Santa Clarans could decide whether to have their police chief and city clerk remain elected or turn over their appointment to the City Council.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the Council opted to put an item on a future agenda to discuss a ballot measure that would eliminate the clerk and police chief as political offices. Vice Mayor Suds Jain proposed adding the item to a future agenda.
Jain noted that because the City requires its police chief to live in Santa Clara, only 12 out of 153 officers are eligible to run for that office. Of those 12, only 5, including Police Chief Pat Nikolai, are officers.
Further, he said, the elected clerk only handles elections and has no requirements for training or numbers of hours worked, saying it “makes little sense” to have the clerk and police chief be “political.”
“I believe Santa Clara should be able to recruit from the best police forces in the nation for police chief, just like all the other cities do,” Jain said. “There is essentially no accountability to anybody except the voters every four years or via a recall.”
Both Nikolai and City Clerk Hosam Haggag scoffed at the idea. Nikolai said the matter is not “critical” and that City employees are already “stretched thin,” adding that the topic has come up repeatedly and Santa Clarans have rejected it — repeatedly.
Haggag called having an elected city clerk the “pinnacle of democracy,” calling those who supported having the position Council-appointed “arrogant,” adding that it “flies in the face of democracy.”
An appointed clerk would serve at the will of the Council and, for instance, might think twice about escalating California Fair Political Practice Commission complaints out of fear of reprisal.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Nikolai said. “In this day and age, transparency and accountability are critical. What is more transparent than an election and what is more accountable than an elected official?”
Council Member Kathy Watanabe joined the chorus of dissent, pointing to polling by the police union that supposedly shows that Santa Clarans oppose such a measure. Watanabe did not present the poll or substantiate her claim that the union supports having the police chief remain elected.
As they always do, Watanabe’s remarks echoed Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s.
“I am not interested in taking power away from Santa Clara voters,” Gillmor said. “This is a complete waste of time.”
Despite objections from Nikolai, Haggag, Gillmor and Watanabe, the Council still decided to put the item on a future agenda for discussion in a 4-2 vote. City Manager Rajeev Batra said the item will likely return after the start of next year.
Bike Upgrades To Pruneridge Avenue Approved But Unfunded
Despite seeing little public approval, the Council adopted a plan that aims to make biking easier along Pruneridge Avenue. The plan would add two buffered bike lanes along the 2.2-mile stretch of road between Pomeroy Avenue and Luther Drive before expanding to four lanes between Gamblin Drive and Saratoga Avenue, then going back down to two lanes between Harold Avenue and Winchester Boulevard.
Part of the complete streets plan, the option the Council approved by a 4-1 vote — with Watanabe voting “no” and Gillmor recusing herself because of a potential conflict of interest — saw the least public support, with only 10% of the 1,166 respondents selecting it as their first choice.
A quarter of respondents favored leaving the Pruneridge Avenue corridor alone. Meanwhile, another option offered two lanes for motorists and a buffered bike lane for cyclists. A third option proposed four lanes for motorists and parking-protected bike lanes. The public favored both options more than the so-called hybrid model adopted.
Council Member Kevin Park repeatedly said he was “torn” about which option to choose but still voted in favor of the hybrid model. Generally, he said he doesn’t favor shoehorning bike lanes into every corner of the City. However, he added, that is predicated on making the rest of the City accessible to cyclists.
“You can’t tell people to use bikes if you don’t have support for bikes everywhere,” he said.
“By trying to support every mode of transportation everywhere, I don’t know that we are going to come up with good solutions.”
Betsy Megas, who sits on the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, disagreed, saying, “this is the place for bikes,” adding that the Pruneridge Avenue corridor “connects a lot of things.”
While members of the Council said they “understood” many of the concerns from residents about the chosen model, many saw it as the only viable option if the City wants to bring what Micheal Liw, assistant public works director, called an “ambitious” bike plan online.
