12/18/2012 Council Preview

Very long agenda.  Lots of items, long night.

We start the evening with a closed session regarding the City Manager’s performance.  We do semi-annual reviews of the CM’s and CA’s performance, and this is one of them.  Since we only just hired our new City Attorney, this time only involves the CM.

After this, we have another annual study session, involving January’s selection for Vice Mayor.  Ever since we switched to a two-year mayor and made the mayor and VM choices by merit and majority rule instead of automatic rotation, there has been the potential for Brown Act problems when councilmembers decide to campaign for the positions.  So to avoid this, we introduced a new process a few years ago where we meet in a study session so councilmembers can declare their interest in a position and make their case.  Nothing that’s said in the study session is binding, mind you – a councilmember could be silent now and be voted in later, or a councilmember could express an interest now and not be nominated later.

Then we get to the general session.  We’re going to start with a presentation from staff about the Caltrain and high speed rail blended system.  Originally, the hopes for Caltrain had been to install additional rail lines so that Caltrain and HSR would run on different lines.  But I believe the plan now is to use existing lines and share them between the two services.  At least, that’s what I think is happening.  The presentation should clarify things.

The consent calendar is another big one, probably a reflection of end-of-the-year stuff.  We’ve got a couple of annual reports, four contracts, second reading of two ordinances from our last meeting, and a tract map approval.

Item 2 on the agenda is a big one – ratification of a tentative labor agreement with the Sunnyvale Employees Association.  There are a number of key aspects to the new contract:

  • SEA accepts two years without raises (“0% years”), then a 3% raise for the third year
  • SEA increases their share of the 8% employee costs for retirement by 1% in January, another 1% in July of 2013, and another 1% in July of 2014.  At the end of this period, they will be paying 4% of the 8% employee share.
  • SEA transitions all new CalPERS (and “reciprocal”) hires to a new second retirement tier of 2%@60.  As SEA represents the final bargaining unit to transition to a second tier, and all of the other miscellaneous (non-safety) units have “me too” clauses in their MOUs, this action will create this second tier for all of the other miscellaneous units as well
  • several other less significant changes to the terms of employment

There is a significant aspect of this that is a bit confusing.  You may recall that the state legislature just passed a “pension reform” measure which the governor signed, and it includes a new second tier of 2%@62 for all new employees.  So the fact that we’re also adopting a second tier may seem odd.  However, the state’s second tier only applies to brand new CalPERS members – those employees that a city hires who have never been in CalPERS or a “reciprocal” system (a non-CalPERS system that still gives employees tenure credit towards CalPERS, like San Jose’s retirement system).  This new law unfortunately creates three classes of employees – those who already work for the city, those who are employed in the future from another CalPERS city, and those who are employed in the future but have never worked for a CalPERS city.  Since we hire a lot of CalPERS members, many new employees over the next 30 years won’t be subject to the state’s second tier (possibly even the majority of such employees).  This is why we’ve worked so hard to get this additional “second tier” in place.

Item 3 is related to item 2 – adoption of an emergency ordinance to amend our CalPERS contract to support 2%@60.  Not only does the state’s so-called “pension reform” create the need for us to have yet another retirement tier, it creates an artificial deadline of December 31st.  After that date, cities can adopt no additional tiers and must maintain whatever they have.  In other words, if we don’t pass item 2 and item 3 before December 31st, all future hires who are current CalPERS members will receive 2.7%@55, going forward forever.  And the difference between 2.7%@55 and 2%@60 a significant chunk of change to the city – an average cost to the city of $3800 per new hire per year (applying to about 600 of our 850 current positions).  Thanks much, legislature.  To be technical, it’s only a practical problem for the next 30 years, since after that time, this third tier of “lateral hires” will cease to exist (as employees increasingly reach their 30 year tenure point and retire) and everyone will be on the 2@62 plan.  But for that next 30 years, it’s a pretty significant piece of the retirement picture.

Item 4 sounds daunting but is actually pretty simple – amending the pay schedule for public safety officers.  As part of our Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Public Safety Officers Association (PSOA), we must conduct an annual survey salary of a list of “comparable” cities, and we automatically adjust our officers’ salaries based on the results of that survey.  This year, the survey mandates actual salary cuts to officers’ pay.  This creates an interesting situation, since it’s occurring after the start of the fiscal year, and the change has to be retroactive, by contract.  Normally, when the survey results in a raise, it’s easy enough to deal with the retroactiveness by simply giving the officers their retroactive pay in a lump sum.  But a salary reduction would require officers to have one pay period that includes one big and unexpected “lump sum” cut, something that is a hardship on most employees.  So if I’m understanding staff’s proposal, they’re going to instead spread out the big retroactive cut over the remainder of the fiscal year (along with the cut going forward), meaning that PSOs will effectively get a double cut for six months instead of the single cut for a year.  That is, if I’m understanding this, which may not be the case.

Item 5 is the other big issue of the night – discussion of a possible ban of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food containers.  There are a lot of pieces to this, but EPS food containers cause us a lot of problems.  They don’t biodegrade.  They are a significant portion of litter (and waterway litter in particular).  They fragment very easily, and the small pieces are a) hard to recover and b) attractive to the food chain.  The city has some compelling reasons to look at EPS containers.  One is that the city has a need to increase landfill diversion, and this may be one piece of that.  One is that the city is required to clean the storm drain runoffs, and this may be a piece of that.  And so on.  Staff is proposing to (generally speaking) ban all restaurant EPS packaging six months or more from now, draft an environmental impact report to investigate the impact of such a ban, adopt a council policy banning city purchasing of EPS food packaging (which is already done in practice, just not as a codified policy), and additionally ban all retail sales of EPS containers within city limits two years from now.

Item 6 is the fiscal year 2011/2012 year-end financial report, indicating just how well the city did versus the budget for the past fiscal year.  As I previously mentioned, we ended the year about $3.5 million under budget – roughly $2.8 million for increased revenue and roughly $0.8 million for lower-than-expected expenditures.  Staff is proposing putting $1 million of that savings into our Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust, which will further reduce the city’s unfunded medical liability.  The balance of the savings would then go into the Budget Stabilization Fund.

Item 7 is our study issue regarding food truck regulations.  This was proposed by staff in response to recent court cases, plus a perception by brick-and-mortar restaurants that food trucks have an “unfair advantage” over them.  Staff is proposing a number of different ordinances based on a study of the issue and ordinances that already exist in other cities.

And item 8 involves revising parking requirements for non-residential properties.  This was prompted by council to look at whether or not our current parking requirements may be ineffective or counter-productive to the success of Sunnyvale businesses.  Staff is proposing rather extensive changes to our ordinances.

That’s about it.  Oh, included in the packet is an information-only item that was requested by a councilmember – the list of civic center repairs and improvements that are required, but are currently on hold until we develop a plan for replacing or renovating the civic center.

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