Boy was this a long and serious night. Councilmember Moylan teleconferenced from Connecticut, due to a death in his family. This also represented the first meeting with our new City Attorney, Joan Borger, and the departure of our Interim City Attorney, Michael Martello. I’m glad to have Joan on board, but we were also very well served by Michael in the interim, and I’m sorry to see him go.
We started the evening with a study session on the East Sunnyvale ITR (industry-to-residential) area, and this wasn’t quite what I thought. It did indeed involve the Spansion block at Duane and DeGuine, which Council previously voted to study as a potential housing conversion. The owners of Spansion want to sell the property to a developer who intends to convert it to rental apartments. But in doing the study, staff found some issues that required some direction from us. The focus is on park space and environmental remediation. This property would bring in 800 apartment units, which requires the developer to give the city around 5 acres of park space or cash alternative in park dedication fees. Staff has recognized the difficulty in finding good park space in this area, so they have been encouraging the applicants to give the city land instead of cash – we’re unlikely to find so much space in one chunk on our own.
But in doing the study, staff is raising concerns about environmental contamination. The property sits on top of three federal “superfund” cleanup sites (Sunnyvale has a total of five such sites), so any sort of development at this location may be problematic, much less creating a park on top of it. So staff is concerned that a park there may not be a good idea, they’re concerned that Council may not want to pursue the actual housing rezoning, and they wanted to take our temperature on the topic. There are many challenges with the environmental remediation. It can be mitigated (by yanking out dirt and replacing it) – sort of. The bad stuff is volatile and moves around. And we don’t quite know how bad the problem is. But it’s also throughout about half of the city, and development in a lot of places have already had to deal with this problem and will have to deal with this problem in the future. So everything is so nebulous that there are no obvious answers.
After some discussion, the bare majority consensus was to ask staff to continue with the environmental aspect of the study and return to council for actual direction once that work was completed. There were clear concerns expressed about building housing there, about building anything there, about placing a park there, and about whether or not any alternatives would be any better.
We then went into the general meeting, and with no presentations or special orders, we got to work fairly quickly. With Councilmember teleconferencing, all votes were oral votes. There was a large attendance for the Fremont Pool, so we didn’t mess around. The list of bills was pulled as per usual, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote. During public comments, a couple of study issues were proposed, but only one was examined – looking at a more public airing of labor negotiations and related fiscal issues. Some of what was proposed is already done in Sunnyvale (the hiring of an independent city negotiator, specifically), and the balance is stuff that has historically been difficult/impossible to do without damaging the city’s negotiating position. This issue has been discussed to death over the past several years with no better answers having been found, so I’m not sure it will go anywhere. But we’ll see.
We then jumped into the big issue for the night, the issuing of a Request for Proposal for a third-party operator contract for the Fremont Pool. For any significant contract, the city issues an RFP that lays out what the city wants done, they then gather up all of the proposals, evaluate them, and select the “best” one (in terms of cost, services, appropriateness, different things depending on the contract). Normally, staff just issues the RFP, and Council only gets involved after staff has picked its top choice. But given public sensitivity to the Fremont Pool, staff decided to make the RFP a public discussion. The Friends of the Fremont Pool showed up in force to express their concerns with the RFP (which they sent to us as a two-page list of RFP changes on Monday). We got it too late for staff to provide feedback on the changes, so it created a real “designing on the dais” nightmare. Many of the changes were small wording issues that probably don’t matter, but a few were substantial service issues. Compounding this is a timing issue if we’re going to pick an operator and get the operator up and running immediately after the summer season ends. Particularly with the holiday coming up, staff strongly discouraged us from asking to return the RFP for a second round of reviews at a subsequent meeting.
There were several concerns that were expressed:
- balancing open swim versus rented usage. Open swim serves residents. Rented usage affects the profitability and viability of the third-party operator’s business. We need both
- balancing long versus short lanes. The pool can be configured with 25 yard and 50 meter lanes, and the different lengths have different users.
