The Santa Clara City Council has voted to release a full investigative report into an incident during a closed session of the Council in August 2022. The Council also received a budget update, which shows a surplus in revenue for 2023. Money will help replenish the City’s reserves. Several members of the public attended the Council meeting to speak about the current war in the Middle East.
The City will release the full report of an incident last year where the mayor called the police chief and a council member accused a colleague of being abusive.
The report vindicates Council Member Anthony Becker, clearing him of any wrongdoing regarding an incident during a closed-door meeting last year involving the City’s settlement with the Forty Niners Management Company (ManCo).
Council Member Kathy Watanabe and Mayor Lisa Gillmor stormed out of the August 2022 meeting, accusing Becker of using profanity, an “obscene gesture,” being “abusive” and “physically threatening.” Immediately after the incident, Gillmor called Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai on his cell phone and asked him to intervene.
Following the closed-door meeting, Gillmor ran to the media to lambast Becker in the public eye — just months before the election where Becker opposed her for the mayor’s office. At a subsequent Council meeting, Gillmor chastised Becker for his behavior, iterating her comments to the media.
Becker again apologized for his response to what he called “abuse” from Watanabe, saying it was “unprofessional.” He said the summary report, released at the start of the year, is only “the tip of the iceberg.” The full report will exonerate him further, he added.
Characterizing himself as the victim, Becker said Gillmor and Watanabe regularly display “bullying” and “harassment” toward him and other Council members, with Watanabe refusing to even speak to him.
“I am not an aggressive person, and I am not an angry person,” Becker said. “I just don’t think that certain members on this City Council can have robust discussions but like to turn around and point fingers at people when things don’t go their way.”
Council Member Suds Jain supported releasing the report, saying Becker has suffered “significant reputational damage” because of it. He added that Watanabe’s claim that she was “shaking for hours” after the exchange was dubious unless, perhaps, she lives in a “very, very protective bubble.”
“This affects working-class people — like me, like you — that don’t have a silver spoon and are actually of working age,” Becker said. “There is name recognition and reputation in actually trying to find work. Smearing names like this is wrong, and it shouldn’t be allowed.”
Becker said the issue is one of transparency and that the public’s right to know the details outweighs concerns about privacy.
Gillmor was keen to reframe the issue by simply restating her stance that the Council majority is in league with the 49ers. The motion carried 6-1, with only Council Member Karen Hardy voting “no.”
City Replenishes Reserves
Santa Clara will use $36.4 million in savings to shore up its reserves.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Kenn Lee, finance director for the City, told the Santa Clara City Council that the City’s budget is trending in the right direction. Cost-cutting measures and better-than-forecasted revenue have left a surplus in the budget, allowing the City to replenish some of the money it pilfered from its reserves during the pandemic.
Although the City is still projecting a $9 million deficit over the next decade, that projection is down from $27 million. Lee said the City’s economy is recovering better than the projections assumed.
“Because that happened in the middle of last fiscal year, the budget numbers were based on a time when we didn’t know what that recovery was like,” he said.
Lee categorized the money as “one-time money for one-time needs,” meaning that the finance department still needs to contend with the projected ongoing deficit. However, the City is able to use this year’s surplus to fund budget items that are not continual.
Among those needs are the City’s reserves, most notably its budget stabilization reserve, pension liability reserve and capital projects reserve. The City dipped into each of these reserves during the tough economic times brought on by the pandemic.
The Council even approved lowering the required amount for the budget stabilization reserve from 25% of operating costs to 15%. The $6.26 million injected back into the fund will bring it back up to 19%.
With nearly $600 million in looming infrastructure needs, the lion’s share of the surplus — $20 million — will go into the capital improvement projects fund. Prior to the cash infusion, the fund sat at $3.5 million when its lower threshold was supposed to be $5 million.
The pension liability fund saw $5.17 million of the money, shoring it up to 5.3% of unfunded liability, significantly above the City’s 1% goal.
What money was not allocated to reserves, the City opted to spend on a few, smaller, one-time costs, most notably $3.5 million for the replacement of police and fire radios.
Revenues were better than expected, Lee said, with both the transient occupancy tax (TOT), a tax levied on hotel guests and sales tax performing better than projected.
Nearly $14 million of the cost-savings was due to a hiring freeze, which has since sunset. Lee said from July to mid-November, the City hired 60 people and promoted 26 while only losing 26 employees. He said he expects the trend of hiring employees to continue to fill the 141 vacancies throughout the City.
Jain said some of the money destined for the reserves should instead be used to fund a clubhouse for the Santa Clara Lawn Bowlers.
