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Reopening Swim Center Remains Costly and Not A Priority For Most Santa Clarans

The Santa Clara City Council was told nearly $2 million was needed to repair the International Swim Center. While the public would narrowly support a bond measure that could help fund repairs, the ISC is not high on people’s list of priorities. Plus, after agreeing to waive City fees for nonprofit and youth sports, the Council walks back its decision and makes no decision. And, the timeline to bring BART to Santa Clara is pushed back again.

In order for Santa Clara to reopen the George Haines International Swim Center (ISC), it will need to spend $1.9 million. Those costs are one-time expenses, mostly for lead abatement, the fixing of gates to allow foot traffic to flow and replastering.

During a monthly update about the ISC, Cynthia Bojorquez, assistant city manager, told the Council that the City has already begun work on the canopy gutters and already fixed its broken boiler. Many more repairs are necessary before the pool can reopen. The news wasn’t promising for those hoping the ISC will be up and running soon.

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Still, Borjorquez said provided the Council is willing to invest the money, City employees are doing all they can to get the pool operational in a timely manner. If the City is able to fund all the center’s needs — from the aforementioned gate replacement, replastering and lead abatement to showers, providing porta-potties and a slew of other minor problems — it would be able to reopen with a 200-person capacity as soon as the work is complete.

A study session prior to the agenda item detailed the public’s willingness to support a bond measure for infrastructure, including building a new swim center. The topic has been a frequent one at Council meetings lately. With more than $600 million in unfunded infrastructure needs, it is no wonder why.

However, just as with the community survey presented at the Council priority setting session earlier this month, the results of a voter survey show that the ISC is not a high priority for most voters.

The survey, conducted by Tulchin Research, asked 400 voters how likely they would be to support two different infrastructure bonds, one for $298 million and another for $598 million.

Both proposed measures saw roughly equal support and, according to the survey, would barely meet the supermajority threshold to pass such a bond.

Still, those results make several assumptions. The first is that those who said they were “leaning toward yes” supported the proposed measures. Another assumption is that the City would engage in “positive messaging” to “educate” the public — doublespeak for “influence.” Finally, getting to the needed 2/3 majority requires ignoring the survey’s margin of error, which is +/- 4.8%.

Most everything voters surveyed said they would support included road-related maintenance, e.g., fixing potholes, street repairs, making the roads safer. Replacing the ISC was in the lowest tier of support initially and only improved slightly when those surveyed were given “positive messaging” to “educate” them.

Cost for BART Station Swells, Timeline Pushed Back Again

The Council also held a study session updating them on Santa Clara’s forthcoming Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station. The above-ground station is part of a larger six-mile extension funded, in part, by a ballot measure in 2000. The station, one of four along the stretch, is set to be located near Santa Clara’s Caltrain station.

Since its inception, the project’s timeline and cost have shifted considerably. In 2019, the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) estimated that passenger service would begin in 2026. Since then, the cost has also ballooned, increasing from $5.5 billion in 2019 to $9.3 billion just a couple years ago to $12.23 billion.

Tom Maguire, with Santa Clara VTA, told the Council that the station underwent significant redesign, both for aesthetics and accessibility. That redesign is more than 60% complete, he said.

Further, he added, the Federal Transit Administration — the government agency from which VTA is seeking grant money to cover nearly half the cost of the project, has assured VTA that the cost is appropriate.

“The inflation of labor, materials and construction contractors have affected every part of the construction industry, and transit is no different,” Maguire said. “Yes, while $12 billion is a lot to pay for a six-mile station, [the Federal Transit Administration is] confident that our costs are in the ballpark. They are consistent with the costs that other transit agencies are paying elsewhere in the county.”

John Haggerty, a frequent Council commenter, said he only cares about “dollars and dates.” Given the cost and delays in construction, he said it is time to consider whether the station is worth the trouble.

“We could have built 12 stadiums, 12 major stadiums, with $12 billion,” he said. “The Empire State Building went up in 13 months, with 1930s technology, and this is going on forever.”

VTA now expects to complete the project in 2036.

Youth Sports Still Waiting to Hear on Exemption

After a reconsideration, a substitute motion, a second motion and a final motion, the Council adopted the new municipal fee schedule. In a narrow 4-3 vote, the Council exempted youth sports from paying any fees. But, after Vice Mayor Anthony Becker, who initially voted “yes,” misunderstood a portion of the motion, the Council reconsidered and defeated the exemption.

