Very diverse and interesting night.
We started the evening late, unfortunately – the first time in several years that that happened. I came out at 7:00 to make the announcement and explain that we were in a closed session that had some timeliness, and we needed to start a bit late. So we started the meeting at about 7:25, as I recall.
The closed session involved the potential sale of the Raynor Activity Center, and in the closed session report, I reported that we had directed staff to begin negotiations with Stratford School.
We had a couple of public announcements – one involving the potential branch library at Lakewood Park, one involving an upcoming meeting of the Sunnyvale Democratic Club, and one from the Heritage Society about an upcoming event featuring Sunnyvale authors (Sunday July 14th from noon-4 p.m.), The final one was from the President of the Sunnyvale Rotary Club announcing an event at the Grand Hotel. But she also took a moment to express Rotary’s concern over expressions of a lack of respect being given to councilmembers, city staff, and members of the solid waste industry.
The Orchard Gardens expansion and the utility bill credit balance issues were pulled from the consent calendar, and the balance of the consent calendar was approved on a 7-0 vote.
We then had a number of interesting public comments. A former Sunnyvale mayor spoke both in defense of Jerry Nabhan and in criticism of the way the term “special interest” is being tossed around by a couple of people. Her point was that everyone is a special interest, whether you’re a developer or a business owner or a resident protecting the park in your back yard. She argued that council’s responsibility is to consider, respect, and champion all interests. “The term special interest really has no place in our vocabulary”. Another resident made interesting points centered around two basic principles – “love God, love your neighbor”. Gustav Larsson from the Planning Commission spoke to explain that a previous claim by a member of the public that “Sunnyvale intends to put thousands of housing units at Fremont and Mary” is simply false. There is certainly examination of the shopping centers there, but nothing has even reached the voting stage, and nothing on the order of thousands of housing units has been discussed. And a member of the public criticized the recent attacks on Sunnyvale businessmen with “spurious claims” as dangerous to Sunnyvale’s business climate. Interesting collection of speakers this time.
We then got to business. Item 2 was a return to the Cupertino Middle School open space issue. in short, CUSD came back to the city with a compromise proposal to still construct as proposed, to either move the parking lot intended for Helena to Bernardo or not build one at all, to preserve a green space barrier where that parking lot was previously proposed, and to revise at its own expense one of the remaining baseball diamonds. Staff additionally reported that the potential construction area was designated by the school district as a potential expansion area a few decades ago, when the joint use agreement was signed.
We then had public speakers, and this time we had several parents show up to push for the expansion, which was a change. After the public hearing was closed, a motion was made to bring this issue back when a design diagram is presented to us. That motion failed on a 2-5 vote (I dissented). A motion was then made to approve the compromise, and it passed on a 5-2 vote.
I supported this, but it wasn’t that easy. There was no win-win solution from the City’s position. No motion would satisfy both the school district and the neighbors, based on the proposal that was given to us. We had two options. One was to deny it again. And that might result in a couple of outcomes. They could come back to us with yet another compromise, but I didn’t believe that any future compromises would be any better. They didn’t budget on timing or the location or nature of the buildings, and it seemed clear that CUSD was saying “this is what we have to do”. The more likely outcome to denying it was losing the joint use agreement permanently. The other option available to us was to approve the agreement.
So I believe our two options were to agree to the agreement and lose 1.8 acres of open space, or to deny the agreement, in which case we lose all access to all of the open space forever, and the District simply builds the exact same thing two years from now, but with the parking lot smack dab on Helena. And in looking at a map, you can see that south of San Antonio Park and west of Serra Park, there is no open space available to residents except the District’s open space. Forcing so many of our residents to walk miles to get to the nearest park is just unacceptable to me.
But one of the themes that pretty much every councilmember hit on was that we don’t think the School District has done enough to reach out to the neighbors and respond to their concerns. I’ve got a couple of ideas on how to fix that.
Next came item 3, the remaining commission appointments. And we reappointed Ken Olevson to the Planning Commission and we appointed Bruce Paton to the Sustainability (I voted for both).
Item 4 was the public hearing on the proposed budget, and we had a couple of speakers, but it required no vote.