The topic has repeatedly come up at Council over the past several years, and the group’s president has frequently made pleas to the Council to “make good on a promise it made.” The Council allocated $175,000 for the clubhouse in 2018, but that was not enough to fund the entire project, which City employees estimated to cost between $550,000 and $2 million.
With inflation and the rising cost of labor, that number has likely swelled since then, Lee said.
“While $20 million might sound like a lot of money, and it may sound like enough to do one project, you should really take a holistic look at all the needs you have before you,” said City Manager Jovan Grogan.
Despite the caution, finally building a new clubhouse for the group saw Council support. Jain said social activities for senior citizens, such as law bowlers, are essential.
Council Member Raj Chahal said the item has been “punted” frequently enough, adding that “delay breeds inflation.”
“Time kills all projects. Time makes things more expensive, especially in this economy,” said Council Member Kevin Park.
The item saw less support from Gillmor, who echoed taking a broader look at the City’s needs, adding that she supported putting as much money as possible into the City’s reserves as they “helped weather the pandemic.”
Still, the allocation of the surplus to reserves saw unanimous approval even with Jain’s amendment that City employees look into what building a new clubhouse would cost.
Proclamation Policy Set to Change
Becker brought forth an item to revise how proclamations are issued. Becker said he felt it fair to allow council members to comment at events in their districts or on matters for which they have advocated.
The charter delegates the issuing of proclamations to the mayor and gives her the ability to represent the City at ceremonial functions.
However, Jain said the charter does not reflect the “character” of the City since it switched to districts and that many aspects of it — such as the mayor’s ceremonial role — are in need of updating.
Others on the Council supported the idea.
“If there is an event where the mayor wears a ceremonial hat, I think the council member of that particular district, or the council member who advocated for that particular cause, should be allowed to speak,” Chahal said.
Further, he added, what constitutes “ceremonial” is ambiguous.
Park said he agreed with someone’s assessment that the State of the City event felt like a “fascist propaganda film.”
Gillmor and Watanabe opposed the change. Gillmor accused the rest of the Council of trying to “strip the powers of the mayor.” She said that council members are already invited to many events.
“It is up to you to choose how engaged you want to be in our community,” she said. “I choose to be there all the time.”
As is typical, Watanabe was in lock-step with Gillmor. She said council members already have the ability to put special orders of business on the agenda.
“People don’t come to events to hear people speak all day long,” she said. “To just toss it out there that anybody can speak, it is just an abuse.”
In a 5-2 vote, the Council referred the item to the Governance and Ethics Committee to hammer out a specific policy.
Public Outcry Over Israel-Palestine
A battle between two buzzwords — “anti-Semitic” and “Islamophobia” — raged during the public comments portion of Tuesday night’s meeting.
During public comments — items not listed on the agenda — public members turned the Council Chambers’ lectern into a political soapbox. Lengthy public testimony saw the Council hearing pleas to add a cease-fire resolution to its next meeting. Other commenters urged the Council to reject such a resolution, with many calling the very idea “anti-Semitic.”
Some in the crowd clogging the chambers held signs advertising their stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The back-and-forth dragged out throughout dozens of commenters.
After nearly two hours, the mayor had to stop the public comments to get on with City business, resuming the remainder of public testimony at the meeting’s end. Another hour of further testimony ensued.
The Council is unable to discuss items presented during public comments. It gave no indication whether it intends to place a cease-fire resolution on its Dec. 19 agenda, but Gillmor said a resolution “united against hate” would be on that agenda.
Consent Calendar Spending And City Manager Raise
Finally, the Council also approved a 2% raise for the city manager. Beginning Dec. 24, Grogan’s salary will be $413,157 a year.
It also approved the following items in a single motion via the consent calendar:
- A $588,385 contract with BFK Engineers for the Lafayette Street bikeway and pavement rehabilitation project.
- Two $1 million, five-year contract with Telstar Instruments and Measurement Solutions and Systems for calibration, maintenance and repair services for various instruments related to Silicon Valley Power.
- A $250,000 increase to a contract for recruiting with J. Powers Recruitment, Inc.
- A $905,700, three-year extension to an agreement with Powers Systems Operations for software license updates and maintenance of the Validate, Estimate, Reconcile, Allocate (VERA) settlement suite software and provision of cloud hosting. Total contract: $1.35 million.
- A one-year, $200,000 extension of an agreement with Grid Subject Matter Experts for “the performance of services.”
- A $92,700, one-year extension to a contract with Townsend Public Affairs for legislative advocacy services.
- A $1.24 million budget amendment and the award of a contract with Devcon Construction, Inc. for carpet replacement and paint at Levi’s Stadium.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 19 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.