
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission: Kevin Jackson and Richard Kolber (I voted for Kevin)
  • Board of Library Trustees: Jill Shanmugasundaram (I voted for Jill)
  • Heritage Preservation Commission: David Squellati (I voted for David)
  • Housing and Human Services: Dennis Chiu, Younil Jeong, Barbara Schmidt, and Julie Wang.  I supported all four, but I didn’t actually vote for all four.  The voting ended up being term-by-term, and I voted to put people in specific terms, with the final term not really being voted on.  This means that I didn’t actually vote for some during some of the votes.  For instance, as an incumbent, I wanted Younil to get one of the four-year terms, so I favored her for that.  But I did support giving all four a term.
  • Arts Commission: Misuk Park and Robert Sumner (I voted for both)
  • Parks and Rec Commission: Henry Alexander III (I voted for him)
  • Personnel Board: Marc Ketzel (I voted for him)
  • Planning Commission: Glenn Hendricks and Russell Melton (I voted for Glenn and Ken Olevson, but I thought all five applicants were qualified).

So that took time, as we had to take some 40 individual votes.

Item 3 was consideration of a position regarding VTA’s El Camino Real Bus Rapid Transit proposal, and it was a very long discussion.  There were some 30 or more speakers, predominantly supporting BRT (somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1, from memory).  This was a very long public hearing, and I can’t hope to do it justice.  After the hearing was over, a motion was made to accept staff’s recommendation to support dedicated BRT lanes with some minor changes regarding car dealerships, and that vote failed 3-4 (I supported it).  This was followed by another vote that I didn’t quite get, but it involved having VTA looking at speed limits on certain streets (I think), and it passed 4-3 (I opposed it – it was a rather pointless motion that VTA can and likely will ignore).

This was one of the more difficult votes we’ve had, made more so by the fact that everyone I’ve talked to about this is either strongly for it or strongly against it, with nobody in the middle.  This is one of those projects that requires us to predict the future, and its success or failure is completely dependent on the accuracy of the predictions.  But for me, the vote was very easy, for one simple reason – it would have created nothing more than a study of the proposal.  It wouldn’t have actually done anything physical.  It would simply have caused VTA to pursue an EIR and expanded study to determine exactly what BRT would mean to Sunnyvale and to the County.  Whether you are someone who supports it or opposes it, you cannot tell me that you know enough about what it would mean to be absolutely positive in your position.  It’s a huge, largely non-specific project, and the request for support simply said “here’s this model that has worked very well everywhere it has been adopted, let’s do a study to see if it would work well here”.  We should be encouraging successful practices in Sunnyvale, and not shutting the door on them.

I simply don’t know if I would support the actual implementation of BRT on El Camino.  But I know that we need to learn more before we approve or kill it.  And it’s a real mistake that we didn’t take the opportunity to do so.  I’m also struck by the parallels between this and another project we looked at many years ago – light rail on Mathilda.  Years ago, we had the opportunity to have light rail run up Mathilda into downtown Sunnyvale, and Mountain View likewise had the chance for it.  And when it was proposed, many people didn’t like the notion of removing the two center lanes down Mathilda, and there was resistance.  There was no resistance in Mountain View – in fact, they threw $1 million at VTA to encourage it to choose MV as the end point.  And of course, VTA went with the Mountain View route.  The end result is that we have bad public transit up and down Mathilda.

And to add insult to injury, why did people argue against BRT on ECR?  Because they perceive the Mathilda problem to be the higher priority!  Well, we had the chance to fix that years ago, and we blew it, for the exact same reasons that were used to justifying closing the door on BRT on ECR.  People seem to believe that if we wait until a transit problem gets bad enough, money will magically appear to fix that problem and all will be well.  But that’s not the case with public transit.  Public transit needs to be planned out in advance, anticipating the need before it arises, and taking advantage of state and federal funding when it is available.  When we don’t do that, the end result is painful and expensive.  We didn’t do that with Mathilda, and we just failed to do it again with BRT on ECR.  And I think that’s going to prove to have been a serious mistake.

Ah well.  Moving on.

Item 4 was the required public hearing on the downtown Business Improvement District (aka Sunnyvale Downtown Association).  One speaker showed up to express concerns about its impact on a particular business, although it was discovered during the discussion that one of the concerns wasn’t an actual problem.  And we approved the BID on a 7-0 vote.

Item 5 was also somewhat interesting, but still brief – the ongoing examination of red light cameras in Sunnyvale.  Staff basically said to us that we shouldn’t act on this because of legal uncertainties.  And I’m not sure about the vote on this, but I think it was 7-0 to support the staff recommendation to switch to a “wait and see” position on RLCs.

And that was about it.  We finished around 12:15, I believe.  We’re off for three weeks, then back into it.


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