The Santa Clara City Council approved $81 million in spending for utilities, kicked a plan to remodel a home in the Old Quad neighborhood back to the homeowners, heard details about a plan for a joint powers authority for the cities in Santa Clara County, listened to public comment about a planned AT&T cell tower near Bowers Elementary School, received an update on the City’s power supply from Silicon Valley Power and met with the City’s Youth Commission.
It would not be a Santa Clara City Council meeting without some drama and if you don’t have anything on the agenda to fight about, you create something.
During public comment, Special Advisor to the Mayor on Small Businesses and Worker Co-Ops Kirk Vartan took the podium to decry the lack of change following last year’s Grand Jury report regarding the Santa Clara City Council majority.
Vartan briefly slid in a comment about the council majority walking out during the closing music by the S.E.S. Portuguese band at the State of the City.
Council Member Anthony Becker took the bait. He responded to the public comment – something that is generally not allowed – by saying he was advised by City staff to head out and go greet the public.
That opened the door for Council Member Kathy Watanabe to get on her soap box. She said her impression was they were free to leave if they chose but it was “rude.” She said, “just because you’re told to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”
Council Member Kevin Park reiterated that they were advised to start leaving and then took it a step further by trying to point out rudeness on Watanabe’s part.
Taking the perfect set by Vartan and Watanabe and spiking it, Mayor Lisa Gillmor smoothly slid into her role of adult in the room and cut Park off.
With the mission accomplished, the council moved on to City business.
Council Approves $81 Million Expenditure
Buried as the final item on a very long agenda, just before midnight the council swiftly approved an $81 million expenditure by a 6-0 vote.
The action will allow the city manager to negotiate a contract with Hyundai Electric America Corporation for up to 12 high-voltage transformers. The money will come out of the Electric Utility Cap Fund.
Silicon Valley Power’s Chief Electric Utility Officer Manuel Pineda says the transformers are needed for future planning.
Even with a purchase now, the transformers are not expected to be delivered until 2026.
SVP Update: Data Centers Continue to Consume Power, Rate Increase on the Horizon
Pineda also offered an update from SVP. He says the City was approved for more power from CAISO, the nonprofit that manages approximately 80% of the flow of electricity in California.
One of the more distressing highlights of the report is that the City cannot currently serve all of the data centers that would like to be in Santa Clara.
Currently, the City is looking at 13 large projects that are entitled to 1,200 MW of power. While Related Development and Tasman East are among those projects, a majority of the 13 are data centers.
What’s more, Pineda reports that seven additional data center projects have completed studies to come to Santa Clara, five more are interested in doing studies and three others have started making inquiries about building in the City.
Pineda says in 2024, Santa Clara will have to look at how much growth is feasible.
The council will be asked to consider another rate increase for SVP customers on Dec. 5, 2023.
Pineda says rate increases for transmission access charges, the price of power and natural gas commodities, power purchase agreements and the higher costs of materials and equipment along with longer procurement times are all contributing to the need for a rate increase.
The council noted and filed the report.
Approval of 1485 Bellomy Street Remodel Stopped Short of the Finish Line
A controversial remodel of a home in Santa Clara’s Old Quad neighborhood did not make it past the City Council.
The homeowners want to add a second story to their home and turn the existing 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom property into a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home.
City staff recommended approving the application, saying the only reason the plans did not receive automatic approval was because they did not include a second covered parking space.
Neighbors spoke out saying the plan does not conform to the standards of the Old Quad neighborhood.
After a debate, council members agreed with neighbors. They asked the homeowners to “scale down” the plans so they “fit better” with the neighborhood.
When the new plans are in place, the request will likely return to council without having to go through the Planning Commission or Historical Landmarks Committee again.
Council Member Suds Jain recused himself from the discussion because of the proximity of his home to the property.
Joining the Santa Clara County Joint Powers Authority
The council received a visit from former San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who was there to talk about a plan to turn the Cities Association of Santa Clara County into a joint powers authority.