- hours of operation, the span of usage over the year, general usage timing issues
We had about two hours of discussion, and it’s not possible for me to reflect everything that was said. I’ll say, though, that we had a couple of members of the public who came with extremely valuable input that we didn’t get from the RTC. One was the actual pool operator. One was a woman who had previously worked on the wording of the pool terms, and who clearly knew the issues both from the point of view of the residents and protecting the operator’s viability. She was great. After some discussion, we got to voting. But given the complexity of the issue, nobody was particularly eager to jump in and make an attempt.
So I came up with a motion that I thought would handle everything. It 1) accepted staff’s proposed RFP, 2) amended it with two recommendations from the Parks & Rec Commission, and 3) included a specific FFP recommendation that the RFP specify both long-lane and short-lane operations (but not how much of either). It further directed staff to work with the FFP folks over the next couple of days, accept what concerns staff thought were valid, decline those they found to be unimportant, but take all concerns into account when evaluating the proposals and selecting a top bid at the later date. And it authorized staff to issue the RFP once that was done. This was seconded, and then a friendly amendment was made to make a change regarding minimum open swim hours. I declined it because I thought it was unnecessary plus “designing by the dais”, and it was then proposed as a formal amendment. It passed 4-3 (I dissented, obviously, but not that strongly). My original motion was then passed on a 7-0 vote.
I thought this was a pretty good outcome. My biggest concern was how constraining the RFP needed to be, and whether a potential operator would/could deviate from the RFP. I didn’t want it to be so constraining that we lost good applicants. Staff gave me a lot of confidence that the real issue needed to be the acceptance of the “top choice” and not the issuance of the RFP. The greater scrutiny needs to be applied when we select an operator, not when we issue this RFP. And I’ll reiterate that this doesn’t mean a dissatisfaction with the current operator – it simply represents an interest in making sure we’re getting the best and most appropriate service by re-evaluating the market.
Item 3 involved a request to rezone property on Fremont at Cordilleras, currently occupied by the Church of the Nazarene. The owner/applicant wants to replace it with single-family homes. The proposal included down-grading the zoning from a combination of R1 and R2/PD to R0 and R2/PD. That’s pretty unusual, since down-zoning lowers the value of the land. But in going through the process, the applicant ran into significant concerns from the neighborhood, so they worked particularly hard to understand the concerns and change the design to be more compatible with the neighborhood.
The discussion started with an immediate motion to have any Councilmember who had received campaign contributions from the developer recuse himself or herself. That went nowhere fast (not even a second). Beyond the fact that the insinuation of impropriety was seriously out of place, the motion was pointless. I spend a fair bit of time looking over all of the Sunnyvale campaign filings, and I’m pretty sure the applicant, Classic Communities, doesn’t contribute to Sunnyvale candidates. I’ve personally never had any interaction with them, and I’ve never seen their name on anyone’s campaign filings, so I’d be surprised if the issue actually had any relevance. In fact, I was a bit amused by this. A member of the public claimed that the seven of us were not serving residents properly because we “meet with developers but not with residents”. But in point of fact, for this night’s very long agenda, I’d met/chatted/emailed with ordinary residents on every single non-consent item – except for this one, for which I hadn’t met or communicated with the developer. I’d actually met with everyone except this developer. Reality is radically different from this resident’s misunderstanding of our jobs. We’re required to publicly disclose meetings with an applicant like this developer, so we do. But councilmembers don’t bother to publicly disclose all of the hundreds of times we meet or chat with residents on agenda items just in the course of doing our jobs. It should go without saying that we do that, since that’s actually our job.
Anyway, back to the issue. We had a presentation from the applicant and then a couple of speakers, and we got to voting. A motion was made to approve the application, and it passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). This was pretty easy. The specific proposal, single-story houses at a lower density than currently exists, not only fits very well with the existing neighborhood, it actually improves and protects the neighborhood from other developments at that site that are permitted but would be a lot worse (second-story homes, higher density condos, and so on). And the developer did an impressive job of not just meeting with residents, but taking their concerns seriously and changing the design, at no small cost to themselves.
