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Council Approves Special Election for Clerk, Police Chief 

During the Dec. 5 meeting of the Santa Clara City Council, the Council approved placing ballot wording for a charter amendment that would turn the police chief and city clerk positions into positions appointed by the city manager. The Council also approved a 10% rate increase proposed by Silicon Valley Power (SVP) and an expenditure for sod at Levi’s Stadium. The Downtown Precise Plan was approved unanimously. 

A special election next year will decide whether Santa Clara continues to elect its police chief and city clerk or whether the city manager will appoint them.

In a special meeting Tuesday night, the Santa Clara City Council approved putting the matter to voters in March. The topic has been a divisive one since the Council opted to form a charter review committee last year, assigning it the task of determining whether such a ballot measure was warranted.

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Although the committee, appointed by the Council, resoundingly supported the idea of allowing voters to decide whether they want to elect the positions, the matter was still rife with controversy. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and political ally Council Member Kathy Watanabe both opposed the measure, saying the ballot language is “biased” and that a survey of residents was “corrupted.”

“The government should not be taking sides, and the way I read this, the government is taking sides,” Gillmor said.

Opponents of the measure claim it is uncalled for and that it would be a waste of the $400,000 the City would need to spend to put on the election. Further, they said, Santa Clarans have, over the years, expressed continued support for electing the positions.

One commenter, Dale Larson, an elections lawyer with Strumwasser & Woocher, went so far as to say the ballot language was illegal, an assessment City Attorney Glen Googins did not share. Larson said declarations that similar ballot language passed was evidence that the language was “engineered to get to a yes vote.”

“These measures essentially ask voters to choose between two compelling options: either allow the voters to elect these positions or allow the city manager to appoint them,” Larson said. “Both options have merit, but by asking the voters if they approve of one of the two options, without even mentioning that it will strip away the other option, the question is biased and signals to voters the Council’s view of how they should vote.”

But proponents of the measure saw the effort as a way to ensure politics stay out of City operations.

“We may be better served by professionals than politicians. Campaigns for the position of chief of police and city clerk attract and reward politically savvy and connected people who are often recruited by council members and come to their otherwise professional jobs with political allegiances,” said former Charter Review Committee Chair Jeff Houston.

The Council approved the ballot measure in a 5-2 vote, with Gillmor and Watanabe voting “no.”

SVP Hikes Rates…Again

Silicon Valley Power (SVP) will see another rate increase. A 10% increase in power rates, set to go into effect at the start of the year, will see the average residential customer paying an additional $6.45 a month. This increase comes less than a year after the prior rate increase.

Manuel Pineda, the City’s chief electric utility officer, said the rate increase is due to rising costs of equipment and material costs, power purchase agreements, natural gas and construction costs. In order to maintain the City’s reserves and bond rating, another rate increase became necessary, he said.

The silver lining, he said, is that other power providers are likely to increase their rates even more. The rate increase is greater than the forecasted rate of inflation.

“When the rates increase in percentages that outstrip the rates of increase that people get on their fixed incomes, this is actually a pretty big problem,” Vice Mayor Kevin Park said. “Every time something increases faster than either cost-of-living adjustments or salary adjustments…It is hard for me not to comment on trying to control our increases, the percentage increase to be cognizant of people who they stretched a little bit to get their houses, their salaries didn’t increase the way that our rates increased.”

The item passed 6-1, with Council Member Anthony Becker voting “no.”

Stadium Board Approves Sod Replacement

The Santa Clara Stadium Authority Board also approved $1.82 million in sod replacement at Levi’s Stadium. The Board is responsible for 30% of the sod replacement, but Gillmor and Watanabe took issue with the cost of the replacement previously.

Gillmor was concerned that the cost of sod replacement was eating into general fund revenue from non-NFL events, saying it is important to know where the money is going, noting a significant increase in the cost of sod replacement over the past few years. She said that the cost of sod replacement “coincidentally” increased after the Council fired the former city manager and city attorney.

After the city attorney and finance director verified the legitimacy of the figures, board members accused Gillmor and Watanabe of playing politics with the item, but Watanabe fired back, saying her issue with the item was simply ensuring fiscal responsibility.

“People would like to turn it into something else, but this is about making sure the stadium funds are being properly spent and allocated and nothing more than that,” she said.