“We have to do something to adapt for the future,” said Council Member Anthony Becker, whose district the corridor runs through. “We want to have consistency and duplicate what other cities around us are doing.”
Although the Council and public deliberated intensely on which configuration was best for the length of street, without the $2-3 million needed to fund the Pruneridge Avenue project, there is no plan to put it in place.
Council Approves Replacing Sound wall, But City Purse Strings Remain Closed
In another approved-but-unfunded project, Park was the lone holdout vote that blocked the City from paying for the replacement of a sound wall along San Tomas Expressway. The item returned to the Council after a public petition last year implored the Council to help cover the expense of replacing the deteriorated wall.
Roots from several liquid amber trees, planted by the City decades ago, had begun to stretch from the adjacent public street from lack of water, wreaking havoc on the sound wall. The petitioner, Jared Peters, asked the Council to share the cost of replacing the sound wall with the 12 affected property owners.
Council Member Karen Hardy was concerned about setting a precedent, adding that the $95,000 requested by the property owners did not include the cost of replacing the trees. That cost amounted to roughly $35,000.
“I don’t like the City being responsible for something that is the homeowner’s [responsibility],” she said. “If we are going to share the cost, it should be the whole cost.”
Because the item required a budget amendment — and because Council Member Raj Chahal was absent and Gillmor recused herself because of a conflict of interest — it required all five Council members present to vote “yes.”
While the Council approved funding 25% of the replacement — which would amount to waving the permitting fees and paying for tree replacement — Park held out on approving the funding, leaving a standing order to replace the sound wall but without approval to spend the money to do so.
Consent Calendar Spending
- A one-year $241,894 contract with Banksia Landscape for landscaping at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
- A five-year $1.5 million contract with Aspen Environmental Group for environmental consulting services.
- A two-year $750,000 extension to a contract with Ricoh USA, Inc. for citywide leases and copier maintenance. Total contract amount now $2.15 million.
- A two-year $287,604 extension to a contract with ELB US Inc. audio-visual services at city hall and public libraries. Total contract amount is now $385,604.
- An $89,706 increase to a contract with US Digital Designs, Inc. for installation of fire station alert system. Total contract amount is now $754,893.
Council Member Raj Chahal was absent.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 13 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.
I love a good farcical comedy and satire is probably the best!
I don’t know if City Clerk, Hosam Haggag, intended this as satire when he “…called having an elected city clerk the “pinnacle of democracy,” calling those who supported having the position Council-appointed “arrogant,” adding that it “flies in the face of democracy.”
Surely, he must remember having said this little tidbit – from his own “My Dear Santa Clara” op-ed that appeared in this very online publication on November 3, 2020 – https://www.svvoice.com/op-ed-my-dear-santa-clara/
“I’ve always found it bizarre that a sitting City Clerk would have to campaign for their own seat while trying to serve as the Elections Official, especially as they’d have to remain impartial to all other candidates including their opponents.”
Seems to me, he gave a good reason for the City Clerk to not be elected at all.
Either David Alexander completely missed my point or is intentionally misrepresenting what I said.
My comments last night were directed at the quote from Vice Mayor Jain as was presented in his written report (and was read to the record last night) in which he said, “There is essentially no accountability to anyone except to the voters every 4 years or via recall and I believe the bar for recall is extremely high.” What I referred to as the “pinnacle of democracy” was voters making their voice heard by voting, rather than having their vote stripped away from them. Stripping that away from voters, under the illusion that a council body of 7 individuals can do a better job than thousands of voters is what I referred to as arrogant.
The quotes taken apart, out of context, and reconstructed in a different order is misleading at best and deceptive at worst. Even the title of this entire article is NOT what I said – I said nothing of the Clerk or Police Chief as politicians, but taking voting away from the voters is what “flies in the face of democracy.”
