North Side Residents Want Safer Access to High School

Sunnyvale’s City Council met for nearly six hours on January 24 to hear public input on the city’s study issues, adjust the Housing Mitigation Fee, approve neighborhood grants, and sign off on the city’s Legislative Advocacy Positions.

Corporation Yard Master Plan

Before the Regular Meeting, Public Works presented a Study Session for a master plan to renovate the Corporation Yard (“Corp Yard”) on Commercial St. Several city departments use the yard for vehicle fleet maintenance and storage.

Most buildings at the 8.72-acre site were built in the 1950s. The structures are sound, but the old buildings will need replacement as the city grows. The master plan, split into three phases, is projected to run near $100 million. This project is not yet funded, and the city will pursue various funding options once the Council approves.

Councilmember Russ Melton noted that, during a site tour, he wondered whether the city could rehabilitate the existing structures. But the need for expensive seismic retrofits made a strong case for rebuilding the site.

For Public comment, Kristel Wickham, Chair of the Sustainability Commission, cited the need to plan for additional electrical needs as the city’s large vehicle fleet electrifies. Former Councilmember Tara Martin-Milius emphasized that “Cutting GHGs now has a tremendous impact.”

Board and Commission Recruitment

Councilmember Alyssa Cisneros reminded the public that the city has several vacancies on our Boards and Commissions and invited residents to apply. The application deadline is Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at 4 p.m.

Current vacancies:

  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (1)
  • Board of Library Trustees (2)
  • Heritage Preservation Commission (1)
  • Sustainability Commission (1)

Dark Skies

Rani Fischer of the Santa Clara Audubon Society gave a short presentation for Oral Communications on the hazards of excess night lighting. She sought to raise public awareness of safe night lighting practices and encourage the city to adopt a Dark Sky Ordinance.

“Light pollution is reversible,” explains Rani Fischer, of Santa Clara Audobon

Study Issues and Budget Proposals

Council next opened a public discussion on Potential Study Issues and Budget Proposals for 2023, which brought a large volume of public comment.

Bridget Watson highlighted the increased number of children at Sunnyvale’s Homeless Shelter. She encouraged Council to consider funding a dedicated staff position to address homeless concerns. She advocated hiring someone who could immediately look into reconfiguring the city’s shelter to provide for family needs, including privacy and kitchen access.

Anya Gajula, a Fremont High School student, spoke in support of a potential ballot measure to fund bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and in favor of Bike Lanes on Hollenbeck. Said Gajula, “only 5% of Fremont students bike to school, compared to 15% at other schools. The area around Fremont High School is especially dangerous: cars regularly drive 50 miles per hour across seven lanes of traffic, and there are no protected bike lanes. Our Vision Zero Plan lists Sunnyvale-Saratoga as a high-priority project for protected bike lanes, but there has been no progress made due to a lack of funding.”

A typical Street View of the bicycle route Fremont High School students can take from the North. Few students take the city’s invitation to ride in the gutter next to three lanes of traffic with a posted speed limit of 40 MPH.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of investigating an on-demand shuttle service to address the safe transportation needs of Sunnyvale students. Peggy Shen Brewster introduced Sunnyvale for Equity in Education (SEE), which is focused on the underserved transportation needs of Fremont High School students. Fellow SEE member Laurie Thomas explained that she sees students in Sunnyvale leaving the public school system in their high school years because Fremont can not reasonably be accessed by bicycling or public transportation. “We need a path for children to be able to get to Fremont High School, or we need a high school in North Sunnyvale.”

NOTE: As I wrote this article, the city website un-published the index of study issues it had previously advertised at, so I am unable to find and link study issues referenced after this point in this post. -danny

Several residents spoke in favor of installing bike lanes on Hollenbeck and against adding a second right-turn lane from Fremont onto Bernardo, as a second turn lane would make the intersection–identified by Sunnyvale’s Vision Zero policy as a “high injury” intersection–even more dangerous. Many regarded their advocacy as especially necessary, as Public Works staff recommended against a bike lane on Bernardo due to the need to remove parking from one side of the street and because staff favor adding a double right-turn at Bernardo in order to facilitate increased car traffic. “Adding an extra lane for car traffic is only going to induce more car traffic, and we’re going to end up with a fatality,” explained resident Nick Brosnahan.

