4/9/2013 Council Summary

Another long night.

We started the evening with a study session involving infrastructure planning.  This was an outgrowth of an earlier council discussion, where we had difficulty deciding on a course of action regarding long-term capital expenditures.  This session discussed the topic in more detail.  For the most part, we already plan for and fund long-term capital replacement of everything, except for the Civic Center.  For many years, we set aside nothing extra for this, and then a couple of years ago, we started saving extra money for this.  And the real debate here is how specifically to plan.  There is one camp that essentially says “try and figure out the exact goal and its cost, and start saving for it.  The other side says “we can’t know exactly what we will need in 20 or 30 years, so save generally and make the decision later, when we’re ready to actually do the project”.  I’m definitely in the latter camp.  Our public safety needs, or library needs, and our civic center needs are likely to change dramatically over 30 years, and developing an exact plan now seems predestined to failure.  Saving into a general pot, and not a project-specific pot, makes more sense to me.  I believe we asked for a plan that generally sets money aside and requires council review before using that money for a different purpose.

We then went to the general session, where we started with a special presentation from PG&E.  Back in 2010, we received a $1.14 million federal Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant to convert our incandescent street lights to LED street lights.  These are expensive fixtures (compared to incandescents), but they use a lot less energy, they do a better job of directing the light only where we want it, and the LED bulbs last considerably longer than an incandescent bulb.  Further, PG&E gives rebates for such a transition, representing about 1/6 of the cost of the bulb.  We then took the rebate and used it for more fixtures, and so on.  The end result was that we swapped out 20% of our street lights for LEDs, which will dramatically reduce our electricity bills for those fixtures.  It’s a great effort, and the only down side is the high initial cost (which is why we started with a grant).  So this presentation was so PG&E could give us the ceremonial check (for $190k!).  More on this later.

We then had a second special order of the day to commemorate National Library Week.  This was followed by public announcements, involving upcoming board and commission applications plus the ongoing outreach regarding dog parks.  After this, we had a presentation from Sunnyvale Family Child Care Providers to go along with Mayor Spitaleri’s “Month of the Young Child” proclamation.

The consent calendar was a bit of a mess.  The minutes and bills were pulled.  A second ordinance reading was pulled.  Various dissenting votes were noted, and the balance of the consent calendar was passed on a 7-0 vote (such as it was).

Public comments mostly focused on the ongoing problems at Fair Oaks Mobile Home Park, and we voted 5-2 to place a discussion of the issue on the next meeting (I agreed).

Item 2 involved approving the sale of the three city-owned homes on Jackson to Habitat for Humanity.  And there was a twist to this.  After the item was agendized, Habitat contacted the city to inform us that they only wanted to pursue the purchase of two of the homes at this time – the two unoccupied ones.  This was also a bit of a mishmash because the issue was never properly framed.  Council had already voted to sell the houses, and this vote was specifically to decide who to sell them to.  But that was lost on some of my colleagues and some of the speakers, who wanted to re-litigate the original decision (to no end).  The public speakers were pretty evenly mixed between residents supporting the sale to Habitat and residents opposing the sale altogether.

After about an hour of discussion, we got to the voting.  I moved to sell the two houses to Habitat for Humanity as proposed, and the motion passed 4-3.  A motion was then made to sell the third house on the open market through the normal surplus property process.  It was then amended on a 7-0 vote to require inclusion of a relocation plan for the current tenant.  But then the original motion failed 2-5.  I dissented, because if we’re going to abandon the park plan, then we need to put the property to the best possible use, and to me, that meant using it for affordable housing.  So I then moved to direct staff to pursue sale of the property to Habitat for Humanity or other low income housing provider, with the same relocation plan requirement, and that motion passed on a 4-3 vote.  One of the advantages of this is that it gives us more time to figure out how to accommodate the current remaining resident, which is a good thing

Item 4 involved setting up the process for renewing the Downtown Sunnyvale Business Improvement District (BID), better known as the Sunnyvale Downtown Association.  And two of my colleagues had to recuse themselves since they own property within proximity of the project, so I got to lead this one.  After a little discussion, we approved the BID process on a 4-1 vote with two abstentions (I agreed).  I expressed some concerns here because of some information we’d received from the BID members.  A few of the businesses on Murphy are not happy with the SDA, because they believe that some of the events that the SDA holds actually hurt their businesses more than they help.  This concerns me too.  But this was just procedural, leading up to the public hearing and eventual renewal on May 21st, so I was OK supporting it for now.

