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Garbage Rate Increase Approved, Benton Student Development Still Splits Public

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After hours of talk, the Santa Clara City Council approved garbage collection rate increases ranging from 28 percent to 68 percent, part of which results from a Green Waste Recovery (GWR) contract for separating organic waste that became a contentious subject in June. The Council approved the contract 4-3 in December, but not without significant disagreement.

Council Member Raj Chahal, in light of post-COVID-19 economic pressure, on June 23 questioned going forward with the contract highlighting that the alternative — separation at the source, i.e. split or separate bin — would reduce costs to residents by about $2 million. On Tuesday, Chahal presented an analysis of the increases that the Council asked staff to review.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Assistant City Manager and Silicon Valley Power Executive Director Manuel Pineda presented the City’s rebuttal to Chahal, focusing on three points.

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First, the total increase on customers’ bills was only 10 percent more — 57 percent versus 43 percent — with the GWR contract. “The old rate was never an option,” said Pineda.

Second, the Council had communicated extensively with residents about the alternatives in a decision that was three years in the making and that residents said they preferred to pay more to separating food waste themselves.

Finally, Chahal’s analysis failed to consider $500,000 in added costs for the split-bin, costs for the split-bin alternative were only estimates and trying to renegotiate the contract would incur hundreds of thousands in added costs. In addition, renegotiation depends on GWR’s willingness.

The Council discussion was dominated by a testy exchange between Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Chahal that devolved into the Mayor refusing to allow Chahal to speak on the motion to approve the increases, saying he’d had “hours of talk,” and Chahal replying that the remark was “undemocratic.”

Gillmor repeatedly called Chahal’s analysis “eleventh hour,” to which Chahal replied that he prepared his analysis as soon as he received the information he requested.

The Mayor asserted that Chahal’s efforts to renegotiate the GWR contract was off-topic as the rate increase was the agenda item. Chahal replied that costs driving the increase were highly relevant and that alternatives weren’t presented to those surveyed with the rate increase numbers.

“I just want to remind you and everyone else that the action…was approved by a majority of the Council six months ago,” said Gillmor. “For you to say you’re the champion of residents and their garbage rates, you should have done that six months ago.”

Gillmor concluded by saying that the City was “going to have to spend money because of all this misinformation. Contrary to what some people say, our residents are very intelligent.”

Public comments endorsed Chahal’s efforts. “This might be eleventh hour for you [the Council],” said one, “but for residents it’s the first hour.”

Another, who had been part of the split-bin pilot in 2018 and didn’t like it, nonetheless said the Council needed “to fight for better rates” without the split-bin.

“When the pandemic hit, all of your jobs changed to protecting struggling residents,” said another. “I know one of you all makes $700,000 a year and it’s not a problem for you.”

And two described Gillmor’s remarks as “disrespectful.”

The motion to increase garbage rates passed 4-2, with Chahal and Vice Mayor Karen Hardy voting no.

 

Benton Student Development

A student housing development proved as divisive as it did last year when the Council opted to extend the exclusive negotiating agreement with the developer for a third time.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Council extended the exclusive negotiating agreement with Republic Metropolitan last year to develop the 2.6 acres located at 500 Benton St. Just as it did in November last year, the housing project — located near what the Council envisioned to be a new transit hub — drew praise and ire from the public.

Nearly 20 people called into the meeting to comment on the project, which will lease by the bed. Those in support said the development provides much-needed housing to the area and will add to the City’s below-market-rate housing stock.

“This housing helps everybody. It is supply and demand. We need more supply,” said Jerry Smith, coach of the Santa Clara University’s soccer team. “This alleviates a portion of that demand.”

Santa Clara owns 70 percent of the site with the Valley Transit Authority owning the rest.

Critics of the development said there has not been enough public input from people outside the university or VTA and that housing for students is not the best way to maximize the use of a transit hub.

Adam Thompson, with the Old Quad Residents Association, said the development is “exclusionary housing” since the rent is cost prohibitive for anyone who doesn’t get student loans and isn’t designed for families.

Jonathan Evans echoed Thompson’s sentiments, saying the City is essentially handing over public land to a private university.

But Mayor Gillmor said stakeholders will have an opportunity to weigh in as the project progresses, adding that it is “the beginning, not the end.”

“If we don’t move this project ahead, it is going to die. If it dies, I cannot even imagine when we could move ahead and get somebody interested considering the well, the parking requirements for the train station, for the police station, the density requirements, the affordability requirements,” she said. “There is a lot going on with this project. It is not an easy project.”

The Council unanimously approved extending the agreement.

 

ManCo Holds Public Safety Money, Says Board Owes $2.7 million 

Members of the Council — acting as the Stadium Authority Board — once again took issue with the 49ers Management Company (ManCo).

ManCo has refused to reimburse the Stadium Authority for $1.1 million in public safety costs until the Stadium Authority pays ManCo $2.7 million for non-NFL events.

ManCo claims the Stadium Authority is on the line for the deficit, but Kenn Lee, Director of Finance for the City, said he has still yet to see any documentation justifying the deficit ManCo is claiming.

Further, City Attorney Brian Doyle said understanding ManCo’s position has been difficult since it has claimed it will turn over the required documents after the pandemic but is also claiming it has not reduced its staff because of coronavirus, despite a lack of events at Levi’s Stadium.

“Legally, the stadium authority has no right to withhold payment to the city under Measure J for those public safety costs because Measure J absolutely prohibits the city from incurring those costs to the general fund,” he said.

Gillmor called the move a “clear Measure J violation,” and her cohorts on the Board echoed her frustration.

“To me, it doesn’t make any sense. I am tired of the games,” said Board Member Debi Davis.  “We are paying for people to work over there. So, once again, they are talking out of both sides of their face. They are wasting our staff time … I don’t know what the answer is. I feel like we are dealing with a bunch of children.”

As usual, nobody from ManCo attended the meeting.

 

Related Phase 2 Gets Go-Ahead

The Council also met Monday, when it discussed phase 2 of the City Place Project.

Andrew Crabtree, Director of Community Development, told the Council that the developer has met the requirements for infrastructure and that the second phase jibes with the master plan.

The second phase of the seven-phase development will tout 435,000 square feet of office space, 405,000 square feet of retail, 150,000 square feet of food and beverage, 50,000 square feet of entertainment, 220 hotel rooms and 500 apartments. Little has changed with Related’s 240-acre development since the Council last saw plans. However, one of the bigger changes was to allow traffic onto what was once billed as a pedestrian paseo.

Steve Eimer, with Related, said although there have been few changes to the project because of COVID-19, the company is ready to pivot if needed.

“We are very heavily involved in sorting out what sort of design and operational adjustments need to be made in order to deal with both the short-term and the long-term effects of this pandemic,” Eimer said. “They are going to be very far-reaching, which, frankly, works to our benefit. The timing is such that we can make the changes that we feel are appropriate and our experts feel are appropriate because we are not yet under construction.”

Chahal was concerned with the parking, saying it is inadequate. He also said he wants “concrete measures” for the traffic demand mitigation, adding that there needs to be penalties for traffic reduction not being met.

Gillmor assured the public that the City has not been dragging its feet on moving the project forward, blaming the delay on San Jose, who filed a lawsuit against the City for City Place project.

The Council unanimously approved the development area plan.

 

Miscellaneous Action From Both Meetings

The Council also rejected a request to agendize changing the zoning code for massage parlors Monday and approved moving forward with putting a transient occupancy tax increase on the ballot in November.

The Council meets again Tuesday, August 18 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

For those without the above access, the City cafeteria has been set up to accommodate up to 10 people at a time and public comment will be given from that location.

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