Downtown Precise Plan Approved

The Council also approved the Downtown Precise Plan. A grassroots effort over the past few years culminated in the formation of the Downtown Community Task Force. With ample community input from 43 meetings held by the task force, the new plan aims to invigorate Santa Clara’s downtown.

With the assistance of form-based code — a set of concrete requirements for new construction, encompassing everything ranging from building heights and window distribution to facade and design requirements — the plan focuses on several tactics to revitalize the ailing area between Benton Street, Lafayette Street, Homestead Road and Madison Street. The form-based code replaces the area’s zoning.

Reena Brilliot, assistant city manager, said the plan allows for the development of neighborhoods instead of parcel-by-parcel mandates. She said the goal of the Downtown Precise plan is to re-establish the street grid for pedestrian access, allowing dynamic retail and attractive buildings.

The Council hired consultant WRT in late 2019 to assist with the undertaking.

Dan Ondrasek, chair of the task force, said form-based code indemnifies the City against state-mandated housing but that it is not a “golden ticket.”

Adam Thompson, who also sat on the task force, said the plan provides more certainty for developers and lowers costs by providing clear guidelines.

“It does all this while really giving the community the environment and experience we want,” he said. “We really built this plan from the ground up.”

Watanabe said she had “concerns” about whether form-based code was a bridge too far because it hamstrings developers.

“It is asking a lot, and it may not be something that developers are going to want to agree to,” she said.

Despite her concerns, the item still passed in a 6-0 vote. Mayor Lisa Gillmor needed to recuse herself.

Council Consent Calendar Spending

  • A $6.5 million, five-year purchase order with Western Utility Telecom, Inc. for steel transmission poles.
  • Purchase orders with Downtown Ford, Altec Industries, Inc. and Elk Grove Auto Group for vehicles and equipment for the fire department, finance, Silicon Valley Power, public works, police and water and sewer utilities department totaling $2.19 million.
  • A $602,350 purchase order with L.N. Curtis and Sons for personal protective equipment.
  • A four-year, $1.2 million agreement with Nalco Company for water treatment services.
  • A $1.6 million increase to a licensing agreement with ZE PowerGroup and Silicon Valley Power Software through 2030.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 12 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.

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14 Comments
  1. RJ 3 months ago
    Reply

    I watched last night’s council meeting and listened to speakers’ opinions. Taking into consideration all testimony and research submitted to the CRC, setting aside any survey or poll that appear corrupted or politically slanted, it is clear the side in favor of appointing a police chief was much better prepared and educated in their arguments. The side in favor of an elected police chief didn’t find one independent research conclusion to support their view.

    It appears the pro-elect group found an attorney who can’t listen and think very well. Assistant City Manager Bojorquez and Major Gillmor confirmed the language drafted for this Santa Clara measure is like language used in past neighboring city ballots, but those other measures probably weren’t about electing a city clerk or police chief. The last city to change its city clerk charter in Santa Clara County was Morgan Hill 2018 when 62% of residents voted in favor of appointing their City Clerk instead of electing one. Their 2018 ballot language read, “Shall the office of the City Clerk be appointed?” which is much different than the current language Santa Clara city staff has proposed. Morgan Hill’s 9 ballot words were not contested by residents and don’t appear to have violated any state or Federal voting guidelines or laws. The 21- and 22-word ballot language drafted by City of Santa Clara staff seem to be much more descriptive to voters.

  2. Jeff Houston 3 months ago
    Reply

    We may be better served by professionals than politicians.
    Campaigns for the positions of Chief of Police and City Clerk attract and reward politically savvy and connected people that are often recruited by councilmembers and come to their otherwise professional jobs with political allegiances. In contrast, appointed positions attract more professionally able people. Hiring competent and qualified professionals who have adequate experience and knowledge of applicable law is critical.

    Appointed officials are accountable daily, not just every four years at election time.
    If appointed officials do not perform, it should be addressed immediately. Our elected Chief and Clerk do not receive performance evaluations and do not have well defined job responsibilities. Rather than being accountable to be effective in serving the city, elected officials write their own job descriptions.

    Appointed officials do not fear retribution either.
    Our elected Chief and Clerk testified they do not fear retribution because they are elected. But both the appointed Chief and Clerk testified that they are not afraid of retribution either; if you do the right thing in the right way, in compliance with the law. Just as importantly, they described the importance of the respect they were afforded because they were professional.

