Wow, what a long meeting. Pretty much our longest in years.
We started the evening with a closed session for the City Manager’s evaluation. We then went to open session, where we recognized National Public Works Week.
There were a couple of announcements, one of which is worth calling out. A member of the public reported on Dale O’Rourke. Mr. O’Rourke was a Sunnyvale resident who passed away a while ago. But before doing so, he personally contributed substantial amounts of money to the Sunnyvale Pool Trust Fund (I don’t remember the exact amount, but around $300,000). That level of generosity is definitely worth recognizing.
The minutes, list of bills, litigation budget modification, and county island annexation items were pulled, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote.
Next came public comments. As a result, a motion was made to put campaign finance matching on the next council meeting agenda, but it failed on a 3-4 vote. I dissented mostly on procedural grounds. There have been a lot of attempts recently to just toss things on to agendas. But we quite deliberately have a study issue process so that we can plan out staff’s work for the year and make sure they’ve got the time to handle it. When we subvert that process, we risk overworking staff and the whole effort that we make to prioritize our year’s issues. As a matter of practice, I tend to avoid supporting anything like this unless there is a time urgency that won’t wait until the next study issue process.
Item 2 was our regularly-scheduled appointment of Board and Commission members. This one went a bit awry from the beginning. We have something of a normal procedure where we don’t interview candidates who we previously interviewed within the past year – even if they’re incumbents. A colleague pointed out that this is problematic, particularly if we choose not to reappoint one of them. It creates the image that we declined to interview them to put them at a disadvantage, instead of just “because we just recently interviewed them”. So a motion was made to delay appointment of the Planning Commission and Sustainability Commission candidates until additional interviews could be done. I proposed a friendly amendment to allow for Category 2 Sustainability Commission appointments, since those weren’t involved in the issue, and it was accepted. And then the main motion was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
We then appointed the following:
- Robert Sumner reappointed to the Arts Commission (I voted for him)
- Anne Davis-East appointed to the Board of Library Trustees (I voted for her)
- Diana Gilbert reappointed to the HHS Commission (I voted for her)
- Navpreet Sidhu appointed to the HHS Commission (I voted for her)
- Patti Evans appointed to the HHS Commission (I voted for her)
- Ralph Kenton appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission (I voted for him)
- Robert Pochowski reappointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission (I voted for him)
- Gary Sellers reappointed to the Personnel Board (I voted for him)
- Sue Harrison reappointed to the Sustainability Commission (I voted for her)
Item 3 involved the new operator of the Fremont Pool. This one was a bit difficult because of concerns over the way insurance is handled in the new proposed contract. For this new contract, staff recommended dramatically increasing the amount of insurance coverage that the city requires the operator to maintain, and he then has to turn around and pass those requirements to the groups that rent use of the pool. But there was some serious debate over whether or not to make this requirement, and what effect it would have on the groups that use the pool. Staff was adamant that because of liability risks, the insurance was necessary. The operator was fine with it. But I was personally concerned that this insurance requirement might prevent small groups from being able to use the pool.
After a fair bit of debate, I moved to approve the contract, and the motion passed 4-3. Close one.
Item 4 involved a possible location for a new branch library in Lakewood Village. A while back, we had proposed building a new branch library on the site of the Lakewood Pool, which the city had previously decided to close. But staff came back to us with a recommendation that we move the proposed location to the Lakewood Park for various reasons. First, it turns out that the Sunnyvale Elementary School District wasn’t thrilled with the pool location. They intend to use the pool location for expanded classrooms in the future. Additionally, they recently constructed their own elementary school library nearby, so they didn’t see a lot of benefit in a branch library right there. So staff looked around the park and found a spot of park that is not being used, and they proposed using that as the location for the library.
There was a fair bit of discussion about this, because of concerns about losing open space. But part of the proposal would likely involve demolishing the park buildings and adding new (exterior-accessible) meeting rooms to the new library. The demolished space would then be converted to park space. As a result, the loss of space would be fairly minimal. So after some discussion, a motion was made to pursue a branch library at the new library and have staff bring a design contract back to us, and it passed on a 7-0 vote.