Item 5 looked at the configuration of Mathilda Avenue from Maude to California, with an eye towards attempting to support bicycle lanes on that stretch.  And this was pretty easy, because doing so doesn’t require any significant effort, other than changing a right-hand turn lane at Indio.  So we approved it on a 7-0 vote.

Item 6 looked at a similar issue on Wildwood.  This one is a bit trickier because it reasonably slows down traffic on Wildwood.  But that was deemed to be a good thing, and we quickly approved it on a 7-0 vote.

Item 6 involved formally approving our takeover of Onizuka and the plan to move the homeless housing claims from Onizuka to the Armory site.  And with little discussion, we approved this on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  This all has worked out very well for Sunnyvale, starting with our abandonment of the rather silly plan to put an auto mall dealership, to our transferring of the homeless housing claims from Onizuka to the Armory, to getting Foothill/De Anza College to take over the bulk of Onizuka.  I’m very proud of how we’ve handled what could have been a very difficult situation.  This started several years ago, and because we couldn’t come up with a workable idea, we had to request delay after delay from the federal government as we developed a plan.  Then a little more than a year ago, our City Manager came up with Foothill/De Anza as a possible owner, when he attended a discussion of FHDA’s expansion plans.  FHDA was really most interested in Cubberly in Palo Alto, and Onizuka was viewed as a very good option, but their second choice.  But Palo Alto dragged their feet and finally said no, mostly because they view Cubberly as the desired spot for K-12 education.  So FHDA pursued Onizuka, and we jumped at the chance.

That leads us to the Armory discussion.  Homeless housing providers have first claim on federal property like this, and one put in a claim for the bulk of the property.  But the base realignment and closure process (BRAC) allows us to transfer such claims to an equivalent piece of property elsewhere.  And Onizuka is just a very bad location for housing.  It’s in the middle of an industrial park with no resident amenities nearby.  So moving the homeless housing claim to the Armory and transferring the property to Foothill/De Anza seems to have been the best possible outcome for all concerned.  It’s not all done yet, but so far, things are turning out really well.

Item 7 was a follow-up to the BMR background check discussion.  We previously moved to see about using government criminal databases as a means to do background checks for BMR applicants, despite the City Attorney telling us that it couldn’t legally be done and we’d be told “no”.  Subsequently, we were told “no”.  So this returned for possible future action.  And with no input from the public, a motion was made to pursue private background checks for crimes of violence and drug use.  Attempts were made to amend it to affect the time periods, but they failed.  And the original motion passed 4-3 (I disagreed).  I still have a very hard time with this issue.  I recognize the concerns that were raised – they stem from one very bad incident.  But out of the decades that we’ve been running the BMR program, there was only one.  By and large, someone who really wants to be a homeowner and needs the BMR program to make it happen isn’t looking to make trouble – they’re looking to make a home and establish roots.  That’s a good thing, and telling those applicants “first, prove that you’re not a criminal” sends the message that they’re simply not wanted.  I disagree with that, obviously.  And it’s worth pointing out that a normal, non-BMR homeowner never has to pass a background check.  They have to pass the same sort of credit checks that a BMR applicant does, but nothing regarding criminal history. The risk of a dangerous neighbor would seem to be much greater from a renter or non-BMR owner than from a BMR owner.  But I lost, and I fully appreciate the motivation behind the issue.

We then returned to the consent calendar.  1A and 1C were passed on 6-1 votes for the usual reasons (I assented).  The second reading of one of the rezonings from the previous meeting was pulled to ask a question, then it was approved on a 6-1 vote (I assented).  The easement vacation was pulled so a member of the public could as a question, and then it was approved on a 7-0 vote.

We had a bunch of committee reports, the most interesting of which was that Sunnyvale successfully convinced the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) that they’d made a mistake in our housing numbers, and that our allotment through 2022 would be reduced by about 9%.  I previously blogged on it.

During non-agenda item comments, I returned to the LED streetlight issue.  We did a great job in getting the grant and converting lights, but we’re only 20% done.  And this is an issue where we recover our money in something like 4 years.  So it would seem to make sense to accelerate our conversion, even if it means drawing from the reserves.  Since they pay themselves back and then some, by dramatically reducing our energy bills, it may make sense to draw down the reserves a little to pay for conversion, provided we have some confidence that the reserves won’t be needed.  And there’s some timeliness, because we’re discussing a collaborative purchase agreement with a bunch of other cities to get lower prices on them.  So we’re going to see this as part of the budget discussion this year, to decide if maybe we want to draw down the reserves temporarily to do this.

That’s about it.


4/9/2013 Council Summary — 2 Comments