Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein and Councilmembers Russ Melton, Murali Srinivasan and Richard Mehlinger sitting behind the dais at city hall.
The Sunnyvale City Council reviews various items every January to determine what issues need to be prioritized. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Sunnyvale’s process for proposing new policies is complex, so we’re breaking it down step by step.

Sunnyvale’s “study issue” and “budget proposal” process is how the city sets new city policies and services, respectively. The city uses this process to allocate employee responsibilities and budgetary resources, and each proposed project is ranked by priority. Those rankings are then used to determine which projects are researched, deferred contingent on resources or dropped.

Members of the public can propose study issues by reaching out to the Sunnyvale City Council, city manager, or a city board or commission, but it must be sponsored by one of them to become an official study issue. An example of a publicly proposed item becoming policy is the city’s decision to permanently close historic Murphy Avenue to traffic. City officials said they received numerous requests from residents to permanently close the avenue after its temporarily closure during the pandemic.

Councilmembers, the city manager or any city board or commission can also propose study issues. For study issues proposed by councilmembers, at least two members must provide sponsorship for it to move forward. Councilmembers are not allowed to propose study issues within three weeks of the annual study issue workshop, unless the issue being proposed was introduced by the public less than three weeks before.

An annual timeline

Study issues are proposed throughout any given year and held until the next cycle, which begins each January. The city holds public hearings on study issues and budget proposals, so residents have an opportunity to give feedback and suggest ideas.

The public hearings are followed up by workshops in February, where the city council will rank proposals by priority.

The city manager then determines the city’s capacity to research these projects. Usually, that includes outreach to residents and stakeholders, such as businesses or consultants.

While researching the impacts of closing historic Murphy Avenue, city employees engaged with business owners, the Sunnyvale Downtown Business Association and residents to discuss potential long-term effects.

The city holds its budget workshop in May, and any project that requires a budget allocation is discussed in that meeting.

Topics that do not receive priority can be deferred to the next year’s process or dropped by a majority council vote. If a project is dropped, it cannot return unless sponsored by another majority council vote.

A study issue can take more than one year to resolve, as city employees conduct research and community outreach. The city has 25 active study issues, with 15 officials hope to resolve next year, including options for emergency family housing and establishing a guaranteed basic income program.

Looking toward 2024

So far, there are 24 proposed study issues for 2024. Throughout January, the city’s boards and commissions will rank their study issues. The city council is slated to discuss its own issues and budget proposals on Jan. 23, which will include a public hearing.

All of these proposed projects will be further discussed at a city workshop on Feb. 15, where each councilmember will rank the proposed study issues by priority. The budgetary cut off date for proposed study issues has yet to be determined, but will be provided by the city manager in March.

Learn more about how to be engaged in the city’s policy creation process.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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