Santa Clara lawmakers spent nearly six hours Thursday identifying priorities they consider essential for Santa Clara’s growth in 2020 — touching on everything from Levi’s Stadium, public transparency and community-sourced development.
In the first of a two-day session, Councilmember Teresa O’Neill summed up the goal of the meeting: “I think if we can … try to make sure that we’re reflecting the values that our community is clearly communicating to us, we need to make sure that’s a consideration in decisions that we make. But we also have to be forthright and honest and set realistic expectations.”
The councilors began the session by focusing on economic, housing and transportation development.
Days after the council approved a 65-unit affordable housing complex, the consensus Thursday was the city needs to provide a range of housing options, including below-market-rate and work/live units.
But as the city lacks an economic development department, Mayor Lisa Gillmor suggested adding transportation concerns to the council’s focuses since growth often leads to more traffic congestion.
To that point, Councilmember Raj Chahal wants to explore possibilities of a free shuttle created through public-private partnerships, holding up the Google-funded transportation program in Mountain View as an example.
The council also agreed that a community-based approach is necessary when looking at retail development. They thought asking residents what they want and think is missing — especially as brick-and-mortar models continue to morph — would help ensure successful investments, pointing to the relatively new grocery store Sprouts on El Camino.
“They want the necessities right away,” Councilmember Debi Davis said. “We need to be looking for things that will make people comfortable and provide sustainability.”
Dan Ondrasek, a member of Reclaiming Our Downtown, which advocates for revitalizing the historic Downtown that was demolished in the 1960s, asked the council to consider moving the county courthouse on Homestead Road and connecting Benton Street across the train tracks to Brokaw Road. The move would help downtown developments thrive by bringing thousands of employees to the area, he said.
Bike trails, cricket fields and arts development topped the list for recreation options in Santa Clara. Many councilmembers voiced support for looking into passing new parcel taxes to fund those facilities.
Narrowing focus to current developments, Public Works Director Craig Mobeck explained that delays at the proposed Machado Park near Briarwood Elementary School were due to unexpected design issues and rain. He confirmed that it will be 12 weeks before construction begins.
City services and infrastructure
Councilmember Kathy Watanabe said her top priority is finding ways to mitigate noise from Mineta San Jose International Airport, especially as San Jose lawmakers consider expansions to the site.
On the topic of car break-ins and illegal RV parking, Assistant Chief of Police Daniel Winter said nightly patrols are helping reduce crime. Gillmor requested looking into educational programs to reduce residents’ risk of becoming victims of these crimes.
Improving Santa Clara’s recycled water infrastructure is one of Davis’ priorities, especially as many residents have expressed concern about the effects of climate change on this resource. The city’s equipment is more than 50 years old.
Community engagement and transparency
Communication from City Hall to residents has expanded with the creation of a new city app and website, but the councilmembers said more work must be done.
Gillmor pushed for publishing public documents online as quickly as possible, saying records requests bog down staff resources, and this year’s elections have ramped up those requests.
City Manager Deanna Santana said the city receives an average of 176 public records requests a week, totaling 9,200 in 2019. She said the issue is exacerbated by the fact that 12 percent of the city’s budgeted staff positions are vacant — about 140 jobs citywide.
Councilmember Karen Hardy called for adding the fiscal impacts of agenda items, so the public better understands how tax dollars are spent. Chahal agreed, especially with approvals of single-source contracts.
“These are hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts, so we need to report what happened … as justification of spending public money,” Chahal said.
Levi’s Stadium management
The entire council agreed that management concerns regarding Levi’s Stadium take up too much of the city’s time and resources.
Aside from dealing with the legal finger-pointing underway between the 49ers and the city, they brought up a wide range of potential actions with the stadium. Some councilors want to explore extending the event curfew, regulating non-NFL events, having more Santa Clara representation in NFL events and making more spaces inside the stadium more accessible to the community.
But Gillmor and City Attorney Brian Doyle pushed back at the idea of extending the curfew. Doyle suggested a closed session to discuss the curfew, and Gillmor said she’s concerned about a recent poll that asked about extending curfews to midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
“The city manager and stadium executive director (a role also filled by Santana) has presented to us the information from our finance department where we make money on the non-NFL events and where we don’t,” Gillmor said. “We’re trying to find the source of the poll through our dark money research.”
O’Neill said she expected the public to have more access to the stadium, whether through its community room or citywide events like fireworks shows.
“That has not come to pass, and I do not want to lose focus that it’s a community asset,” O’Neill said.