Santa Clara appoints new vice mayor, won’t extend an agreement for old Yahoo site
Kylli Inc's vision for Mission Point, a 49-acre development in Santa Clara. The developer is reworking its plan. Image courtesy of Kylli

    Santa Clara city leaders met for the first time in 2020 on Tuesday, kicking off the year with a jam-packed agenda.

    The City Council appointed a new vice mayor, approved a slew of new communications contractors and discussed the future of what could become one of the city’s largest developments.

    Former Yahoo site in limbo

    Santa Clara city leaders Tuesday night denied a 3-year extension of an existing development agreement for developer Kylli, which owns a 49-acre former Yahoo property at 3005 Democracy Way, an area currently home to a handful of stout buildings and a sea of vacant land.

    The Chinese developer, which acquired the property in 2017, had approvals to build about 3 million square feet in more than a dozen office buildings on the site dating back to 2010, when Yahoo had planned to build a campus on the land. Kylli’s first choice isn’t the old Yahoo project, officials said, but it also doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to build that office space.

    Ideally, Kylli aims to make the property into a dense, mixed-use development with thousands of units of housing, tall towers, retail and public space, but is currently re-working its plans based on pushback from the Federal Aviation Administration. In the meantime, the developer is facing a deadline to begin construction or lose its existing approvals.

    Randi Gerson, vice president of real estate development for Kylli, told councilmembers Tuesday night the old Yahoo project was “buildable” if the developer couldn’t get approvals for its larger development.

    But some councilmembers remained unconvinced that extending the agreement for the 3 million square feet of new office space was in the best interest of the city, primarily because that old agreement includes lower fees, fewer traffic mitigation measures and little in the way of community benefits compared to the projects approved today.

    “It was an entirely different Santa Clara world at the time, with a different administration and different expectations for community benefits,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor said.

    Gerson told councilmembers she’d be willing to discuss community benefits and fees, and a slew of residents showed up Tuesday to urge the council to work with the developer, which they said has listened to the community so far.

    Even so, some city leaders maintained that the city has changed dramatically in recent years, and the six-story office campus approved a decade ago for Yahoo would not be approved today. The existing development agreement for the property is set to expire by June.

    New year, new vice mayor

    Councilmember Karen Hardy was unanimously appointed Santa Clara’s next vice mayor this week, taking over from Patricia Mahan, who was appointed to the position in 2019.

    The appointment goes annually to the person who has the most seniority on the council and has not yet served as vice mayor.

    Hardy “has over 12 years of service to the city, having previously served on the Planning Commission and Historical & Landmarks Commission,” Gillmor said in a letter to councilmembers. “With her experience serving the city in multiple capacities, I am confident that she will capably fulfill the duties of Vice Mayor.”

    Marketing, communications to be big focus in 2020

    City officials voted to push forward three new agreements for communications and marketing work with outside consultants this year, including with one agency — Singer Associates — that already has two communications contracts with the city.

    The contracts come after Gillmor last year asked city officials to seek a consultant to help the city’s Economic Development, Communications and Marketing Committee to work on proactive communication and branding strategies.

    “While city staff has some of the necessary expertise to assist our committee, no single person has the ability to coordinate the various duties of our committee,” the mayor said in a memo last year. “Also, I believe it would be more cost-effective to identify a consultant to assist our committee rather than draw personnel from multiple departments to assist us.”

    Now, city leaders just approved two new contracts and agreed to let City Manager Deanna Santana to negotiate and execute a new agreement with Singer Associates.

    Oakland-based Circlepoint and Sacramento-based 3fold Communications are both set to get three-year contracts, with the option to extend the agreements by up to two years, for a maximum of $100,000 of work each. The agreements would come with a provision for a performance review annually. The city’s current adopted budget includes $200,000 for communications consultant services.

    Meanwhile, Singer Associates, a San Francisco-based public relations agency that already works with the city and its Stadium Authority with two existing contracts, would be up for a 30-month contract with the option to extend the agreement by two years and annual performance reviews.

    City documents don’t say how much that contract would be worth, but city officials told San Jose Spotlight in an interview Tuesday that not all of the money in Singer Associates’ current contracts has been used, so that could help fund the new contract. Singer Associates’ current communications contracts, valued at $100,000 each, are set to expire June 30.

    “The communications office is one that has changed over the last two years; a lot of staff have left and departed or a position was cut out as part of the budget process,” Santana said. “Part of the strategy of having multiple resources is that we are not their only client and if one of the consultants aren’t able to take on a certain initiative we will certainly hop to the next.”

    A settlement to end “mounting” fees

    Santa Clara on Tuesday agreed to pay Richard Sandau a $462,500 settlement after the former Silicon Valley Power employee filed several legal challenges with the Public Employment Relations Board and the Civil Service Commission.

    “The settlement forecloses any possible further liability for the city in any manner related to Mr. Sandau’s employment and brings an end to mounting litigation fees and costs associated with the three separate and ongoing disputes,” city documents state.

    Looking forward, the city has implemented new best practices in its human resources department — including a new tuition reimbursement program — to avoid similar lawsuits in the future.

    “These new policies and programs do not require the city to grant an extended leave of absence from city service, do not negatively impact service delivery, and do not create risk management concerns as the prior policy did,” a memo published ahead of this week’s meeting read.

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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