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Council To Consider Letting Voters Give Them Higher Salaries

The Santa Clara City Council will discuss whether to let the voters drastically increase its salary.

In response to a written petition, the Council considered placing an item on a future agenda to craft a ballot measure making Council Members full-time salaried employees. The item came up Tuesday during the Council’s meeting and narrowly passed in a 4-3 vote. The petition, submitted by David Donaldson, also called for campaign finance reform.

While Donaldson’s petition recommended salaries — $96,000/year for the mayor and $80,000/year for Council Members — Council Member Anthony Becker’s motion, on the advice of legal counsel, omitted such specifications.

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“We are a city that is adapting and changing … we are no longer that small city that we used to be,” Becker said.

Supporters of the petition said the salary would attract better candidates to the Council and provide a wider swath from the City. Donaldson called it a “common sense idea.”

“The City needs representation from people who aren’t wealthy, who aren’t retired,” said Councilmember Kevin Park. “Those are the people who the policies we make that affect the most.”

Should the Council decide to place the item on the ballot, it would necessitate a change to the City’s charter.

Council Member Karen Hardy was the first to voice dissent, saying, while she understands the sentiment, being someone who works full-time herself, the whole idea made her “uncomfortable.”

However, Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Kathy Watanabe soon joined the chorus of opposition. Watanabe said she worried about putting too many measures on the ballot, giving voters “fatigue.”

“If you do this job, it is because you care,” Hardy said. “I am not comfortable with changing the charter dramatically when we are still grappling with having just gone to districts.”

Those in support agreed that the salaries should not go into effect until after the tenure of the sitting Council.

The motion to place the item on a future agenda passed with Gillmor, Watanabe and Hardy voting “no.” No date was set.

 

Senior Housing Complex To Allow For All Ages

The Council also narrowly approved allowing all ages at a senior housing development. Developers of Santana Terrace, a 90-apartment senior citizen complex located at 190 N. Winchester Blvd., implored the Council to rezone the 1.82 acre property to allow for all ages due to a lack of occupancy.

Eric Morely, a real estate lobbyist for developer USA, told the Council that, after a recent notification to terminate one of the leases, only 33 of the apartments will be occupied. Because of the low occupancy, he said the complex has attracted crime, with 18 incidents over the past year.

Concerns abound — both from the Council and the public — surrounding lifting the age restriction mostly revolved around cost of rent relative to many seniors’ fixed income. If lifted, many worried, rents could creep up to market rate after the pandemic passes.

“People aren’t looking for great housing at decent prices but decent housing at great prices,” Park said.

However, the Council balanced the concern of soaring rent with the prospect of leaving the complex mostly vacant.

Steve Gall, Executive Vice President for USA, said the developer has done its utmost to incentivize seniors to live in the complex, but, with the pandemic still in swing, many are still sheltering in place. He said filling the complex entirely with seniors is not tenable. Still, he said, USA is committed to having the complex remain a senior complex, to the degree that it is feasible.

Since the development is already constructed, it is not subject to the City’s affordable housing ordinance, which mandates what percent of the apartments must be below market rate. USA agreed to designate that 15% of the apartments be below market rate at 100% area median income, which works out to roughly $2,800/month rent.

The motion narrowly passed 4-3, with Vice Mayor Raj Chahal and Council Members Park and Becker voting “no.”

 

Pulled Consent Items Draw Lines Among Council

Three items pulled from the consent calendar — two of which related to operations at Levi’s Stadium — teased out differences between the Council.

The first item was, essentially a rehashing of the Council’s discussion on the sale of the Loyalton Ranch property. Council Member Suds Jain pulled the item, which was an amendment to a contract with Bellecci & Associates for engineering services related to the demolition of several buildings at City-owned property in Loyalton and Benicia. The item extended the contract, growing its total from $116,021 to $356,021.

However, Jain said the City should be leasing the land in Benicia similar to what it does with the land in Loyalton, which is used for cattle grazing. Jain originally wanted to move that the City have Loyalton appraised, but, because that would require the City spending $5,000 and the item was not on the agenda, he was unable to do so.

Despite protests from both the mayor and the City’s Chief Electric Utility Officer, Manuel Pineda, the Council ended up approving the amendment for the Benicia property, excluding any work to be done at Loyalton in a 5-2 vote. Gillmor and Watanabe voted “no.”

The second item pulled was an 18-month extension resulting in a $100,000 increase to a contract with Wilson Ihrig & Associates for noise monitoring at Levi’s Stadium. Jain also pulled the item, saying he has been unhappy with reports from the company, calling them not “user friendly.” He also wanted City employees to present options for purchasing the equipment it rents as part of the contract, saying it might be less expensive for the City in the long run given it intends to monitor noise at the stadium for a long time.

Park agreed that the reports could give better insight into the information being gathered.

“Everyone says data doesn’t lie, but data is just data,” he said. “Data has no loyalty. If you don’t understand the data, data doesn’t really say anything.”

The Council opted to shorten the extension to six months and have City employees return with information on the benefit of purchasing the noise monitoring equipment. The motion passed unanimously.

Finally, Becker’s pulling of a seemingly routine approval of, what City Manager Deanna Santana called a budgetary “oversight,” ballooned into finger-pointing and debate about the use of the Council’s new policy regarding meeting management.

Becker took issue with the addition of a management analyst for the Stadium Authority, questioning whether the addition is “another position in management we don’t need.” However, Santana explained that the position has already been budgeted and its previous omission was simply a mistake.

Gillmor noted that the Forty Niners Management Company (ManCo) has also taken issue with the addition of such positions, calling it “a little odd” that Becker had the same concern. Chahal, Park and Becker saw Gillmor’s comment as an insinuation that he is “in bed” with ManCo.

From there, the discussion veered into a disagreement of Gillmor’s handling of the new policy aimed at meeting efficiency. The policy allows each Council Member to speak on an item once. Chahal implored Gillmor to not “abuse the policy” by lobbing accusations at Council Members who have already spoken without giving them an opportunity to respond.

Park, who was absent when the Council passed the policy, said it stifles debate in the name of efficiency. One member of the public, Council mainstay Deborah Bress, called the new policy “dictatorial.” She also saw little value in the new position up for approval.

“Another management position? Does anybody work or do people just manage?” Bress said. “It just seems like we are always having more managers. There are no worker bees, just managers. So you spend a whole lot of money managing, but you never get any work done. When do they make any money?”

Despite the contention, the Council approved the position 5-2, with Becker and Park voting “no.”

 

Consent Calendar Spending

In addition to the pulled items. the Council/Stadium Authority Board approved the following spending in one motion via the consent calendar:

  • A one-year $37,137 contract, with up to four one-year extensions, with Syserco, Inc. for the purchase of an HVAC preventative maintenance and as-needed control-systems repairs.
  • A $1,995 contract with Unique Venues to set up an email campaign for non-NFL events catering.
  • A $250,000 budget amendment to a contract with Bear Electrical for sign repair at Levi’s Stadium.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 28 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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