The Santa Clara City Council had a relatively short agenda for its Sept. 13 meeting, but that didn’t translate to a short meeting. The Council spent several hours revisiting the four-plus-year-old El Camino Real Specific Plan, ultimately voting to spend another $250,000 on a revised plan. It also reconsidered an Aug. 30 decision about City funding for a deteriorating sound wall on private property; and engaged in another round of political bickering.
Planning Deja Vu
Almost six years ago another city council imposed what was effectively a moratorium on development on El Camino Real (ECR) until the City had a comprehensive plan for the artery’s re-development. After several years of work and interim plans, the Council received the final plan last year, only to send it back to the drawing board.
Last June the council directed the planning department to reduce the cost of completing the plan at the same time reducing the density, explained Community Development Director Andrew Crabtree. This follows years of Council direction and redirection about everything from building heights and setbacks, to design standards to zoning and land use strategy.
Reducing costs for the plan means revising the plan, explained Crabtree. So, Tuesday night the ECR plan was back before the Council with a request for Council direction on three alternatives for going forward. It didn’t appear that council members fully understood why this was before them; both Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Suds Jain described themselves as “confused” about what they were being asked to do.
The agenda item was the trigger for revisiting the details of the plan yet again. In the end, the Council approved developing a significantly modified plan retaining “enough density and elements…of the prior Specific Plan” that would be consistent with the existing Environmental Impact Report and approved another $250,000 for the design work. This brings the cost of the planning to about $1 million. The vote was 4-3, with Chahal, Gillmor and Watanabe opposing.
The Council also agreed to reconsider a decision from Aug. 30 to limit City funding to 25% for replacing a deteriorating sound wall on private property. The wall’s deterioration was caused by trees on the public right-of-way. The 12 homeowners say they have gotten additional information from their consultants, which wasn’t presented in past discussions of the problem. No date was set for the hearing.
Playing Politics on the Public Time and Dime
Gillmor campaign treasurer and library trustee Lee Broughman asked the council to reprimand Council Members Karen Hardy and Raj Chahal based on complaints filed with the FPPC by fired city attorney Brian Doyle.
Broughman is one of the organizers of a self-styled recall campaign against Council Members Anthony Becker — who is challenging Gillmor for the mayor’s seat — Suds Jain and Kevin Park. Doyle has been threatening to sue the City for about a year.
Doyle and Broughman say that a Levi’s Stadium operations tour taken by Chahal and Hardy in 2021 was an unreported gift. They also accuse Hardy of accepting refreshments — a bottle of water — from 49ers management. Watanabe said the pair had no business being on an operations tour during an NFL game because “we have nothing to do with NFL events.”
“We have everything to do with NFL games,” said Chahal. “The NFL games concern public safety. We have been fighting over what public safety costs should be for NFL games. We manage public safety contracts for different agencies. For NFL games we do a lot of parking, which we are responsible for. These were the reasons why we were there.”
Chahal continued, “The FPPC has also informed us the following: ‘Please note that although a case has been opened, we have not determined the validity of the allegations made against you or the culpability of anyone identified in the complaint.’”
Further, he said, the City Attorney’s office had researched FPPC advice on the question, finding that venue visits weren’t gifts if they were for the specific purpose of gaining information necessary for public officials to do their jobs. [FPPC chahal hardy analysis 9-2022]
“You’re innocent until proven guilty in this country,” said Jain. “I’d be happy to agendize this after [the FPPC review] not before. Because you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
“Obviously I disagree,” said Watanabe, who repeatedly and incorrectly referred to the complaints as “investigations” and argued that the Council couldn’t wait for the FPPC’s review before punishing their colleagues; something Park called “political lynching.”
“While there is an FPPC investigation taking place, actions have been taken by this council,” Watanabe said. “Even though they are under investigation, and those decisions have had an impact on our City, and those lawsuits have now been dismissed. I know Council Member Chahal was not here at the last meeting on August 30. However, member Hardy was and she is also under investigation. And she was part of that decision making policy.”
Watanabe also disputed the City Attorney’s office analysis of the legal definition of a “gift,” saying “the information provided was not entirely accurate” and that Luis [Attorney Luis Haro] who prepared the memorandum did not have “all of the information.”
“I believe there are other policies FPPC policies that we’re not looked into that pertain to receiving tickets for events and who gives those tickets and so that was not taken into consideration,” she said.
Gillmor falsely claimed that the City Attorney was giving private legal advice to “certain council members” and demanded a grand jury investigation.*
Other Council Business
- Honored retired City civil engineer Benison Tran, 57, and his wife, Maria Tran, 42 who were murdered at their Dublin home last week.
- Proclaimed Sept.15 through Oct.15 Hispanic Heritage Month and September 2022 as Adult Literacy Awareness Month.
- Authorized a letter of support to the California Department of Housing and Community Development to fund phase II of the Bella Vista Inn affordable housing redevelopment.
Council Member Chahal reviewed regional and state transportation grants and progress on traffic mitigation and multi-modal transit projects.
*The last time Gillmor demanded a grand jury investigation, in 2016, one was launched within weeks by a grand jury chaired by a political contractor to former Santa Clara Youth Soccer League president and Parks & Recreation commissioner Tino Silva, a Gillmor- and Related Companies-endorsed candidate that year for city council.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 27 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.