The job of a small city mayor isn’t an enviable one. Much of the job is about fixing potholes, keeping the water running, keeping streets safe and collecting the garbage. When they’re most successful, many of us take them for granted.
Now those yeoman mayors’ leadership is called on as never before as they respond to a devastating pandemic at the same time they’re facing demands for police accountability and oversight.
Last Thursday Joint Venture Silicon Valley CEO Russell Hancock had a virtual roundtable with three of these leaders — Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf, Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein — to talk about steering their cities through the new challenges.
The Cupertino Chamber of Commerce, the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, and the Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce sponsored the online event.
Traffic and Pollution: Maintaining Gains From Working at Home
COVID-19 has inadvertently shown a solution to one of California’s entrenched problems: traffic, which has substantially declined because tens of thousands of office workers are now working from home.
The challenge now is preserving improvements.
“How many high-tech companies have decided what percentage of their employees can work remotely [going forward]?” said Sunnyvale’s Klein.
“I’ve been talking to [County Supervisor] Cindy Chavez, to ABAG [Association of Bay Area Governments]. We’ve been having discussions about transportation changes,” he continued. “We’re considering an initiative to make sure as many people as possible can work from home at least one or two days a week.”
“If people worked at home only one day a week that would be a 20 percent reduction [in traffic],” said Cupertino’s Scharf. Cupertino already has a city shuttle and Scharf indicated that Cupertino was open to expanding service to other cities.
Housing: Addressing Urgent Needs and Continuing Long-term Plans
All the cities have extended the State’s eviction moratorium, providing further protection for vulnerable residents.
“The first night of the shelter-in-place order the Council met and allocated $250,000 for rental assistance to help residents,” said Klein.
“We’ve allocated another $700,000 since,” he continued. “We also put in moratoriums against evictions in mobile home parks and extended the time to six months for [back rent] payback.” Sunnyvale also offers financial assistance for out-of-work residents.
Planned housing development is still going forward despite the pandemic’s dislocation.
Cupertino’s Scharf noted that Cupertino’s plan for 2,400 housing units — 1,200 of them below market — in the Vallco Town Center is going forward after years of delay.
Santa Clara Mayor Gillmor noted that the Monroe Street affordable housing development going forward as well as other affordable units.
“We’re using federal money to amplify rental assistance programs,” she said. “We also gave a $30 credit to residents on electric bills. We’re trying everything we can to make sure our residents don’t become homeless.” On Tuesday, Santa Clara appropriated $1.3 million for rental assistance.
None of the cities have police review boards, but mayors agreed that the status quo needed review and likely reform.
“We have a well-defined complaint process that has worked for many years,” said Sunnyvale’s Klein. The question across the U.S., he said, is whether those review processes are actually effective. “I have committed to reform and having an open dialog about police review,” he said.
Because it contracts with the County Sheriff’s Office for police, Cupertino has a different situation, explained Scharf. “We haven’t had any incidents,” he said, “but we need to move forward, with Saratoga, and Los Altos Hills [who also use Sheriff’s Dept.] on looking at oversight.”
“We are the only city that elects our police chief,” said Gillmor, “so we have automatic citizen oversight. We will review our city’s use of force and other policies. Our new chief has come in at a very interesting time and will be facing another election in November.”
Santa Clara Police Chief Patrick Nikolai was elected in March, in an uncontested special election following former Chief Mike Sellers’ retirement.
The mayors also spoke about trail projects — many are continuing despite budget cuts and the pandemic. Sunnyvale is adding another $1.2 million to its budget for trail improvements, said Klein.
Klein and Gillmor also spoke about their cities’ small business grant programs. Santa Clara awarded over $1 million in $5,000 and $10,000 grants, while earlier this month Sunnyvale allocated $2 million for grants up to $15,000.
I live on the border of Santa Clara, Cupertino and Sunnyvale. I have been impressed with the responses of the three cities to COVID-19, policing, and housing, and am happy to see they are communicating. Unfortunately, living on the border I also see on social media (NextDoor) the vicious attacks on these volunteer leaders from a small group of pro-developer Cupertino folks (in particular, Mike M., Jean B., Joseph F., and Gary J.).