But that wasn’t the end of things. Two motions later, the Council nearly came back to the recommendation from the City manager’s office.

During a previous study session on the topic, the Council weighed the public benefit of waiving the fees and its need to bolster the City’s general fund in the wake of the pandemic.

The topic proved contentious. Mayor Lisa Gillmor iterated her desire to return to the days when the City did not charge fees for youth sports and nonprofits. However, some of her Council colleagues disagreed with the idea of giving such groups a free ride. Council Members Suds Jain and Karen Hardy contended that “free stuff leads to abuse.”

Jain said the City is in the situation it is in with the degradation of the ISC precisely because nobody ever set aside money for its maintenance. He doesn’t want to see the parks suffer a similar fate, he said.

Gillmor and Watanabe balked at the notion that such groups could ever be accused of abuse, with Watanabe calling it an “insult.”

Kenn Lee, the City’s finance director, told the Council the new fee schedule will collect $37.3 million, most of which will go to the general fund. Most departments have increased their cost recovery. An exception is the parks and recreation department, which is heavily subsidized, only recovering 14% of its costs.

While that number is higher than it used to be, Lee said it is still lower than the 23% average in neighboring cities.

“We shouldn’t be concerned about cost recovery. That is just a service we provide, for our community, for our kids, for seniors and others,” Gillmor said. “We want to encourage them to live nice, healthy lifestyles in our community. It is not about making money for us.”

City employees told the Council that the City collects $115,000 in field use fees a year, but the initial exemption was for all nonprofit and youth sports fees. Although City employees were not able to quantify how much subsidizing the groups would cost the City, the motion still passed, with Jain, Hardy and Park voting “no.”

After Becker’s consideration, a substitute motion amended the exemption to include only the youth sports and nonprofit fees detailed during the presentation, i.e., those that amounted to $115,000.

The Council defeated that motion, with Becker joining Jain, Hardy and Park in dissenting.

Jain then moved to adopt the fee schedule as recommended and directed City employees to return with details about exempting youth and nonprofits from fees.

The Council defeated that motion.

Gillmor took umbrage with the reconsideration, saying it looked “really bad” that the Council let several groups that spoke during public comments leave thinking they got an exemption. She said she was “disgusted.”

Finally, Watanabe proposed another motion, nearly identical to Jain’s with minor changes.

The Council passed that motion in a 6-1 vote, with Gillmor voting against it. After the vote, she congratulated the City employees sardonically.

The new municipal fee schedule goes into effect July 1.

Consent Calendar Spending

  • A $507,546 amendment to a contract with David L. Gates & Associates, Inc. for the rehabilitation of Henry Schmidt Park.
  • A $138.880 amendment to a contract with Life Scan Wellness Center for occupational medical services for the fire department.
  • A six-month $280,000 extension to a contract with InfoSend, Inc. for utility bill print and mail services.
  • A $35.696 extension to a contract with Accela, Inc. for subscription and support of the Citizen Request Management software. Total contract amount: $254,410.
  • A $50,000 contract with Daniel Keen, a consultant, through 2025 to evaluate the performance of the city attorney and city manager. The contract has two one-year options at the mayor’s discretion.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, May 7 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.

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6 Comments
  1. Green Mountain 1 month ago
    Reply

    The bond measure, at $298 or $598 million will never garner enough support to pass. Presented by a city manager that has been here less than a year, and has no track record of success in Santa Clara, it is doomed to fail if they insist on moving forward to the November ballot. There are no specific uses noted for this large amount of money. As far as I can tell there are not many pressing needs. Our roads seem to be in good shape, better than most cities. City workers don’t need upgraded facilities with the exception of a couple of fire stations. If they don’t change course and look at the other ideas to create revenue besides issuing an enormous bond, the November election will feature a failed bond measure, a failed Charter Amendment change, and incumbent city council members being voted out of office.

    • Buchser Alum 4 weeks ago
      Reply

      Green Mountain,
      .
      There is very little potential for major revenue increases without bonds and or taxes.
      .
      The stadium hopefully should be making a few million dollars per year in profits for the city but only that. Mayor Gillmor has talked about her hope that the Related development will contribute significant new revenues but I think she makes an overoptimistic case for this. I believe that the development has had sales tax generating uses greatly scaled down and is now on balance much more office and residential than retail and we all know that property tax revenue ends up shrinking over time due to Proposition 13.
      .
      We tried to escape taxes with Proposition 13 but there is no free lunch. We either change that or raise taxes somewhere else to make up the funds we need to keep our public infrastructure in good shape. It is not in good shape and while it does not strictly have to be revamped right now every day that goes by without infrastructure work is another day without preventive maintenance or replacement and the cost of doing what needs to be done will only get higher.

