Very interesting and to the point meeting. We started the evening with a closed session involving the ongoing SEA negotiations, then had three interviews for the upcoming commission appointments. Then it went to the general session. This started with the swearing in of our newest commissioner, Michael Knaebel, who is now on the Personnel Board. Congrats, Michael. We then had public announcements (read by me this time) for ongoing Board and Commission recruitment. Laura Babcock from the Sunnyvale Historical Society announced the Centennial Celebration (a little later due to an oversight with cards). And it was on to business.
The previous minutes, list of bills, and the item involving the transition to a Google-based system for mail and calendar staff tools were all pulled from consent by a colleague. The balance of the consent calendar was passed 7-0, except for my recusal on 1H, the Tasman/Fair Oaks bicycle plan (it comes within 500′ of property in which I have an interest). We then had one public speaker commenting on the previous taser vote. And then came general business.
Item 2 was the result of a study issue that Councilmember Moylan and I co-sponsored, Review Effectiveness of Existing Art in Private Development In-Lieu Fee Option. Basically, Sunnyvale requires developers to spend a minimum of 1% of its project’s cost (the cost of the building but not the land) on artwork to be installed on site, with a limited exception for developments with no appropriate site locations for the art – they can pay the city the same money in lieu. But the net effect of this is that we’re concentrating a whole lot of artwork on private industrial property, while doing very little in our public spaces. So after looking at the issue, staff proposed that we could offer the developers the ability to pay their share as an in-lieu fee directly to the city instead of buying art and installing it on-site, if they so desire. And the city would then use that money to buy and maintain art for public spaces, like parks and the civic buildings. After a little discussion, I moved to accept staff’s recommendation, with the addition of a Council review of the program after two years, and the motion passed on a 6-1 vote. The lone dissent involved concerns about the 0.1% add-on (which did concern me too, just not enough to discard it). In addition to the 1% cash, staff recommended charging an additional 0.1% to defray the ongoing maintenance of the artwork that we purchase. This is money that the developers would likely have to pay to maintain their own art anyway.
This item turned out pretty great, and I was surprised by how interesting it ended up being. I’m not a big art person myself, but this really appealed to me for some reason. And it ended up being a win-win proposition with no down-sides that I could find. The developers love it – if they want their own art on-site, they can still do that, and if they don’t want to bother with the time and effort for on-site art, they can pay the in-lieu fee instead. And we see both types coming before us, those who love doing the art thing and those who see it as a burden. The city will likely get an increased amount of money that it can spend on art in public spaces (and we currently spend very little). And the art being added to the city will stop being concentrated in our industrial spaces. Of the past 24 or so developments that required an art dedication project, only two have been able to exercise the current in-lieu option. Over the next couple of decades, this has the potential to significantly change the character of the city in a positive way, with possibly a couple of million dollars in public art being distributed throughout our public spaces.
Item 3 involved the city’s response to a recent grand jury report titled “An Analysis of Pension and Other Post-Employment Benefits”. The County grand jury tends to investigate various topics and issue findings and recommendations based on their research. When a topic involves he city, the city is required to issue a point-by-point response to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations. The findings from this particular report tended to fall in four categories:
- Not applicable to Sunnyvale
- Incorrect/invalid from the City’s point of view because of CalPERS limitations
- Incorrect/invalid from the City’s point of view because the grand jury’s data was gathered two years ago and is now out of date
- The City agreed with the finding and recommendation
I’m not going to list all of the points and the city’s response. The RTC on this topic is pretty straightforward. After the staff report and no public comment (from memory), a colleague offered a series of changes to the response, none of which were seconded. Another colleague suggested that staff may want to mention that the Council has taken a supportive position on the Governor’s 12-point pension reform plan. So the motion was made to approve the city’s response and authorize staff to make minor changes based on a couple of specific points of feedback, and it was accepted on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
These grand jury reports are tricky things, hard to categorize. It’s not uncommon for the grand jury to simply get points completely wrong, due to a lack of subject matter expertise. But in general, they tend to focus on issues of interest to the community, and they’re generally on point even if they’re off on specifics. This makes them somewhat frustrating to deal with, since they can be completely correct and valid on one finding, only to be completely off-base on the next. And our response reflects that.
Item 4 was a pretty simple one – changing Council’s compensation policy so that Councilmembers pay the full employee share of its CalPERS costs. Like most of the bargaining units used to do, Councilmembers pay only 1% of the 8% CalPERS employee share, and a resident called us out on this in private. Honestly, I don’t think anyone had given it much thought, because we’re part-time and our pension benefits are pretty small. But here we are making repeated statements that the employees need to pay the full employee share of our CalPERS costs, and we weren’t doing it ourselves. So with virtually no discussion, we approved paying the full 8% of our CalPERS share on a 7-0 vote. A subsequent motion was to make the change retroactive to 2002 (which probably wasn’t legal and certainly wasn’t practical), and it wasn’t seconded.
This one was actually somewhat tough for me, and I almost abstained, not because I disagreed with the intent, which was good. When I took office in 2010, we were already in the throes of what was obviously a very bad recession. I wasn’t comfortable accepting a lifelong pension for 4-8 years of work, knowing that I’d have to support serious service cuts and ask the employees for concessions almost immediately. So I declined enrollment in CalPERS, which means that I won’t get a pension, and I pay into Social Security instead. I declined medical benefits and pretty much everything else including salary raises, for the same reason. I get my original starting salary and nothing else. Anyway, the net result is that this particular Council action doesn’t affect me. So I wasn’t comfortable casting a vote that doesn’t involve me but requires my other colleagues to pay more money out of their salaries. And it’s no small amount – 7% of their salaries. But the point was made that the employee contribution is a serious issue, and we need to lead by example. That’s an important point, so I supported the motion. Had any of my colleagues opposed this and expressed concerns of some sort, I might have abstained, but they didn’t. This really was a no-brainer.
We then returned to the pulled consent items. For the minutes (1A), a motion was made to add additional detail to the minutes of the joint study issue regarding the library and civic center, and it wasn’t seconded. So another motion was made to approve the minutes as presented, and it was passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). The list of bills (1C) was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). Regarding the contract for transitioning to Google Apps for mail and calendar services (1I), a motion was made to extend the 90-day recordkeeping policy, which wasn’t seconded. Staff’s recommendation was then moved, and it was approved on a 5-2 vote (I agreed).
And that was pretty much it, after some IGR and non-agenda comments. Next meeting is on August 28th. On the agenda are some more commission interviews, an appeal of a residential garage conversion, a developer proposal for rezoning a block on Mathilda near the Civic Center for denser housing and to remove a frontage road requirement, the surplusing of city-owned houses next to Murphy Park, and some stuff involving the League of California Cities.