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Council Agrees To Ethics Training, Rejects Grand Jury’s Conclusions 

Santa Clara City Council members agree that the council needs to get along better, but many disputed civil grand jury findings that point fingers at specific council members.

The council narrowly agreed to revisit whether to have the council attend ethics training. The most recent civil grand jury report, “Irreconcilable Differences,” made several recommendations. Among those recommendations — that the council must respond to within 90 days of the report’s June 12 release date — was that several council members attend ethics training.

While none of the council members disputed the dysfunction among the council, some took issue with some of the characterizations in the report. Council Member Suds Jain, Raj Chahal and Vice Mayor Anthony Becker frequently referenced a previous report — “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” — despite that report not being a topic of discussion.

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The report’s recommendations and findings cast a long shadow over council dynamics, claiming that an independent ethics committee is necessary. Additionally, the report calls out Council Members Kevin Park, Chahal and Becker as being in need of training in parliamentary procedure.

All three spend a great deal of time poking holes in the report’s assumptions.

Park, who the most recent report calls out for long-winded, off-topic diatribes, went on a long-winded and off-topic diatribe about the civil grand jury. While he agrees the council needs ethics training, he said he disputes how the grand jury reached its conclusions.

“They came up with the right answer through the wrong process,” he said. “All the things we have been trying to do, even when we disagree, are for the betterment of some part of the city.”

Becker called the report a “word salad of inflammatory statements to give the impression of bad behavior.”

Mayor Lisa Gillmor maintained her steadfast support of having an ethics commission, a recommendation that was shot down by her council colleagues previously. She said the council’s behavior is eroding public trust.

“I wanted to turn that around and show we can work together, not only ethically and honestly and with integrity, especially when we involve our public,” Gillmor said. “To me, it is really simple: it is ‘yes, we agree with all of them because they’re true.’… I am not saying people don’t have ethics, but we are challenged up here right now.”

Many in the council majority agreed that civil grand juries have been weaponized in recent years.

Members of the public also seemed fed up with the council shenanigans.

“The findings underscore deep-seeded divisions, rivalry and a concerning lack of respect among our council members,” said Satish Chandra. “These behaviors not only undermine their effectiveness but also hinder our ability to address pressing issues facing our city. It is disheartening to note that these behaviors have tarnished the reputations of the city and undermined the efforts of those striving for the progress of inclusivity.”

One thing in the report that was undisputed was the professionalism of city employees, which Grogan, in a moment of levity in an otherwise serious topic, called the “best finding.”

Tom Shanks, an ethics consultant who used to work at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said the city has an obligation to “raise public trust” by responding to the claims in the civil grand jury report.

Shanks is a frequent ally of Kirk Vartan, “special advisor to the mayor” on worker cooperatives.

“The city of Santa Clara does not hold itself accountable when it comes to ethics. It thinks ethics is a political weapon. It thinks ethics is directed at certain particular council members,” Shanks said. “That is not true. Ethics is a requirement on the part of all the city council and the city staff.”

Grogan told the council that a special meeting would likely be necessary for the council to substantively respond to the grand jury’s eight findings and nine recommendations outlined in the report.

The council can respond to recommendations in one of four ways: the recommendation has been put in place, the recommendation has not been put in place but will be put in place, the recommendation needs further analysis or the recommendation will not be put in place, with explanation.

The motion to have city employees return as soon as possible with responses to the civil grand jury recommendations and finding saw narrow support in a 4-3 vote, with Gillmor and Council Members Kathy Watanabe and Suds Jain voting against it.

Reduced Bond Measure Sees Council Support

A potential ballot measure for the city’s massive infrastructure needs also saw council approval. With more than $600 million in known infrastructure needs, the city has been considering putting the issue to voters. Doing so would see a measure come before voters on the November ballot.

The proposed measure would have raised $598 million through an increase in property taxes. Increases to the average Santa Clara homeowner would amount to $195 a year, while increases to the 20 largest commercial properties would amount to $195,000 a year.

While 80% of residents feel that more investment in infrastructure is needed, according to a community survey conducted by Tulchin Research, support for the measure is less than the needed two-thirds majority.

Another measure, Proposition 5, could reduce the needed majority for ballot measures to 55%. Even with “leaners,” i.e., people inclined to vote “yes” on the measure, the measure is likely to fail unless Proposition 5 passes.

