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Charter Amendment Could Change the Way Santa Clarans Elect Council

An amendment to Santa Clara’s charter is likely on the horizon.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Santa Clara City Council gave direction to flesh out details on Charter Review Committee recommendations in a 4-3 vote.

The Council narrowly managed to approve having a ballot measure to allow three districts. The three-district solution would also carry with it a requirement that potential candidates live in their district for 30 days before the election.


The charter amendment aims to comply with a court-mandated remedy to the City’s California Voting Rights Act violation, which specifies the City must have six-district elections through 2020.

But not all of the Council agreed with the recommendations. Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan and Council Members Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy voted against the motion.

Mahan and Chahal said they didn’t believe the court only mandated the City to hold six-district elections through 2020. Chahal said he believes there is precedent for the Council to change to district elections through an ordinance without having to amend the charter.

The proposed Charter Review Committee recommendations would have the City holding six-district elections in 2020 and then shifting to three two-member districts in subsequent elections.

Lines for the districts would be drawn by an independent committee and would be governed by state and federal law.


Tax Increases Strive To Put City in Better Financial Position  

Voters will likely get to decide whether to support tax hikes to bridge the lingering gap in the City’s budget.

The Santa Clara City Council heard details on ballot measures that would generate money for the City. Those options included an increase in the tax on hotel lodgers, issuing a general obligation bond and increasing property taxes.

Kenn Lee, Director of Finance, said the financial outlook for the City looks better than it did a year ago, but the City is still “on the margin.” The money would go largely to fund infrastructure projects such as the Civic Center campus, swim center improvements, library additions and maintenance on the Triton Museum of Art.

A one percent increase in the tax on hotel stays — called the transient occupancy tax (TOT) — would add $2.4 million to the general fund per year while a two percent increase would bump that amount to $4.7 million. Since it requires a simple majority approval, Lee said the success rate for passing such a measure is typically around 92 percent statewide.

A $200 million general obligation bond and a parcel tax bond that ranged from $100 million to $400 million were also discussed. Both of those options would require a two-thirds majority.

Council Member Hardy said she doesn’t like bonds.

“We use a term that makes it seem like free money now, but it is more expensive later down the road,” she said.

She called the process “kicking the can,” saying it passes financial burden onto future generations. If the Council does support a parcel tax, she said she preferred it to be on a square-foot basis.

Vice Mayor Mahan seemingly agreed with Hardy’s assessment, saying that paying more for a bond in the future makes sense if the investment is something that is likely to appreciate in value, such as a home. However, she said, many of the City’s infrastructure needs are maintenance, which should be paid from the general fund. She said the City needs general fund revenue for such projects.

The Council unanimously authorized City Manager Deanna Santana to enter into agreements with contractors to gauge public support for such money-making efforts.

Council Approves New City Positions

The Director of Finance told the Council that although the City has added to its reserves, much of its budget surplus is because of one-time money.

Director of Finance Lee told the Council that despite a $57.7-million budget surplus the City is in a precarious financial position because most of that money is from one-time sources. Some of that one-time money comes from sources such as the sale of a parcel at California’s Great America.

The City was also able to add to its reserves, adding $15 million to its capital reserve and bring its budget stabilization reserve to roughly $80 million.

The Council also approved seven new positions within the City, all of which, according to Lee, are related to automated metering infrastructure.


Traffic Measurement Shifts to Miles Traveled

During a study session, the Council heard about new rules governing how the City must measure traffic. Starting in July next year, a California Senate bill will require cities to use vehicle miles traveled as a measure of traffic instead of congestion.

Using Census data, the City will begin establishing policies that measure vehicle miles traveled. Mike Liw, Assistant Director of Public Works, said Senate Bill 743 will likely require the City to amend its general plan but that its goal — to reduce how much people are driving alone — is in line with the City’s general and climate action plans.

“What this will do is encourage uses closer together,” he said.

Because the City’s policies are geared toward getting a handle on how much congestion is at key intersections, the City will still likely gather congestion data and present it to the Council as supplemental information.

Council Member Debi Davis said the issue is a regional problem, and many agreed.

“We are all kind of in this together,” she said. “That is what is causing a lot of gridlock is that we are not working together … why can’t we have a broader conversation?”

A draft policy is slated for January with adoption scheduled for adoption in mid-2020.


Consent Calendar Contracts

The Council also approved spending money via the consent calendar:

  • Advantage Office Solutions for the installation of cubicles, $290,000
  • Fairway Painting Inc. for on-call painting services, $400,000
  • A $200,000 increase, to an amount not to exceed $329,764.89, to a contract with Rosendin Electric to “support the Donald Von Raesfeld Steam Turbine Major Overhaul Project”

The Council meets again Tuesday, Nov. 12 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.


1 Comment
  1. Jean 5 years ago

    I prefer the current 6 districts that was ordered by the court and I stated that on the City survey. So if I vote NO on this ballot measure for the 3 district proposal, which I will, does that mean the City can/will assume I don’t want districting at all? Because that’s not the case. Shouldn’t the ballot have a 3 AND 6 district choice (Choose one) option? It looks like there is a hidden agenda here for the current mayor and her council to dilute or suppress votes on council. The more the City argues the judges ruling the more racists our City leaders look.

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