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Fee Schedule To Go Into Effect, Council Considers Giving Some Groups A Pass

The Santa Clara City Council discussed the changes in the municipal fee schedule and whether nonprofits should have waived fees. It also talked about efforts to get more parks and city streets into ADA compliance. 

Santa Clara is between a rock and a hard place.

During a study session Tuesday, the Council heard details as to the plan to update its fee schedule. The update discussed user fees — i.e., fees that cover a broad range of services such as licensing, inspection, compliance checks and use of recreational amenities such as community rooms and soccer and baseball fields.

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The increases necessary to offset City costs for services have been contentious.

The rock, in this case, is getting cost recovery for City services. During a time when it is still recovering from the crushing deficit brought on by the pandemic, the City is in dire need of every dime it can get. Its deficit is projected to balloon to $17.7 million in 2028. In order to make a dent in that, the Council previously approved adjusting its municipal fee schedule.

The hard place, as it were, is avoiding giving youth sports and nonprofits an incentive to move operations elsewhere or, worse yet, crushing interest in something the Council very much sees as a value to the City.

Many users of City-owned amenities such as the senior center and baseball parks have complained that the new fee schedule puts undue burden on them. Meanwhile, the Council has said it prides itself on offering public amenities to residents.

Last year, much-lauded baseball tournaments held at Washington Park got special dispensation, exempting them from a sky-high fee. However, this year, organizers had to cancel the tournaments under the weight of the fees.

Even Santa Clara’s own Sister Cities organization hosts its meetings in San Jose, something Council Member Kevin Park, who is on Sister Cities, called “a shame.”

“I don’t mind trying to get cost recovery back, but when we look at the benefit, like what we are getting? I don’t know that the benefit to me is worth the hassle to the residents,” Park said.

Terry Madsen, president of ClearSource, a financial consultant hired by the City to work on the fee schedule, told the Council that the 1,000 fees it has in place are typical for a city its size.

A large portion of fees will either decrease, not increase or see a 10% or $10 increase, Madsen said. Only roughly 11% of fees are set to increase more than 10%, mostly due to changes in service, or increases in equipment or supply costs. Further, the City is adding 22 new fees.

“The idea is that, in general, when we recover our costs of service from these direct services, we free up the general fund to be used to provide services of broad communitywide benefit,” Madsen said.

A sticking point was the addition of a fee for use of sports fields. Until the Council updated its fee schedule in 2023, the City didn’t charge for use of those fields. Now, the City charges $14 an hour, which, Madsen said, puts Santa Clara in line with its neighbors.

But that hourly rate does tell the whole story. As Park noted, after-hours use of community rooms or hosting events such as the Washington Park baseball tournaments requires City employees’ time, which can get costly very quickly.

Council Member Raj Chahal said he would like the City to subsidize nonprofits. Mayor Lisa Gillmor echoed Chahal’s sentiment, saying that she doesn’t mind being an outlier when it comes to eliminating fees for nonprofits and youth sports.

Gillmor went on to say that when she sees the impact the fees are having on youth sports, she doesn’t like what she sees.

“I know we are doing something wrong,” she said. “I don’t see how it has improved anything.”

City Manager Jovan Grogan said the City has already heavily subsidized youth sports to the tune of roughly 80%. Further, eliminating fees for some groups creates an equity issue, he said, which might lead other groups to question why they need to pay full cost.

Considering the structural deficit, Grogan said if the Council intends to eliminate fees for some groups, he would like the opportunity to present the long-term financial impact of doing so prior to a decision.

Mike Walke, president of the Santa Clara Police Activities League, told the Council that the fees affect nonprofits “immensely.” He implored the Council to look at the “human factor.”

“We would have to charge each child in our programs an additional $75, $80 on top of what we already charge,” Walke said. “These costs are being passed on, and it’s not fair to the kids. That is what you need to think about.”

The fee schedule will return to the Council April 23 for adoption.

City Charters Course To Full ADA Compliance

The only other item on the agenda Tuesday was another study session, this one updating the Council on the City’s plan to determine how accessible public buildings, parks and rights of way — things such as streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, railroad crossings — are to the disabled.

As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the City is required to determine where barriers for disabled people exist within the City and establish a plan to ameliorate them.

Craig Mobeck, director of public works, told the Council the City has not done so since the early 1990s, but a change in the law requires cities to do so every 10 years.

Mobeck said the City held a workshop and ranked ADA accessibility by priority based on a variety of considerations. Among those considerations was the amount of complaints, level of use and access to services essential to citizen responsibility.

Cost for addressing the City’s needs for parks and buildings is an estimated $13.3 million. Bringing the City’s rights of way into compliance will cost several orders of magnitude more, roughly $745 million.

Those costs do not include ancillary costs to train or hire City employees to field complaints or provide assistance.

As daunting as the item appeared, Mobeck said addressing all the City’s ADA issues is a “long-range plan.”

While many areas of the City are not compliant, Mobeck said that is typical. It is simply a byproduct of ADA requirements changing over time.

The plan will return to the Council this summer.

Consent Calendar Spending

  • A $505,550 contract with Hot Line Construction Inc. for the Bowers’ Avenue transmission line project.

  • A $1.59 million contract with Hot Line Construction Inc. for the Stender Way transmission line project.

  • A $3.04 million contract with Tennyson Electric, LLC for the permanent changeable message sign project.

  • A $275,000 increase to the rehabilitation of Henry Schmidt Playground, transferred from the Mitigation Fee Act fund.

  • A $1.25 million increase to a contract with Mesa Energy Systems, Inc. for HVAC and chiller inspection at Silicon Valley Power. The total contract is now $2 million and allows the city manager to exercise up to five one-year extensions for a total of $4 million over 10 years through 2031.

  • A one-year $350,000 extension with the option for another one-year extension, for a four-year total, with Bear Electrical Services, Inc. for electrical repairs at Levi’s Stadium. The total contract amount for four years is not to exceed $1.77 million.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, April 23 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

Members of the public can participate in the Santa Clara 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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1 Comment
  1. Fred 2 months ago
    Reply

    So Gillmor wants to give her youth soccer teams a pass? Any conflict of interest here? Asking for a friend.

    Hey, maybe she can ask the 49ers for some funds?

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