4/30/2013 Council Summary – TOT and the Armory

Another long night.

We started the evening with a joint closed session between the Redevelopment Successor Agency and the City Council (which happen to be the same people).  I can’t say much, but the public disclosure was: Direction to initiate litigation, if necessary, has been given, and the action, defendants and other particulars shall, once formally commenced, be disclosed to any person upon inquiry, unless doing so would jeopardize our ability to effectuate service or negatively impact any settlement negotiations.  Take from that what you will.

This was followed by a study session regarding consideration of placing a Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) increase on the November ballot.  TOT is a standard tax placed on each hotel or motel room for every day that they are occupied, and it is a tax that has little or no impact on residents.  In the session, staff explained the case for raising the TOT and the implications if we do so.  In short, we’ve spent the past four years aggressively dealing with city costs and making no effort to address the revenue side of the budget, while revenue hasn’t even kept pace with inflation.  And when staff looks at areas where the city doesn’t generate revenue comparable to nearby cities, the TOT is a case where we are significantly below the county norm.  Sunnyvale’s current TOT is 9.5%, while Cupertino, Campbell, and Palo Alto have 12%, Los Altos has 11%, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, and Saratoga have 10%.  only Gilroy is lower at 9%.  San Jose technically has 10%, but it also has a 4% citywide district tax for “convention center facilities” (essentially a dedicated TOT) and an additional citywide fee of $0.75-$2 per room for hotels with 80 or more rooms.  Santa Clara technically has a 9.5% TOT, but it has an additional 2% on its nine most significant hotels (13 of its hotels) and an additional $1/room/night on the same nine hotels.  When everything is taken into account, the county average is 12.25% to Sunnyvale’s 9.5%.  And the ones dragging the average down are the fringe cities that are either furthest from the heart of the county, or the cities with virtually no hotels.  Fairly compelling argument.

So we got into the discussion, and the Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce told us that they could support a 1% increase to 10.5%, but nothing more than that, out of concern for possibly hurting the competitiveness of Sunnyvale’s hotels.  And staff recommended putting a 1% increase on the November ballot.  In talking it over, there seemed to be three camps on Council – one favoring staff recommendation, one favoring a higher increase that directs some of the revenue back to the hotels, and one favoring no increase.  Lacking a majority consensus, no action was taken to put the topic on a future Council agenda.

We then went to the general meeting.  There were a few announcements, one involving Faith In Action Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter, and one involving Bike to Work Day.  Then we got to business.  The SMaRT Station contract amendment and the Board and Commission master work plans were pulled, a couple of no votes were registered, and the balance of the consent calendar was passed on a 7-0 vote.

We had a handful of public speakers, the most compelling being a resident on Wright Avenue who is having a problem with a liquidambar tree pushing up a sidewalk.  Hopefully staff will be able to take care of that.

Item 2 involved the Armory proposal for low-income and homeless housing.  We had a fair bit of discussion about the specifics of the project.  I was most interested in something that the Planning Commission raised (and that Planning Commission Chair Gustav Larsson specifically raised) – whether or not the city can encourage the property managers to give preference to selecting Sunnyvale homeless or at-risk residents, or employees of Sunnyvale businesses.  One of the concerns with any housing project is the impact on schools, and being able to increase the number of occupants who are already in Sunnyvale will mitigate the impact on Sunnyvale schools (since those kids are already in Sunnyvale schools).  But staff said that would be a part of our Armory approvals for next week’s agenda.

We then had public input, and it was surprising how compelling it was.  No speakers against.  We received a letter from EHC Lifebuilders, the organization that currently operates the cold-weather shelter, stating rather emphatically that while losing the shelter would be a loss, providing permanent housing is a much better solution.  We had representatives from Downtown Streets Team, some of whom have recently used the shelter themselves, who were firmly supportive of the project too, and that was extremely persuasive.  So after some discussion, we approved staff recommendation on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).

Item 3 was another interesting one – consideration of rezoning or general plan amendments for three mobile home parks – Ranchero, Thunderbird, and Rancho La Mesa.  This was an outgrowth of an earlier discussion regarding mobile homes.  We became concerned about protecting mobile home parks from conversion to other land uses, since the owners of carriages are pretty much hostage to the parks and unable to move them.  Staff indicated that all but three parks in the city are already zoned as mobile home parks, so we wanted to look at rezoning those three to protect homeowners in those parks.  But after starting this, we were contacted by the owner of Thunderbird and Ranchero, who had concerns.  It turns out that that owner has spent the past 20+ years buying out homeowners in his two parks (in a friendly fashion), with the intent of converting those two parks to some other use such as condos or apartments.  And he’s been talking with the city for years about this, which is probably why those two parks weren’t rezoned in the first place.  Since there are no homeowners to protect in those parks, the rezoning may not be necessary or useful, something that the Planning Commission told us when they reviewed the issue.  On the other hand, there seemed to be no concerns about rezoning the third park to mobile home usage, to protect the owners there.  Further, since the owner of the other two has plans, he asked us to initiate a General Plan Amendment Study to rezone it to medium density housing, which exactly matches the neighborhood.

