One of the easiest ways to get involved in local politics in Santa Clara is to follow and participate in City Council meetings.
Watching City Council meetings
The Santa Clara City Council meets at least twice each month, generally on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
When in person, meetings are held at Santa Clara City Hall, located at 1500 Warburton Ave. Meetings are mainly held over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but may return to in-person meetings soon.
Santa Clara is required to comply with the Brown Act, a state law that sets transparency and accessibility requirements for public meetings. It mandates the city post meeting agendas at least three days prior to each meeting. Usually, agendas for Tuesday meetings are posted the Friday before. Agendas may be amended after they are initially posted.
For a tentative preview of upcoming topics the council is expected to discuss, check out the city’s public meeting list.
To watch a live City Council meeting, connect in one of the following ways:
- Zoom: Find a Zoom link to each meeting on the agenda, accessible from the city’s meeting calendar.
- YouTube: Catch a livestream of the council meeting on the city’s YouTube channel. YouTube also has the added benefit of allowing viewers to rewind in real time.
- TV: Meetings are broadcasted on Santa Clara city television, which is channel 15 for Comcast cable or channel 99 on AT&T.
Participating in City Council meetings
At each City Council meeting, there is time set aside for people who want to speak on topics not on the meeting agenda, called a public comment or public presentation period. That period is usually scheduled toward the beginning of each City Council meeting.
Public comment is only for items not on the council’s agenda that day, and the council is not generally permitted to respond to those comments. If you want to speak on an item on the agenda, save it until it is heard and the mayor asks for public comments on that item.
You can submit comments in the following ways:
- In writing: Send your comment by email to [email protected]
- While using Zoom: When public comment starts, you’ll be instructed to click the “raise your hand” button at the bottom of the Zoom window. Your name will be called when it’s your turn and you’ll be unmuted.
The city also has a form residents can fill out to submit an item for consideration on a City Council agenda.
Navigating City Council meetings
City Council meetings follow a specific order, regulated by law, conventions and parliamentary procedure.
Meetings usually begin as close to the posted time as possible and start with a roll call, the Pledge of Allegiance and ceremonial items and proclamations.
Next comes the public comment or public presentation period, in which members of the public can speak about items not on the meeting agenda.
Following public comment, the council usually takes up the consent calendar, a list of non-controversial items that can pass with one vote. Councilmembers or residents can comment on a consent item, and councilmembers may pull an item off the consent calendar for discussion.
Following that is the regular agenda, which contains items considered to be more controversial or of broad public interest. Usually the items start with a presentation by city officials or consultants and can include comments from the councilmember or members who proposed it.
After that, the mayor usually calls for comments from the public, which is when residents can share their opinions about the agenda item. These items can be proposed ordinances which change city law or resolutions stating a proposed policy or council position. After the mayor closes comments from the public, councilmembers ask questions from officials and debate the matter.
As the discussion wraps up, one councilmember typically calls for a “motion,” to indicate they’re ready to end debate and vote on the item. For it to move forward, another councilmember is required to “second” it to signal they’re ready for a vote. A vote usually requires a simple majority to pass, or the support of four out of the seven councilmembers, but sometimes more votes may be required. New laws or ordinances sometimes must come back for a “second reading,” or final vote in subsequent meetings.
Meet your councilmembers
The Santa Clara City Council is made up of seven elected members. Six are elected by residents in the districts where they live, and the mayor is elected citywide. All serve four-year terms, with elections for the seats representing Districts 4, 5 and 6 held in presidential election years and elections for the mayor and seats representing Districts 1, 2 and 3 held in midterm election years. Elected officials can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms.
- District 1: Kathy Watanabe. First appointed March 2016, elected in November 2016 and re-elected November 2020. Term expires November 2024.
- District 2: Raj Chahal. Elected November 2018. Term expires November 2022.
- District 3: Karen Hardy. Elected November 2018. Term ends November 2022.
- District 4: Kevin Park. Elected November 2020. Term expires November 2024.
- District 5: Sudhanshu “Suds” Jain. Elected November 2020. Term expires November 2024.
- District 6: Anthony J. Becker. Elected November 2020. Term expires November 2024.
- Citywide: Mayor Lisa M. Gillmor. Gillmor was first elected to the City Council in 1992 and re-elected in 1996. She was appointed to the City Council in 2011 and elected in 2012. She was then appointed mayor in February 2016 and elected to the position in November 2018. Term expires November 2022.
Both the city clerk and police chief are elected citywide in four-year terms and do not face term limits. The current city clerk is Hosam Haggag and the current police chief is Pat Nikolai.
Access more information about how to contact each council member at the links above. You can also email [email protected] to contact the entire council at once.
Other things to know
The City Council also regularly holds what are called “closed sessions,” so named because they are closed to the public. During these sessions, councilmembers discuss topics such as lawsuits, personnel matters or labor union negotiations. If any action is taken in closed session, the council will report out on it in open session.
Santa Clara has a council-manager government system, which means the council creates laws and policies and appoints the city manager, city attorney and city auditor.
Contact Kate Bradshaw at [email protected] or follow @bradshk14 on Twitter.