9/18/2012 Council Summary – Moffett Power, Hoarding

Sorry this is late.  I’ve had some other time demands of late.

We started out the evening with two closed session involving ongoing litigation.  Nothing I can say here, although “no action was taken, no direction was given”.

We then had a study session on reliable power for the Moffett Park area, which was pretty interesting.  It was mostly run by representatives of PG&E, since power in that area is their responsibility.  In short, we had a lot of problems with power in that area 2-3 years ago, but the situation has improved a lot since then.  The problems were both outages and inconsistent power quality (spikes and dips), which can have a major impact on high-tech companies performing particularly sensitive tests.  PG&E has been doing a lot of work on their substations and infrastructure to resolve the problems.  One of the interesting aspects is that power outages frequently have nothing to do with failed hardware – it has to do with critters.  So a lot of the efforts to make power more reliable involves rendering the power hardware critter-proof.  The study session seemed to resolve itself without any concrete future action from the city.  Note that there was some interest in pursuing our own power solution, as Santa Clara and Palo Alto have done.   But we’ve since heard from outside (non-PG&E) experts that those cities were able to enter into highly favorable power agreements decades ago, and those agreements are no longer available to cities.  So there seems to be less interest in going our own way on power.

We then went into the general session, and first up was the swearing-in of our new commissioners, which is always fun.  This was followed by commendation of the 10th anniversary of the city’s joint agreement with Fremont High regarding the Fremont Pool.  This is really a success story.  When it started, there were a lot of nay-sayers who didn’t believe the city should be attempting anything as complex as this.  But now it’s the most popular pool, and the revenue aspects of the pool are the best of the pools that Sunnyvale maintains.  It’s turned out to be hugely successful.  And people like Holly Lofgren and Councilmember Moylan really deserve credit for persevering and making it happen among some pretty serious community resistance.

We then had public announcements, which was mostly about the Planning Commission vacancy that we’ve got.

Then we had a presentation on the impact of the state’s pension reform act on Sunnyvale.  While this will clearly benefit Sunnyvale’s bottom line, it doesn’t do enough in some ways, and it has unfortunately created a huge amount of confusion among cities trying to interpret what it means.  I’ll try to summarize it.  There are various changes at the state level regarding spiking and other aspects.  The aspect that most directly affects Sunnyvale is the creation of a second tier.  But if the legislation is being interpreted correctly, that tier only applies to new hires (after December 31st) who aren’t already in CalPERS or plans with “reciprocity agreements” (like San Jose).  It provides a 2@62 plan – 2% pension per year of service starting at age 62.  So this will create three pension tiers in Sunnyvale – the tier for existing employees (3@50 for public safety, 2.7@55 for others), the tier for new, non-CalPERS hires (2@62), and the tier for future CalPERS hires.  That third tier is the confusing one.  For public safety, it will be 3@55.  For misc. employees, that depends on negotiations that are ongoing.  The whole thing is a mess, because the legislators pushed it through very quickly without making the language and intent clear, and we’ve gotten wildly different interpretations of the law from the State Controller’s office and from the legislative aides who drafted the law.  And we’re not the only city in this boat.  It’s something of a disaster that will have to work itself out.

Then we went to the consent calendar.  The item regarding the City Manager’s contract amendment was pulled, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

During public comments, we had comments regarding the Stockton bankruptcy, the state pension reform measure, and a continued series of misinformation about the research that the city has been doing to find solutions for replacing the civic center.  Then it was on to general business.

Item 2 looked at city tools for resolving interior hoarding issues on residential properties.  This is a tough issue, because hoarding can affect neighbors and public health and safety.  Hoarding situations frequently create disease vectors, as well as house fires, and they create problems for first responders who have to try to cope with an emergency in an unsafe environment.  But they’re also fundamentally issues of private property and ownership.  Finding a way to address one concern without impinging on the other is a challenge.  Staff proposed creating an ad hoc task force capable of assisting with interior hoarding issues when they come to the city’s attention through city action (like responding to an emergency) or invitation (from a hoarder’s relative).  And after some discussion, we approved the plan on a 7-0 vote.

