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How City Council Spends Their Time

It’s no surprise that members of the Santa Clara City Council are busy people, often jumping from meeting to meeting and spending their days determining the actions and decisions needed to make the City a better place for residents. In an effort to move toward a more open government, Council has elected to make Council Member calendars public, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to access the schedules of those presiding over City government. The WEEKLY studied the calendars–from November 2016, when current Council took office, to June 2017–and discovered, outside of public meetings and events, the people who get the most face or phone time with Council are lobbyists, activists and developers. Here’s the breakdown:

*Unless noted, all meetings or phone conversations were attended by the Council Member without additional Council Members present. Some developers/lobbyists/activists met with multiple Council Members on the same day.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor

Since November, Related Companies has occupied the majority of the Mayor’s time, meeting with her nine times in the past nine months–not including the two additional meetings regarding the City Place project Gillmor had with Related’s lobbyist Jude Barry–bringing the total number of times the Mayor has met with someone regarding this project to 11. One of the meetings with Barry had Council Member Teresa O’Neill in attendance and one meeting was a pre-meeting with Related executives before Gillmor, Related and Santa Clara’s Assistant City Manager Ruth Shikada met with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Jose’s Director of Land use and Economic Development Ru Weerakoon and San Jose’s Assistant City Manager David Sykes. Barry also had one additional meeting with Gillmor and Council Member Debi Davis on Mar. 24 regarding the Project for Public Spaces.

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SummerHill Apartment Communities has met with the Mayor the second most frequently, having five meetings regarding various City projects–a stark contrast to the top time getter. Former Council Member and lobbyist Kevin Moore has had four meetings with the Mayor–one about the International Swim Center and three as an independent consultant for developer Republic Metropolitan with Republic Metropolitan executives. Two of the Republic Metropolitan meetings were also with Council Member Debi Davis. Both of these meetings were attended by Norman Mineta. Mineta had a phone call with Gillmor regarding the CalTrain station parking lot project Republic Metropolitan is hoping to develop. Republic Metropolitan had one meeting with the Mayor without Moore for a total of five meetings about the project. Three of Moore’s meetings with Gillmor have taken place since the first of the year.

Finally, The Core Companies, which is developing the former BAREC site, met with Gillmor four times in the past nine months, once with O’Neill.

Vice Mayor Dominic Caserta

Caserta’s calendar isn’t as comprehensive as Gillmor’s. The Vice Mayor records around a dozen meetings and events each month. Since November 2016, SummerHill has had three meetings with the Vice Mayor, followed by Greystar Apartment Homes’ lobbyist Kathy Thibodeaux–once with Greystar executives–and Prometheus Real Estate Group, with two meetings each.

Council Member Debi Davis

Davis has spent more time with SummerHill than anyone else on her calendar; meeting with the developer four times since November 2016, once with Council Member Kathy Watanabe. Santa Clara University has had three meetings with the Council Member–two with Assistant Vice President of University Operations Chris Shay, one of which was as a lunch meeting with O’Neill and SCU Presents’ Butch Coyne. Coyne has had one meeting with O’Neill and Davis alone. Davis has also recorded two meetings with Moore and Republic Metropolitan, both with Gillmor in attendance. Rounding out the top people meeting with Davis is California’s Great America, who met with the Council Member twice–once with Council Members Pat Mahan and Watanabe in attendance.

Council Member Pat Kolstad

Kolstad maintains a fairly light calendar and has not met with too many people more than once, except three meetings with Thibodeaux regarding the Freedom Circle Project–twice with Greystar executives, one meeting in which Watanabe was present, and two meetings with SummerHill.

Council Member Pat Mahan

Mahan, who rejoined Council after the November election, has met with SummerHill three times over the past nine months. Thibodeaux and Greystar executives, Prometheus and Great America–once with Davis and Watanabe–have each met with the Council Member twice.

