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Santa Clara City Desk: Jan 1, 2014

Electric Rates Up 5 Percent

When your next electric bill comes, it will be five percent higher. So you may want to think about dialing down your electricity use now.

After three years of flat rates, the 2014 increase results from increases in Silicon Valley Power’s operating costs. Looking ahead over the next five years, however, the cost curve will start trending downward. The utility’s new phase-shifting transformer will save the city millions in transmission costs, and the price of electricity from renewable sources – solar, wind, hydro, and landfill gas – is also dropping.

SVP is also exploring ways to realize more revenue from its electrical generation investments, and selling its excess greenhouse gas emissions credits. And the city-owned utility’s automated smart metering system will further reduce operating costs.

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Council Approves Funds to Increase Public Participation in City Governance

Twenty-three hundred years ago the philosopher Aristotle observed, “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.”

So what does that mean in practice in 2013 in municipal governance? Well one thing is the Santa Clara City Council’s vote at its last meeting of 2013 to appropriate $60,000 on programs that support is strategic objective to increase participation and community engagement in City governance. In the coming year, the activities will focus on voter registration and increasing citizen commission involvement. Program implementation will be the responsibility of the City Clerk’s Office.

“The program is a solid collaboration between the City Council, the City Manager’s Office and the City Clerk’s Office,” says Santa Clara’s City Clerk Rod Diridon Jr. “The City Council set the policy goal of enhanced community engagement, the City Manager identified the funding and supports the program, and the Clerk’s Office provides the implementation. It’s the type of teamwork that continues to foster government at its best here in Santa Clara.”

To foster new voter registration, the city will be sending a direct mail to every household in the city – in six major minority languages as well as English – about how and where to register to vote, Diridon explained at the Dec. 17 Council meeting. This will be followed up with an insert in utility bills, and advertisements in local newspapers, including minority language newspapers. Plus, a special insert will be sent with every new utility customer’s bill to remind people moving to Santa Clara that they need to re-register to vote.

The city has also planned outreach to each of the city’s high schools. “Civics teachers have indicated that they will partner with us, and will provide additional, mulit-lingual material for students and their parents,” Diridon told the Council. “That will make sure that we outreach continuously to people who are newly eligible to vote.”

Engaging more participation in Santa Clara city commissions is a different kind of challenge. First, the city is going to make it easier to apply, with a streamlined website that will let applicants complete and submit applications online.

The city is also looking to engage graduates of current city programs – such as Leadership Santa Clara, Citizen’s Police Academy, and Home Emergency Assistance team (HEAT) – as well as launching an active outreach to community organizations and service clubs that are already working in the community.

The city also has a database of former commissioners as a starting point for recruitment. “The most efficient way we recruit is through former commissioners recommending people to apply to a commission,” explained Diridon.

Also on the agenda is a revamp of the city’s campaign practices ordinance, which City Attorney Ren Nosky has indicated an interest in. The City Clerk’s office will also be increasing its voting statistics from 10 to 20 years of data. The City has already partnered with a San Jose State professor for data assessment part of the study, according to Diridon.

Residents will also see a continuation of Council study sessions in the coming year, starting with two concerning proposed plastic bag and polystyrene foam food-ware bans – which would be part of meeting Santa Clara’s 40 percent trashload reduction goal. The meetings will be:

  • Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 6 p.m., Margie Edinger Room, Central Library on Homestead Road
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 2 p.m., Bowers Park – Park Building 2582 Cabrillo Ave.

2014-15 Agreements Inked With City Bargaining Units 578, 4, 6, and 9 – No Increases

At the Dec. 17 meeting, the Council voted unanimously to approve Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with Employee Units 578 (City of Santa Clara Employees Association), 9 (Unclassified Miscellaneous Management), 6 (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Local 101) and 4 (Engineers of the City of Santa Clara).

All contracts are for two-year terms, and include no increases except step agreements. They also include a 2.4 percent cell phone stipend and four additional paid holidays between Christmas and new year – all of which would sunset with the close of the agreement. The City will pay the health insurance premium at the Kaiser employee-only rate.

In addition, Unit 4 (Engineers) employees that maintain Engineering Certification will receive an additional $300 per month for the first full year of the contract.

RDA Dissolution Takes From the Most Vulnerable

Who would have guessed that one of the most significant casualties of the shutdown of California’s redevelopment program – which was supposed to benefit local services, remember? – would be those who struggle to keep roofs over their heads.

“Despite the obvious need for more affordable housing in Santa Clara County, available funds have significantly decreased over the past five years,” according to a November 2013 report from the Housing Trust Silicon Valley and Cities Association of Santa Clara County. “In 2008, a total of $126 million [equivalent to 840 units] was available to the 15 members of the Cities Association and the County of Santa Clara. This year, total funds for affordable housing are $47 million [313 unit] – a decrease of 64 percent since 2008.

“One of the primary reasons for the huge decrease in affordable housing funding is the loss of money from Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs),” the report says. “Additionally, the federal grant fund program called HOME has been greatly reduced, and the Sequester has also decreased federal funds for housing.”

“With dissolution of the RDA, there also went our vehicle for funding low to moderate income housing projects,” Council Member Lisa Gillmor observed at the Dec. 3 Council meeting.

Find the complete report at housingtrustsv.org/news-events/newsletters-reports.php

Santa Clara Receives Significant Program Grants

At the end of last year, Santa Clara received $228,000 in grants for maintenance at the city’s Tennis and Swim Centers, as well as police equipment:

  • $191,913 from the Citizens’ Option for Public Safety (COPS) for the Santa Clara Police Dept.
  • $25,000 from Lifetime Tennis, Inc., for court resurfacing at the Santa Clara Tennis Center at Central Park
  • 35 LED light bulbs (value: $11,228) from the Santa Clara Swim Club for installation at the George F. Haines International Swim Center
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