6/19/2012 Council Summary – We Have A Budget

Very long, but very interesting night.

We started with a closed session regarding the downtown, nothing much I can say about that.  We then had no less than three Special Orders of the Day.  The first was to receive an award from the Tobacco Free Coalition of Santa Clara County and Community Advocate Teens of Today for Sunnyvale’s efforts to deal with smoking.  The second was to recognize Parks and Recreation Month.  One nice note here – it was accepted by Howard Chuck, one of our Parks and Rec Commissioners.  Howard just finished his final Commission meeting last year after eight years of service.  It was nice to see that.  Finally, PSOA presented the check for their annual “Fill the Boot” fundraiser to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  PSOA raised $32,307.64 this year.  Nice job, guys.

We had a couple of public announcements, one involving ongoing recruitment for Boards and Commissions (we have a few vacancies even after our recent appointments).  And Garth Williams from the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail announced the opening of the next stretch of the trail this Saturday the 23rd at 10:00.  Then it was on to the meeting.

A colleague pulled the list of bills, and a member of the public pulled the contract renewals for employee insurance.  The balance of the consent calendar was passed on a 7-0 vote, and the pulled items were again saved until the end of the meeting.

We then had some public comments.  A member of the public criticized our business license practices – very small (hobby) businesses effectively have to pay all of their annual profit for their annual business license.  More on this later.  There were comments on public compensation as well.  Then it was on to business.

Item 2 was the big one – the annual budget approval.  A couple of members of the public spoke to employee compensation issues, and there were some minor questions.  And then we passed the budget as proposed by the City Manager on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  Per the CM’s suggestion, we saved alterations until after we passed the budget, due to ordinance issues.  After the budget was passed, two changes were proposed.  First was a motion to remove the sale of the three properties next to Murphy Park from the budget, which passed on a 4-3 vote (I dissented).  Second was a motion to spend $40k from Council’s remaining $70k of discretionary money to increase the senior case management position from half-time to full-time, which passed on a 5-2 vote (I dissented).  Finally, a motion was made to divide the remainder of Council’s discretionary budget among the seven councilmembers, but it wasn’t seconded.

I opposed both successful motions for a couple of reasons.  First, this kind of thing is simply bad process – making significant changes at the very last moment with virtually no deliberation or time to consider all aspects is not the way to craft a budget.  Second, Council just spent a majority of its discretionary funding for the fiscal year, before the fiscal year has even started.  And I know for a fact that we’re going to want that money for other things. The CM created this fund for us to protect the rest of the budget from tampering, but it looks like we threw that plan out by spending almost all of the money already.  Pity.

Anyway, on the whole, the budget is a good one, and I’ll get into that in a later post, because it’s a topic in and of itself.  All things considered, we did pretty well by confining our meddling to those two issues.

Item 3 was consideration of a cyclist anti-harassment ordinance.  Basically, as proposed by staff, this would create greater civil penalties in lawsuits involving motorists who are found to deliberately go after cyclists.  There is no change to the criminal aspect of such acts, and there is no burden on Public Safety to do anything differently.  There’s also no potential legal liability for the city, in terms of needing to defend the ordinance or participate in actions against the harasser.  A handful of residents spoke in support of it.  And then with not too much discussion, we passed it on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  This was pretty easy for me – it targets particularly egregious behavior.  And I was particularly taken by an incident that happened in San Mateo over the weekend.  A couple of yahoos in a pickup truck went after a couple of kids on bikes, to the point where they rode over one of the bikes and drove up a sidewalk after one of the kids.  The cops got the guys, and they’re probably going to jail.  But the kids are unlikely to even get repaid for the damage to their bikes, given the requirements for suing to get repaid.  An anti-harassment ordinance makes it a lot easier to make guys like this pay later, and that’s a good message for the city to send.

Item 4 was a return to a contract approval regarding the Lawrence Station Area Plan phase 2 study, which we continued from last week.  We brought this back because we were tied, and one of our members was absent last week.  Without too much discussion, we approved staff’s recommendation on a 4-3 vote (I agreed).  Again, this was pretty easy for me.  Saying “no” to this one had two potentially bad aspects – micromanaging staff’s operational expertise and potentially imposing a council policy bias on what is supposed to be a neutral community outreach effort.  So I was glad to see it pass.

