One of the simplest ways to engage with your local community is to keep up with your city’s public meetings.
In a 2022 reader survey, San José Spotlight readers told us they wanted to be more civically engaged and involved in local policymaking. Earlier this year, we compiled a guide on how to engage with public meetings in San Jose. As we expand further throughout Santa Clara County, we wanted to compile a guide for Sunnyvale residents interested in participating in public meetings.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to view and engage with Sunnyvale meetings.
Watching council meetings
The Sunnyvale City Council has regular meetings twice a month on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. You can find the city council meeting and other commission meeting agendas on the city’s legislative calendar. You can also find early meeting information on the city’s Tentative Council Meeting Agenda Calendar.
Sunnyvale must comply with the Brown Act, which governs how public meetings are run and aims to make them more accessible and transparent. The city is required to post its agenda at least three days before every meeting. A draft of the council agenda will typically be public by Thursday evening and will be continuously updated until the meeting occurs.
Here are ways you can tune in to the meeting:
- In person: you can attend at Sunnyvale City Hall, located at 456 Olive Ave., and sit in the public audience area.
- Zoom: You can find a Zoom link on the meeting’s agenda.
- YouTube: Most public meetings, including council meetings, are streamed from the Sunnyvale City Clerk’s YouTube channel.
- Legistar: You can watch meeting broadcasts live or find audio and video recordings of past meetings on the city’s Legistar, which also houses all public meeting agendas.
- Television: Council meetings are broadcast and replayed on AT&T channel 99 and Comcast channel 15.
- Phone: Dial in to 833-548-0276 (toll-free) during the meeting. Be sure to enter the webinar ID and password found on the meeting’s agenda.
If you require accommodations to engage in a council meeting, such as the need for a translator or visual or audio accommodations, contact the Sunnyvale city clerk’s office at least 48 hours before a meeting. You can reach the city clerk’s office at 408-730-7483.
Participating in council meetings
Sunnyvale City Council meetings have a public comment period called oral communications for people to voice their opinions on topics not on the meeting’s agenda. Topics on the agenda are open for public comment when the items come up during the meeting. Members of the public get a maximum of three minutes to speak.
Remember: Public comment during oral communications is only for items not on the council’s agenda that day. If you have a comment for an item on the agenda, save it until the item is heard and the mayor asks for comments on that item.
You can submit comment in the following ways:
- In person: You can fill out a speaker card at the beginning of the meeting and hand it to the city clerk, who sits at the front right corner in front of the council dias.
- In writing: You can submit written comments to the council via email at [email protected] or by mailing comments to City Hall. Written comments must be received four hours before the meeting’s start time to be included in the agenda. Written comments will be attached to the appropriate council item under “Letters from the public” but will not be read during the meeting.
- While using Zoom: Use the Raise Hand feature during oral communication or public comment on an item.
- While on phone: Dial *9 to request to speak for oral communications or public comment on an item. Once your name is called by the city clerk, dial *6 to unmute. The city clerk or recording secretary will let you know when you have 30 seconds remaining to speak.
Navigating council meetings
Sunnyvale’s council meetings follow a particular order governed in part by state law, city charter, convention and “The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure.”
Regular meetings will start as close to 7 p.m. as possible, depending on study sessions or closed sessions held before the meeting. Study sessions are special sessions that usually start at 5 p.m. and inform the council about broad topics. Closed session is held when the council discusses topics that aren’t open for the public, such as contract negotiations or litigation.
When the meeting starts, it opens with a call to order, the Pledge of Allegiance and roll call. If there was a closed session, then the city attorney may have announcements, which are followed by special orders and proclamations—declarations of celebration or events. The council may make last minute adjustments to the agenda at this point, such as deferring an item, so pay attention if you are listening for a particular topic.
Next comes the “consent calendar,” or “consent” for short. This is a list of usually non-controversial items that are approved with a single vote of the council. Any councilmember or resident can comment on any consent item. Councilmembers can pull items off the consent calendar for a broader discussion. The public is otherwise invited to speak about all consent calendar items during one public hearing “on consent.”
Now comes the big part—“public hearing” or general business. These items are usually of broader public interest, such as new development permits. Each item often opens with a presentation from city officials who researched the specific item.
Once the presentation is complete, the mayor usually calls for comments from the public, where residents can voice their concerns about the planned item. These items can be proposed ordinances, which change city law, or resolutions stating a proposed council policy. Often agendas include reports from staff that don’t require an action, but the council will vote anyway to accept the report. The city council usually does not execute new policies without them going through the city’s study issue system.
After the mayor closes comments from the public, councilmembers discuss the item. They can also ask questions of city staff from various city departments, the city attorney for clarification or other stakeholders in the process. As councilmembers discuss the item, one can call for a “motion” which outlines what action the council will approve. The motion requires a “second” to show there’s support for the idea.
Items usually require a simple majority of four votes to pass.
Meet your councilmembers
The Sunnyvale City Council consists of seven members, all elected by voters and six are district elections. The mayor is elected citywide. As of 2023, the mayor is Larry Klein, who took office in 2020 after serving one term as a councilmember. The mayor is one of seven votes and cannot veto policies. Klein’s term will end in 2024 and he is eligible for reelection.
All elected city officials can serve a maximum of three consecutive terms, but only two terms in the same office, either as a councilmember or mayor. Each official’s term is four years.
After three consecutive terms, officials must wait two years before being eligible to run for office again. The mayor’s seat and seats in even-numbered districts are up for reelection in presidential election years, while seats in odd-numbered districts are up for grabs in U.S. midterm election years.
The city council selects one councilmember to be vice mayor every year. The vice mayor chairs council meetings when the mayor is absent. The current vice mayor is Omar Din, who represents District 6 and has been vice mayor since January 2023.
Here are the six councilmembers and the districts they represent:
- District 1 (South West Sunnyvale, including Cherry Chase): Linda Sell
- District 2 (Downtown Sunnyvale): Alysa Cisneros
- District 3 (South Central Sunnyvale, including Ortega Park): Murali Srinivasan
- District 4 (South East Sunnyvale, including Ponderosa Park): Russ Melton
- District 5 (North Sunnyvale, South of Highway 101): Richard Mehlinger
- District 6 (North of Highway 101): Omar Din
And here’s how long they’ve been in office:
- Linda Sell: 2023–present. Term ends in 2026. Eligible for reelection.
- Alysa Cisneros: 2021–present. Term ends in 2024. Eligible for reelection.
- Murali Srinivasan: 2023–present. Term ends in 2026. Eligible for reelection.
- Russ Melton: 2017–present. Terms out in 2024. Not immediately eligible for council reelection.
- Richard Mehlinger: 2023–present. Term ends in 2026. Eligible for reelection.
- Omar Din: 2021–present. Term ends in 2024. Eligible for reelection.
Click here for contact information for the council and email addresses for each councilmember.
Sunnyvale operates on a council-manager system of government. That means all the administrative power in city matters is held by the city manager, who is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. To put it simply: The council votes on and approves policy, while the city manager implements it. The current city manager is Kent Steffens, who was appointed in 2017.
The city attorney, a law professional employed by the city, and the city clerk, who keeps the meeting’s minutes, are also present at meetings. The city attorney provides legal advice to ensure the council is following the Brown Act, answers legal questions and explains city, county, state and federal laws. The current city clerk is David Carnahan, who was appointed in 2019. The city attorney is John A. Nagel, who was appointed to the position in 2016.