    Elections can, and often do, get ugly.
    Negative campaigns can make it difficult for two officers, in the same department, with their own supporters, to overcome this division and move back to professionalism. This is not a problem when appointed because the selection process is confidential.

    By having appointed officials, our city will save $432,000 every four years.
    The estimated cost for a special election that includes up to two measures is $362,000 in costs for the Registrar of Voters plus approximately $70,000 for city costs.

    Lastly, we should put this on the ballot and let the voters decide.

  3. Buchser Alum 3 months ago
    Reply

    Jeff,
    .
    These are all practical and reasonable arguments for changing from elected to appointed police chiefs. And there are other arguments such as the opening up the candidate pool nationwide instead of limiting it to just residents of Santa Clara and only ones who are willing to mount a campaign just for the outside chance of winning.
    .
    I believe that our pay for police chief is currently one of the highest in the state and so I would guess the pay is very high relative to the rest of the country as well. If our chief is one of the best paid in the country we should be sure that we are considering the best candidates around the country when we are choosing a police chief.
    .
    I do believe that appointment of chief makes the chief position at position that is at least a little political. But it already is a position that is political at least within the SCPOA and one that has also been political in the form of Nikolai being a political ally of Gillmor. And I think that the way it would be political if it were appointed would come in the form of our chiefs politically trying to stay out of city politics and avoid alienating all city councilpeople and key city city staff. And I do not think that is a bad thing.
    .
    The only thing I fear about switching to an appointed chief now is the question of whether or not the Forty Niners have a financial interest in pushing for a police chief who will play ball more nicely with them when it comes to accounting for public safety costs in stadium operations. But that concern of mine is moderated by the number of eyes that will be on all that accounting both inside the department and amongst city staff and maybe the public. And public safety cost accounting is not the most important factor in choosing the best police chief.

    • CSC 3 months ago
      Reply

      Buchser, I agree with both your and Jeff’s comments. Your last paragraph questioning if the 49ers would having financial interest in pushing for a police chief who will “play ball” with them is the only part I find unwarranted. What objective or gain would either a professional sports team or W2 appointed police chief have together besides safety and security at the stadium? The other 31 NFL teams are in cities with appointed police chiefs and none are “on the take” from those franchises so why would an appointed Santa Clara police chief be different?
      .
      A relationship between a professional sports front office and an appointed police chief’s office isn’t a problem, we see that next door in San Jose with the Sharks and Earthquakes and in San Francisco with the Giants and Warriors. The issue here is Jed York’s wallet is larger and contributed more to Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights PAC than The Related Companies wallet that funded SCPOA Labor Union PAC’s coffer. Quite frankly, those of us who favor a more diverse and inclusive government should thank York and former Congressman Mike Honda for proving marketing and communication dollars which resulted in first ever district voting and minority representatives on the City Council. Although she strongly opposed district voting, even Lisa Gillmor was all smiles as she handed Mr. Wesley Mokuyama recognition for being the face of that effort.
      .
      With an appointed police chief all financial dealings will reside with the City Manager’s office. Highly educated and experienced police chief candidates won’t have to worry about uprooting their families and setting up residence in an unknown city just for the opportunity to spend tens-of-thousands of their own money to become a politician. Resident taxpayers won’t have to continuously shell out more than $400,000 every four years just to have one political police chief candidate on the ballot. Appointing a police chief and appointing a city clerk is the right way for the City of Santa Clara to run business and voters would check the YES box in March.

      • Buchser Alum 3 months ago
        Reply

        CSC,
        .
        I have the concern and it is only a concern because there is a history of dispute over accounting and payment for public safety costs having to do with the stadium. And there have been other disputes over the proper accounting of expenses for the stadium and moving of expenses that are football only to a shared burden with the city as stadium owner. But we the people have meanwhile been blocked by the Forty Niners from getting full access to stadium finances in order to audit the Forty Niners management of the stadium.
        .
        Meanwhile the Forty Niners have spent millions of dollars supporting city councilpeople who vote their way and who vote against or have stopped any initiatives to try to gain full financial clarity into the Forty Niners management and financial underperformance of the stadium we the people own.
        .
        So I wonder how much of this is the council majority independent of the Forty Niners trying to make a move to weaken Gillmor and anyone she’s allied with and how much it might be something the Forty Niners support or even pushed for because it could have bearing on what they are charged for public safety services at the stadium.
        .
        How do you know there is not any corrupt undercharging of any NFL franchises for public services in any other city with an NFL stadium? Because you cannot recall ever having heard of one?
        .
        As for your argument that will not have a problem here because San Jose and San Francisco I will point out that those cities do not have one single corporate special interest by itself outspending every other single political contributor added together by a factor of ten or more. They have given a lot of reason to distrust them. If the Forty Niners end up spending large amounts of money on supporting the charter amendment then I will have greater concern because a corporate special interest should not be spending large amounts of money on a city charter amendment campaign.
        .
        As for matters residing with the city manager I will point out that the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council majority.
        .
        I am pointing out reasons for my concern. I am not saying that a problem is inevitable and already stated that my concern is “moderated by the number of eyes that will be on all that accounting both inside the department and amongst city staff and maybe the public.”