Item 5 was a big one – consideration of a zoning amendment for the north-west corner of Mathilda and Maude to allow for a new office park as part of Peery Park.  And these are the issues that always scare me.  They’re the ones which could end up being the Best Buy/PetSmart or the Cherry Orchard of the future, or they could end up being the Nokia/Apple buildings of the future, and it’s really difficult to tell which will be the case.  Anyway, we got about ten minutes into this when things got a bit wild – I noticed that a colleague’s home seemed to be within 500′ of the property in question, and nobody had said anything about it.  So I raised the question in public.  The 500′ rule is an FPPC (state) conflict of interest law, and it’s pretty absolute.  Failing to respect it can create serious legal problems for the city and for the councilmembers – particularly if the applicant doesn’t get his way.  We hear about conflict of interest charges in the press all the time.

So at that point, the meeting was recessed until staff could figure out if the conflict existed, and what needed to be done.  After about a half hour of generating maps and discussion with the Mayor, the City Attorney, the City Planner, and the councilmember in question, we reconvened.  And sure enough, the colleague’s home was within 500′ of the property.  I really wasn’t positive – I was going off of three different maps with varying resolutions, and I was literally measuring out distances using the lead in my mechanical pencil.  It turns out it wasn’t as close as I thought, because I was off by one lot.  But it was still within the 500′ legal limit.  So after a brief discussion about the options, the colleague recused himself from the issue and we continued.  I was in a bind here, because this has never happened before.  Usually this is noticed and handled before the meeting, so that the person can just recuse themselves at the very beginning.  That didn’t happen, so I didn’t know what to do, except what I did.  But the law is the law.

The applicant discussed the project, city staff discussed the project, and we had one or two members of the public discuss the project.  A couple of potential issues were raised – the possibility of flight path problems (discounted by staff), the possibility of shading issues (discounted by the developer but not staff), the quality of the traffic study (done by a consultant that has had problems with a couple of projects in the past).  So after some discussion about those issues, we approved the project on a 5-1 vote, contingent on a shading study to be approved administratively at a later date (I proposed the study and supported the motion).

As serious a project as this was, it wasn’t that hard for me to support.  We have deliberately confined our industrial development to areas north of 101, plus the Peery Park area.  Our intent is to permit the Class C office buildings in that area to be upgraded to Class A, to revitalize the area, provide more revenue, and bring in a good class of industrial/commercial tenants.  But we’ve been putting off doing the long-term study and planning for Peery Park because of the cost to do it in this bad economy.  Staff made a compelling argument that the proposed project is exactly the kind of project that we intend to support in the Peery Park area, and it doesn’t make sense to penalize the city and deprive us of revenue by turning down a project that’s just what we want, simply because we haven’t been able to do the study yet.  It’s well thought out, it appears to have little or no impact on residences, and it’s in a good location for that type of facility.  So it makes sense.  And the occupants are going to be good ones, to boot.

Item 6 involved changes to the city’s civil service rules and regulations.  These had been worked out at length by staff, the bargaining units, and the Personnel Board over a lengthy period of time.  And we weren’t interested in meddling with the results.  So we approved the proposed changes on a 7-0 vote.

Item 7 was a rather involved issue – changes to Council Policy involving confidential material and staff time use by council.  There have been a number of problems and areas of confusion over the past several months, and the City Attorney took the opportunity to codify some practices and traditions that we’ve had, which were never actually spelled out in Council Policy.  For instance, the City Manager has sole discretion when it comes to allocating staff time.  But councilmembers need access to staff time to make decisions.  And the line between “I need this to do my job” and “council is interfering with staff’s ability to serve the public” has never been clearly defined.  Similar issues exist with what defines a “confidential” document and what access should be provided to such documents.  The drafted policy was a good one, so I moved (I think) to accept staff’s recommended policy change, with one (staff-suggested) amendment to deal with the case of a last-minute need for staff time.  After some back and forth, it was approved on a 5-2 vote.

We then returned to 1C, the list of bills, which we approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

We then returned to 1E, the employee insurance contracts, which we approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

At this point, we had IGRs and non-agenda comments, of which there were a few.  I mentioned earlier the issue of business licenses for very small businesses.  So I proposed a study issue to examine the fee for business licenses for smaller businesses, and it was co-sponsored by two people.  This question isn’t a slam-dunk – there are legal implications if we eliminate the fee (it would take a popular vote to reinstate it).  So the study will hopefully lay out our options.

We then adjourned the general meeting in memory of Pat Pezzella, who passed away last week.  There will be a memorial service for Pat on Sunday.

And that was it.  We then adjourned to the redevelopment successor agency to deal with an easement issue with the new Carmel Properties development next to Plaza del Sol.  And with no discussion, we approved it on a 7-0 vote.

I’ll follow up with some thoughts about the new budget in a couple of days, when I have time to get it all written down.  We’re off until the 17th, except for an evening with a bunch of closed sessions, so we get a nice long break for a change.

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