Item 4 involved receiving and handling a comprehensive school traffic safety study. We paid for a report on traffic/bicycle/pedestrian safety issues around all of our schools, and it’s done now, and what remains is to respond to the findings and use them as a starting point for improving safety. With a little bit of discussion, we approved accepting the report and directing staff to use it as the basis of changes on a 7-0 vote. There was one addition, consideration of all-way red lights as a tool. This is a situation where at a 3-way or 4-way intersection, there are periods where all directions are red, and pedestrians can go in all directions for the duration. This doesn’t mean that we’ll actually implement this mitigation, but it’s a tool we can call on where appropriate.
Item 5 was a fun one for me – consideration of paid downtown parking. It was fun because the Mayor and Vice Mayor recused themselves, due to proximity of their property. And with Councilmember Moylan teleconferencing, the mayoral duties fell to… me. I’m fourth in the seniority order, so this was pretty unusual.
The concerns that created this issue were attempting to moderate parking lot usage and handle parking maintenance costs. And this tied in to the previous meeting’s issue with the joint use/maintenance agreement we entered into with a nearby development. And the goal is in large part to ensure that those who commute regularly can have some guaranteed access to parking, since the lots are full. Without a plan, people run into problems with a lack of space when they’re trying to get to their trains. Staff proposed a combination of daily and monthly parking to provide guaranteed access for regular commuters while giving flexibility to the casual commuter. After some questions and one speaker, staff recommendation was moved, directing staff to bring back a new capital project and fee schedule modifications with the 2013/14 budget to implement the paid parking program and set the parking fees at that time. And after some discussion, we approved the motion on a 4-1 vote (I agreed).
Item 6 had us looking at naming the new 1-acre park on Santa Real near DeGuine and Duane. This was a piece of land donated to us by the developer of the nearby condos, the Fusion complex. Housing developers have the choice between giving us land for a park or giving us money to buy park land. And this one not only gave us an acre, they went ahead and spent their own money to build the park itself, something they weren’t required to do. It was in their own interest, since a functional park raises the value of the condos that are being sold, so it was win-win for all of us. The park is pretty much finished, so we now have to name the park. Staff had several options, including just picking a name now or having a public naming process. Most of the standard ways we name parks didn’t work out in this case – naming it after the region (Murphy), naming it after a nearby school, and so on. With very little discussion, a motion was made to hold a community-wide naming contest, along the lines of what was done for Plaza del Sol. I then got a friendly amendment approved to remove from consideration any name associated with the Fusion development. If we were to name it “Fusion”, then this public park would probably develop a reputation as being exclusively for the Fusion complex, which should not happen. Anyway, the original motion passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
Item 7 involved naming streets or public facilities after fallen officers, an idea originally proposed by Councilmember Davis. This was a bit more involved than expected, for a number of reasons. One option that staff considered was to name the six fire stations after officers. But since five officers have fallen, that creates a sort of “bad mojo” situation, where we might be inadvertently appearing to plan for another fatality, or we might be creating a bad situation for the officers who serve in that sixth one. It isn’t hard to turn what should be a thoughtful memorial into an accidental affront, so this took more consideration than may have seemed necessary. It was also pointed out that it’s conceivable that we could lose non-officers in the line of duty (public works people during a natural disaster, for instance). With very little discussion, we voted 7-0 to approve staff’s recommendation, to do the research to allow the names of the five fallen officers:
- PSO Gary Larson, 1962
- PSO Charles Morris, 1972
- PSO Charles Fraker, 1976
- PSO Ed Roth, 1980
- PSO Manuel Lopez, 1987
to be used to name streets at some future point, to add those names to the list of possible new streets for developers, and to amend council policy to allow public facilities to be named after fallen employees.
Item 8 involved updates to our codes regarding public solicitation. We have laws dealing with this already, but some court cases over the past 15 years required some amendments so that we can continue to enforce the codes. With some discussion, a motion was made to amend the codes as proposed by staff, and that passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
We then returned to the list of bills, and after the usual hoop-jumping, we approved the list of bills on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
We then went to our oral reports, in which Councilmember Davis announced he’d received an appointment to a League of California Cities committee regarding public safety. A study issue was sponsored to look at possible additional dog parks. I sponsored a study issue to develop a plan for parking and traffic associated with the new Santa Clara stadium. And then we closed the meeting in memory of Councilmember Moylan’s father, who passed away recently.