Item 5 involved a modification to the Cupertino Union School District open space at Cupertino Middle School. We have a joint-use agreement with CUSD, whereby we take care of their open space at a cost of $350k/year in exchange for our residents getting to use the open space when school isn’t in session. CUSD is proposing a classroom construction project that would build on 1.8 acres of space, and any modifications to the open space require Sunnyvale approval. This proposal includes construction of a small parking lot along Helena Avenue. And the overall project unfortunately aroused the ire of the neighbors for various reasons. One, they use that specific chunk of open space. Two, the new buildings would be very visible from several houses in the neighborhood. Three, the new parking lot would result in cars shining headlights into home windows. None of that went over. So a lot of residents came to protest the proposal and ask us to reject it.
After a lot of discussion, a motion was made to reject the proposed revisions, and it passed on a 7-0 vote. This was a very hard call for me, because to a certain extent, it’s the school’s property, and they do have a right to use it the way they see fit. But I didn’t like the impact on the neighbors, and I couldn’t support it. More of this to come.
Item 6 involved the annual renewal of the Downtown Sunnyvale Business Improvement District (BID). This is an arrangement where the downtown merchants agree that they want to be taxed for the purpose of funding an organization that does advertising, events, and maintenance in the downtown area. Sunnyvale doesn’t impose this on them – they come to us and ask us to do so, and we then do so. But this time, there was some dissent because some of the merchants have been unhappy with the way certain events have been handled, and they are concerned about certain organizational and procedural issues. So in questioning, we were a little harder on the BID’s executive director than in the past. But in the end, I moved to approve the BID, and it passed on a 5-1 vote with one of my colleagues recused.
And item 7 was related – a proposal to expand the scope of the BID. With very little discussion, I moved to approve the expansion, and it passed on a 5-1 vote with one of my colleagues recused.
Item 8 involved consideration of a November ballot measure proposing a 1% Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) increase. We’d discussed this a lot already in a study session, so the discussion of this was pretty brief. In short, having gotten our expenses in order, staff proposed that we start looking at the revenue side. And TOT is one area where we are significantly below the county average. Once all of the special districts are taken into account, the county average is around 12.5%, whereas Sunnyvale’s TOT is 9.5%. A 1% increase would generate $900k per year in additional revenue. There was a fair bit of discussion about this, with different opinions for different reasons. One additional consideration is that the Chamber of Commerce indicated that it would not oppose a 1% increase, but it would oppose anything greater.
A motion was then made to propose a TOT tax rate of 12%, and it died for lack of a second.
A motion was then made to propose a TOT tax rate of 10.4%, and dedicate the revenue for Public Safety. It died for lack of a second too.
A motion was then made to approve a ballot measure to raise the TOT to 10.5%, which I seconded, and it passed on a 4-3 vote.
Raising taxes is never a trivial matter. I felt this was a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, the TOT isn’t a tax on Sunnyvale residents – it’s a tax on visitors. Second, we’ve got the new 49er stadium coming in, with Superbowl 50 coming here in 2016. That’s going to burden us in ways for which we’ll get repaid, and others for which we probably won’t. This allows us to deal with that and lessen the impact that the stadium will have on us. At any rate, Sunnyvale’s voters will decide whether or not they support this, in November.
We then returned to the consent calendar. The minutes were passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). The list of bills was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). The budget modification for litigation costs was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). And the county annexation was approved on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
We then had IGR reports. A colleague moved to place a discussion of a minimum wage increase on the ballot, and it passed on a 4-3 vote. I opposed it, which wasn’t easy. I support a minimum wage increase. But I don’t think handling it this way is the right way to make it happen – there needs to be discussion, a consideration of what it will cost the city in staffing, a whole lot of things that should precede creating a ballot measure. More on this next meeting, obviously.
That’s about it.