City to Consider District Elections

On September 5, the City Council will convene a special meeting, in order to set direction regarding public outreach and to potentially put a charter amendment on the 2020 ballot to change how the City Council gets elected.

The City Council is currently composed of seven seats, selected “at large” by voters from across the city. The City Council elects council members to serve as a Mayor and a Vice Mayor. This is fairly typical for California cities. One concern is that the at-large system dilutes minority votes, leaving minority leaders at a disadvantage at the ballot box.

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A view of race and density in Sunnyvale grabbed from The Racial Dot Map

This has led to lawsuits across the state, most notably in Santa Clara, which, until this year, had a system like the one we have in Sunnyvale. In July, Santa Clara lost a court case brought by the South Asian Law Alliance and was ordered to shift to a district-based system. This November, Santa Clara voters will elect representatives from their six districts, and a mayor will be elected in a city-wide election.

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Santa Clara’s Six Districts

City staff has prepared an in-depth report, detailing the scope of the challenge that Sunnyvale faces in terms of minority representation. The city’s population is 14% Latino and 33% Asian. Our voter turnout sees 11% of voters with Spanish surnames and 21% turnout for Asian surnames. Sunnyvale’s demographics are similar to Santa Clara.

Over the years, Sunnyvale has had City Council candidates and Councilmembers that identify as a minority race or ethnicity.

  • In 2013, Magana ran for City Council and lost to Hendricks.
  • In 2011, Chang lost to Meyering; and Pan lost to Milius.
  • In 2009 and 2003, Flores lost to Moylan and Swegles, respectively.
  • In 2003, Chu won but was not reelected in 2007, when he lost to Whittum.
  • Lee won in 2003 and served a term as mayor. Lee was not challenged in 2007 and served another term.

City Staff is recommending a period of public outreach through Spring 2019. Next summer, Council should decide on a ballot measure for the 2020 general election. Assuming the charter amendment is approved by voters, districts would be set up in 2021 based on the 2020 census, with Sunnyvale’s first district elections in 2022.

Apply for Boards and Commissions by Friday!

From https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/government/boards.htm:

The City has a strong tradition of community participation, one of which is through volunteer service on a board or commission. Boards and Commissions advise City Council on specific policy issues and provide a forum and opportunity for broad community input. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis; appointments are made by City Council as needed throughout the year.

  • You must be a resident of Sunnyvale and registered voter of the City to apply for a position on a City board or commission, unless otherwise noted.
  • Members serve four-year terms, unless otherwise noted.

Current Openings

Recruitment is underway for the following upcoming commission openings:

  • Arts Commission (2 vacancies)
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (2 vacancies)
  • Heritage Preservation Commission (2 vacancies)
  • Housing and Human Services Commission (1 vacancy)
  • Parks and Recreation (1 vacancy)
  • Personnel Board (1 vacancy)

Application deadline is 5 p.m. on Aug. 31. Interviews are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 11. Appointments by City Council are scheduled for Sept.25.

The application and instructions are available at: https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/government/boards.htm

Planning Commission: July 23, 2018

Municipal Link: https://sunnyvaleca.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=575384&GUID=E4A53C8E-C5BA-41D2-9AEA-B7377C56B83E

Study Session A: 18771 E Homestead Road

The developer is planning to subdivide a 0.8-acre site near the Apple campus into five lots for single-family homes. The new homes will be arranged around a shared driveway off of Homestead Road. Three of the houses adjacent to Eichlers on Lorne Way will be single-story, in a modern style evocative of Eichler design. The homes adjacent to Homestead will be two-story homes.

Planning Commissioners were concerned with the quality of the facade facing Homestead, and the variety among the facades within the site. Neighbor Craig Molito shared a concern that residents on Lorne Way wanted to remain a cul-de-sac, and avoid the prospect of reduced safety due to cut-through traffic from Homestead. The current plans call for no access to the site via Lorne Way.

Study Session B: Consideration of Usable Open Space in Required Front Yards

City Staff are researching whether the shared front yard space in residential complexes can be counted toward their requirement for usable open space. Deviations have been granted previously for some smaller townhouse developments on corner lots, which had a lot of frontage. Planning Commissioners expressed a preference for having a flexible policy, especially for smaller developments on corner lots, but not creating an excuse for developers to swallow up usable open space at the rear of the property.