        I also stated “And public safety cost accounting is not the most important factor in choosing the best police chief.”

        • Bushser 2 3 months ago
          Reply

          You may not like it, or you may not agree, but the simple fact is that Jed York can freely spend his money any way he wants. It’s his money and it is his right to do so. Also, he is not about to prevent you if you should want to do the same.
          Also, to complete your comment: “As for matters residing with the city manager I will point out that the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council majority.” I want to point out to you that the council majority serves at the pleasure of the voters of our city.

    • Buchser 2 3 months ago
      Reply

      I believe the Jeb York will strongly offer his financial support for this proposition. Not so much because of any particular dislike for our current chief, but because it greatly lessens the influence of Lady Gillmor and the POA.

  4. W.S. 3 months ago
    Reply

    There have been various comments made on the topic of an appointed Police Chief and the concern that the 49er’s will put a Police Chief in place who will be more supportive of them. If the 49er’s had wanted a Police Chief who better aligned with them, then they would have backed someone to run against Pat Nikolai in the last election. Pat Nikolai ran UNAPPOSED! Santa Clarans had no true choice in the Police Chief because we did not get to pick who we thought would be the “BEST” candidate for Police Chief.
    We only got the one person on the ballot. Effectively, that is not a choice. So, we ended up with someone who had fewer qualifications. Having a Police Chief who is appointed by the City Manager, will require vetting, documented qualifications, and interviews with multiple people to make sure the candidate is the best fit for Santa Clara.

  5. W.S. 3 months ago
    Reply

    Mr. Pineda stated that the SVP rate increase “is due to rising costs of equipment and material costs, power purchase agreements, natural gas and construction costs”. So how much is the increase due to the additional equipment, materials, supplies, etc. that are needed for the proposed and established Data Centers that now populate Santa Clara? If those Data Centers were not draining power supplies from Santa Clara, would the previous rate increases we have seen over the past year have been sufficient to support small businesses and residential? If Data Centers want to be built in Santa Clara because of the low cost of electricity, shouldn’t they be the ones funding infrastructure costs since they use the highest majority of power?

  6. Han 3 months ago
    Reply

    We, a Santa Claran, wants to have our citizen elect these two positions: Police chief and City Clerk. That is the power of Santa Clara people.

    Look at the SVP rate increases, it appears that the city of Santa Clara is going to compete with surrounding cities, like San Jose, to see which city will reach the highest utility rate in the region.

    • Buchser 2 3 months ago
      Reply

      I believe you’re mistaken. In any case, this proposition will soon be appearing on our upcoming ballots. So, now, let’s allow our voters of Santa Clara declare their choices.

  7. Buchser Alum 3 months ago
    Reply

    Han,
    .
    The SVP rate increase is lower than PG and E rate increase that is coming and so the margin by which SVP will continue to be cheaper will be even wider.
    .
    SVP rates have nothing to do with how we choose our police chief and city clerk and there is nothing about SVP rates that should make you worried about the power of the people of Santa Clara whether you mean politically or electrically.

  8. Nick 3 months ago
    Reply

    Your police chief is working more on city politics than he is on public safety and that is a huge issue. Nevermind your salary for him and his assistants has risen to astronomical amounts because he was and remains under qualified. Let the city manager locate someone qualified and let’s align that pay while we are at it.

  9. Buchser 2 2 months ago
    Reply

    Just out. Today’s Mercury News (Jan 14th) contained a strongly worded editorial offering their support on Measures A and B for our City’s appointments for both our Police Chief and City Clerk.

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