2/26/2013 Council Summary – Lawarence Station and Handguns

Sorry for no meeting preview this week – it’s been a bit of a busy time, and I’m still playing catch-up.  Councilmember Moylan arrived late to the meeting due to an unavoidable commitment, and we

We got straight into it, after an announcement from me regarding board and commission recruitment – we’ve got a bunch of seats to fill this time out.  There was also an announcement on behalf of the Sunnyvale Community PlayersThe consent calendar was passed on a 6-0 vote, except for one dissenting vote (not from me) on the minutes, on the list of bills, and on a tract map.  There was a public comment involving the ongoing challenges with the Fairoaks Mobile Home Park, plus some concerns about the low-income housing development taking place on the old armory site.  There was some misinformation regarding the armory project, which will hopefully be straightened out by both the outreach meeting on the 6th plus any future RTCs that Council may need to consider.

We then got into general business, and the mayor rearranged the schedule to move the Lawrence Station item (item 3) to the end of the agenda, to accommodate Councilmember Moylan.

Item 2 involved the schedule for the study issues which we ranked this year, and with little discussion, we approved staff’s recommendation on a 6-0 vote.

Item 4 involved a retooling of the zoning code, which has gotten a bit messy and unwieldy.  Staff and the Planning commission wanted approval on the proposed restructuring, plus some direction on the issue of “repairing” versus “replacing” non-conforming structures.  A non-conforming structure is a structure which violates our ordinances, but which isn’t subject to city action for the violation.  If, for instance, something was built before the city adopted an ordinance making it illegal, it is grandfathered in and considered “legal non-conforming”.  So the big question involved the issue of whether to encourage repair or replacement of them.  And by “structure”, we don’t mean homes – we mean other things, like garages, sheds, and things not involving living spaces.

If we encourage repair, then the buildings continue to not conform, but the owner has much less of a maintenance burden.  If we encourage replacement, then we get conformance for older buildings.  But the cost of that is a lack of safety and an increase in blight.  Since the cost to an owner to replace buildings is higher than repairing them, an owner whose only option is to replace a structure in a conforming way will often instead opt to leave the building in its current state.  And the result of that is that unsafe and dilapidated structures would likely stay around longer than they would if we permitted repair and continued non-conformance.

After some discussion, we voted 6-0 to approve the proposed changes, with direction to the Planning Commission that the city’s preference is to prioritize safety and diminished blight over eliminating non-conformance.  This was my motion and effort, as it turned out.  My rationale for this is pretty simple.  A non-conforming structure is usually one that has existed in its non-conforming state for some time.  And often, “non-conformance” is only noticeable by the city, and not by neighbors – whatever it is has existed so long that the neighbors usually aren’t bothered by the non-conformance.  Because of this, I valued resident safety and aesthetics over an attempt to eliminate non-conformance.  If we can eliminate non-conformance, that’s great – but not by creating increased hazards for residents or blight in the city.

Item 5 involved a proposal by the Mayor to ask the City Attorney to examine the legality of adopting additional firearms-related regulations within Sunnyvale.  Any time we discuss firearms, it provokes significant emotional responses, both from people who feel that their rights are being violated and from people who have serious concerns about firearms.  And tonight was no exception, as we had more than a dozen speakers give us their opinions.  After a lot of discussion, we voted 6-0 to include this topic in our next dialogue with the school districts.  We have started meeting with the school boards to discuss items of mutual interest and make sure we’re coordinating efforts.  Regarding firearms, the majority was more interested in trying to address the root causes of gun violence than to adopt new firearms regulations, and the obvious place to start is schools.  Anyway, this is a very short description of a very long discussion, and I can’t hope to do justice to the topic in summary form.

Item 6 involved an information-only item regarding community events and neighborhood grants, and we received the results of the subcommittee’s efforts so far.

We then returned to item 3, the Lawrence Station Area Plan phase 2, and Councilmember Moylan arrived just as we started the discussion.  The Lawrence Station Area Plan is an attempt to do smart growth and urban planning near the Lawrence Station.  The Lawrence Station has been identified as an underutilized resource – it is very successful as a destination station (for people arriving at work), but not as an origin station (for people leaving for work), and development plans to better utilize this area would lessen the demands on the region’s roads (overall).  To that end, the preferred development model is mixed-use, whether retail/industrial or retail/housing, to increase the number of jobs, housed residents, or both in the area.  Note that the goal isn’t to increase housing in Sunnyvale – it’s to designate the area as a location that will hold housing that we already need to zone for (instead of putting it in less accommodating areas of the city).  Putting denser housing in proximity to mass transit such as Caltrain takes pressure off of the roads and other transit systems throughout the city.

There were also a number of speakers to this issue as well.  And the most noteworthy aspect was that with the possible exception of one speaker, all resident comments and emails that council received supported the Lawrence Station Area Plan in general and the recommendations of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAG) in particular.  The CAG and the Planning Commission were also both unanimous in supporting the recommendation.

After a lot of discussion and staff questions, I moved to accept the CAG’s recommended approach, directing staff to pay particular attention to the concerns of Costco, Intuitive Surgical, and a specific property owner that owns two parcels proposed for bisection, and to examine the possibility of correcting one area by taking advantage of an existing Caltrain right-of way (all of which were offered as friendly amendments that I accepted).  A friendly amendment was made to include studying disallowing housing in the northern half of the study area, which I declined.  And after a lot of discussion, the motion passed on a 4-3 vote.  I liked this issue a lot – it’s the epitome of smart growth planning, and I hope we can identify other opportunities to apply the same process elsewhere.  Planning is good…

We then had IGR reports and non-agenda comments.  During non-agenda comments, a request was made to add an item to a future agenda regarding a proposal for a Hep-B event at the rec center (which passed on a 6-0 vote), and we’ll pick that up at our next meeting.  Just a short break, and then we have another meeting on Tuesday before a break so many of us can attend the winter National League of Cities conference.

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