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Council Makes Public Safety Cutbacks, ManCo Comments On Stadium Authority Budget

After several weeks of deliberation, the Santa Clara City Council has opted to make cuts to police and fire services.

Balancing looming budget deficits, essential city services and public safety has been on the minds of the Council for the past few weeks, with discussions in each of the two previous meetings getting deferred to Tuesday night. Although the cuts were not disproportionate to other cuts in other City departments, several Council members saw them as “essential.”

Kenn Lee, the City’s Finance Director, had previously told the Council that COVID-19 impacts to the budget necessitated cuts across all departments to avoid layoffs. To do so, the Council would need to eliminate budgeted positions in the police and fire departments, reduce community officers and programs such as DARE and decommission a fire engine.

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Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Members Kathy Watanabe and Anthony Becker iterated their positions from previous discussions to have police and fire services remain untouched. However, leaving public services intact would have required the Council either to devastate its reserves or make 58 layoffs in other departments.

Tuesday night, Lee presented the Council with a plethora of options related to, what he called, “rebalancing actions.” If the Council opted to keep police and fire services untouched, it also had the option to pay for those services out of the budget stabilization reserve or with potential future transient occupancy tax (TOT) money.

Police Chief Patrick Nikolai joined the choir opposing cuts, saying crime has “skyrocketed” during the pandemic, pointing to crime statistics he presented that show an increase in some violent crimes — among them seven shootings — in the back half of 2020.

The statistics provided did not list whether the numbers were calls for service or arrests made.

Several members of the public also called into the meeting to tell the Council to use the budget stabilization reserve to maintain public services at their current level.

Alex Torke, President of the Police Officers Association, said the cuts are unnecessary because the hiring freeze achieves the same savings. He agreed with other public members who said the City should use its reserves.

“We are hoarding it … because we might need it for some mysterious bogeyman later on,” he said. “This freeze is fruitless. It only serves to codify cuts to public safety. It is defunding by another name, and politics and personal conflicts are driving this conversation. This is about public safety. For some, this is an abstract concept on a spreadsheet, but for most of us, it involves very real people and very real problems.”

But those supporting the cuts — Vice Mayor Raj Chahal and Council Members Suds Jain, Kevin Park and Karen Hardy — said the choice to make cuts was not born out of a disregard for the importance of public services. Instead, Chahal said, it was a need to balance multiple less-than-desirable scenarios.

Further, Chahal said, if the City has additional revenue later, perhaps from federal money or unexpected revenues, the Council can always reallocate money to police and fire.

“We all live in the city … It is not that we want to make the city less safe. We have no intention of that,” Jain said.

The cuts aim to whittle a $19.1 million chunk out of a $42 million ongoing deficit brought on by the pandemic. The cuts passed with Gillmor, Watanabe and Becker voting against them. Another motion passed unanimously, exempted the fire engine decommission, opting to fund the $750,000 for its continued use from the budget stabilization reserve.

 

ManCo Makes An Appearance

In a study session, Lee also presented the upcoming stadium budget to the Stadium Authority Board.

Lee raised several topics that he characterized as “critical issues.” Not only is the Stadium Management Company (ManCo) not maintaining the stadium adequately, Lee said, it still has yet to provide sufficient documentation to justify $2.7 million in non-NFL event losses.

Further, ManCo is still using the revolving loan fund. Lee said he expects the amount of money ManCo has withdrawn from that fund to grow to $7.6 million in fiscal year 2021.

Despite this, the Stadium Authority is projected to pay $38 million toward its debt on the stadium.

Jeff Fong, Vice President of Finance for the 49ers, addressed the Board, offering verbal ripostes to some claims repeatedly made by City employees. Fong said some of ManCo’s recalcitrance has stemmed from exorbitant costs for City employees working at the stadium.

Since 2019, the last year there was a full schedule of events at Levi’s Stadium, employee costs at the stadium have risen 116%, Fong showed, and public safety costs have ballooned 74%.

Additionally, Fong said, the Stadium Authority has only budgeted 1% of its employee cost toward ameliorating what the Stadium Authority claims are issues surrounding procurement.

City employees’ claims that the Stadium Authority is not paying $8.2 million in labor costs because of issues surrounding procurement is inaccurate, Fong said, since more than half of that money is for City employees.

“The majority of the costs withheld have nothing to do with procurement,” he said. “We strongly recommend that you start paying your bills.”

Fong took issue with the Board’s legal costs to fight lawsuits brought by the 49ers.

