Santa Clara City Council chambers, centered on a Caucasian brunette woman in a blue blazer with the name tag "Mayor, Lisa M. Gillmor"
Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe suggested a $400 million bond to help close some of the city's $624 million infrastructure deficit gap, after denying the $598 million bond proposed by city employees. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Santa Clara voters will decide in November whether to give the city roughly $400 million for various infrastructure fixes around the city.

The Santa Clara City Council approved the bond measure on Tuesday 6-1, with Councilmember Kevin Park dissenting. City employees originally proposed a $598 million bond, but councilmembers could only agree on a lower amount. Officials hope voters approve the bond to help tackle a $624 million infrastructure deficit.

The $598 million bond would have been levied at $29 per $100,000 of assessed property value. City Manager Jovan Grogan said more details of the approved $400 million bond will be provided at the July 16 city council meeting, after employees are able to research how the lower amount might be divided.

“In this year alone when we sat down to do our biannual operating budget, we had over $275 million worth of needed infrastructure investments and only $24 million to spend,” Grogan said at the meeting. “For a city with billions of dollars of infrastructure, to have a general fund reserve as low as we do is frankly unsustainable and not appropriate.”

Grogan, along with polling consultants and city employees from multiple departments, presented results from a community survey of 400 likely Santa Clara voters that showed that 80% agreed  the city needs more investments in public infrastructure. But when asked about the proposed bond, only 61% said they would support it — less than the supermajority needed to pass.

The city’s proposed expenditure plan separates the money into five categories and further specifies potential costs for specific projects or programs. The most expensive projects included more than $63 million to address aging park infrastructure identified in a 2018 parks conditions report and $61 million in storm drain system improvements. The city’s proposal limits how and where the money can be spent, such as prohibiting use on or within half a mile of Levi’s Stadium. It also establishes a nine-person community oversight committee.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor questioned the city’s infrastructure needs and suggested they may be lower than $624 million. She said she wanted more details on the infrastructure projects than what is provided and to guarantee their completion. Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe wrote an opinion piece supporting a slate of potential projects, which they said totaled about $400 million. Gillmor also said identifying projects and providing a guarantee would increase the bond’s likelihood of passing and improve residents’ trust in City Hall.

“We did polling for the bonds, both of them, also police and fire did polling as well, and the numbers were not good in the polls,” Gillmor said at the meeting. “One of the big issues is that trust at City Hall is low and I think that the people who were watching this meeting tonight can see why the trust is low.”

To show the council’s unified support of the bond, Grogan requested councilmembers try to approve the bond unanimously. Multiple councilmembers asked if Gillmor or Watanabe would compromise on an amount higher than $400 million, including Councilmember Anthony Becker, who said it felt as though the council was being “held hostage.” Park, the sole dissenting voice, said he was concerned about his colleague’s lack of negotiation.

Councilmember Karen Hardy said she would have preferred the initial $598 million bond, which would have handled more of the city’s outstanding needs, but added that the city has to face its infrastructure deficit. She’s willing to negotiate a compromise in order to do that, and said she was frustrated by how the discussion went.

“Compromise is the way we have to do things,” Hardy told San José Spotlight. “No one entity should get their way,and that was why, even though I was not happy, I was willing to scale it back.”

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

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