Item 5 was the public hearing on the proposed fines and fees. We spent all of our time talking about the licensing fee for unaltered dogs, with staff proposing dropping the fee from $150/year to $100 per year. After some back and forth, a motion was made to drop the fee to $60, which I seconded. A friendly amendment was made to change it to $75, but they compromised at $70, and the motion passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
Item 6 was consideration of water, wastewater, and solid waste utilities fees for the next fiscal year. The staff report was rather lengthy, because there has been some misinformation about what’s causing some of the increases and why, and staff wanted to make sure the facts were out there. There were a couple of public speakers concerned about rate increases, but most of the speakers actually spoke to the attacks on Jerry Nabhan, the solid waste operator. Jerry is an active and involved member of the community, and the attacks on him did not sit well with a number of people. A Sunnyvale resident who is a lawyer got up to give his opinion that recent claims in letters in the Sun and comments to Council were factually incorrect, and that under California law, the charges of conflict of interest were false as well. Multiple residents spoke in defense of Jerry Nabhan. After some council discussion, a motion was made to approve the proposed rates, and it passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
After a brief recess, we took up the remaining consent calendar items, starting with 1H, the handling of unclaimed excess utility funds. Basically, people overpaid and then went away, and we couldn’t track them down to refund their money. This happens a fair bit, and we have to deal with the excess money in some way. Staff proposed moving $10k to our utility assistance account (for people who are having a problem paying their bills) and the balance back to the utility fund (reducing everyone’s utilities by a small amount). After some discussion, a motion was made to approve staff’s recommendation, and it passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed).
We then took up 1I, the expansion of Orchard Gardens, which passed without much comment on a 7-0 vote. It was pulled by a member of the public who couldn’t stay.
Item 7 was then heard next. This item dealt with the shortfalls in the golf and tennis enterprise funds, due mostly to the loss of the operator of the restaurant at the golf course, and a proposal to use $300k of general funds to balance it out. And with very little discussion, I moved staff’s recommendation, and it passed on a 7-0 vote (which surprised me a bit).
Item 8 was discussion of a ballot measure to move to even year elections, and the bulk of the discussion was really around whether we shorten or lengthen terms. Surprisingly this time, more speakers spoke against it than for it, which was a reversal from past times. A motion was made to put a measure on the ballot to move to even years and shorten terms, but it failed on a 2-5 vote. I dissented, mostly because I don’t think the city is up for holding an election this year, only to hold another election next year. A motion was then made to put a measure on the ballot to move to even years and lengthen terms, and that passed on a 6-1 vote (I agreed). So we’ll see what Sunnyvale voters want to do.
Item 9 was discussion of a ballot measure to increase the Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) 1% to 10.5%. And with no public comment or discussion, a motion was made to approve the ballot measure, and it passed on a 4-3 vote. I agreed, mostly because I think this needs to be done before the 49er stadium is completed, so we can capitalize on those opportunities, particularly with Superbowl 50 coming.
Item 10 was consideration of a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage, a la San Jose. This provoked a lot of council discussion, but no public input. So a motion was made to place a measure on the ballot to mimic San Jose’s measure, effective 2014. I then questioned staff on a couple of points. First, we don’t need a ballot measure to do this – council can just vote to do it. Second, the motion would have created a ballot measure with less than one month to implement the measure. The City Attorney pointed out that the cities that have a higher minimum wage have dedicated staff to implement them, and she expressed concerns about the speed of doing a ballot measure. So I opposed the motion because I wanted to do it as a study issue – which would be cheaper, would be more thoughtfully done, and could be done in the same timeframe as a ballot measure would. And then the motion failed on a 3-4 vote.
So then I proposed a study issue on increasing the minimum wage, which would target an effective date of 2015, and it was co-sponsored.
Then a motion was made to simply have staff bring back an ordinance to take effect on October 1, 2014 – avoiding the voters and avoiding the study issue process. But it failed on a 3-4 vote. I opposed it because the study issue process exists for a reason, and doing an end run around the study issue causes bad things to happen. Anyway, we’ll look at it as a study issue next year, and I’m confident it’ll get ranked.
We then had IGR reports, followed by council comments. There was some questioning of the Apple campus Environmental Impact Report, and staff will be holding a study session to consider Sunnyvale’s response to the request for public input on the EIR. A motion was made to consider a legislative advocacy position on PRISM, the Patriot Act, and similar issues, but it failed on a 3-4 vote.
And that’s it. Next meeting is Tuesday, when we’ll be approving the budget, discussing our sign ordinances, and a bunch of other things.