Santa Clara voters will soon decide whether to divide the City into two districts and switch to a transferable vote ranked choice voting system.
The Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize City Attorney Brian Doyle and City Manager Deanna Santana to draft a ballot measure to put the charter amendments to a vote this spring. The Council also approved appropriating $188,000 for “contractual services to fully understand the ballot measure” and establish an ad-hoc committee responsible for drafting the district lines.
“This is a very good solution to avoid some of the legal battles that some other cities have faced,” said Suds Jain, a Planning Commissioner and former City Council candidate.
If approved during a special election to be held June 5, each district would be represented by three Council Members with the City Clerk, Police Chief and Mayor still being at-large offices. If the measure passes, the districts would go into effect by the November election, where voters would elect two Council Members to 4-year terms. Ranked choice voting—a system where voters establish a hierarchy of preference instead of voting for a single candidate—would go into effect in the 2020 election.
The ad hoc committee, which will be comprised of between three and five members, will hold two public meetings—one on Feb. 12 at the Northside Library, 695 Moreland Way, and another on March 8 at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave.—before the lines are drawn and two after the lines are determined.
Members of the committee cannot have run for public office in Santa Clara, be a lobbyist, or a family member of a City employee or an elected official. Being named to the committee precludes committee members from running for a public office for 5 years or becoming a lobbyist for 10 years.
When discussing how to keep the process free of political influence, Santana called the prohibitions “about as bulletproof as it can get.”
Many members of the public and the Council supported the idea, saying that ranked choice voting does well to enhance “diversity” on the Council, allowing for “marginalized” groups to be “better represented.” Council Member Dominic Caserta called the process of drawing district lines “exciting.”
While no member of the public spoke against either proposal, Council mainstay Deborah Bress questioned what would happen if ranked choice voting does not produce the results many anticipate it will, i.e., more ethnic diversity on the dais.
“What happens if it doesn’t change?” she asked of the Council. “Do we get 78 districts and everybody gets four votes?”
Council Member Patricia Mahan was not present for the vote, leaving the meeting—unanimously excused by the Council—prior to the discussion of the item.
A line item in this year’s budget will earmark between $400,000 and $800,000 for the construction of a new community room at Levi’s Stadium.
As per the Council’s direction late last year, Ruth Shikada, assistant city manager, presented the Council with an alternative location for the community room at Levi’s Stadium. The new 1,800-square-foot location’s outdoor access alleviates security issues raised by the room’s current location. Bourbon Steak Santa Clara leases the room, located on the field level facing the soccer park, from the 49ers’ stadium company (aka StadCo) to use as storage space.
While the outdoor access is a significant advantage, Shikada said the room needs a lot of construction before it would be suitable to host events. The largest portion of a construction budget would likely go toward installing bathrooms, she said. Also, securing the space could prove challenging because it would require modifying existing agreements between Bourbon Steak Santa Clara, the City and StadCo.
Council Member Debi Davis called the proposal a “homerun.”
“This is going to be better for our community,” she said. “Our community deserves this.”
Still, not everyone saw the expenditure as entirely worthwhile. Council Member Teresa O’Neill said she was “concerned about how much [the City] is spending on the community room.”
Bress lambasted the team, claiming that Santa Clara residents get the “dredges, the leftovers, the scraps” while the team sits in its “ivory tower,” going so far as to call them “freeloaders” and “squatters.”
Others were more measured.
“I am a miserly person,” Jain said. “The community just wants a place to meet. We are just wasting money trying to have it at the stadium.”
Organic ‘Pilot’ Program
A state-mandated recycling program also drew fire from several residents.
To bring greenhouse gas emissions in line with California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)—a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—regulations, Santa Clara put a food scrap recycling program into effect late last year.
Dave Staub, Deputy Director of Public Works, said the state wants a 50 percent reduction in organic waste being put into landfills by 2020 and a 75 percent reduction by 2025.
“These are the strictest regulations I have seen CalRecycle enact,” Staub said.
For the program, 4,800 households must use a curbside bin that separates food waste from other garbage for four years. The program began in October, and a survey conducted at the end of November showed only a little more than half (53 percent) of the 29 percent who responded to the survey were satisfied with the program.
Staub said the biggest complaint of the program was the loss of bin capacity, but some complained about the bins attracting maggots and raccoons. Council Members Davis and Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe said they had both heard numerous complaints.
Marshall Caldwell, a 19-year resident of Santa Clara, told the Council that “this issue has driven me nuts.”
“For the City to call this a ‘pilot program’ when you are forced to use it and it is for four years,” he said. “You’re lying.”
Caldwell also said City-provided information misrepresented how much organic waste goes into landfills, by saying the number is close to 30 percent to justify the space lost out of the bins when the number is, by Staub’s own statistics provided to the Council, only 18 percent.
Staub said the split bin is the most cost-effective option for the table scraps recycling program.
As part of its consent calendar, the Council also approved two agreements for City services.
The first agreement was a 3-year, $200,000 agreement with Fairway Painting Inc. to perform “on-call painting services” for the Santa Clara Convention Center Complex and City-owned buildings.
The second agreement, also for “on-call” services, this time for electrical services, was with Serrano Electric Inc. and was also for three years. The contract amount was $468,240.
The City Council will meet again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6, and the Stadium Authority meets again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Both meetings will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave.