The Santa Clara City Council again delayed deciding whether to cut police and fire services, greatly impact essential services or all but wipe out its reserves.
In a continuation of last week’s discussion, the Council again discussed making a dent in the $42 million ongoing budget deficit brought on by COVID-19. Last week, Kenn Lee, the City’s Finance Director, told the Council that cutbacks are necessary in the shadow of a looming financial disaster.
In a nutshell, the City has to decide whether to allow cuts in police and fire to contribute $5.8 million of $12.3 million reduction of the City’s ongoing budget deficit. Alternatively, the Council could opt to leave police and fire untouched and instead diminish already stretched-thin City departments. Doing so, Lee said, would “significantly reduce essential City services.”
The only other option is for the Council to dip into its budget stabilization reserve, and pension trust fund and drain its land sale reserve.
Although Rob Jerdonek, chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, said the committee supported Lee’s recommendation, many public members called in to oppose it.
“It is absurd not to use those reserves right now,” said Patrick Walsh, a firefighter. “This is the City of Santa Clara, not the bank of Santa Clara.”
A motion by Council Member Karen Hardy to protect several aspects of the fire department, most notably ceasing the use of a fire engine and freezing positions instead of eliminating them morphed into similar consideration for the police department.
The amendment failed, and so did the original motion. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Members Anthony Becker and Kathy Watanabe supported the amendment but opposed the motion, causing it to fail in a 4-3 vote. Items related to budget amendments require five Council votes.
A subsequent motion to continue the item until next week passed unanimously.
Climate Action Plan Gets Boost
The Council also heard a report on its climate action plan. The plan details steps to come into line with state mandates surrounding carbon emissions.
The report recommends a more aggressive approach than SB 32’s mandated 40% reduction by 2032 and 80% by 2050.
Andrea Martin told the Council that non-residential electric makes up the lion’s share of emissions, adding that carbon neutral emission would get the City “partway there” to reducing greenhouse gases.
Council Member Suds Jain said Silicon Valley Power has fallen behind in how green and inexpensive its energy is. Although the City aims to be carbon neutral by 2045, Jain said it is “not enough.”
“The cities around us are doing far better at tackling this, essentially, existential crisis,” he said.
Jain proposed an amendment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2035, increased secured bike parking, a 25% reduction in vehicle miles traveled reduction from active measures, not just proximity to transit. Adopting an emissions tracking dashboard was also part of the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
Due to the length of the meeting — more than seven hours — the Council deferred a study session on the non-NFL marketing plan and possible action on the Stadium Authority budget to its next meeting. City Manager Deanna Santana said, because the Planning Commission’s meeting Wednesday, March 10 has been cancelled, the Council could meet to “catch up” on any deferred items.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, March 9 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