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Another Marathon Council Meeting, Budget Forecast Unchanged, Censure for Watanabe and Admonishment for Gillmor

Santa Clara City Council had another marathon meeting on June 8, ending with about half the agenda continued to June 10.

 

Budget Picture  

This was the second study session for the proposed 2021/2022-2023 budget, and the message was simple: no change from earlier forecasts. The good news is that funding will be restored for Roberta Jones Junior Theatre, although program fees and ticket prices will likely increase, and outside funding will be sought.

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A fee schedule overhaul is underway, including a review of business tax — unchanged in 30 years. Most other proposed fee increases are 1 to 3 percent. Other taxes being considered include a Utility User Tax, Documentary Transfer Tax, bond or parcel tax.

Council Member Suds Jain endorsed one-time expenditures to grow future revenue — from a traffic demand consultant to properly set traffic impact fees to early planning of quality-of-life features to encourage property-tax-generating development.

Council Member Kathy Watanabe disagreed that this was urgent. “I understand consultants and studies and we can talk about these things another time,” she said.

Public safety budget cuts drew the most discussion and public comment. Council Members noted recent crime increases as well as a drought-fueled wildfire season.

Council Member Kevin Park said that as Santa Clara was adding “new high level positions” at City Hall, he “would like to look at how we can avoid cuts to overtime.” Park also endorsed increasing staff to reduce overtime and concomitant overwork.

“I know everyone’s interested in consultants and train noise,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor, “but one thing is very apparent to me, is that people are concerned about crime…If there’s not a feeling of safety among our people, we have failed.”

Council Member Anthony Becker endorsed Gillmor’s position that public safety had to take first place for the moment.

Both Jain and Park reminded Gillmor and Watanabe that if they had taken steps to avoid the 2017 voting rights lawsuit Santa Clara would have $5 million more on the plus side of the ledger.

When Park said it was his understanding that positions were frozen, not cut, and, thus, could be filled, Gillmor said it was “a shame” her colleagues “couldn’t remember what they vote on” and it was clear to her that “this Council” voted to cut public safety. City Manager Deanna Santana agreed to provide a report to the Council on the cuts/freezes and the timeline.

 

Censure for Watanabe, Admonishment for Gillmor

In two separate 4-3 votes— Gillmor, Jain, Watanabe dissenting — Council approved censuring Watanabe for violating the City’s ethics code at her March #StopAsianHate event when she told Park that it was “her event” and he couldn’t speak. They admonished Gillmor for not stepping in to remedy the violation or acknowledging it.

“Council Member Park was offended,” said Gillmor, “the Asian American community was offended and Council Member Watanabe did apologize so I don’t know what else we can say about this,” said Gillmor. “I just caution the Council, where are you setting the bar for.”

“Asian hate is not the issue,” said Park. “It’s the lies, the gaslighting narrative. Those are the things that deserve censure. You talk about unity, but you do not put it in practice. Even now, you are trying to spin, instead of acknowledging the actions and own up to the truth.”

Speakers said repeatedly they weren’t accusing Watanabe of racism — they were alleging she broke the City’s Ethics Code. But Gillmor and Watanabe continued to say they were sorry Park’s “feelings were hurt.”

 

Rewriting History 

Council voted 5-2, Gillmor and Watanabe dissenting, to update a “chronology” of the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit Santa Clara lost, written by City Attorney Doyle. A revised version will come back to Council.

Among the discussed errors and omissions were incorrect information about recommendations of a 2012 Charter Review Committee, a 2011 letter from civil rights attorney Robert Rubin that was on SantaClaraCA.gov and the December 2020 settlement offer that would have saved the City about $2 million.

 

To Seat License or Not Seat License

The Council/Stadium Authority revisited a 2019 proposal for selling limited seat licenses for 64 temporary seats. This came back after a 49ers May letter accusing the City of “dithering,” “misstatements and obstruction.”

The 49ers were absent, also now customary. Their view is that some City officials’ rudeness to 49er employees at public meetings constitutes a hostile workplace.

The 49ers paid for the installation of the seats, which they say would sell for about $10,000 a piece.

“The 49ers are going to put in these seats,” Jain said, “and for the City to miss out on the SBL money, which pays off the debt…just doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m trying to understand.”

The City would get about $17.50 in ticket surcharges for each game ticket sold — vs. $0.35. Staff analysis pegs administrative costs at $620 each, although the administrative cost for the other 61,000 seat licenses is $13 each, according to Jain’s analysis.

Rather than answering the question, Gillmor criticized her fellow Council Members’ meetings with the 49ers, which they keep track of on their official City Council calendars.

“Thank you very much for making the case for the 49ers,” Gillmor said. “They make all kinds of asks of you, and I hope …you’re going to end up putting what you actually talk about on your calendar.”

Santana says the 49ers’ optimism about potential revenue is unwarranted and consideration of risk, insufficient. There is no guarantee of the actual selling price or that the NFL wouldn’t cancel those seat sales any time, necessitating refunds. The SA’s position has been that all of this makes them an uncertain proposition. Santana has suggested an “alternative instrument” to seat licenses.

After two years of going in circles Santana expressed frustration about another go-round with these 64 seats.

“I feel very misunderstood,” she said, “with the City thinking that I could put everything aside to do this, so that the City can be successful with selling 64 seats under these circumstances…especially when the 49ers did not respect the Board enough to be here, to clarify these questions and expedite the conversation.”

Attorney Doyle objected to the whole discussion, saying, “all the evidence being submitted is all hearsay. And this is the craziest process I’ve ever heard of…. perhaps, you know, give some kind of direction to the Executive Director. I would urge you not to discuss this with the 49ers because all it does is create a lot of confusion.”

“When I look at just the material that’s presented here,” said Park, “it’s really hard to understand the pushback on receiving monies for seats already in place, even if we have to refund the prorated difference.” If they worried about refunds, “prorated refunds would never be an option.”

A motion finally passed — 6-1, Gillmor dissenting — authorizing Santana to discuss “maximizing revenue” on the seats with the 49ers, and bring any written proposals to the Council.

 

In other business:

Council voted 6-1, Park dissenting, against considering a Bloom Energy request to reconsider use permits for fuel cells. Bloom won a lawsuit against Santa Clara over connecting the back-up power systems to the SVP grid.

Contracts approved:

  • Dasher Technologies for Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Hardware Maintenance and Support Services: $162,930
  • Bay Area Tree Specialists $1,049,000
  • SPX Transformer Solutions, Inc to increase maximum compensation to $1,500,000
  • Art Alger, Inc. dba Peninsula Crane & Rigging to increase maximum compensation from $129,000 to $300,000
  • Rosendin Electric, Inc. to extend from $329,765 to $600,000
  • Great America Parkway Emergency Sanitary Sewer Repair Project agreement with SAK Construction, LLC for $387,320 plus 16% contingency not-to-exceed amount of $450,000

The meeting was continued to Thursday, June 10, 6 p.m., santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/997067 59306. You can watch Tuesday’s meeting at santaclaraca.gov .

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