But you dont have to take my word or David’s word – go hear what I said yourself: https://youtu.be/DfuhOqoriVU?t=29690
For those unable to open the video link of my statements, here’s a transcript of what I said:
I actually only have one, maybe two, issues with the petition from Vice Mayor Jain, in particular the sentence in which he says, “There is essentially no accountability to anyone except to the voters every 4 years or via recall”. To me that is the pinnacle of democracy. You cant say, “There’s no accountability to anyone EXCEPT all the residents”. That to me is what democracy is founded on. And I would actually point the question back to each and every one of you sitting up there, the same question. “There’s no accountability to each and every one of you except to the voters every 4 years or via recall.” So, to state that the Clerk or the Police Chief has “no accountability to anyone” – but it’s ok if we’re accountable to you 7, but not to the thousands of residents that are out there seems to me arrogant, and seems to me that it flies in the face of democracy, which is what we all want our City to be based off of.
The other thing which is claims about “no requirements for experience or training or other things” – one thing that I really admire with the staff of the City Clerk’s office is their level of professionalism and neutrality when it comes to issues regarding the City. If the City Clerk was appointed by the Council, the Clerk would answer to the Council and not to the people. And if there was an FPPC investigation or a complaint that needed to be filed, the Clerk that was appointed by the Council would think twice before filing that, lest they be retaliated against. We’ve seen that here in this City by folks who are appointed by the Council. And so having the Clerk, yes they are a political position, yes they have to run for office, but they answer to no one except the people. And to me, that is extremely powerful.
Thanks (again) Mr. Haggag for setting the record straight by telling your side. I don’t normally pay much attention to these sorts of things, but in the 10 minutes I’ve been clicking on this site it seems like SV Voice and it’s backers are actively trying to sully your name, which is unfortunate.
Well, the “pinnacle of democracy” would simply to allow our citizens to decide whether or not to make changes to the City Charter. So, let’s put it on the ballot, and then the voters can make their choices known.
“Jain noted that because the City requires its police chief to live in Santa Clara, only 12 out of 153 officers are eligible to run for that office. Of those 12, only 5, including Police Chief Pat Nikolai, are officers.”
Umm. Wut? 12/12 officers are officers. You can’t even get the basic facts right in your rush to stack the deck in Jain’s favor.
Seems like every 10 years the authoritarians bring this topic up. My vote will be to leave it alone.
What I believe Jain meant was that only 5 are above the rank of Sergeants, meaning Captains, or Inspectors.
Does the Council sell popcorn for meetings? If they did, they could probably make up for the huge deficit!
“Council Member Kathy Watanabe joined the chorus of dissent, pointing to polling by the police union that supposedly shows that Santa Clarans oppose such a measure. Watanabe did not present the poll or substantiate her claim that the union supports having the police chief remain elected.”
Ah….. the ever present poll which she can’t produce.
But doesn’t Kathy remember who the Police Union president was? None other than the famous Police Chief Pat Nikolai! It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see polling by the completely independent and fair-minded Police Union to offer up polling that supports the former Police Union President. Of course she doesn’t because she also forgot that inconvenient truth.
And then we have the honorable Mayor, Lisa Gillmor.
“I am not interested in taking power away from Santa Clara voters,” Gillmor said. “This is a complete waste of time.”
Yeah… you’re also not interested in giving power to Santa Clara voters Lisa. How else do you explain the CVRA lawsuit the city lost, appealed and the ballot measure YOU supported that would return Santa Clara to its racist biased ways and keep people who don’t look like you off the Council?
If the city council decides to pursue a ballot measure on whether or not to keep the city clerk and police chief as political offices, hopefully it will actually be two ballot measures. One for each position.
As Hosam Haggag points out, having the city clerk’s position controlled by the city council could adversely affect the performance of the city clerk. Keeping the position elected allows the city clerk to be less swayed by internal city council politics, which the city has plenty of.
While It’d also be nice for the chief of police position to remain independent of the council, the small number of qualified applicants for the position is a real issue. In the past all Santa Clara police officers were required to live within the city limits. In effect the city’s residents promoted the police chief from within a pool of all the ranking officers on the department. But those days are long gone.