There was also an issue with the permissible density of the existing mobile home parks, since some of them already exceed the existing permitted density, and staff suggested re-examining those densities to bring everything into compliance citywide.

So after some discussion, including chats with the owner of those two parks, we got to the issue.  First, a motion was made to rezone the third mobile home park for mobile home park usage, and that passed on a 5-2 vote (I agreed).  A second motion was made to examine the density of mobile home land use city-wide, and that passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).  Then the third motion was made to initiate a general plan study to rezone the two parks as medium density.  An amendment was offered to direct staff to look at medium or lower density, which was kind of pointless since staff would have done that as a matter of practice anyway, and it failed 3-4.  I supported it, although I was torn between supporting it since it was pointless and opposing it because it was pointless.  Anyway, the final motion to approve the GPA study passed 5-2 (I agreed).

We then returned to item 3 – how we select a mayor.  There wasn’t much discussion, since this is a well-known issue among the councilmembers.  There were a couple of speakers from the public, then we got to voting.  A motion was made to put 1-year rotating mayor with seniority requirement built into the Charter on the ballot, and it wasn’t seconded.  A second motion was made to place 1-year rotating mayor without seniority requirement built into the Charter (but likely adopted as council policy later) on the ballot not in November but in the next election, be it 2014, 2015, or 2016, and it also wasn’t seconded.  A third motion was made to take no action, and it passed 4-3 (I agreed).

Whatever I think about the best way of selecting a mayor, I was just convinced that a rotating mayor on a November ballot would fail.  It would have been the third time in four Sunnyvale elections that we would have asked voters to change our mayoral scheme.  And just two years ago, we told voters “you should have a say in your mayor, and a longer term is necessary”.  So saying in November “no, sorry, you shouldn’t have a say in your mayor, and forget about that longer term stuff, we want a shorter term”.  I just didn’t believe that voters would have any confidence that we knew what we were talking about.  I also came into this expecting that it might fail.  Whatever dissatisfaction my colleagues have, there doesn’t seem to be a majority consensus on anything other than “everyone is wrong” on this issue…

Item 6 involved a change to our ordinances regarding impasse negotiations to conform to state law, and with no discussion we passed it 7-0.

We then returned to the consent calendar, which is when things got interesting.  The first pull involved a modification to our contract for operating the SMaRT Station.  There is a problem with the way we recover some materials for potential reuse, and the specific problem and its fix go beyond the boundaries of the existing contract that was already agreed to.  The operator isn’t required to address the issue, and we’re not required to pay for it.  But we have a vested interest in recovering the additional material, and the operator is willing to do so.  So staff and the operator proposed an amendment to the contract to amend its scope a little bit (relative to the overall contract).  Unfortunately, one of my colleagues read something into the whole issue that I don’t believe was actually a concern at all, and in the process of expressing his concerns, he exceeded what the Mayor felt was relevant debate.  Since the Mayor is specifically responsible for keeping discussions on topic, he attempted to return the discussion to the relevant topic, and a blow-up ensued when the colleague failed to recognize the Mayor’s authority.  After it was over, we voted 6-1 to approve staff’s recommendation to amend the contract (I agreed).

I then moved to direct staff to place an item on the next council agenda to consider a formal censure and sanctions against the colleague, for repeated and ongoing violations of Council Policy and Sunnyvale’s Code of Ethical Conduct for Elected and Appointed Officials.  I’ll simply say what I said on the dais – enough is enough, and either we condemn the behavior as unacceptable or we’re condoning it as appropriate.  As you might imagine, that kicked off a rather lengthy discussion, and in the end the motion passed 4-3.  So we’ll be revisiting this on Tuesday.

We then took up the issue of the master work plans. A colleague had some items for possible addition, and after some questioning they were determined to not be necessary for addition.  I then raised a concern I had about the whole process.  We approve work plans for the bodies for the calendar year, but we never do so until April.  That means that the calendar is 1/3 over before we approve it, which creates a window in which unapproved work could be done by a commission.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  So I then moved to approve the master work plans and to direct the council subcommittee on boards and commission policies to look at changes to the work plan scheduling.  It passed, either 6-1 or 7-0, and I neglected to write it down, sorry.

We had a couple of quick IGR reports, and that was it.

Next meeting is in just a week, and we’ll have a bunch of special orders and a presentation, more on the Armory, something involving the WPCP, and something regarding the annual HUD plan.  Plus the censure discussion.


4/30/2013 Council Summary – TOT and the Armory — 2 Comments