“It seems to us that we should be committing to collaboration instead of escalating litigation,” he said, later adding: “The pandemic should cause us all to take a long hard look at all the money wasted on lawyers.”

Moreover, Fong detailed some of the reasons the stadium is not generating as much money as expected.

Not only is the curfew deterring artists from performing at Levi’s, but disclosing the economics of events, as the City did for the Taylor Swift concert in 2019, discourages promoters from choosing the venue. He also pointed to what he called “bureaucratic” complex and costly City approval such as was required for the Rolling Stones concert, also in 2019.

Fong’s presentation ignited City Attorney Brian Doyle, who characterized it as “absurd” and ladled with “personal attacks.” He called Fong’s insinuation that the Board ought not to remain embroiled in legal feuds with the team “absolutely insane,” blaming the 49ers for bringing the lawsuits.

Doyle justified the increase in City employees working at the stadium by saying such oversight is necessary in the wake of the Red Box Bowl, where ManCo made evident its self-dealing, funneling sponsorship money back to itself.

“You’re allocating expenses back to the 49ers for the benefit of events that are money-losing events,” Doyle said.

He called Fong’s approach a “strange way to build a collaborative relationship.”

The Stadium Authority budget will return to the Board for approval March 23.

 

Eminent Domain Underway For SVP Transmission

The Council also voted unanimously to start the eminent domain process on two easements needed for electric transmission for Silicon Valley Power (SVP). The two easements are located on private property at 1051 Martin Ave. and 2435 Lafayette St. and are owned by Bay Area Cellular Telephone Company and Wesco Properties, Inc. respectively.

Manuel Pineda, Director of SVP, told the Council that negotiations have been ongoing for 11 and nine months respectively. Acquisition of the easements is necessary and has been done with the maximum public good and minimal private harm in mind, he said.

Although the eminent domain process takes roughly two years, Pineda said the City will continue to negotiate with the owners to reach an agreement before then.

Nobody from the public commented on the topic.

 

Consent Calendar Spending

The Council approved the following spending in one motion via the consent calendar:

  • $275,000 to Perkins + Will for “professional services to prepare the Amendment to the Tasman East Specific Plan to allow 1,500 additional units in the Tasman East area;” new contract amount: $1.46 million
  • A $362,981 purchase agreement with Reed & Graham, Inc. for the purchase of hot-mix asphalt
  • A $134,551 increase to a contract with e-Builder, Inc. for “license and support fees for capital project management software to cover the cost of the annual software subscription as well as enterprise implementation, setup, deployment, training, and enhancements or integrations”

The next regularly scheduled Stadium Authority meeting is Tuesday, March 16 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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7 Comments
  1. Bob O'Keefe 1 month ago
    Reply

    All I can say for now is WOW! Last night Council members, Chahal, Jain, Park and Hardy with full disregard of their constituents and all Santa Clara residents’ wishes, voted to defund our police department. Their actions were not that of fiscally responsible legislators, attempting to balance severe budget deficits, which in this case could have easily been rectified by using Budget Stabilization Reserve Funds, monies that are set aside for this exact purpose. Chahal, Jain Park and Hardy’s actions were based on personal bias and distain for our police officers, the rule of law and organized society, and some misguided attempt at political payback. Their reckless decision has placed all our citizens in harms way and made our communities less safe, solely for their personal political gain.

    This is only round one, we need to be extremely vigilant especially in dealings with their benefactor Jed York, the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium. These actions along with the path these four seem intent on taking will be reflected at the ballot box in 2022 or possibly sooner!!!

    I would like to thank Mayor Gillmor, Councilmember Becker and Councilmember Watanabe for standing for Santa Clara and trying to keep our community safe.

  2. CSC 1 month ago
    Reply

    “We all live in the city … It is not that we want to make the city less safe.”

    The members of the city council are all residents of Santa Clara and, according to publicly available information, it appears the employee union president, Alex Torke, lives in Livermore. The greater majority of peace officers and firefighters employed by the City of Santa Clara also live a long way out of the county as was also the case with Nicolas Luiz who plead guilty to beating a 6-months old puppy to death at his home in Napa. https://tinyurl.com/SantaClara-NicholasLuiz

    “Nikolai said crime had ‘skyrocketed’ during the pandemic but did not provide whether the numbers were calls for service or arrests made.” Not surprising, Nikolai also refuses to state where he drummed up a college degree from in short order, likely a online college mill, so it probably safe to assume he doesn’t know what statistics are.

