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Santa Clara City Desk: August 21, 2013

Democratic Club Honors Local Women Making a Difference

Next Saturday afternoon, at its 32nd “Women Making a Difference” Celebration, the Santa Clara County Democratic Club will honor three women with special ties to the City of Santa Clara: Bill Wilson Center Executive Director Sparky Harlan, Ulistac Natural Area Restoration and Education Project (UNAREP) coordinator and founder Jeanne-Michele Salander, and Heart of the Valley Executive Director Glenda Cressap.

Salander’s is a name that may not be well known to Santa Clarans, but it should be. A visual artist as well as a community activist, Salander has worked for almost two decades to preserve and restore the 40-acre Ulistac Natural Area. Salander was featured in a recent local TV news story about Ulistac, and is the co-author of “Silk Diary. An Artist’s Journey from Moscow to Mendocino.”

The event will be held at Santa Clara’s historic Harris-Lass museum on Market Street, with a barbeque lunch and a raffle for gifts including a weekend in San Francisco and a private wine tasting for 10 at the Byington Winery.

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“We are very happy to be honoring Sparky, Jeanne and Glenda,” says Santa Clara resident and club spokeswoman Shirley O’Dou. “These are women who are making a difference in our community every single day.”

“Women Making a Difference” is Saturday, Aug. 24 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. at the Harris-Lass Museum, 1889 Market St. For information, visit www.democraticclub-scc.org.

Library Supporters Tell RDA Shutdown Board “Don’t Pass the Buck”

The Northside library wasn’t on last week’s meeting agenda for the Santa Clara RDA Successor Agency Oversight Board, so the only action – by law – the board could take was to put the topic on a future agenda. But that didn’t preclude a discussion on it from taking up the lion’s share of the two-hour meeting.

The library is the latest Santa Clara public asset to be entangled in the county RDA clawback disputes following the 2011 shutdown of California’s half-century old redevelopment program. Work began in the spring of 2012 and the library was slated to open in December.

On Aug. 7 a California superior court judge granted then-county finance director Vinod Sharma’s request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on continued spending on the virtually complete library. The county is also demanding $19 million – the amount spent for the library’s construction – from Santa Clara.

The action provoked outcry from Northside residents – both in Santa Clara and San Jose. On Friday, about 100 library supporters – many with babies and children – rallied before the Oversight Board’s meeting and made a strong visual impression at the meeting with their orange “Save Our Library” tee-shirts.

Oversight Board Counsel Hilda Montoy summarized the situation, noting that all of the contracts pertaining to the new library were between the city and the library foundation, not the dissolved RDA or the oversight board. Further, the oversight board never approved or disapproved of the construction, but merely was informed of it.

“The oversight board is not a party to the lawsuit by the County, County office of Education, and Santa Clara Unified School District filed against the city,” Montoy said. “The court hasn’t ordered the project stopped…merely that no further money be spent. This board has no authority to ask for an injunction…[or to] order completion of the project.”

However, library supporters weren’t buying the board’s Pontius Pilate defense.

Calling the issue “Kafkaesque” and “a perfect example of the ridiculous nature of the dissolution act,” Santa Clara Finance Director Gary Ameling dismissed accusations that the city’s actions were improper or illegal.

“The land was donated [by Rivermark development partners] for the project. The parking lot was built. The city issued bonds in 2003 to fund the project…This all happened many years prior to the governor’s dissolution…the DDA [design and development agreement] was let prior to the dissolution act cutoff. Everything…was done in public session and above board. The county has sued us and told us to stop spending the money [and] the city is at risk because of the lawsuit.”

“I have heard this Oversight Board say it has no obligation,” said Library Foundation & Friends board member Mohammad Nadeem. “We all have an obligation to the community.”

And Northside resident Peter Ro wanted to know,” If you’re not responsible, then who is? I heard…all the things as leaders you’re not obliged to go do. Okay, you don’t have a legal obligation…So what can you do?”

Student David Chu pointed out that “It seems hypocritical to stop the opening of something that will raise test scores to fund programs to raise test scores. Tearing down the building will not return the $19 but it will prevent any benefit.”

Noting that $19 million is 0.45 percent of the county budget, and 40 percent of the money would go to K-12 schools, 26 percent to community colleges, and 10 percent to the city, Santa Clara Civil Service Commissioner Raj Chahal said, “You can play an active role by recommending or using your discretionary power [to declare the library a public purpose asset].”

“Thomas Jefferson viewed the library as important to an informed citizenry,” said Congressional candidate Ro Khanna. “People feel that if we can’t get a library [open] then something is broken in our system.”

“When you sit up there you have power,” former Santa Clara Unified school board member and current Library Foundation board member Emily Adorable said. “Don’t pass the buck.”

“We are the shareholders of the library,” said Library Trustee Peter Yoon. “The shareholders are telling you to open the library.”

Library Foundation President Jim Lyons continued that thought. “If we fail to do that, the only people who win here are lawyers. I urge you to take action. By declaring this building a public purpose asset at the next meeting, you can do so.”

The county’s representatives on the oversight board, however, were adamant in their position that none of this was their doing.

“The contract is between the city and friends and the agreement provides the full amount,” said former County Finance Director John Guthrie. “Any amounts to be paid on this agreement are entirely the responsibility of the city…This appears to be an enforceable obligation of the city…If it isn’t money under the purview of this board we can’t declare it a public purpose asset.”

“This was all really heartwarming to hear,” said Community College district representative Jane Decker. “Unfortunately this board has no discretion…this is the city’s responsibility.” One audience member remarked privately that Decker’s statement recalled “Alice in Wonderland,” where the Walrus tells the oysters he has just eaten, “I weep for you,” the Walrus said /I deeply sympathize / With sobs and tears he sorted out / Those of the largest size.”

“We have no authority to do anything except make recommendations,” said board Chair Don Gage, who is also Mayor of Gilroy, which some call a serious conflict of interest. “It doesn’t matter if they planned it a hundred years ago. There was no contract…which makes it totally illegal. This…is out of our hands…We’re not in a position to break the law.”

The county had at least one defender in the audience. “I also agree that the Northside needs the library,” said resident Debra Bress, a prominent spokesperson for the anti-stadium group Santa Clara Plays Fair, which supports the county on the question of RDA asset clawbacks.

“But you all are barking up the wrong tree. The people who caused this mess is the city of Santa Clara…They were so myopically focused on the stadium …They transferred this money illegally. The RDA had nothing to do with the library being built. The restraining order did not stop the building of the libraries.”

Responding to the charge that it’s the city holding the library hostage, not the county, Santa Clara City Council Member Lisa Gillmor (attending as an alternate for Mayor Jamie Matthews) said, “We cannot fund the library with a restraining order and a lawsuit [by]… the county, the board of education, the county – everyone who is trying to acquire our assets. It would be irresponsible.

“This library in its location is a regional asset,” she continued. “If we mothball this project, this is going to be the poster child for bad government.” Providing a clue about options under city consideration, Gillmor added, “The library sits on Santa Clara city land. I’m in real estate and I know that in the last few months lease payments have gone way up.”

To follow the county agencies’ and SCUSD’s lawsuit against the city, visit services.saccourt.ca.gov/publicdms/Search.aspx and search for case# 34-2013-80001396.

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