Seating Our Most Diverse City Council, Sunnyvale Enters 2023

On January 3, in its first meeting of 2023, the Sunnyvale City Council met in a packed Council Chambers to honor the service of three outgoing Council Members and seat three incoming Council Members. Our new city council, the first to be entirely comprised of District Representatives with a mayor elected at large, is also the most diverse.

Councilmembers Gustav Larsson, Glenn Hendricks, and Anthony (Tony) Spitaleri stepped down from the dais. Several local civic leaders took terms expressing their gratitude towards these Councilmembers for their service, including Hendrick’s service on the VTA board.

Mayor Larry Klein gave a speech thanking each outgoing Council Member, starting with Gustav Larsson, for his nine years of service on the City Council and two years as Vice Mayor. Klein and Larsson got to know each other during their service on the Planning Commission. “He is the living example of what an Eagle Scout should do and should be. He is kind, well-spoken, and friendly to everyone he meets.”

Councilmember Larsson explained that “people often overestimate what can be done in one year and underestimate what can be done in ten. There are so many things that we have been able to tackle, taking small steps, one after another. They really add up.” Larsson’s advice to the new Council: “at times, it might feel like you’re only taking small steps, but those small steps are important steps, and together, very quickly, they add up and make a tremendous difference in the community.”

Mayor Klein next thanked Councilmember Hendricks for nine years of service, including three as mayor. Mayor Klein highlighted Hendricks’ tenure as mayor: “he signed the Paris Climate Accord and pushed forward environmental issues when the Federal government took a step back.” Klein also cited Hendricks’ service as VTA Board Chair during the mass shooting at the VTA Light Rail facility in 2021. “It was on his shoulders to comfort the grieving, pay tribute to those that had passed, respond to the media, and provide a guiding light in the storm. He tackled this with the courage of a Marine while also showing a tender and comforting side.”

Hendricks chose to highlight three events from his service as mayor. “The day I was selected as Mayor, Sunnyvale joined Silicon Valley Clean Energy. The first legislation I signed is the number one thing that has been done in Santa Clara County to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Hendricks explained that outgoing mayor Jim Griffith had taken the lead on forming SVCE. “I tried to get him to sign it,” said Hendricks. Hendricks then shared two tragedies. The first was in 2017 when K9 Officer Jax was killed. “You don’t know what it is like to speak in front of 1,500 law enforcement people in uniform. There were about 125 K9 officers from other jurisdictions. Something I’ll always remember.” Councilmember Hendricks then returned to the 2021 VTA shooting. “An event that does not stop. We’re still working through what it means for an organization to try and recover.”

Hendricks next advised the City Council to take a different approach to selecting its VTA Board representative. Instead of selecting a senior Councilmember, he advised that the Council choose a newly-elected member to serve on the VTA board, giving them opportunities to be re-elected to a longer tenure. “The biggest gift we can give to our VTA representative is time. Institutional knowledge makes a difference.”

Last to be thanked for his service, Tony Spitaleri, who was appointed in February 2022 to fill a vacancy. Councilmember Spitaleri previously served eight years on the Council and four years as mayor. Spitaleri chose to highlight praise shared by Councilmembers Larsson and Hendricks for the city staff. “Our staff … everyone who makes this city run, makes it a better place to live in. They do it. We sit up here and create policies, all kinds of things we think the city should do. Once they get direction, they don’t stop, they hit the ground running, and they make this city what it is today.”

Next, Mayor Klein welcomed the new Councilmembers: Linda Sell, for District 1; Murali Srinivasan, District 3; and Richard Mehlinger, District 5.

Councilmember Linda Sell, Sunnyvale’s first female Asian American Councilmember, reiterated her longstanding commitment to a healthier environment, more resources for local schools, and bringing people together towards a better Sunnyvale. “My concerns continue about having a nice place for us and for the next generation … a sustainable planet, an environment for the next generation to live and thrive. I will work to make Sunnyvale more affordable, walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented, and towards a smooth transition to electric vehicles.”

District 3 Representative, Murali Srinivasan, takes the oath of office administered by his family.

Councilmember Murali Srinivasan noted, “I have the unique honor of being certified winner twice in the same election.” This was a reference to an initial win by one vote. A recount next placed Srinivasan and his opponent at a tie, broken earlier in the day when the City Clerk drew his name from a hat. Srinivasan is the first Indian American Councilmember. “The election is the first step of Democracy. I will work to engage more citizens in policy development and planning. I look forward to working with all of you for a better, brighter, and sunnier Sunnyvale for all!”

Councilmember Richard Mehlinger is the first openly queer man to serve on the Council. He praised the new system of District elections for delivering diversity. “But we are here to act for the entire city. We must always remember that this is the Sunnyvale City Council. To that end, we must be on guard against the development of ‘district prerogative.’ We are not Mayors of our Districts, and we should not seek to exercise Veto power over them.”

Mehlinger continued: “we need to not be afraid of innovation. This is the heart of Silicon Valley. Let’s think about what we can do to make Sunnyvale more livable, where the cost of living is affordable, where you don’t need a car to do every errand, and where we are taking steps we need to combat Climate Change. Let’s make this a more ‘user-friendly’ city, where every interaction community members have with the city is as smooth as possible. Let’s keep our city a welcoming city, to make sure that no one here ever feels unsafe because of their race, creed, gender, because of who they love or how they live.”

The honors concluded with a recess, allowing spectators to depart after the ceremonial portion of the meeting.

The City Council next elected the Vice Mayor for the year. Incumbent Vice Mayor Alysa Cisneros nominated Councilmember Omar Din, who was elected unanimously.

City Council made intergovernmental appointments. Council unanimously appointed resident Alex Bonne to the VTA Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The Council selected members to liaise with Sunnyvale’s various Boards and Commissions and to serve on the Subcommittees of Board & Commission Bylaws and Neighborhood Grant Distribution. Council unanimously re-appointed former Councilmember Gustav Larsson to the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) Board of Directors. The Council selected various Councilmembers to serve at VTA, including Omar Din for the Board of Directors and Linda Sell for the Policy Advisory Committee. Further Intergovernmental Government appointments were made unanimously.

Procedural concerns were resolved, including the meeting schedule for the year and the Council seating chart.

Mayor Klein reported that SVCE rates will move from 1% lower than PG&E to 4% lower. As a result, Sunnyvale residents who have not opted out of SVCE will pay less than other PG&E ratepayers in exchange for 100% sustainably sourced electricity.

Councilmember Mehlinger proposed two study issues: “Access Sunnyvale 2.0” to upgrade the city’s public-facing website, and “Vision Zero Redesign of Borregas Avenue” to improve the safety of Borregas between Maude and Caribbean. Both study issues earned multiple co-sponsors.

Council adjourned at 10:55pm.