A public petition to agendize a mandate requiring Santa Clara City Council Members to appear on camera during virtual meetings failed to garner Council support.
At its Tuesday night meeting, the Council considered a petition from Kirk Vartan, a San Jose resident and Santa Clara business owner, that would require Council Members to turn on their video during meetings they attend remotely. Vartan is a Council mainstay and has frequently praised and defended Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her only remaining political ally on the Council, Kathy Watanabe.
The petition effectively singled out Council Member Kevin Park, who Vartan has previously criticized during public comments on other topics for failing to appear on camera. Park is the only Council member who regularly does not have on his video during meetings.
“If you are going to be participating for the public, you should be visible to the public,” Vartan said. “Being on camera is no different than being on the dais. If we were in person, as normal days would be, this wouldn’t even be a discussion.”
He added that he was “not sure what the hesitation is.”
Other public members who commented supported Vartan’s request, with several people, most stridently Gillmor, calling it “disrespectful.” Gillmor added that being unable to see Council members on camera gives the public the impression they are being inattentive.
“Public figures should be visible during public business,” wrote Susan Hinton in an e-comment. “A City Council meeting is a public event, not a private business meeting nor a personal encounter. Please show your face.”
By way of explanation, Park said he does not appear on camera because he has technical issues, claiming the area of town where he lives is an internet “dead zone.” He added that with a wife and a child at home, coming to City Hall for the increased bandwidth is inconvenient.
Other public members saw the mandate as unnecessary.
Lance Saleme said he lives in the same cul-de-sac as Park and confirmed that the area has bandwidth issues, calling it “prejudicial to single out someone because of their technical capabilities.” Another Council mainstay, Deborah Bress, called the consideration “absolutely ridiculous.”
The Council seemed to agree that putting the item on a future agenda was not worth its time.
Council Member Suds Jain said City employees are already overloaded and that if the public takes issue with Park not showing his face on camera, it has recourse: they can opt not to re-elect him.
While Council Member Anthony Becker said he understands the concern and would encourage all the Council members to appear on video, forcing Park to do so doesn’t sit well with him.
Vice Mayor Raj Chahal seemed concerned about setting precedent.
“If we want to impose this condition on someone, then what next? Will we come up with any other new conditions? I want to see my Council Member in a suit or something like that?” Chahal said. “I don’t think this is an issue we should be making on a Council level. His decision-making is not being impaired by being or not being on camera.”
But Gillmor didn’t buy Park’s excuses, saying everyone on the Council lives within a few miles of City Hall and that he isn’t the only one who works or has children.
“This is your job,” she said. “We all make sacrifices. That is what we signed up for.”
Despite her protest, the Council defeated the item 5-2, with only Gillmor and Watanabe voting to place the item on a future agenda.
SVP Projected Growth ‘Unprecedented’
The Council also heard the quarterly strategic report for the city-owned public utility, Silicon Valley Power (SVP).
Manuel Pineda, Director of SVP, told the Council he expects the City’s electric load to almost double in the next 10 years. In preparation for that growth, he said, City employees have developed both near-term and long-term strategies to accommodate the growth.
The Council has already approved four new substation agreements, and it will see five more come before it through 2022. Pineda said commercial and residential development as well as data centers — which make up between 55% and 60% of the electricity consumed in the City — are driving energy demand.
“No one I am aware of is having this kind of growth. It is unprecedented,” he said. “This is pretty unique to Santa Clara, and to SVP, and many utilities are jealous.”
Plans to replace two aging substations — both more than 50 years old — on Scott Boulevard and Kifer Road will allow SVP to upgrade capacity. Each station will cost between $60 and $70 million, representing a large chunk of the $230 million needed over the coming decade for maintenance and capacity increase.
On top of those costs, SVP also plans to construct a $60 million battery storage reservoir, which will likely come online in 2023 or 2024. The battery project will allow the City to store energy for later use and be less reliant on transmission from PG&E.
However, Pineda said SVP is still seeking funding for $120 million of these costs.
Council Member Kevin Park had concerns.
“When a resource becomes easier to consume, we consume more,” Park said. “I am worried the usage curve will actually increase greater than the projections, and the only way to combat that is to find ways to reduce use as we are converting uses over.”
But Pineda said the City has “a number of programs,” such as rebate programs, to encourage consumers to use less electricity.
Consent Calendar Spending
The Council approved the following spending via the consent calendar:
- A 5-year contract for $250,000 with CentralSquare Technologies, LLC for enterprise asset management software and services.
- $4 million loan to Allied Housing for 80 affordable housing units located at 3333 to 3337 Kifer Road.
- A $428,817 agreement with Mott MacDonald Group, Inc. for the storm drain slide gate rehabilitation.
- A $130,000 transfer for the weekend senior meal program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to be managed by Levy Premium Foods. The total for the program is now $830,000.
- Two $750,000, 3-year agreements with Bear Electrical Solutions, Inc. and Cupertino Electric, Inc. for electrical maintenance and repair.
For a fourth time, the Council continued discussion on the sale of the Loyalton Ranch property to its next meeting. The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, May 4 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