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.