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Santa Clara City Observer: April 20, 2016

Santa Clara City Observer

Franklin Pedestrian Plaza Approved – SCU to Invest $3.3 Million in Community Arts Neighborhood

Santa Clara’s downtown revitalization is going forward, thanks to Santa Clara University’s plan for a pedestrian plaza on the 700 and 800 blocks of Franklin St. and half a block of Alviso St – adjacent to the university. And the City may gain something it’s never had – an arts district.

At the April 5 meeting, the Santa Clara City Council unanimously approved selling 1.9 acres of roadwayto SCU for $1.5 million. The land can’t be used for anything but a thoroughfare –the university can’t build on it. SCU committed to investing $1.8 million into creating the new pedestrian plaza, and will be responsible for maintenance.

Old Quad residents strongly favor the project. “This will be very beneficial to the community,” said Mark Kelsey. “We appreciate the willingness to upgrade, the transparency of the university, and their willingness to invest in our neighborhood.”

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Last year SCU unveiled its long-term North Campus Plan; continuing the ‘good neighbor’ development approach the college has taken in recent years and integrating new construction into the City. TheFranklin pedestrian plaza would lay the foundation for an arts district with a seamless connection from the new Art History building to SCU’s Recital Hall, Mayer and Fess Parker Theaters, and the Mission Church, said Butch Coyne,Director of SCU Presents.

“The Franklin St. area was a Native American Community near the third Santa Clara Mission, a German, the Portuguese neighborhood,” he said. “Now SCU blends its historic past with a contemporary arts future that defines the creative heart of this neighborhood. An arts neighborhood will draw the community together, inspire us all, and encourage participation in the arts.

“From the historic to the modern, the vision for Franklin St. is one of history, art appreciation, but most of all coming together,” Coyne continued. “A destination to be shared and enjoyed by our entire community.”

New $10 Million City Soccer Park on the Drawing Board

A new soccer park on Reed St. approved in 2014, is going forward. Silicon Valley Power purchased the land in 2014 and $7 million of the anticipated $10-$11 million in development cost has already been allocated.

The park will have five regulation U.S. Soccer fields, a 3,400 sf recreation building, and playground, picnic and spectator space. It “will likely increase the grounds maintenance and recreation staffing costs for the department by 1 to 2 FTE [full time employees],” according to the Council agenda report, but “the future operating costs and revenues have not been estimated at this time.” Planning Commissioner Suds Jain expressed surprise that the City would go forward without estimating operating costs.

Two-time Mayoral candidate and dogged City critic Deborah Bressdemanded, “Where is there any place where the people are going to be able to see who’s playing on the fields? I don’t know what good it is to have a game where no one can watch. Why are we doing more soccer fields first, when we have needs for lacrosse” and other sports? “Why are we spending money on something new when we haven’t fixed what we have?”

The City needs 30 acres of new sports fields, according to a Parks & Recreation Dept. study requested by the Ad-Hoc Youth Soccer Field & Athletic Facilities committee, chaired by Mayor Lisa Gillmor. The committee requested the analysis in 2014. At that time the focus was on building soccer fields at Montague Park.

For more information about the soccer field committee, search santaclaraca.gov for “ad hoc soccer committee.” The committee has no webpage.

Rehashing Stadium Disputes Overshadows Other Business

It was after 10 p.m. at the Apr. 5 meeting before the Council got to the report on a just-completed comprehensivestudy of the Santa Clara Fire Department’s effectiveness, efficiency and needs – similar to a recent study done of the Police Department.

Citygate Associates’ number one finding was that “The City Council has not adopted a complete and best practices-based deployment measure or set of specialty response measures for all-risk emergency responses that includes the beginning time measure from the point of the Police Communications Center receiving the 9-1-1 phone call, nor a goal statement tied to risks and outcome expectations.”

But instead of discussing Council responsibilities with regard to Finding #1, Mayor Lisa Gillmor wanted to talk about Finding #31: “There appears to be no special funding to reimburse the City for the extraordinary costs special event planning and staffing.” This launched an off-agenda discussion about Levi’s Stadium accounting procedures.

“I’m really happy to see we have a plan for taking us forward,” said Gillmor. “I think it’s great. You both did a wonderful job on this. I’m concerned when I see these findings.But I want our staff to be aware, if you’re aware of any of these [stadium-related] costs … bring them forward now so that we can start the process of reimbursement. Because all these numbers will come out eventually. When I see these kinds of findings I get concerned.”

Kelly anticipated this in his remarks, saying, “I want to separate stadium-related special event planning from this, because those costs have been …reimbursed. We’re not just seeing an increase for stadium events; we’re seeing an increase for other events. We’re seeing an increase for the Art & Wine festival, the Rotary Barbeque Championship, the July Fourth All-City Picnic.”

“I want to make sure you’re aware you’re not to be spending general fund money on stadium operations, subject to measure J,” said Gillmor. “In Finding 31 it says there’s been no special funding to reimburse the City for the extraordinary costs of special events planning and staffing. Tell me what that means.”

Kelly explained that the Citygatedidn’t understand that there is reimbursement for stadium-related expenses because there is no line item specifically for FD reimbursement.But stadium–related activity is captured and billed to the Stadium Authority (SA). “I’m certain of it,” said Kelly.

Following some questions from Council Member Teresa O’Neill and Debi Davis about the recommendations of the 130-page report, Gillmor returned to accounting.

“Are you as a department in charge of your own budget. Are you in charge of making sure your department gets timely reimbursements … when you bill the Stadium Authority?” she asked. “How does that work?”

Finance Director Gary Ameling explained the accounting process. All City staff have charge codes for work on stadium activities, NFL and non-NFL events have separate codes. Employees then use those charge codes on their timesheets for hours worked that are related to SA events.

“The accounting division runs a report out of the payroll system,” Ameling continued,”and compiles [totals] for each of those events and bills the stadium management company. The finance department monitors that [and it’s] on the accounts receivable report that you see each month.”

“I’m dumbfounded about what I just heard presented,” said Bress. “It sounds like we’re playing another shell game. Who’s got the whatever. I’d like to see Chief Kelly report who did what, when, the date and the time, and a document that’s says it was paid. Why is this such a big damn secret – unless as I suspect they didn’t do it. I hope the grand jury gets the bottom of this and people are getting fitted with orange outfits right now for this.”

Unsubstantiated insinuations that City staff – especially former City Manager Julio Fuentes – are dissembling about stadium accounting, have been made by Bress and some Council Members at almost every meeting since last Fall.

The 2016-2017 budget includes $200,000 for stadium operations auditing, plus new positions for dedicated SA staff – including contract administrators and accountants. This is the first time the Council has planned dedicated staff to oversee SA operations. No auditor has been hired so far – at least, no contract with an auditor has appeared on a published agenda or been approved in open session.

Formerly, the Council out-sourced stadium accounting to the 49ers stadium operations company, along with the job of monitoring the 49ers’ own contract compliance. The City has used the same model –”public-private partnership” – to manage the Convention Center. In the 1990s, then-Council Member Lisa Gillmor was critical of that arrangement, too.

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