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Minimum Wage to Increase, Specific Area Plan Approved for Greystar Development

Santa Clara will have a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2019.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously to bump the minimum wage from $11.10 per hour to $13 per hour starting Jan. 1, 2018 and increase it to $15 per hour the following year. The ordinance would allow for a delay of roughly a year for businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

Many who commented on the wage hike said it was “not enough” to address the growing cost of living in the Bay Area.


David Urhausen, director of the South Bay Labor Council, called the ordinance the “right thing to do.”

Surveys conducted by City employees showed that 71 percent of the 300 respondents favor an increase in minimum wage, although only 3 percent of the respondents were business owners.

Council member Teresa O’Neill raised several questions, including what the impact of increasing the minimum wage for “mom-and-pop”-style businesses as opposed to “chain” businesses would be. Further, O’Neill wondered whether small businesses with thin profit margins would cut costs by investing in technology to replace workers, raising prices, or cutting employees’ hours.

Kirk Vartan, who owns a Santa Clara pizzeria, said, although his business is a high-labor cost business, he supports the wage increase.

“People just need to suck it up and realize it costs a lot to live here,” he said. “Consumers just need to smile and say that ‘I am happy to pay an extra 50 cents a slice.’”

City Manager Rajeev Batra said that O’Neill’s questions were “philosophical” and that the ordinance was the City’s way of “sending a positive message.”

The only person to raise any concern with the proposed wage hike was Howard Gibbins, who owns a hot dog stand in the City. He said when you raise the cost of labor, it “raises the price of doing everything.” He said the real issue is that the education system is failing young people, not allowing them to get higher-paying jobs.

Council member Patricia Mahan said she normally favors a laissez-faire approach to business policy. However, she said she supports raising the minimum wage.

“If the government never interfered with businesses, we would have no child labor laws, no collective bargaining,” she said. “There is a time and place for government to take a stand.”

The ordinance, Mayor Lisa Gillmor said, “speaks to who we are as a City.” “We are a working class City, and we are proud of it,” she said.

Historic Preservation Ordinance

The Council also approved moving forward with a historic preservation ordinance, which, Lee Butler, planning manager, said would add a new chapter to the zoning code and help “codify and provide certainty with the public and City staff.”

The ordinance would apply only to homes in the City’s Historic Resources Index unless that home is proposing a demolition. Minor alterations would be handled on an administrative level with major alterations to the home going through the Historic Landmarks Commission in addition to the Architectural Review Committee.

Property owners would only be on the Historic Resources Index if they chose to be.

However, Council member Debi Davis moved to approve the agenda item with the specifications that the ordinance require homes within 100 feet of a historic property to go through the Historic Landmarks Commission and to ensure all Mills Act properties, i.e., those with a historic exemption, be placed on the Historic Resources Index.

Butler said the item would likely come to the Planning Commission for a recommendation in August, and the City Council would likely see the ordinance for approval in September. Further, by consensus the Council directed the City Manager’s office to look into finishing compiling the Historic Resources Index.

Freedom Circle Specific Plan

Although the Freedom Circle site—located north of U.S. 101 and west of San Tomas Expy.—is not part of the City’s general plan focus, the Council voted unanimously to proceed with a specific plan for the area.

Four owners—Sobrato, the Irvine Company. Greystar and Marriott—own the land, which is predominantly industrial. However, the specific plan would set about converting the area to high-density residential and commercial use.

Greystar, a multinational real estate developer with offices in the U.S., Europe and Latin America, wants to develop a mixed-use complex with 1,018 apartments, 18,700 square feet of retail, 607,000 square feet of office space, and 2.5 acres of public park on 16.6 acres of land.

Butler said the planning department was unsure whether to proceed developing the specific plan with the Greystar development, which is seeking a general plan amendment and zoning change, in mind.

Greystar came before the Council in August 2015 with a residential development similar to the one on the books now.

Gillmor said the Council still has many of the same questions it did then, and said the specific plan is an “opportunity to be proactive” and “plan that area responsibly.”

Members of the public were quick to note that the office space in the development was disproportionate to the amount of residential units included, saying that building such a development would only add to the jobs-to-housing imbalance often decried in Santa Clara.

While the Council voted unanimously to move forward with the specific plan, a separate vote on whether to include the Greystar development in that plan also passed, although by a 5-2 vote.

Mahan and Council member Pat Kolstad voted to allow the Greystar development to proceed independent of the specific plan.

“We need the housing sooner rather than later,” Mahan said. “There is a lot of planning, and not a lot of building.”


Voters to Decide on Two-District Election System

The City Council unanimously approved (with Kolstad absent) a proposed Charter change to elect Council members by two districts, each represented by three at-large representatives elected in a Ranked Choice Voting Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system.

It’s unclear whether this system addresses the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit currently facing the City. Acting City Attorney Brian Doyle told the Council that the plaintiff has stated he will continue the lawsuit if the Council accepts this recommendation.

Nick Kwada of the Asian Law Alliance, one of the law firms that brought the suit made that clear. “Unfortunately,” he told the Council, “the committee is under the wrong assumption. Going to two districts will not protect you from lawsuits under the CVRA.”

The committee’s rationale for proposing STV, and the Council’s for approving it, is improving minority candidates’ chances of being elected by lowering the threshold for election. This is calculated by dividing the number of votes cast by the number of seats-plus-one.

Stadium Authority/Bids and Proposals

The Council also set dates for Stadium Authority meetings—which are now to be held separate from the City Council meetings—for the remainder of the year: Aug. 24, Sept. 19, Oct. 17, Nov. 14, and Dec. 12.

Further, the Council approved two bids. The first was a $477,000 contract to Gonsalves & Stronck Construction Company, out of San Carlos, for improvements to the police station. Gonsalves & Stronck Construction Company was the only bidder for the project, coming in 17.8 percent higher than the engineer’s estimate for the project.

The Council also awarded Daleo Inc., out of Gilroy, a $6 million contract—$2 million a year for three years—for the construction of new dark fiber infrastructure to support Silicon Valley Power and the maintenance of existing dark fiber infrastructure.

The Council will meet again 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave.

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