Grogan said the city’s infrastructure needs likely exceed $600 million. He said that is just what the city has studied and is aware needs fixing.

“Santa Clara has a history of doing a lot of studies. We study a lot. We study our deferred infrastructure a lot, but frankly, we spend what little money we have on studies, and what we know is that costs continue to increase,” Grogan said. “For a city with billions of dollars of infrastructure, to have a general fund reserve as low as we do is frankly unsustainable and not appropriate.”

Still, Grogan said the bond market is good. If passed, the bond would come with strings attached, ones that aim to ensure accountability and citizen oversight through a detailed work plan and an oversight committee.

Council Member Kathy Watanabe questioned whether the amount of the bond was too high. Gillmor joined her opposition, saying the measure gave too much authority to city employees to determine how the money would be spent.

Watanabe called the polling “weak.”

“The way I see these categories, you could probably fit any project into these categories,” Gillmor said.

The council saw greater consensus on a motion from Watanabe to include a charter review committee and include language to ensure certain projects are completed through the bond. The proposed bond would levy $400 million.

“It is a hard decision, but we cannot kick this can down the road and assume the can won’t get worse, more expensive, and harder to move,” Hardy said.

Despite wider support, some expressed chagrin at the motion.

Becker said he felt like he was being “held hostage” by the motion, saying he knew Gillmor and Watanabe would torpedo a larger bond measure should the rest of the council opt to approve it.

Only Park stood against Gillmor and Watanabe’s tactics.

“We are getting two people who wrote an op-ed to dictate almost every aspect of this bond measure, to a project level, with no compromise,” Park said.

The motion passed 6-1. The item will return to the council at its next meeting.

Santa Clara City Council Consent Calendar Spending

  • An annual agreement to purchase between $1.2 million and $2 million of renewable energy from the Grace Solar Facility.

  • A five-year, $540,038 extension to a contract with Questica, Inc. for the budget and financial planning system. Total contract is now $1.42 million.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, July 16, in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

Members of the public can participate in the Santa Clara 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.

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7 Comments
  1. Kirk Vartan 2 weeks ago
    Reply

    Hey David, my last comment called this out, so now I’ll be more direct. If you are going to refer to me as a professional, then use the correct terminology. You saying:
    “Shanks is a frequent ally of Kirk Vartan, “special advisor to the mayor” on worker cooperatives.”
    is becoming annoying. It’s like me referring to you as David Alexander, “journalist.” Insulting, right? You know the title, so use it. I literally gave you the quote from the email confirming the exact description. You wrote it in an article. Your paper wrote about it. In case you are confused on what would work when referencing me, should you ever want to do that in the future, I have provided a few options for you to choose from. Note, none have quotes:
    Kirk Vartan
    Kirk Vartan, General Manager, A Slice of New York
    Kirk Vartan, Founder/General Manager, A Slice of New York
    Kirk Vartan, Special Advisor to the Mayor
    Kirk Vartan, Special Advisor to Mayor Gillmor
    Kirk Vartan, Special Advisor to Mayor Lisa Gillmor
    Kirk Vartan, Special Advisor to the Mayor on Small Business and Worker-owned Cooperatives
    .
    It is not clear why you continue to use quotes when you describe me, other than the fact you want to gain favor to members of the council majority or a particular sports organization. If you have questions or you have something to say to me, why don’t you just reach out? You have my email, my phone number, and you know where I work. I’m pretty easy to find.
    .
    Regards,
    -Kirk

    • Buchser 3 1 week ago
      Reply

      Hey, David, nice article. I suggest you ignore the dumb, rambling remarks from Kirk ”special dough-boy to Lady Gillmor”.

  2. Fred 2 weeks ago
    Reply

    I think I prefer “so-called special advisor to the megalomaniac mayor”

    • Kirk Vartan 2 weeks ago
      Reply

      Did autocorrect fix change your name by mistake to Fred from Jed? It can happen.

  3. Dough Boy 1 week ago
    Reply

    From Pizza Boy to
    Advisor to the Mayor
    No-one gives a care

    • Kirk Vartan 1 week ago
      Reply

      Well, that’s not true Dough Boy. Obviously, the “reporter” care. And this “news paper” care. And you seem to care since you commented.

      • Buchser 3 1 week ago
        Reply

        Kirk Vartan = “special water-boy for Lady Gillmor”.

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