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Sunnyvale Council Confident In Its Environmental Goals

The Sunnyvale City Council remained optimistic that it could meet its environmental goals amid skepticism that some aspects of its most recent plan are unachievable.

At its most recent meeting last week, the council adopted its climate action playbook. The plan takes a serious look at various aspects of the city and aims to nudge them toward looming sustainability goals. It forecasts the city’s environmental vision through 2028.

Big pillars in that plan include promoting clean energy, decarbonizing buildings, striving toward sustainable land use and managing city resources such as water conservation, increasing green space and reducing waste.

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Ramana Chinnakotla, environmental services director, said the city is looking to partner on water reuse and expand recycled water use and quality to be able to use it for more things.

Other, less crisply defined goals, include empowering the community and adapting to climate change.

The area of most skepticism was the city’s transportation goals. Since the city has the least control over transportation, many doubted whether its goal for electrifying vehicles was reasonable. Further, some questioned if it would be able to ensure a traffic demand management plan — a set of policies that aims to improve the efficiency of public transit and reduce driving — would be effective.

Since the city has no control over the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) or CalTrans and cannot force people to purchase electric vehicles, declarations that it can meet goals on these fronts are speculative.

As Council Member Alysa Cisneros noted, what the city is striving for is “behavioral changes,” which, she said, “are difficult.”

Many on the council called the plan “bold” and “ambitious.”

Although only 8% of vehicles on the road in Sunnyvale are electric, according to the report, the city is striving for 40% of such vehicles being electric by 2030.

Bruce Paton, who has served on the sustainability commission, called the plan “a real model of community outreach,” adding that it has a “well-articulated theory of change, real accountability, clear ownership.”

However, Paton also noted that the transportation component has “additional work to do,” “doesn’t address all that needs to be addressed” and “has no real transparency.” Somebody working for the city need to be accountable for some aspects of that.

“I am really impressed to the extent to which the staff has really gone out and listened and adjusted the plan based on that,” he said. “Somebody needs to have responsibility for making data visible, making strategies clear and helping the public understand the game plan.”

The playbook strives 58% less greenhouse gas emissions when compared to 1990 levels by 2030. That goal increases to 85% by 2040.

To support these efforts, the plan funds four positions, at a cost of $800,000 a year. Additionally, $2.1 million in one-time costs — $1.7 million over the four years the plan forecasts — will go toward consulting, advertising and materials.

Madeline Khair, environmental programs manager, told the council that the plan will aim to improve infrastructure for electric vehicles in hopes of incentivizing their use.

Many public commenters, most of whom were on the youth climate action committee, emphasized the need to improve public transit to encourage people to use it.

Council Member Richard Mehlinger said the city doesn’t have “a lot of levers to encourage” something like electric vehicle use. That “bold” and “ambitious” approach is necessary because climate change is “the great existential risk facing our world today.”

“I would prefer us to set high targets and fall a bit short than to set easy targets and pat ourselves on the back,” he said.

Mayor Larry Klein called the goals “aggressive but realistic.” Adoption of the plan passed unanimously.

Voters To Decide Whether They Will Pay For New Sunnyvale Library

Sunnyvale voters will be asked to approve a $290 million bond in November. The bond aims to fund a new main library. If passed, the bond will increase property taxes by $27.47 per $100,000 of assessed value.

To pass, the bond must see a two-thirds majority. A state ballot measure on the same ballot, if passed, would decrease the threshold for approval to 55%.

The ballot language specifies that the new library will be “modern,” “sustainable” and “earthquake-safe.” The library does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or earthquake safety specifications.

Further, the bond specifies that the money will go to “expand spaces for collections, events for children and seniors” and improve “plumbing, electrical [and] roofing.”

Mehlinger said a new library will take too long without the measure, producing a “less robust” version if paid for through other means.

“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “The maintenance issues in the current main library are substantial. It is not up to the standards of libraries in other communities nearby. A new main library would be a tremendous boon to our city.”

The motion passed unanimously, with the council writing a proposal supporting the measure through a subcommittee composed of Klein, Mehlinger and Council Member Russ Melton.

Rates, Sunnyvale Top Brass Salaries Increase

Sunnyvale’s top brass got a bump to their salary scale. Because directors and executives are not part of a bargaining unit. As a result, the council must approve increases to their salary range. This strategy aims to avoid salary compaction.

The council approved a 6.33% increase to the salary range. The bump is not automatic and needs approval by the city manager.

The council also approved an increase in maintenance cost for the downtown parking district. To cover the cost of basic maintenance of downtown properties, the city levies a tax on property owners. In exchange, property owners do not have to provide parking onsite.

The 2.4% increase will bring in $293,000 to the city.

Utility rates will also see a small increase. Water, sewer and solid waste rates will increase by 4%, 9% and 4.5% respectively. Projections estimated the sewer rates would increase 7.5%. Water rate projections were accurate, and solid waste rates were .5% lower than expected.

Tim Kirby, finance director, said regulation was one of the primary drivers for sewer rates increasing at a higher-than-expected clip.

To have users overturn the council’s ability to increase rates, the city would need to receive 15,700 protests. As of the meeting last week, the city received 70 protests.

City of Sunnyvale Consent Calendar Spending

  • A $100,000 amendment to a four-year contract with EOA, Inc. for fecal indicator bacteria monitoring and source identification. Total contact amount is now $330,351.
  • A $750,000 contract with Peterson Power Systems, Inc. for on-call engine maintenance and repair.
  • A $1.95 million contract with O’Grady Paving, Inc. for pavement rehabilitation.
  • A $350,000 contract with West Valley Staffing Group for on-call temporary personnel services for the community development department.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, July 9 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 456 W. Olive Ave. in Sunnyvale.

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