Community Outreach meetings on this topic will be held at the West Conference Room in City Hall on Thursday, August 2 at 10am, and Monday, August 6 at 6pm.

Agenda Item 2: 1441 Norman Drive

This project is to demolish a one-story home and build a two-story house. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the floor area exceeds 3,600 square feet and the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

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Project Rendering: 1441 Norman Drive

The proposed house is 6 bedrooms, including an Accessory Dwelling Unit. The high quality of the design was praised by Planning Commissioners, but there was concern expressed that the Floor Area Ratio of 59% was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.

The owner, Nirmal Sharma, explained that due to the cost of land, it is important to build as much house as possible, so that he may provide a home for his family, multiple sets of grandparents, and the children, and that living arrangements of this nature are intuitive to families from his native India. City staff opined that while the house was large for the neighborhood, that concern was compensated for by superior design.

Voting 5-2, the Planning Commission denied the project, with instructions to staff to work with the applicant to redesign the home with a goal of around 50% FAR, including the ADU.

Agenda Item 3: 863 San Pablo Ave

This project is to add a 498 square foot addition to the second story of a two-story home. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

 

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Streetscape Elevation: 863 San Pablo Ave

Due to the timing of this home expansion relative to previous home expansions, there was a concern as to whether the timing and scale of this home expansion was made to avoid a Fire Code requirement to add sprinklers to the house. The homeowner, Mr. Jagait, explained that the phased development of the house was due to construction costs, balanced with the changing needs of his growing family and that if required to do so, he would be willing to add sprinklers. City staff cautioned that sprinkler requirements were outside the authority of the Planning Commission.

Planning Commissioners were pleased with the design of the extension, and that the expansion would make the front of the house appear more balanced. The plan was approved unanimously, with amendments requiring matching window treatments on the upper and lower floors, that the Fire Code would be met, and that Mr. Jagait was encouraged to install sprinklers.

Agenda Item 4: 982 Yorktown Drive

This project is to demolish a one-story home and build a two-story house, with an attached Accessory Dwelling Unit. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the floor area exceeds 3,600 square feet.

 

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Front Elevation: 982 Yorktown Drive

Spencer Tsai explained that his family has lived in the existing house on the corner for many years and that he had long yearned for a second story view. Planning Commissioners expressed concern with the security of the sliding glass door on the ADU. Due to the small size of the ADU, a sliding door was preferred over an inward-opening door. It was also noted that due to the shape of the lot, the sliding door was facing toward the side of the property, and less visible from the street.  There was some confusion over a fifth parking space jutting off the side of the driveway in front of the house, which had at one point been added to accommodate the ADU, but later removed when it was noted that the ADU does not require additional parking.

An additional concern was noted that the layout of the house, which includes an upper floor and a basement, made it amenable to being subdivided into multiple unpermitted accessory-type units. Mr. Tsai explained that the layout was intended to provide adult members of the extended family some space, including a man cave in the basement.

The Planning Commission approved the project unanimously, with amendments that staff would exercise discretion in determining that the ADU door was sufficiently secure and that if desired, a fifth parking spot could be added by widening the driveway with a semi-permeable material.

Agenda Item 5: Rezone Two Lots from R-1 to R-0

The project requests that two lots be rezoned from R-1 to R-0. The Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the City Council.

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Zoning Map: 932 Eleanor Way and 1358 Hampton Drive

In Sunnyvale, R-1 and R-0 are both low-density residential zones which permit 7 units per acre. A primary difference is that the minimum lot size for R-1 is 8,000 square feet, while the minimum lot size for R-0 is 6,000 square feet. The R-1 designation provides a “large lot” feel for neighborhoods.

The applicant, Cyrus Fakhari, who lives at 1358 Hampton Drive, was concerned at plans to rebuild the neighboring 932 Eleanor Way to include a two-story Accessory Dwelling Unit in the rear, which would have a good view of surrounding neighbors. He purchased the lot to avoid this outcome. Mr. Fakhari prefers the “small home” feel characteristic of Hampton Drive. He explained his concern that the “large lot” R-1 designation had, due to economic circumstances described by the meeting’s previous applicants, become a palette for oversized homes that were inconsistent with the original intentions of R-1 zoning. Mr. Fakhari’s ambition with the proposed zoning change was to reconfigure the two large lots into three smaller lots, with modest-sized homes on each lot, which would be consistent with many of the surrounding houses.

