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City Desk: Nov. 18, 2015

Charter Review Urgency Cools Down

On Oct. 27 changing the way Santa Clara elects officials was urgently needed and the City Council needed to appoint a committee poste haste to prepare a charter change referendum for June 2016 ballot. By the Nov. 10 meeting, urgency had evaporated, and review committee appointments were postponed to January.

There are several reasons for the change of tempo. Charter changes can only be voted on in a regular state election; which means that the soonest anything can be voted on is Nov. 2016. Second, the City isn’t facing a federal or state voting rights lawsuit, nor a threat of one, according to City Attorney Ren Nosky. Third, mapping out the districts is a long and complicated process.

Drawing election district boundaries “is a very lengthy, complicated process taking into account a number of factors: the population, the neighborhoods, the communities of interest, the geography, the demographics, the voting patterns,” explained Nosky.

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“We would have to hire a demographer to draw the districts in a way that doesn’t violate federal and state law. The law requires the districts to be fairly equal in population, and not break up communities of interest, and [have] natural boundaries that have kept communities together for years. Each of those steps … as it relates to district elections is going to take quite a bit of time and quite a bit of resources, and a substantial public input process.”

A 2011 charter review committee looking at that question concluded that Santa Clara Council election districts wouldn’t necessarily affect who’s elected. That’s because City voting precincts reflect the demographic makeup of the city as a whole: 39 percent Asian, 36 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent black. The then-sitting Council shelved the committee’s recommendation.

Some say a new committee on the same question isn’t needed.

“I don’t understand why we’re doing this again,” said Planning Commissioner Mike O’Halloran, who was on the 2011 committee. “The committee favored at-large, not by-seat elections. We did look at districts. We thought it was divisive, and [presented] the difficulty of drawing the lines. It’s time to put it to the voters.”

Council Member Patrick Kolstad endorsed this view, but his colleagues said that a review of the entire charter – which hasn’t been done since 2000 – was needed.

Jan. 6, 2016 is the new application deadline for the 2016 Charter Review Committee. Interviews will follow at the Jan. 12 City Council meeting.

Council Refuses to Delegate Super Bowl Permitting Authority, But 2013 NFL Contract Already Did, Says City Manager

On Nov. 10 the Council delegated authority to City Manager Julio Fuentes to approve permits for Super Bowl events on private property. But it didn’t delegate that authority for events on public property. The aim is to streamline temporary use agreements – for example, temporary cellular installations.

However, many permits are needed for NFL activities such as hospitality, broadcasting, staging and a rumored Super Bowl city on the Great America and Tasman parking lots, and the soccer park. “I know there is a lot of interest about the Super Bowl and the special uses of the soccer park,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor. “I don’t want to delegate my authority carte blanche.”

But the Council already gave its carte blanche approval by signing the Super Bowl agreement with the NFL, said Fuentes.

“When we prepared the Super Bowl bid in 2013 [it] required us to agree to a number of conditions,” he said. “One was providing land around the stadium. We’ve already agreed to provide them with this property. The requirement is that after the Super Bowl they have to restore the property to the condition it was at. I’d be happy to share [the NFL’s] plan when we get it,” but that was unlikely to arrive very much in advance. The contracts also stipulated that the City would empower officials to act quickly, he said.

The NFL would work with the City, he said, but the Council had approved the contract. “We may have limited discretion on those contracts,” added City Attorney Ren Nosky.

“I was there in 2013 [on the Council],” said Gillmor. “With the soccer park the intention was for staging. From what I hear they’re talking about structures. We agreed to let them use it but we didn’t agree to let them take the field and destroy it.” The NFL should be willing to share its plans, she said, because, “Part of it [having the Super Bowl] is getting people excited about it. If they’re going to build a village, that’s exciting.”

Two-time Mayoral candidate and stadium opponent Deborah Bress accused City officials of disingenuousness, saying that the “inmates are running the asylum” and demanding, “Who are you working for?”

“Some of you have lost track of something,” she said. “We the citizens have the right to know what in the hell is happening in our city … Is there no transparency in our government at all? You just signed up to some kind of college football thing. Did anyone see the contract and ask what is the security? This isn’t somebody’s little playground. That we don’t see anything is criminal, at least.”

“The City Manager is in a hard spot,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Tino Silva. “It’s not a matter of the City Manager pulling something over on the citizens. I don’t think it’s people purposely trying to lie to us or mislead us. It’s [simply] important for us to know what’s going to be built.”

“On those facilities, it is anticipated we’re going to be negotiating with the NFL,” said the City Attorney, “and we can negotiate all those things Council Member Gillmor mentioned.”

Council Member Caserta said something else was at issue that had nothing to do with the merits of the issue: civility. Calling City officials “criminals,” he said, created a hostile atmosphere and “took away” from open and democratic deliberation.

It was Council Member Kolstad who questioned how timely approvals could be delivered, since there were only three meetings before January. Between the time permit requests came in and when work should start, “Would we even have a Council meeting?”

Requiescat in Pace

The Nov. 10 meeting was adjourned in memory of active Don Callejon volunteer and co-chair of Project Cornerstone, Jennifer Garcia; and former Santa Clara Golf and Tennis Assistant Supervisor Steven Finn.

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