Sharlene Liu of Bike Sunnyvale presented an image of Hollenbeck with protected bicycle lanes and parking on one side of the street.

Councilmember Murali Srinivasan proposed a study issue to implement a shuttle service for North Sunnyvale students to access Fremont Highschool, in addition to creating an app for residents to access city services. Councilmember Alyssa Cisneros introduced a study issue to prohibit right turns on red at Fremont and Bernardo and for improved homeless shelter services focused on the needs of families. Councilmember Richard Mehlinger proposed a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and a budget allocation for a pilot program to contract a consulting firm to investigate the next three road collisions in Sunnyvale that result in death or serious injury. Councilmember Linda Sell proposed a “Bicycle and Walking Safety Metrics” study issue to better guide the city’s efforts at implementing Vision Zero, Safe Routes to Schools, and Active Transportation. Councilmember Russ Melton proposed a budget allocation to improve enforcement of the Short Term Rental ordinance, citing a recent shooting on Navarro. Each of these proposals received multiple co-sponsors.

The City Council will prioritize and rank 2023 Study Issues at the Study Issues and Budget Proposals Workshop, to be held on February 16.

Non-Residential Housing Mitigation Fee

The Non-Residential Housing Mitigation Fee is charged on new office, R&D, retail, and lodging developments to support new affordable housing development. Given that new commercial development brings workers into Sunnyvale, the city has a greater need to ensure affordable access to housing. Stephanie Hagar of Bae Urban Economics presented a summary of the Nexus Study Issue to help the city adjust this fee based on economic factors. Based on the results of the Nexus study, citing economic circumstances, staff recommended increasing the Office/R&D fee but not increasing the fee for retail, lodging, or industrial uses.

Councilmember Richard Mehlinger proposed slightly higher fees for Office/R&D than the staff recommendation in order to zero out retail fees. His motion was supported by Councilmember Omar Din, who explained that lowering the fee on retail would improve the economic feasibility of mixed-use housing development. Mayor Larry Klein explained that the retail fees are already relatively low, saying, “I don’t think that the fees are what’s keeping retail from expanding. And the majority of retail coming to the city is replacing existing retail, so they are paying none of these fees.”

City Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation to increase the Office/R&D fee to $11 for the first 25,000 square feet and $22 per square foot over the first 25,000 square feet.

Neighborhood Grant Program

The city funds various community events and provides financial grants to neighborhood organizations to host events. The Community Events and Neighborhood Grant Program Subcommittee previously worked through the various funding proposals, and the City Council unanimously signed off on their recommendations.

Priority Advocacy Issues and Long-term Legislative Advocacy Positions (LAPs)

The city maintains an advocacy document that allows the mayor and city staff to advocate for policies at the state and federal levels on Sunnyvale’s behalf.

Councilmember Richard Mehlinger expressed concerns about the advocacy document’s process and contents. “This document has substantially been on autopilot.” Mehlinger cited various strong positions the city has taken over the years, including positions on controlled substances and the use of non-lethal force and local control of housing policy, where public discourse has since shifted. “As an elected official, the most important thing you have is your name, and what you put your name to matters a lot, and that is not an authority that I’m willing to give up lightly.” Mehlinger concluded, “I think a Council subcommittee to review the content of these positions would be very helpful to help us make sure that what we have in here is something that the whole council feels very comfortable supporting.”

Councilmember Linda Sell spoke in favor of the city’s ability to rapidly engage in advocacy. “I’ve seen how these letters work: a good environmental bill is out there, and then suddenly, all this opposition comes toward it. Supporters need to rapidly get city support. I do believe that these letters are very important, and being nimble is very important.” Sell explained that almost every year, Community Choice Energy comes under attack, and Sunnyvale is able to stand for it.

Mayor Larry Klein and Vice Mayor Omar Din thought it was reasonable to omit the names of council members on advocacy letters, as not all council members necessarily took those positions. Din: “it makes sense to me that when these letters go out, they are going out on behalf of the city, not on the behalf of seven individuals here.”

Councilmember Mehlinger proposed two amendments to the Policy document: first, to retain the city’s position on opposing Internet content filtering, pending further review, and second, to tweak the wording on the proposed 2023 Priority Advocacy issues to better reflect the need to balance between local control and expanded housing opportunities. The first amendment succeeded, whereas the second failed.

City Council adjourned at 11:50 pm.


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.