Mary Sullivan and Henry Alexander III spoke in opposition to the zoning change, citing concerns with neighborhood character, population density, and parking. Mr. Fakhari responded that the immediate area had plentiful street parking and that three smaller homes would collectively be required to provide more off-street parking than two larger homes.

The Planning Commission, citing concerns with spot zoning, neighborhood character, neighborhood opposition, and the city’s policy to maintain different zoning designations to facilitate different housing types, voted 6-1 to reject the proposed zoning change. This recommendation will be considered by the City Council, which has final authority on zoning changes.

Planning Commission: July 9, 2018

NOTE: I serve on the Planning Commission, and I have been taking some decent notes at the last few Planning Commission meetings. This is an experiment to see whether I can convert that effort into informative blog posts. -danny

Municipal Link: https://sunnyvaleca.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=575383&GUID=6713B19D-AAF8-4395-B21F-62B6C9E0B744

Study Session A: 370 San Aleso Avenue

The developer intends to convert an industrial lot to 18 two-story duplexes and 47 three-story townhomes. The two-story townhomes will sit at the perimeter of the property, backing to a concrete wall that separates this property from the adjacent residential neighborhood, which is mainly single-family houses.

Three deviations are contemplated. One deviation for height will be earned due to green building. The second deviation is for 1′ at the front of the property, due to a widened sidewalk. The third deviation of 2′ from the rear would be for optional covered patios for the duplex units.

Planning Commission feedback expressed skepticism about the merit for the deviation to allow the covered patios, along with plentiful discussion regarding the architectural design and the quality of the elements. I noted that it would be nice if residents in the duplexes and residents of the adjacent neighborhood could have the option to tear down their respective sections of the wall and replace it with a more neighborly fence, to better integrate the new development with the existing neighborhood. The developer noted that at community meetings, residents were adamant that the wall needed to stand, unbreached.

Agenda Item 2: 669 & 673 Old San Francisco Road

The developer wants to merge two single-family lots on Old San Francisco Road, and build a 6-unit townhouse complex. A similar project was approved last year for this site, but denied by City Council.

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Project Rendering: 669 & 673 Old San Francisco Road

The developer requested a continuance to the August 13 Planning Commission meeting. Maria Hamilton and Cecilia Morrison, chair of the adjacent Pebble Creek HOA, each outlined numerous reasons why they oppose the project.

Agenda Item 3: 348 Morse Avenue

The applicant is expanding the first floor of the house and adding a second floor. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

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Streetscape Elevation: 348 Morse

The application was unanimously approved, with a condition that a portion of the roof ridge will be extended to avoid sloping into a vertical wall.

Agenda Item 4: 1159 Northumberland Drive

This project will demolish a one-story home and build a two-story home. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

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Project Rendering: 1159 Northumberland Drive

Neighbors to the rear, including Robert Kucher and John Daly, expressed concerns at a rear window on the second floor, 6′ wide by 4′ tall, that would look out on their backyards. City Staff were satisfied with the window, given that the house is set back generously from the rear lot line, and the applicant had agreed to plant trees to provide additional privacy. The Planning Commission discussed options, including relocating the window, raising the sill, and use of frosted glass. Because the window is otherwise consistent with the city’s design and privacy guidelines, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project without modifying the window.

Agenda Item 5: Expand Boundaries of Lawrence Station Area Plan

This is a General Plan Amendment Initiation: Planning Commission recommends to City Council whether or not to add properties at 932, 945, 950, and 955 Kifer Road to the Lawrence Station Area Plan.

LSAP

Additional Industrial properties to add to the Lawrence Station Area Plan

The properties are owned by Intuitive Surgical and lie within a maximum of 0.7 miles from Lawrence Caltrain. By adding them to the LSAP, the plan area, and Intuitive, would have more flexibility to redevelop commercial space within the plan area. The Planning Commission unanimously supported their inclusion in the LSAP, and this recommendation will be considered by the City Council.

Agenda Item 6, 7, 8: Selection of Chair, Vice Chair, and Seats

After contemplating seniority, prior service, and willingness, the Planning Commission elected Daniel Howard as the new Chair and David Simons as the new Vice Chair. Chair Rheume was thanked for his service for the past year.