The Cities Association is made up of the 15 cities within Santa Clara County with the goal of using the cities’ combined efforts to support projects with a mutual interest for all cities.
Turning it into a joint powers authority would not change much. The new structure would follow the same budgeting procedures as the Cities Association and the price of membership dues would still depend on the size of the city.
The value proposition of the change from Cities Association to joint powers authority is that it would provide the cities with a “collective voice” that would advocate for the cities at the local and state levels.
One community member was concerned that the current structure of the agreement would allow the county government to get involved, something he did not want to see.
No decision was made. The item will return to the council for a vote on Oct. 24 or Nov. 7 depending on scheduling.
Public Comment Focuses on New Cell Tower
Several community members took the podium during public comment to ask the City to block a plan for an AT&T cell phone tower at the corner of Wade Avenue and Columbus Place. The tower would be located just a few blocks south of Bowers Elementary School.
City Attorney Glen Googins said he would follow up and make sure the public comment is received and processed by City staff.
Kevin Zacher, the Head Coach of the Santa Clara Swim Club, used his time to express his concern about the future of the International Swim Center. The ISC is now more than 55 years old and has many maintenance needs.
Howard Gibbons, also known as the Hot Dog Dude, appeared at council to give his feedback on the City’s street vendor enforcement pilot program.
Gibbons, who is licensed to sell hot dogs outside of Levi’s Stadium, says the program still needs work. He said illegal vendors were outside of Levi’s for the first game of the season, didn’t show up for the second, but were back again for the third game. Gibbons says his sales changed dramatically depending on the presence of the illegal vendors.
Combined Meeting with City’s Youth Commission
The council is trying to get back to in person meetings with its commissions and this month the council members heard from members of the Youth Commission.
Youth commissioners outlined what they’ve accomplished over the past few years including care packages for teachers, letters to local seniors during the holidays and a virtual STEM conference for local youth with an emphasis on environmentalism and climate activism.
They say they are working on growing their reach on Instagram and considering expanding to TikTok to get the City’s messages across. The commissioners also communicated some of the issues concerning youth today including the environment, mental health and drug abuse.
One commissioner suggested that the D.A.R.E. program continue at local elementary schools to help get the drug awareness message across to younger students. Another commissioner asked that Santa Clara make accessibility better for non-English speakers.
Gillmor asked commissioners to think about how the City could blend its communications with the Youth Commission to get City news out to local youth.
Becker asked for their opinion on the local housing crisis and wondered if there are enough activities in the City for youth or if there needs to be more.
Council Member Karen Hardy invited them to a tour of the water treatment plant, saying she was surprised to know how many young people do not think tap water is safe to drink.
The Youth Commission is made up of local teens from all over Santa Clara. This year’s commission includes a good representation of students from Santa Clara High School, Wilcox, St. Francis, Archbishop Mitty and Cupertino High School.
Consent Calendar and Other Business
At the beginning of the meeting, Gillmor took two moments of silence. The first was to remember Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died earlier this month. The second was in memory of the victims of the escalation of violence in the Middle East.
The council closed the meeting in memory Douglas E. Barry, a veteran and former crossing guard at Scott Lane Elementary School, and Laura Annette Saiu, a longtime Santa Clara resident who was involved with Reclaiming Our Downtown.
The Santa Clara City Council continued discussion on a plan to subdivide a property at 1365 Main Street and 1070 Lewis Street to Oct. 24.
The following items were approved on the consent calendar:
- A $4,631,813 contract with Henkels & McKoy West for the Memorex and San Tomas Junction Transmission line extension projects.
- A $398,860 contract with Henkels & McKoy West for the Freedom Circle Junction Cut-In transmission line extension project.
- A $300,000 increase on an agreement with Real Environmental Products, LLC for landfill gas collection system repair and maintenance services.
- Resolution to increase transient occupancy tax rate from 11.5% to 12.5% on Jan. 1, 2024.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 24 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.