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Chamber of Commerce and City Council Still at Odds Over Audit

Management of the Santa Clara Convention Center continues to be a source of bad blood between the City Council and Chamber of Commerce.

With the completion of a performance audit, the Council heard details Tuesday night regarding how the Convention Center and Convention & Visitors Bureau will be run in the wake of its decision to snatch control from the Chamber.

That decision came amid suspicion of what Mayor Lisa Gillmor has described as “serious issues,” including “self-dealing” and “co-mingling of PAC money.”

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Following the audit, an agenda item where the auditor presented her findings and the Chamber could respond was slated for Tuesday’s agenda. However, the item was removed after the auditor had what City Manager Deanna Santana called a “personal family situation.”

During public comments, Nick Kaspar, President of the Chamber, told the Council he was “concerned” with its delaying the item until November when it has had the audit findings for two weeks.

Kaspar said he would like an opportunity to “correct misstatements” in the audit, addressing each accusation. But Gillmor said the Chamber is the one spreading misinformation, noting the seriousness of the accusations levied against its employees.

The seriousness of the allegations is all the more reason to allow the Chamber to address those accusations sooner rather than later, Kaspar countered.

Council Member Patricia Mahan called the postponed item a “very critical issue,” saying she was confused as to why it was absent from Tuesday night’s agenda considering the audit report specified it be held on that date.

Gillmor said the Council is still waiting on the results of the tourism improvement district (TID) audit.

“We are not going to put something out there without all the facts,” Gillmor said. “The Chamber will have plenty of time to give us their side … I don’t want to hear this three, four, five, six times.”

Mahan noted the postponement puts the item on an agenda after the November election, saying it had been “delayed strategically and politically.”

The City Manager compiles the Council meeting agenda, according to the Council Policy and Procedure Manual. There doesn’t appear to be a documented procedure for taking items off the agenda.

Later in the meeting, Santana said Santa Clara is fortunate to have “in-house expertise” in securing a company to handle the management of the Convention Center and Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The City’s new procurement manager, Mark Giovannetti, presented the process, saying the City will use BidSync to manage bids and assured the Council that the process “encourages competition.” The evaluation team, made up of three city employees and four outsiders, will give weight to different aspects of the bid in two phases, he said.

During the first phase, Giovannetti said, the experience of the firm and the experience of the team will each count for 25 percent while the quality of the proposal will count for 5 percent. In phase two, the financial proposal will be equally weighted with the in-person interview.

Should the Council follow Giovannetti’s recommendation, the initial contract will be five years with the possibility of two five-year extensions. The request for proposal will be posted on BidSync on Oct. 17 with proposals due by Dec. 3; contract negotiations will be held mid-to-late February.

Giovannetti said the practices for whoever will succeed the Chamber in running the Convention Center and Convention & Visitors Bureau will need to follow practices that “protect against political influence and conflicts of interest” and ensure “integrity.” A “communication protocol” would be also be put in place toward this end.

“It is critical that we have an operator that will manage the facility professionally,” Gillmor said.

However, Giovannitti did not demonstrate what such policies were, instead doing little more than saying that the Chamber’s successor would not commit any of the transgressions of which the Chamber stands accused.

Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc. will consult the City during the process because of its “industry expertise.” That same “expertise” landed former Team San Jose CEO Dan Fenton on the blunt end of a Grand Jury investigation that showed “insufficient checks and balances” during his time in San Jose.

 

New Clubhouse for Lawn Bowlers

The Vice President of the Santa Clara Lawn Bowlers, Jerry Patrignani, is trying to get the Council to “make good on a promise made to the club 15 years ago.”

In June, the Council approved allocating $175,000 to improve the Lawn Bowlers clubhouse in Central Park after an inspection revealed it was not up to code. The club was promised a new clubhouse in 2003, but the project has been “on hold” ever since.

The item came back to the Council Tuesday. Jim Teixeira, Parks and Recreation Director, recommended the Council move forward with refurbishing the existing portable in lieu of other alternatives that range from $600,000 to $2 million.

However, Patrignani said his group doesn’t support a temporary clubhouse.

Since none of the permanent options are funded, Teixeira said, building a new permanent clubhouse would require the Council to divert money from $27.5 million in much-needed park improvements.

Council Member Teresa O’Neill said she was concerned about being a “good steward” with City money, and investing $1 million or more into a clubhouse for a club with relatively small membership didn’t seem prudent.

Patrignani said O’Neill was thinking about the issue wrong. The club cannot grow, enriching future generations, if it doesn’t have a respectable clubhouse as a draw.

“You can’t just look at it right now and compare dollars to people,” he said. “You can’t say … ‘we are only going to spend so many dollars per person.’”

But O’Neill countered, saying “People are priceless; buildings are not.”

The Council voted unanimously to bounce the item back to the City Manager’s office to explore other alternatives.

 

Bike Corridor Extension

Several Council Members and members of the public called the extension of bike lanes along Pruneridge Avenue a “nightmare,” saying it will add to already-dismal traffic congestion in the area.

The three-mile extension — bound by Hedding Street and the Apple campus —  would continue to Lawrence Expressway just past where the addition of more bike lanes has already reduced the street from four lanes to two.

Still, Gillmor and Council Members Mahan and Debi Davis said many have written the Council asking the segment of road to be returned to four lanes.

Davis said the reduction has already “caused so many accidents.”

“That intersection is so dangerous,” she said.

Gillmor said she often drives that stretch of road and sees the bike lanes empty. The City needs to be realistic and acknowledge that riding a bike doesn’t work for everyone, she said. Plus, she added, if traffic is bad, drivers will begin flooding into side streets.

The project is slated for completion in mid-2019.

 

Food Scraps Program Approval Rating Still in the Dumps

A state mandate on recycling compostable food scraps has prompted the City to institute a food scraps recycling program.

The four-year program, which began in 2014, is a smaller-scale version of what the City plans to roll out to meet aggressive state guidelines to reduce landfill waste by 2020.

Only 57 percent of the 1,254 respondents — 26 percent of the 4,800 households chosen by the City for the program — reported being satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the program. The results were up from 53 percent approval from the first survey conducted last year.

Complaints range from not enough space in the split-bin for large non-compostable items, to not enough capacity for non-compostable garbage because of the split-bin, to odor, leaking and flies and maggots, said Dave Staub, Director of Public Works.

“I don’t mind separating out the food scraps,” said Patty Picard, one of the people in the program. “But the can is not a great can.”

Picard said calling the program a “pilot” is misleading since it keeps “going and going and going.”

Despite its low approval, Staub said the program has diverted 310 tons of organic waste from the landfill since its inception. Using the split-bins was the most cost-effective way for the City to put the program in place, he said.

The current version of the program is not necessarily the one that will be rolled out Citywide, Staub said, adding that a bin redesign would likely be necessary.

O’Neill said the survey results are “not an acceptable level of satisfaction.”

Once the commercial program begins, Staub said, the City will have a better idea of the program’s overall impact.

“[Residential waste] is a relatively small piece of the pie compared to commercial,” he said.

The Council meets again 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

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