The Santa Clara City Council has overturned a Planning Commission ruling denying a variance for an art studio because the setback for building was not within the guidelines detailed in the City code.
Andrew Crabtree, Director of Community Development, recommended the Council uphold the Planning Commission’s decision and deny the request at the Council meeting Tuesday night.
He said the property, located at 167 Cronin Dr., does not meet the threshold to warrant a variance, meaning there are “no unusual conditions” pertaining to the building. Crabtree also noted that the owners have a variety of options at their disposal, including relocating the studio or even rebuilding it.
The owners, David and Barbara Martin, disagreed, saying that putting the studio where it was became necessary to maintain existing landscaping. David said that relocating or rebuilding the studio would cost between $20,000 and $30,000, which would create a significant hardship on him and his wife. The couple submitted letters showing that the public utilities—Silicon Valley Power, AT&T and PG&E—that have easements that the studio encroaches on are OK with the encroachment.
The couple acknowledged that they did not follow the proper procedure when building the 335-square-foot studio.
City Attorney Brian Doyle said the couple should have obtained the variance before erecting the building, saying they built it “illegally.”
“I don’t see authority here,” he said. “You can’t create your own hardship.”
Still, David Martin said he “regrets deeply” that they did not follow the proper process, but the contractor has already been sanctioned and fined as has he, not to mention the “emotional stress” the ordeal has put on his wife. Barbara Martin said she was “very ashamed” the couple neglected to get the proper variance.
“We have already paid dearly for this mistake,” he said.
The setback in question is supposed to be 5 feet. The Martins setback is only 3 feet, but had they gone through the proper process, they could have received a variance up to 3.5 feet, a mere six inches shy of the building setback.
Council Member Patricia Mahan said none of the Martins arguments swayed her decision to vote for the variance. Instead, it was simply how close the studio was to being compliant.
“For the length of my telephone, we should try to make this work,” she said.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor said “there is a lot of lessons to be learned here.”
Council Member Debi Davis said the Martins got “caught up in a web of not doing proper yadda yadda yadda” and was content to blame the ordeal on the contractor, saying “our contractors have to be a little more diligent” and that the City needs “better outreach.”
The Council granted the variance by a 5-2 vote. Council Members Teresa O’Neill and Pat Kolstad were the “no” votes. Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe voted “yes” despite her grandstanding about “following the law” regarding a home on Los Padres Boulevard in October last year where she was the lone “no” vote to grant a variance.
City Clerk Resigns
City Clerk Rod Diridon Jr. submitted a letter to the Council at the outset of the meeting that, effective immediately, he was resigning his post as City Clerk.
According to Diridon’s resignation letter, after 21 years working for Santa Clara, he is leaving government to pursue a career in the “high tech industry.”
Each member of the Council categorized the news as a “shock” or “surprise.”
Council Member Dominic Caserta he was “really sad” and “verklempt.” Mahan said Diridon brought “honor” to Santa Clara with his “proactive” approach, increasing voter turnout and keeping the Council “in line.”
“When you think of the Diridon name, you think of public service,” Caserta said.
Kolstad called Diridon’s accomplishments “pretty astounding.”
The Council unanimously voted to have Jennifer Yamaguma, who handles public relations for the city, take over Diridon’s duties as City Clerk until the Council can appoint someone to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term. Diridon was re-elected in November 2016 in a landslide victory over challenger Deborah Bress, winning 22,424 of 33,468 votes.
Members of the Civil Service Commission and Planning Commission also announced vacancies.
The Civil Service Commission is a five-person volunteer board that settle disputes between the city and its employees.
The Planning Commission is also seeking applications for a vacancy after Commissioner Brandon Reinhardt resigned. In his resignation letter, Reinhardt cited rising rents pricing him out of Santa Clara as the reason for his moving to the Sacramento area.
Applications, which can be found online at the City’s website or at the City Clerk’s Office located at 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara, for the vacancies are due by 5 p.m. on Feb. 13 for the Civil Service Commission and on Feb. 27 for the Planning Commission.
The City Council will appoint a candidate to the Civil Service Commission on Feb. 20 and a candidate to the Planning Commission March 6.
The Council also approved entering into a 3-year $502,508 contract with Hart High-Voltage Apparatus Repair & Testing Company Inc., a Yuba City, Calif. Contractor, for electrical maintenance.
Also, the Council approved a new job description: “information services technology services manager.” Salary for this new position ranges from $146,880 to $190,080 a year.
The next Council meeting is 7 p.m. Feb. 20 in Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.