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Grand Jury Report Response Triggers Council Divide

As expected, the City Council was divided over its response to the Civil Grand Jury report titled, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council.”

The Civil Grand Jury required an official comment by Jan. 9, 2023. Interim City Attorney Steve Ngo said his office drafted the response with a compilation of comments made by council members at the Nov. 16 meeting.

“What I’ve tried to do is craft it in a way that was concise and responsive directly to each finding and recommendation,” said Ngo.

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Ngo asked council members to give direction on Finding 4, which asks the Council to issue a report on the security issues surrounding the 2026 FIFA World Cup matches at Levi’s Stadium. He wanted a deadline to include in the response.

Vice Mayor Suds Jain said it is difficult to determine the risk given the City does not know who is playing in the game(s). Mayor Lisa Gillmor pointed out teams would not be known until a few weeks/months before the tournament.

Both Gillmor and Council Member Anthony Becker pointed out that Santa Clara has not started preparing for the event, while neighboring cities are already laying the groundwork.

Meanwhile, Council Member Kathy Watanabe said former City Manager Deanna Santana brought up the issue of potential risks and was promptly fired.

“The day after she [Santana] brought that all up, she was fired,” said Watanabe. “We had a city manager that was very concerned and wanted to look at this process, but when she raised her concerns, she was dismissed as a result. The reason we’re behind the eight ball basically is that we have not had a city manager, permanent city manager for the last, almost six months and we could have been way ahead at this point.”

City Manager Rajeev Batra suggested the City “under promise and over deliver” on a deadline.

Ultimately, the Council set a deadline to have the contract for the FIFA bid by Feb. 1, 2023. A risk evaluation would be completed by December 2023, with the goal that it would be completed sooner.

In terms of the final version of the response to the Civil Grand Jury report, Gillmor asked if it was possible to provide a minority response.

Ngo said it would depend on whether the majority agreed to allow a dissenting opinion. He also said anyone is allowed to submit a dissenting opinion to the Civil Grand Jury, though it would not be the City’s formal response.

Watanabe said she did not feel like her thoughts and comments were expressed in the report. She was concerned that if the City refuted the Civil Grand Jury’s findings, the City would receive another rebuke in the future.

Council Member Raj Chahal responded it’s not the first time the City has refuted a Civil Grand Jury report. He also said when he was in the minority in 2018, he always accepted the majority opinion and it is not right to “cherry pick” now.

Council Member Anthony Becker said a dissenting opinion would continue to show a divide in the Council. He repeatedly said it would show “chaos” in Santa Clara’s political system.

Jain proposed including the outcome of the vote in the cover letter to show that there was a minority opinion.

Gillmor said she would not support the letter because, as she said previously, the Council does not have the ability to “police itself.”

Planning Commissioner and resident Nancy Biagini called in to say allowing for a minority dissenting opinion would be a “fair way to do it.”

The Council voted 4-2 in favor of the Civil Grand Jury report response with Gillmor and Watanabe voting “no.” The cover letter will include details of the final vote, noting that two members of the Council disagreed with the response.

Second Response to Civil Grand Jury Ballot Measures Report

The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report was one of two Civil Grand Jury reports the City Council replied to during its Thursday meeting.

The Council was also required to reply to a report on ballot measures titled “If You Only Read the Ballot, You’re Being Duped.” The report claimed that voters primarily rely on the language of the ballot measures when making decisions.

The report found that the wording of ballot measures was “unregulated at the local level” and recommended that local governments within Santa Clara County, including the City of Santa Clara, submit themselves to oversight by the County.

City staff asked Council to reject the recommendations, saying they are “unwarranted” and “unreasonable.” The drafted response says County Counsel has no legal jurisdiction in this matter and that Santa Clara has and will continue to adhere to state election guidelines in regards to ballot measures.

Council members approved the draft response unanimously.

Written Petition Regarding HVAC Noise

Joseph Goschy asked the Council to add an item to a future agenda regarding the noise produced by an HVAC unit at a neighboring apartment building. Goschy says the unit is so loud it disrupts his sleep and it exceeds City code.

The Council agreed to refer the item to the City Manager’s office for review and hear the item at a future meeting.

Consent Calendar and Other Business

Council Member Kevin Park was not present at the public meeting, though he did attend a portion of the closed session. He was excused by a unanimous vote.

Jain pulled consent calendar item 2B regarding a contract for repairs at Eddie Souza Park to a building damaged by a fire. He wanted clarification about what happened and if plans include deterrents such as a sprinkler system and better security.

City Manager Rajeev Batra said he does not have details on the fire itself. The repairs were delayed because the insurance company was initially working with its own contractors but ran into issues and turned to the City. The City had to complete a request for proposals process before approving a contractor.

Batra said he believes the contract was only to replace what was damaged but he will look into whether sprinklers can be added.

Chahal asked City staff to look at a process to streamline future repairs since the building has been out of commission since the fire happened in Nov. 2021.

City staff says it will look at the potential of receiving reimbursement from the insurance company in the future instead of waiting for funding.

The item was approved.

The Council also approved the following consent calendar items:

  • Adopted a resolution to delegate authority to the City Manager/Executive Officer to approve project-related documents between Dec. 14, 2022 and Jan. 9, 2023.
  • Allow the City Manager to negotiate and execute a license agreement with Related Santa Clara for temporary right of entry to the Tasman Garage at 2525 Tasman Dr. to build pedestrian and vehicle connections to the Related Santa Clara project.
  • Agreement with Alta Planning + Design, Inc. for $285,669 for the Benton Bicycle Lanes project and $263,700 for the Monroe Street Class II Buffered Bikeway project, not to exceed $549,369.
  • Agreement with Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. for professional bike planning services for the De La Cruz Boulevard Class IV Bikeway project not to exceed $250,083.
  • Agreement with TJKM Transportation Consultants for professional bike planning services for Walsh Avenue Class IV Bikeway project not to exceed $301,708.
  • Allow the City Manager to execute First Amendment to Disposition and Development Agreement with Related Santa Clara.
  • Allow the City Manager to execute the First Amendment to Landfill Post-Closure Operation and Management Agreement.

The next City Council meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022 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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