A policy proposed by a Civil Grand Jury report last year tore open wounds that have divided the Council since the election of — what political opponents have dubbed — the “49er Five.”
The report, issued in early October last year — just prior to the election, accused Council Members Karen Hardy, Suds Jain, Anthony Becker, Raj Chahal and Vice Mayor Kevin Park of being too cozy with the team. One of the numerous recommendations in that report included that the City establish a policy regarding operational tours of Levi’s Stadium.
The grand jury saw the tours as an indicator that the Council majority was accepting a quid-pro-quo to do the team’s bidding, so it urged the City to establish a clear policy on what is allowed. The policy, discussed Tuesday night, will govern how Santa Clara City Council members attend operational tours of Levi’s Stadium and the Santa Clara Convention Center.
But Mayor Lisa Gillmor and political ally Council Member Kathy Watanabe were still not satisfied. Watanabe said the policy is “validating” meetings between the stadium management and the Council.
Gillmor said she wants the Council to be “transparent, open, ethical, reasonable” and to “show the public we are doing their business.” She said the policy crafted by City employees does not achieve that, painting a scenario where council members would attend high-profile events to schmooze and “make sure the beef is tender.”
“I ask myself ‘What is the benefit of the public from this policy?’ And I can’t find any benefit to the public with this. It lacks transparency. It is ripe for abuse,” she said. “Maybe the [stadium] manager tells me some things in the meantime about how they want to limit police costs or how they want to take the parking at the soccer park or whatever they are going to tell me at the time. It smells. It really does.”
City Manager Jovan Grogan told the Council that the policy allows council members to attend up to two events at each the stadium and convention center a year. Those tours must be noticed on the council members’ calendar and must inform City employees 15 days prior. Tours would be accompanied by a senior City employee or high-ranking police officer.
Despite the policy, Grogan noted that the ability to punish council members for violating the policy lies with the voters or the district attorney. The Council is able to censure, admonish or sanction violators, which may include loss of committee assignments or City travel, Grogan said, but added that such actions “do not compel change.”
Many council members challenged Gillmor’s assessment that such tours have no public benefit, saying that understanding stadium operations affords members the ability to make better-informed decisions as to the issues faced there.
Becker proposed eliminating the ability to have guests on tours, which saw approval from most of the Council. He said Gillmor and Watanabe will not be satisfied despite calling for such a policy.
“We keep moving the bar of transparency,” he said. “You are damned if you do. You are damned if you don’t.”
Park didn’t like the idea that members could take tours during an event for which they bought a ticket, which the policy allows.
The council voted 4-3 with modifications.
Bike Plan to Eliminate Parking on Lafayette
Lafayette Street will see the removal of 22 parking spaces to make way for protected bike lanes. As part of a grant program through the Valley Transit Authority (VTA), the City aims to improve bicycle accessibility throughout the City.
To do so, the Council has opted to remove parking along Lafayette Street between Memorex Drive and Parker Court. The section has the only parking along the 1.4-mile corridor mapped out in the plan.
Michael Liw, assistant public works director, called the addition of protected bike lanes a “high priority” for the City’s bike plan. There are 233 spaces along the Lafayette Street corridor, and Liw said there is typically 9% of spaces available during peak hours, between 9 a.m. and noon.
Instead of moving forward with removing the parking from Lafayette Street entirely, the Council opted to conduct a pilot program to study whether protected bike lanes are a viable option. That study will cost $10,000 with another $250,000 forthcoming should the Council opt to return the road to its original state.
Hardy said the money spent to conduct the study — even if the City decides to keep the protected bike lanes — could be better spent, but she still supported the motion.
Roughly 10 members of the public supported City employees’ initial recommendation to simply install the protected bike lanes. Only one member of the public opposed it, citing dwindling parking in the area.
The motion passed in a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Kathy Watanabe voting against it, both citing resident concerns over the loss of parking.
Low-income Housing Project Headed for Santa Clara
The Council also approved issuing of $95 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund an apartment complex for the poor. The action allows the developer, Reno-based Pacific West Communities, to sell the bonds issued by the California Municipal Finance Authority to fund a 200 multi-family below-market apartment complex.
City Manager Jovan Grogan said the complex, set to be located at 80 Saratoga Ave., aligns with the City’s affordable housing goals.
Andrew Crabtree, director of community development, told the Council that the entitlements on the property have already been secured through a “streamlined” process and that the developer is securing financing. Further, he added, the issuance leaves the City without “legal, moral, financial obligation, liability or responsibility for project or repayment of bonds.”
The Council unanimously approved issuing the bonds.
Consent Calendar Spending
- A $442,624 contract with Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC for professional services to develop a comprehensive citywide Parks & Recreation master plan.
- A five-year $949,502 agreement with West Yost & Associates, Inc. to update the City’s water supply master plan.
- A $225,000, three-year extension to a contract with Schneider Electric Smart Grid Solutions for the City’s GIS system for Silicon Valley Power.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 19 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.