Another problem with electing the police chief from within is the unhealthy tension that forms in the department when two members of the department are running for the position, and officers start taking sides during an election. This is something I only have sketchy knowledge of. It would be useful to know what long-serving retired Santa Clara police officers think about the subject, especially the retired chiefs and assistant chiefs.
I find it interesting that the old guard care so little about what the residents think about them and their antics.
They fail to register as Lobbyists as they are required to do.
They shout from the roof tops about what they want to do, in reality they don’t seem to do anything to help CSC
The address they give is a false non existent suite in a building that Lisa has her business in. (possibly owns)
The facts they spout are often missing critical information.
Watanabe seldom votes for what is best for the City of Santa Clara; she often casts her vote in anger.
Colin B, pass the popcorn
A city clerk is a an administrator of processes and compliance officer, as plainly noted on the City of Santa Clara’s own web site. https://www.santaclaraca.gov/our-city/government/city-clerk . Santa Clara’s clerk is no different than any other city clerk in California as described on the City Clerks Association of California’s web site: https://www.californiacityclerks.org/page/whatisacityclerk.
To suggest Santa Clara’s clerk is more efficient, transparent, honest, and accountable just because it has historically been an elected position is laughable as Santa Clara County’s Civil Grand Jury detailed… https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2019/CGJ%20City%20of%20Santa%20Clara%20Final%20Report%20-%2006.18.19.pdf
Santa Clara’s PD reigns as having the highest percentage of convicted cops (although Antioch PD may be challenging their title). With Nikolai president of the SCPOA, cops convicted of crimes skyrocketed during the Lodge, Kyle, Sellers eras. As chief, Nikolai continues to sit atop the mound without a city manager’s ability to fire him for deleterious influence and/or inept leadership, all because he runs for office in an uncontested election and not interrogated for the position. Even in one of California’s most conservative counties (Orange County) they are calling for an end to electing its Sheriff. https://www.ocregister.com/2019/02/01/its-time-to-dump-the-role-of-elected-sheriff/
The only way to vastly improve responses, transparency, and accountability in the clerk’s office and police department is to hold respective employees immediately accountable. Residents in all six districts need to be vocal with their representatives about putting an amendment to the city charter on the very next ballot.
I am unclear how what I wrote took you “out of context” or “misrepresented” what you said. You did say that the people electing its representatives is the “pinnacle of democracy” no? In the context of that discussion that clearly includes the clerk. You did say that appointing them “flies in the face of democracy,” no? In this context you are talking about, at LEAST, the clerk. You used the passive voice in response to Mr. Jain’s idea that those elected are not responsible to anyone. In doing so, you contended with his comment and did not address him directly. However, in contending with that opinion, you said it was “arrogent” to think they are not accountable, which is the same as saying that someone who holds that opinion is is being arrogant.
I am baffled and hoping you can point to something I wrote as evidence that I took anything out of context or misrepresented your view. I feel I illuminated why you opposed the clerk being elected, but maybe I’m missing some hidden support for this notion.
I found it interesting that Pat Nikolai stated “In this day and age, transparency and accountability are critical…”. We have a Police Chief who does not have the extensive tactical training that his predecessor had. His Bio on the Police website does not list any of the training he has taken from the national enforcement agencies. What tactical training has Chief Nikolai had and when was it taken? National news reports have identified multiple situations where high level training for Police Departments is essential. A Police Chief needs to be able to effectively handle any situation.
Allowing the City of Santa Clara to search for a Police Chief who lives outside of Santa Clara would be very beneficial to the City. In today’s economy requiring a qualified candidate to sell their house, uproot the family, and purchase a house in Santa Clara does not make sense. We have qualified candidates currently within the Santa Clara Police Department but they do not live in Santa Clara. There are likely qualified candidates in surrounding cities as well. Santa Clara needs to have a Police Chief based on the very best qualifications not just the address he/she lives at.