Pretty short and uneventful meeting. Mayor Spitaleri was absent, because he is attending the US Conference of Mayors this week.
We started the evening with a closed session regarding existing litigation. No comment. This was followed by a very productive study session regarding the surprise action by NASA suggesting an intention to declare Moffett surplus property. There were a number of stakeholders and interested residents present, and a lot of good ideas came out of that meeting. One suggestion was to follow the model that was used for the Presidio. Another was to form a task force of the major stakeholders – us, Mountain View, Google, Lockheed, Congressmember Eshoo, Congressmember Honda, and others – and develop a common message and united advocacy to keep the Feds from doing something undesirable.
We then went into the general meeting, which started with the oath of office for new boardmembers and commissioners. Always fun. There were announcements for board and commission recruitment, Dinner At The Dump, and the upcoming Centennial Celebration.
Then came the consent calendar. Colleagues pulled the meeting minutes, the list of bills, and an item involving the second phase of the Lawrence Station planning process. The balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 6-0 vote. But in a bit of a change, we saved the pulled consent items until the end of the meeting (mostly out of consideration for the members of the public who showed up to speak on general business).
Item 2 was the annual budget public hearing, when members of the public can speak their mind about the proposed budget. There was one speaker concerned about employee benefits, and three speakers who thanked us for proposing to provide funding to their non-profits. It was a pretty short hearing this year, probably because this year’s proposed budget is not just balanced, but it also proposes restoring services and paying down unfunded liabilities. After the public session, staff encouraged us to propose any changes to be included in the upcoming RTC for the actual budget vote. The neighborhood grant subcommittee proposed increasing their budget from $16k to almost $19k. After some discussion, we voted 6-0 to include consideration of that $3k increase in the RTC.
One of my colleagues then proposed a laundry list of spending and cuts. Most did not receive seconds. I didn’t second any of them because most of them lacked funding sources, and a few were actually illegal for us to do or required us to violate existing employment contracts. Anyway, none of them received a second except for the proposal to restore funding for the Lakewood Pool and make it free to the public. That proposal failed on a 3-3 vote. I opposed it for three reasons. First, the original reasons for closing the pool still stand (it’s hugely expensive and underused, compared to other pools we operate). Second, there is a proposal in the works to provide a different community service at that location which I think is significantly better for the residents. More about that when I can (some of you have already heard about it). Third, making it free? We don’t offer free pool access anywhere else.
Item 3 was then the public hearing for annual fees and charges, and that one ended very quickly with no public comment and virtually no discussion. Staff made strong cases for the few changes that they proposed, so there wasn’t much to discuss.
Next up was item 4, setting the water, wastewater, and solid waste rates for the upcoming year. Staff proposed increasing water rates by 7%, wastewater by 5.5%, and garbage by 4%, mostly to cover increased fuel and water purchasing costs, but also to deal with some infrastructure replacement that we know is coming. Every year we hold this, we can count on getting a couple of public comments. 1) Why do we keep jacking up water rates, particularly when usage is decreasing, and 2) why can’t we cut seniors a break on utility rates?
Those are always tough questions, because both of them seem like things we really should be addressing. But we don’t actually have much choice, and I’ll try to explain. First, the water rates. We buy 90% of Sunnyvale’s water from the SFPUC and SCVWD (pretty much half and half). And the majority of your water bill is the city’s cost to buy that water. So when they raise their rates, we have to raise ours. We don’t supplement water revenue with general fund money – not a penny. Whatever it costs to deliver you water, that’s what we charge you (except for money we have to set aside to replace the water infrastructure).
And they’re jacking up their rates for two reasons. First, their cost to deliver water to us is constant, but people are using less and less water. So the cost per gallon keeps increasing. Second, both water districts must spend billions of dollars to increase the safety of the water system over the next several years. The SFPUC alone is supposed to spend $4.6 billion (voter-approved) on infrastructure, and they’ve completed about $2 billion of it so far. But that money has to be repaid by all of us who use water. And the SFPUC alone is projecting 7-8% increases every year for the next several years as a result.
So there are only two alternatives to passing the cost of all of that to the water users. We could take money out of our operating reserves to reduce the costs (spending our one-time savings to briefly give some relief for an ongoing issue). Pretty irresponsible. Or we could reduce some other city service to free up revenue to provide a water bill supplement – parks, library, public safety, road maintenance. I don’t believe residents want us to do that. In general, supplementing water rates in any way is a bad idea, because it means that water bills are in some way being paid independent of water usage (by people who shop a lot, or by people who own expensive homes, or whatever). The most responsible thing to do, unfortunately, is to expect people who use water to pay for the water that they use.
Now for the stickier one – providing a utility discount to seniors. We actually had a study issue on this, just last year. And the result was that we legally can’t, not with our current operating model. State law says that government-run utilities are not allowed to give preferential pricing to a specific demographic. And our water and trash are government-run. Now, Cupertino actually cuts their seniors a break on garbage. But they have a subtly different garbage model than we do. They’ve completely outsourced all of their garbage to a private company (Recology, I think), which handles pick-up, billing, everything. So their garbage service is not “government-run”. Sunnyvale runs the garbage and only outsources the pickups (Specialty Solid Waste), so ours actually is a government-run utility. We do the billing ourselves, and we operate the SMaRT Station ourselves. We would have to dramatically change our operational model in order to outsource it all, before we could provide a senior discount.
Anyway, after discussions about these topics, we voted 5-1 to approve the staff-recommended increases (I agreed).
Item 5 was the annual hearing to deal with those with outstanding unpaid utility bills. This year, we only had two such parties, and one of them paid off their bill between the drafting of the RTC and the meeting. So with almost no discussion, we approved placing the other’s bill on their tax roll on a 6-0 vote.
Item 6 involved replacing our representative on the VTA El Camino Real Bus Rapid Transit Policy Advisory Board. Only Vice Mayor Whittum expressed an interest, and we appointed him on a 6-0 vote.
We then returned to the pulled consent items. First up was 1A, the minutes from the last meeting. A colleague proposed a wording changed, but it wasn’t seconded. And we approved staff’s draft minutes on a 5-1 vote (I agreed).
Next came 1C, the list of bills. A colleague pulled it to voice a complaint, and then we approved the bills on a 5-1 vote (I agreed).
Then came a tougher one, 1E, an MTC grant and awarding of a contract for the second phase of the Lawrence Station Area Plan. With little discussion, we approved accepting the grant and making a budget modification on a 6-0 vote. The difficulty was with the proposed contractor for phase 2 – concern was expressed about their neutrality. So a motion was made to give them the contract, and it failed on a 3-3 vote (I voted yes). I then moved to continue the issue until the next meeting, when Mayor Spitaleri would be attending, and it passed on a 4-2 vote. I can’t say much about this, because it’s a continued item, so expressing an opinion is not a good thing.
That’s about it, other than some brief non-agenda comments. In and out in two hours (for a change). Next meeting is next week – we’ve got back-to-back-to-back meetings before another break for July 4th.