7/17/2012 Council Summary

Interesting night.  We started the evening with a closed session to discuss the City Attorney recruitment process.  Not much I can say about this beyond that.

We then had public announcements, which included our ongoing recruitment for boards and commissions.  I’ll toss in here that we’ve recently had two resignations that we will need to fill, one on the Sustainability Commission, one on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (which was already down a body).  If you’re interested, get your application in quickly, because we’re about to close it for the next round of interviews.  That doesn’t prevent you from applying, but it does mean you’d have to wait maybe six months before the next round of interviews.  So applying quickly would be good.

We then had a 10-minute presentation from a representative of the El Camino Hospital District, mostly a “hi, just want to stop in once in a while and touch base” presentation.  I did take the opportunity to get some clarification on a couple of news items I’d heard recently, one about a November ballot measure that involves caps on executive pay, one about a pending recommendation that may affect how the District provides funding for various organizations in the area, including the Sunnyvale Elementary School District.  It was nice of the folks to show up and chat with us.

Then came the consent calendar.  Again, the list of bills was pulled to be dealt with at the end of the meeting, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote.

We then had public comments, which included a recurring speaker expressing concerns about water fluoridation (which is largely beyond our sphere of control).  There was a bit of back-and-forth about study issues or warnings on water bills, which eventually resulted in no further action or discussion.  Another speaker expressed concerns about CalPERS.  Then it was on to general business.

Item 2 involved a request to rezone property at 101, Fair Oaks, and Weddell, and I had to jump in at the beginning of this.  The area in question is near my home but not within the legal 500′ limit.  But it may be part of a larger project at a later date, and the larger project is (barely) within 500′.  After consulting with the City Attorney, I determined that there was no conflict of interest for the item before us that night, but that I’ll (naturally) have to recuse myself on the larger project, should it ever come before us.  I was a little uncomfortable with this, but I’d seen other colleagues in the exact same situation regarding various portions of the Downtown, so it seems to be an accepted and legal practice.

There was a fair bit of council discussion that followed the staff proposal, mostly to educate ourselves on some issues.  The applicant then spoke to the issue, and there were no other public speakers.  So then it went to us for consideration, which is the point at which things got very confusing very fast.  An initial motion was made to delay the issue for four weeks, but it wasn’t seconded.  A motion was then made to study a rezoning to match the surrounding property (lower than what was being requested), which was seconded.  The concern was that the proposed zoning might not be compatible with the surrounding density.  We then got into our discussions, at which point four of us realized that while we supported the motion, we also supported staff’s recommendation to look at higher density.  At that point, we weren’t quite sure what to do – oppose the motion and make a second motion, amend the motion, do a substitute motion.  A motion was then made and seconded to amend the original motion to staff’s recommendation, and that motion passed on a 4-3 vote (I agreed).  The original (now amended) motion was then passed on a 4-3 vote (I agreed again).

This was a pretty easy one, for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s just a study, and looking at wider options is always a good thing.  So I liked examining the full range of density.  Second, this is my neighborhood, and it’s a new, “industry-to-residential” neighborhood, where maybe 75% of the area has been converted from industrial to residential, leaving pockets of industrial space right next to the homes.  This causes real problems and real inconveniences for the nearby neighbors – noise, parking, and so on.  Living in a “half neighborhood” isn’t pleasant, and converting it the rest of the way is clearly in the neighbor’s best interests – provided, of course, that the projects are good ones.  That comes later.

Next up was the second reading of the ordinances involved in the rezoning at Mathilda and Maude.  With one councilmember recused and no discussion, it was passed on a 5-1 vote (I agreed).

Following this was the council subcommittee recommendations regarding community event and neighborhood grants.  After a brief report, there were a couple of questions about the proposed grants, and then the subcommittee’s recommendations were all approved on a 7-0 vote.

Item 5 was the second reading of the bicycle anti-harassment ordinance.  And with no discussion, it was approved on a 6-1 vote.

Item 6 was the big one – requiring criminal background checks for below-market residence (BMR) applicants.  This was a thorny one, because in the decades that we’ve run the BMR program, over 400 BMR units have been sold, and only one has ever resulted in persistent problems.  But that one resulted in the owner’s conviction for first degree murder – the worst possible outcome.  Staff recommended against further action because of legal difficulties connected with the issue.  Existing legal decisions indicate that the city cannot legally use the Department of Justice system for doing background checks.  And staff believes that using a private firm for background checks creates legal liabilities for the city that should discourage the city from using them.  So we were faced with a situation that really isn’t a problem – except for the one case where it was really a problem, and where the legality of addressing this is iffy at best.

So after a whole lot of discussion, the motion was made and seconded to ask the DOJ for permission to use their system to run BMR background checks, and to return the issue to council with the answer.  This was followed by a lot of commentary on the motion, and then the motion was passed on a 4-3 vote (I dissented).

I wrestled with this issue for some time, because it was a case of balancing resident safety against the effectiveness of a very good program.  So i had to judge the extent to which it would make residents safer, against the extent to which it would hamstring the program’s mission.  And in the end, I concluded that for a number of reasons, it wouldn’t make residents noticeably safer.  First, I question whether there is really a problem here.  Over 400 participants, one problem has occurred, and statistically, I suspect that’s better than the non-BMR housing could claim.  Second, in the case of the one problem that we’ve had, a background check wouldn’t have made a difference – the guy in question had a clean background when he originally applied.  Had I perceived an actual threat to residents, I would have supported the motion.  But in light of no real threat, I didn’t like the notion of telling BMR applicants “ok, but before you get started, you have to prove to us you’re not a criminal”.  It runs contrary to the program’s primary goal of making it easier for marginal homebuyers to get into a home.  But I was in the minority.

Item 7 involved an annual hearing to place delinquent citation fees on the tax rolls as a means of collecting the fees.  Normally, this is somewhat pro forma, but one of the delinquent residents showed up to plead his specific circumstances.  And they were such that a majority of council had sympathy for his circumstances and wanted to accommodate him in some way.  So an initial motion was made to put the balance of the fees on the tax roll, except for the one resident, who would have until Friday to pay just the fee (without penalties), but then return it to Council.  The speaker had indicated that he was prepared to pay the fee, but he couldn’t afford the late penalties.  It was seconded, and then I moved to amend the motion to waive the fines, simply put that fee on the tax roll after Friday if it wasn’t paid, but to allow the resident until Friday to pay the fee.   And my amendment was passed 6-1.  Then the final motion was passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  There was some concern addressed that this may create a parade of people in future years who want an exemption.

We then returned to 1C, the list of bills which was pulled from consent.  The City Attorney pulled a couple of the legal bills off of the list to do some diligence, and the balance was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  While this has been a recurring event at every meeting, this one featured a little more discussion than past hearings have.

We then had inter-governmental relations meeting reports and non-agenda comments, which included brief comments about a recycling and waste reduction contract that had to be tossed and put out for rebid, pursuit of the US Patent and Trade satellite office competition, the new Apple building, and some other minor things.  And that was pretty much it.

We’re back on Tuesday, and supposedly on the agenda will be 1) a closed session regarding the downtown, 2) a long joint study session to look at library and civic center facilities, 3) possible action on providing tasers to our public safety officers, 4) appointing someone to fill the employee-nominated Personnel Board seat (seeing as how the employees haven’t nominated one themselves in the requisite time), 5) the annual engineer’s report for the Downtown Parking Maintenance District, and 6) zoning code modifications for BMR housing (I don’t know much about that one yet).  More to come.  I’m going to try and get into the habit of providing this preview at the end of my summaries.


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