The City Council that will be seated next month is a night and day change from any other Santa Clara Council in history.
First, three of seven Councilmembers are Asian-Americans — proportional to the Asian-American population of the City (40 percent).
Second, an unprecedented five of the seven Councilmembers were elected without the endorsement of the Santa Clara Police Association PAC and the Firefighters PAC. And those five were elected without Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s endorsement.
Here are some of the changes residents could see in the next few months.
On the Dais
Immediately, residents will likely see more civil dialogue on the dais. Currently, sources say, Gillmor and Watanabe won’t even say ‘hello’ to Councilmembers Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy. Business will be conducted more transparently, with far more public discussion and variety of ideas at Council meetings.
Gillmor could retain her leadership by extending the olive branch to the new Councilmembers and Chahal and Hardy. She’s a talented leader — she led very successful campaigns to build the soccer park and Levi’s Stadium — and has long experience in City governance that’s valuable facing the dual challenges of COVID-19 and a $34 million deficit.
But if she continues to be divisive and partisan, it’s likely that Council leadership will gravitate to another Councilmember with a more collegial style; possibly Chahal or Hardy since they’ve been on the Council longer and both are well-proven community leaders.
Budget and Operations
The budget deficit is the number one problem facing the City according to the candidate’s platform, so expect to see more aggressive action to increase revenue and reduce costs.
At City Hall, it’s likely that there will be less use of consultants and more work will be done in house. Top-level salaries are probably in for a close review and some executive changes may be in the cards.
The Council’s ban on cannabis businesses will likely be back for reconsideration; especially as voters approved permitting and taxing cannabis businesses in Santa Clara.
Expect a return to a businesslike, rather than adversarial, relationship with the 49ers, serious efforts to resolve current litigation and a return of the 49ers to Stadium Authority meetings.
The new Council will likely start developing a post-COVID stadium re-opening plan to restore lost revenue. Discussion of the weeknight event curfew will likely return, with discussion of possible one-off exceptions, which is already built into the Stadium agreements.
Development impacts are likely to get a more rigorous analysis, especially at the neighborhood level. Anthony Becker and Suds Jain add two recent Planning Commission members to the Council who are already on top of current projects.
Development projects are unlikely to proceed much faster or slower. Longer term, there may be an increased focus on a General Plan revision and more local area plans.
One thing that won’t happen: The soccer park isn’t going to be developed; it can’t be without a ballot measure, based on a 2016 Charter amendment.
Voting Rights Lawsuit and District Elections
The City’s appeal of a voting rights lawsuit judgment is one of the first issues that will likely come up. All of the new Councilmembers campaigned on their opposition of continuing the appeal, and Chahal and Hardy have said publicly they also oppose the appeal.
Another subject that’s likely to come up early next year is codifying the current six single-member Council districts. When Santa Clara lost a voting rights lawsuit in 2018, the City was ordered to change its at-large Council election system. However, the City Charter hasn’t been changed.
State law allows charter cities to use an ordinance to change Council elections from at-large to single-member districts.