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Santa Clara City Desk: Nov. 20, 2013

Sports Complex Feasibility Study Gets Council Go-Ahead

At last week’s meeting the Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously to conduct a feasibility study of a new Youth Sports Complex. The council articulated the principles to guide the efforts, identified stakeholders in the ultimate decision, appointed a working group, and set a $25,000 budget to hire an independent consultant to evaluate the city’s options for a location.

An exhaustive list of “stakeholder” organizations will be consulted as part of the study, which will be done by next March, according to Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Director Jim Teixeira.

Ulistac Natural Area acreage remains on the list of possible options, although there has been considerable public discussion about removing it from consideration.

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“This is really a needs assessment for our community,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor. “I’m not in favor of taking anything off the table until we’ve heard from the other 30-35 groups on the stakeholder list.”

“I for one…was hoping for a [Council] recommendation that Ulistac shouldn’t be considered,” said Council Member Pat Mahan. “We [already] know what the pros and cons are. The pros are: it’s 40 acres [of open land]. The cons are: it already has stuff on it that’s important to Santa Clarans.”

Council Member Teresa O’Neill, agreed with Mahan, but would approve the feasibility study measure “in order to move this forward.” As part of the study, she said, “we’re going to look at costs. We’re going to look at needs. I don’t want to see existing open space taken away for a special purpose. When we get through a feasibility study, I think the process will show that Ulistac is not a viable option.”

In September, a report for a City Council study session included Ulistac acreage as a possible place for relocating the city’s 20 year-old soccer park. The move is necessitated by the traffic that will be created by the new Levi’s stadium.

The mere suggestion of UNA as a potential site for the park set off a firestorm of public comment – not to mention a new cause célèbre for stadium opponents whose predictions of municipal bankruptcy following in the wake of stadium ground-breaking have so far failed to materialize.

City Reports $15 Million Budget Surplus

Santa Clara is in the strongest financial position it’s been in for several years, and will be able to bulk up its reserves by $15.3 million, reported Director of Finance Gary Ameling at last Tuesday’s Council meeting. Of that, $12.3 million will be put in Santa Clara’s General Contingency Reserves, bringing that fund to $17.6 million. The remaining $3.0 million will be added to the Capital Projects Reserve, bringing that up to $13.3 million.

Several factors have contributed to the improved financial picture. First, revenue is up from sales and property taxes, development-related fees, charges for services and the Santa Clara Convention Center. Second, the fiscal constraints that have been in place for the last five years have kept city expenses in check.

Santa Clara’s policy is to maintain emergency reserves of at least 25 percent of the year’s general fund budget – enough to cover three months of operations. For the 2013-2014 FY, that target amount is $38 million. The current reserves are 11.6 percent, which would cover about six weeks of city operations.

Central Park Pond Getting Cleaner

Central Park’s pond will soon be less green – in color, that is. The city’s Parks and Recreation and Water and Sewer departments have been working for over a year to make the body of water more sanitary and less offensive to olfactory senses. The reengineered pond includes using recycled water, a pond water treatment system, and a natural wetlands filtration system in the central island.

The City Council also approved a contract to overhaul the Central City Library’s heating and cooling system to correct two problems. First the building is over-ventilating. Second, both heating and cooling systems are operating at the same time.

Deal With State DOF Resolves Part of RDA Funds Dispute

City officials have come to an agreement with the State Dept. of Finance that will resolve part of the now two year-long dispute about revenue and assets of Santa Clara’s defunct Redevelopment Agency: those concerning the RDA’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund (LMIHF).

The agreement with the DOF classifies that some $17 million worth of property purchases, loans and grants as legitimate obligations of the RDA – i.e. to be included on the Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (ROPS) paid from tax increment revenue – because they were entered into by the former RDA prior to the RDA Dissolution Act cutoff. These include the BAREC property purchase, the Presidio project loan, and loans and grants to several non-profits including the Bill Wilson Center.

In return, Santa Clara will return $38 million in LMIHF tax increment funds to county taxing agencies in an installment plan, with each quarterly distribution of tax increment revenue. As a county taxing entity, the city is entitled to about 10 percent of redirected RDA funds and will use that to make the payments. City officials estimate that the obligation will be paid off during fiscal year 2015-16.

The deal with the DOF doesn’t affect the ongoing dispute with the county about other city assets managed by the defunct RDA, including the Convention Center, Great America and Irvine project properties. However, this is the second RDA obligation challenge that the county has lost. The first was the $30 million earmarked for the new Levi’s stadium construction.

City Continues to Advance Affordable Housing Programs

Santa Clara has about $1.2 million available in federal Community Block Grants (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnership (HOME) funds for affordable housing grants in the coming year. In the past, these funds have provided grants for a variety of service agencies including Bill Wilson Center, Liberty Towers Methodist Retirement Home, Catholic Charities Housing Search Services, and the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center.

Completed applications are due at the Housing & Community Service Division Office (408-615-2490) Dec. 20, 2013. For more information, call Planning Director Kevin Riley at (408) 615-2450.

Despite the loss of RDA funding for affordable housing programs, Santa Clara’s Planning Department continues to look for opportunities to create additional affordable housing in the city, Planning Director Kevin Riley told the City Council’s Oct. 30 study session. The city is looking at:

  • Partnerships with non-profit groups for development projects that include nominal lease rates for city-owned land,
  • Subsidizing design, construction, permit and development fees, and operating costs.
  • Development on city-owned sites – such as the former BAREC and a vacant fire station – as well as some vacant private properties.
  • Promoting and matching funding from the Santa Clara County Housing Trust.
  • Direct funding of housing via partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley leadership Group to buy land and use HUD funding for construction and leasing. Revenue generated by the proje cts would fund future afford housing.

Requiescat in Pace

The Nov. 12 City Council meeting was adjourned in memory of Abel Azevedo, longtime resident and director of the Santa Clara Sporting Club. “He was instrumental in the success of Santa Clara’s soccer program…which provided thousands of soccer opportunities for children,” said Vice Mayor Pat Kolstad.

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