    “the Council would need to eliminate budgeted positions in the police and fire departments, reduce community officers and programs such as DARE and decommission a fire engine…leaving public services intact would have required the Council either to devastate its reserves or make 58 layoffs in other departments.”

    This is it right here. Santa Clara residents raise good kids, that’s why crime is so low. Santa Clara Police Department, on the other hand, is the most problematic law enforcement agency in the Bay Area with the most, per employment population, cops arrested/convicted of crimes (Clay Rojas, Michael Seadler, Tyson Green, Daniel Burde, Thomas Leipelt, Kiet Nguyen, Kenneth Henderson) and sustained policy violations (Nathan Crescini, Greg Deger,etc.) yet they would ecstatic if the city laid off 58 other employees who likely live in the City of Santa Clara or within Santa Clara County, and who provide valuable services to residents on a daily basis. This is truly Santa Clara Police Department’s ‘us vs. them’ mentality on display here.

    The current city council seems to have the right balance now which truly represents residents instead of the previous union-bought council that favored out of area employees instead of residents.

  3. Ed Richards 1 month ago
    Reply

    Bob O’Keefe
    Most of you claims are baseless. From the lies you spew it is obvious that you are the Mayors supporters. you should be ashamed to put you comments or name in this forum

    • Bob O'Keefe 1 month ago
      Reply

      Hi Ed,

      Please tell me what part of my statement or claims as you put it are baseless in your perception and we can have an intelligent conversation on specific issues. To put things in some perspective, I have lived in Santa Clara for 61 years. I am retired from the California Highway Patrol after 30 plus years of service promoting to oversee all patrol operations in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, I do have a strong understanding of public service and public service budgets. I am a supporter of our Mayor Lisa Gillmor as I was a supporter of our previous Mayor Patricia Mahan. I believe both are/were strong leaders and truly have/had the best interests of us, the citizens at heart. In 2018, I ran for the office of City Clerk, I was endorsed by Patty Mahan and not by Lisa Gillmor. In 2020, I ran for City council District 5, I was endorsed by Lisa Gillmor and not by Patty Mahan. In both of these elections I never sought their endorsements but was honored to have received them and still hold both Patty and Lisa in high regard. Lastly, I do not lie! I have reviewed my above statement and found it to be accurate and actually a little subdued. I will always post my feelings and never be ashamed or bullied not to and I will always post my name, unlike the vast majority on this and other forums.

    • Davy L. 1 month ago
      Reply

      Hi Bob,
      Please allow me to respond for Ed.
      False statement (1): “… all Santa Clara residents …” totally untrue.
      False statement (2): “… based on personal bias and distain …” this is your personal bias.
      False statement (3): “… misguided attempt at political payback …” again, your bias.
      False statement (4): “… reckless decision … personal political gain …” such animosity.
      There’s more. But what’s the use. From all your unfounded and baseless accusations, continuing would be a waste of time. You claim to be “subdued”, but your words are those of a “bully”. Personally, I wish to offer my congratulations to Chahal, Jain, Park, and Hardy for their decisions.
      As a resident of Santa Clara for 61 years, you’re aware that Patty Mahan and Lisa Gilmore are political rivals. When you ran in 2018, Lisa supported your opponent since that was her candidate of choice. Patty gave you her endorsement just to spite Lisa. When you ran in 2020, Lisa gave you her support, simply because your opponent, Jain, favors City District Elections, which Lisa strongly opposes. Now, I assume you will be running again in 2022. You know the old saying, “Try, and try again. The third time’s the charm.” It’s likely; you’ll even get an endorsement from Lisa, again. As for me, whatever office you may chose, I shall be voting for your opponent, whoever he or she may be.

  4. Resident 1 month ago
    Reply

    Well done city council. Well put Mr Richards.

  5. Davy L. 1 month ago
    Reply

    Here’s another example of our bad City Police Management policies. This is from the San Jose Mercury News: Santa Clara City Police Department plagued by racism, lawsuit alleges: 46 of the department’s 49 management positions or 94% are held by people who identified as White. In comparison, only 45% of Santa Clara City residents are White, according to the most recent U.S. Census. The federal lawsuit was filed on Monday (3/1/21) against the city of Santa Clara and Police Chief, Patrick Nikolai, by Santa Clara police Sgt. Jacob Malae. There goes an additional 3 million dollars in court/lawyers costs to be added to our city’s finances.

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