Council Member Teresa O’Neill

Going back to Nov. 1, 2016, SummerHill has met with O’Neill seven times regarding various projects throughout the City–twice in November and the remaining five times since the first of the year. One of the meetings was attended by Watanabe. Since the first of the year, Related consultant Barry has met with O’Neill more than anyone else. Barry has had six meetings with O’Neill, one of which was attended by Gillmor and two of her meetings were related to transportation issues, which may or may not be about the Related project. Adding Barry’s four meetings regarding Related and the times Related executives have met with the Council Member, Related–in some capacity–has been in front of O’Neill five times since November.

One of Barry’s meetings with O’Neill took place on Apr. 28 when the meeting was listed as “regarding transportation issues; El Camino Real and Scott Boulevard,” which is currently where SummerHill is trying to develop a 151 unit apartment complex with 11,000 square feet of retail.

Local activist Kirk Vartan has also met with O’Neill six times. Two of the meetings were attended by Gillmor, Hosam Haggag and Gabe Foo, one regarding the BAREC site, stadium issues and housing, and the other under the catchall “City Issues.” Vartan’s wife and co-owner of his business, Marguerite Lee, sat in on one of those meetings. Of the remaining four meetings, one was with Gillmor, Haggag and Lee regarding Placemaking in Santa Clara, one was with Gillmor regarding the BAREC site, one was with Haggag, Mark Porter and Bijay Niraula regarding an “Innovation Incubator in Santa Clara.” The final meeting was with Gillmor and Lee regarding “City Issues.”

Council Member Kathy Watanabe

Watanabe has spent the majority of her time with SummerHill, recording four meetings–one with O’Neill and one with Davis–with the developer. Prometheus came in second, meeting with the Council Member three times–once with O’Neill. Great America rounds out the top meetings, visiting the Council Member twice, once with Davis and Mahan.

Developer Meetings

While most residents assume the City Place Project is occupying Council Members’ time, the calendars show that SummerHill, whose approved projects include the Lawrence Station development, is eating up most of the Council’s available meeting times. SummerHill has also met with Council regarding the El Camino Real and Scott Boulevard development as well as other unnamed projects and it is unclear if the developer is pitching projects or has been approached by Council regarding potential developments.

Prometheus is attempting to develop the former Moonlite Lanes site with housing. Some meetings are listed as “regarding development,” and it is unclear if those are related to the Moonlite Lanes project, which has been denied by Council or other City developments.

Republic Properties met with Council regarding a proposed student housing project and the CalTrain Station parking lot near SCU.

Additional Meetings

Vartan and Haggag have been extremely involved in the Council transparency initiative. Vartan also heavily lobbied for The Core Companies to obtain the BAREC site development. He has been involved with the Placemaking meetings and town halls held throughout the City. A resident of San Jose, Vartan operates a business on the border of Santa Clara and San Jose. Haggag is the owner of Santa Clara’s “Up” house and has taken an interest in creating a more transparent Council. He live-streams Council and town hall meetings from his Facebook page.

Council calendars can be viewed at http://santaclaraca.gov/government/about-santa-clara/public-calendars-of-certain-city-officials.

Others who have met with Council two or more times regarding City, planning, residential, transportation, business, election, sustainability or stadium issues include:

Gillmor: former Council candidate Suds Jain (twice), Howard Myers (three times), Rich Bonito (twice, both with Myers), former Council candidate Mohammed Nadeem (twice), Dorothy Rosa (three times), Carol Wada (twice, both with Rosa), Diana DeBartolo (twice), Chad Viso (twice) and Emma Hildebrand (twice).

Caserta: has met with no resident or business owner more than once.

Davis: has met with no resident or business owner more than once.

Kolstad: has met with no resident or business owner more than once.

Mahan: has met with no resident or business owner more than once.

O’Neill: Qian Huang (twice) and Mr. and Mrs. Skip Brossard (twice)

Watanabe: Qian Huang (twice, once with four other residents)

Editor’s Note and Full Disclosure: Recently, a news site has mentioned WEEKLY Publisher Miles Barber’s meetings with Council. While it is true Barber has met with O’Neill four times in the past year, only one was as a registered lobbyist. As of January 31, Barber was no longer a registered lobbyist. His total meetings–either as a lobbyist, resident or media member–with any Council Member are consistent with the amount of times other residents have met with Council Members and did not qualify him as a person meeting with Council frequently.

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