Office building that currently occupies 1202 Kifer Road from the front, bordered by trees, with the exit from Lawrence Expressway in front of it.
Sunnyvale is considering a position to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety in the city. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Sunnyvale officials are prioritizing what local issues they’ll tackle this year, and topics like homelessness and transit safety are topping the list.

The Sunnyvale City Council ranked its priority projects out of the 40 proposed on Feb. 15, signaling what the city will be working on — though it could take years for some to launch. Among the top include creating a safe space for the city’s unhoused residents to sleep, evaluating the use of artificial turf and a handful of traffic safety projects.

Deputy City Manager Connie Verceles said the city manager’s office will evaluate how many projects Sunnyvale can feasibly take on, based on employee bandwidth and budgetary constraints.

“There’s only so much staff time we have to dedicate to certain projects,” Verceles told San José Spotlight. “We have a backlog of some study issues, we need to focus on those as well.”

The city is already working on 25 other studies, ranging from a universal basic income program to emergency family housing. Fourteen are slated to wrap up this year.

Verceles said it’s too early to estimate what the city could do, but the discussion should come back to council on March 26 to talk about feasibility. She said most projects won’t start until after the budget is finalized in June.

Sanctioned homeless camp

Cities across the region have been working on ways to support unhoused residents, and Sunnyvale is no different. This year, councilmembers want to look into setting up a sanctioned encampment in the city.

Last year, the city launched a study into emergency housing and shelters for homeless families with children. Councilmembers have also been scrutinizing the city’s pilot program partnership with homeless services nonprofit HomeFirst for the past few months.

A sanctioned homeless encampment would offer a supervised outdoor living space for unhoused residents, where the city could provide security, sanitation and wrap-around services like mental health support and case management. Late last year, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan floated the idea of San Jose opening sanctioned encampments as a transition point to move homeless residents off the streets and into interim housing. Sunnyvale officials have similar aspirations.

“When our goal as a city is to deliver services that will ultimately result in finding people permanent housing, having it so that folks are having to move around and shuffle around is not a good situation,” Councilmember Alysa Cisneros said in the meeting. “Data proves that this is an effective way to address homelessness in the community.”

Officials will look at potential locations and how to partner with homeless support nonprofits and other governing agencies, listing Santa Clara County and Valley Water as potential partners.

The proposal is projected to take about two years to complete and cost $40,000, though that doesn’t include the cost for actually opening a sanctioned camp.

Transportation projects

A handful of approved projects focus on improving traffic safety along various avenues in the city. Councilmembers ranked a study on improving cyclist and pedestrian safety near Fremont and Homestead high schools first and a study to improve Fair Oaks Avenue fourth. Both of these could be picked up by the city, though the latter’s ranking could mean that it doesn’t move forward depending on where the city manager decides to cut off the list.

Hiring an active transportation planner may also be considered. It would cost an estimated $219,525 out of the general fund to hire a full-time active transportation planner.

The role would focus on active transportation, which includes cycling, walking and other active modes of transit. This planner would reach out to residents about active transportation and apply for related grants, among other responsibilities

Councilmember Richard Mehlinger, who chaired the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory committee for two years, said Sunnyvale residents are paying attention to active transportation for a variety of reasons such as environmental benefits, effects on housing and traffic fatalities that have occurred in the past few years.

“We have lots of people who do work on active transportation within the Department of Public Works, (but) the thing is that it’s not anyone’s one job if that makes sense,” Mehlinger told San José Spotlight. “Just being a voice or a role within the city that is specifically focused on and dedicated to active transportation is going to really help us move forward on these issues.”

Artificial turf

Dozens of residents attended council meetings in October last year to speak against artificial turf being installed in a redesign of Lakewood Park in North Sunnyvale. Councilmembers decided to replace the planned turf with natural grass, and now the city is going to review its use of grasses overall.

The proposed study would evaluate artificial turf, living grass and other alternatives on city and private property. This will enable the city and its residents to better understand the impacts on environmental safety, health and other effects. Previously, residents called for the city to ban artificial turf, and the council scheduled a discussion on a potential citywide policy later in the year.

This study is expected to take two years and will cost $100,000. The proposal notes that the city will need to hire a consultant with expertise in this area to support the city’s employees.

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

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