  2. W.S. 1 month ago
    Reply

    In the City Council priority setting session held in early April, Mayor Gillmor pressured a city employee about the proceeds from non-NFL events at Levi Stadium that go into the General Fund. She wanted to get the answer on the record that the proceeds were $0. Just prior to her pressing this issue, the employee stated that there has been about $14million from stadium events put into the Legal Fund to pay for lawsuits the city has against the 49er’s. So, it is apparently OK to pursue lawsuits against the 49er’s but not take care of actual projects that affect the citizens of Santa Clara? With the $14million, they could have easily upgraded/repaired/rebuilt the ISC plus any number of other city projects instead of wasting money just for Mayor Gillmor to “prove” how bad the 49er organization is. The mayor needs to stop grandstanding that she is “going to win no matter what” and start spending ALL funds from stadium events on city projects.

    • Buchser Alum 4 weeks ago
      Reply

      W.S.,
      .
      From what I understand about the situation the stadium has been making a profit for the city in nonfootball events as of last year and is expected to this year. These profits should be considered profits even if they are temporarily held in a litigation contingency fund and Gillmor is wrong and being deceptive in trying to create the impression that the streak of the Forty Niners failing to manage the stadium to profitability has not been broken.
      .
      However whatever litigation is ongoing and which requires a contingency fund is not something to hold her responsible for. First of all litigation against the Forty Niners is neither automatically good or bad. Litigating and going to arbitration netted us millions per year in preserved and increased rent when the Forty Niners tried to argue for a reduction in rent. Litigation to force total financial transparency is good when the last third party audit resulted in the audit firm stating they could not do a true audit due to not getting all necessary information from the Forty Niners.
      .
      Secondly it is not Lisa Gillmor who leads a majority in either city council or stadium authority votes. The current council majority of Becker and Hardy and Jain and Chahal and Park has been the majority in control of the council and authority since they became the majority in early 2021.
      .
      If you have a problem with any pending litigation with the Forty Niners then do not look at Gillmor and Watanabe. Look at the other five who are the majority bloc on the council and authority.

  3. RJ 1 month ago
    Reply

    The BART project, like all other California projects will never come in on budget. Santa Clarans don’t need BART to get to jobs in the East Bay – the East Bay needs BART to get to jobs in Silicon Valley. Just like VTA, slumping ridership doesn’t justify the cost unless Taylor Swift comes to town once every six months or so, time to move on from this project. And the pool should just be scuttled and the site replaced with something of a more modern community benefit. The majority of Swim Club members aren’t residents of Santa Clara and, according to an article by David Alexander last month, just maintaining lockers rooms would cost $72,000 per year. The Club doesn’t raise enough money to pay for it. The ISC was built in 1966 with a projected life of 25 years, it’s now been 58 years with no significant structural improvements. BART and ISC are Gillmor’s cloak to hide her real objective which is sapping taxpayers for a general bond that will be redirected to higher police and fire salaries/pensions in exchange for endoursements. Replace Gillmor, cancel the BART extension initiative, and replace the ISC with something useful to Santa Clara residents.

    • Buchser Alum 4 weeks ago
      Reply

      RJ,
      .
      An infrastructure bond will have funds earmarked for infrastructure projects and not staff salaries. BART extension to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara as I understand is to be funded by county sales tax and bonds and federal funding not by the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara.
      .
      Lisa Gillmor cannot be identified as the decisionmaker at fault for decisions made in the last few years. There has been a five person majority running the show since early 2021 and that is composed of Becker and Hardy and Jain and Chahal and Park. Nothing has been passed or decided in the past several years without their deciding to pass it.
      .
      Finally Santa Clara is in the same infrastructure boat as many cities all around the state. Decades ago we all built a lot of sprawling cities and towns that use infrastructure inefficiently and then we all voted for Proposition 13 which wiped out much property tax revenue over time. Now the only way to raise revenues locally is to pass local bond initiatives or other local taxes or rely on the state to fund us through increased state taxes.
      .
      We all made the bed that we are currently lying in.

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