Pretty brief night. We started the evening with closed sessions regarding the downtown and the ongoing labor negotiations with the Sunnyvale Employees Association (SEA). More about one of these in the next couple of weeks, I hope. Then it was on to the general meeting.
We started the meeting with a presentation to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lockheed-Martin. Lockheed and the US Space Command really triggered the high-tech boom in Sunnyvale in the late 50’s and 60’s, and they’re an integral part of Sunnyvale’s history It was great hearing all about what they’ve done and what they continue to do. This was (fittingly) followed by announcements about the upcoming Sunnyvale Heritage Museum events.
Colleagues pulled the list of bills, the contract for new building inspectors, the WPCP maintenance contract, and the Code of Conflict item, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved 7-0.
During public comments, we were introduced to Nai Hsueh, boardmember-elect of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, newly elected to represent Sunnyvale. There were additional questions about the ongoing examination of the Stevens Creek Trail development. Also, a number of residents spoke about ongoing problems with the Fairoaks Mobile Lodge. Apparently, the residents/renters of the park have had problems getting the park owner to deal with various safety and aesthetic issues within the park, which has also been reported in the Sunnyvale Sun. We then went briefly back to announcements (because one was missed), and an announcement was made about a joint venture book collection project being conducted by Sunnyvale Rotary and the Sunnyvale School District. Public comments then got cut off because of the time limit, with the balance taking place at the end of the meeting.
We then went on to business. Right off the bat, item 3 (the telecommunication facilities in the public right of way issue) was pulled off of the calendar by staff and continued to a future meeting. I believe this was done because of concerns over legal issues that were raised by various telecommunication providers. It’s an area with pretty heavy FCC oversight and control, so that isn’t too surprising.
Item 2 involved our policy for funding human services for the next two fiscal years. We receive a lot of money from the federal government as a CDBG (Community Development Block Grant), which we get to distribute under our discretion, within certain limits. Historically, we have augmented that money with general funds, traditionally no more than $100k per year. It seems odd to do this now, when the 2-year operating budget was just adopted in July, but it turns out this money is actually a part of the capital improvement budget, not the operating budget. So staff wanted our direction on policy for this in time to build it into next year’s 2-year capital improvement budget. We had a number of agencies who have historically received this funding speak to us about their programs and their needs. The most significant of them is Sunnyvale Community Services, which has received about $75k each year (not too surprising, given the direct benefit they provide to Sunnyvale residents).
After some discussion, a motion was made to approve alternatives 1a (approve the proposed plan) and 2a (confirm the $100k appropriation). It was seconded, along with a friendly amendment to require some additional information on the non-profit applications to better give us a sense of the return on investment for the grants that we distribute. A regular amendment was then made to increase the $100k by 5% and consider a CPI adjustment in future years, but it failed on a 5-2 vote (I opposed the amendment). Then the main motion passed 7-0. This was followed by a motion to ask staff to consider CPI, followed by a friendly amendment (from me) to return it for the May budget hearing, and that passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
I then moved alternative 3, use the general funding targets proposed by staff as guidelines for future allocation decisions, and that passed on a 4-3 vote.
This issue of funding non-profits is one that tends to polarize councilmembers. It’s an area where money has a pretty direct impact on the most needy of our residents, which creates a strong drive to support supplemental funding of the CDBG grants. But it’s also not our “core mission”. Our core mission is really to provide public safety, public works, parks, the library – basically all of those services where if we don’t do it, nobody else will. And funding non-profits isn’t part of that. It’s very easy to hear about all of the good stuff that these non-profits support and want to help them out. But our budget is “zero sum”, and money spent on non-profits is money we don’t have to spend on our core mission. My resistance to the amendment really came from this – that as much as I want to support those services, our primary duty is first and foremost to our core services. And we’re having a real challenge just funding those services now. But it’s an area where dissent is completely understandable.
Since item 3 was deferred to a later date, we returned at this point to the consent calendar. The list of bills was promptly passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
We then went to 1D, the contracts for temporary inspectors and permit checkers. Basically, we previously voted to authorize funding for hiring additional temporary labor in the Planning Department, to deal with the overwhelming surge of building applications both large and small in recent months, and this was the contract to actually spend the money that we previously authorized. It’s not an expense to the city, because the permits themselves will pay for the cost of these employees. But that wasn’t properly understood by one of my colleagues, so we approved the contract on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
Another colleague had serious concerns about the WPCP maintenance contract, given that we only just recently authorized a substantial amount to rebuild WPCP generators, and here was this big maintenance contract. But staff explained that we would have had this maintenance expense even if the rebuild hadn’t been done (the ongoing maintenance just being necessary), so we approved this on a 7-0 vote.
We then had a rather long discussion about the Conflict of Interest Code, which was supposed to be a routine housekeeping issue where we update the list of job titles that are subject to the Conflict of Interest laws. But a colleague moved to add a provision to preclude councilmembers from voting on proposals when certain campaign contributions have been made by the applicant. It was seconded, but the City Attorney advised that the motion was out of order due to lack of proper noticing (the motion was not within the reasonable scope of the agenda item – members of the public would have had no way of expecting something like the motion to occur based on the agenda description). So the motion was revised to bring this back at the Dec. 4th meeting for resolution, but it failed on a 2-5 vote (I dissented). The main issue was then approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). This issue seems to creep up every couple of years but never goes anywhere. I’ve never concerned myself with it too much, because I have never taken contributions from anyone who might come back later with an application before Council, and I’ve seen my colleagues vote against their contributors all the time. But I can understand how this might look to some others, who may see nefariousness where it really doesn’t exist.
We then went back to public comments, and we had someone speak to us about problems with payday lending businesses, which have become somewhat predatory in the current economy. San Jose recently took action to rein in the worst of the abuses, and based on the comments from the member of the public, I proposed a study issue to examine creating limits on the number and practices of payday lenders (which was seconded). We also had more comments about the Fairoaks Mobile Home Park.
This was followed by a number of IGR reports, nothing too earth-shaking. During non-agenda comments, a study issue was sponsored regarding the councilmember contribution issue mentioned previously.
And that was it. Relatively short and uneventful, all things considered.