Item 3 looked at changes to city ordinances regarding developments with more than 70% floor area ratio (FAR).  When dealing with the recent DiNapoli proposal at Maude and Mathilda, a hole of sorts was discovered regarding our green building program and housing and transportation demand mitigation requirements.  After a little discussion, we approved additional regulations to close those holes and apply the requirements on such developments, on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

We then returned to the City Manager’s proposed contract amendment.  In short, the City Manager is one of only two city employees who has not had any sort of salary or benefit increase in the past four years. This is a real oversight, since he is, by definition, the most critical of all of our employees.  So we wanted a way to try and recognize his contributions, as well as simply encourage him to stay as long as possible.  But that’s a bit difficult to do in this fiscal environment, and an actual raise really wasn’t feasible.  So we proposed giving him some additional vacation time, which, under the circumstances, I believe he will actually use, rather than simply banking it.  If he does use it, it doesn’t cost the city money.  And regardless, it has no impact on his PERS benefits.  So this was really our opportunity to talk about exactly what the City Manager has done for us since coming to Sunnyvale, and we went to town on the topic.

But there was a bit of a mess about midway into it.  After five of my colleagues spoke (at great length), a colleague made a motion to end debate.  This is a standard parliamentary procedure that many cities use to shorten endless debates, but we haven’t used it in Sunnyvale in a very long time.  But when the motion was made, another colleague and I hadn’t yet spoken towards the motion.  I was ambivalent, but the other colleague was… not so much.  The motion passed on a 5-0 vote with one abstention (a colleague was in the bathroom) and one colleague refusing to vote.  And the resulting to-do forced us to take a recess to straighten things out.  When we returned, the two of us who had not yet spoken on the topic were allowed to speak despite the previous motion.

We then returned to the original topic, amending the City Manager’s contract.  The motion was made to amend the contract to 1) boost the vacation cap from (from memory) 1040 hours to 1160 hours, 2) provide two 60-hour vacation bonuses beyond what the CM would usually get (staggered over the next several months, and 3) allow the CM to roll over certain administrative leave hours that would otherwise be capped at the end of the year, just this one year.  And it passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

This is a bit complicated, so I’ll explain the parts.  The CM is currently capped out on vacation.  So giving him a vacation bonus without increasing his cap is pointless, because he’d immediately lose it again.  Allowing him to take vacation time between now and the end of the year would also blow his administrative leave (the equivalent of comp time for when employees are required to work off-hours), which is why the one-time rollover was included.  And there were the bonus hours themselves.

So the main question is whether or not this was warranted.  It’s difficult to explain just how justified this is if you haven’t spent long hours with the City Manager, discussing the problems and challenges that we face, and what he and his staff have had to do over the past four years to get the city back into shape, all while weathering the worst recession.  And, of course, the six councilmembers who have actually spent the time to work and talk with the CM were all supportive of the contract amendment – enthusiastically.  It’s a real disappointment to me that most residents will never know just how well-served they have been by Gary.  When you look around at the good things that have happened in this city – over $100 million in capital improvements as part of Sunnyvale Works!, Foothill-DeAnza coming to Onizuka, major companies relocating, Target sticking with us, Nokia and Apple relocating in the Downtown, the restoration of tree and road maintenance, and many, many other things, they wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t either for Gary’s actions or for the climate and work that Gary created among his Executive Leadership Team.  We have weathered the downturn better than any other city in the area, we’re now the economic envy of other nearby cities, people want to live here, and companies want to relocate to here.  A lot of that is due to what Gary has done, and he has preemptively declined a raise all four years, to boot.  It would be irresponsible of any manager to fail to recognize excellence in an employee, and we went far too long in finally stepping up and doing so with Gary.

We then had IGR reports (nothing too interesting), some non-agenda and information items (ditto), and we adjourned around 10:00.  That’s about it.

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