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.

Help VTA Improve Tasman Drive

VTA is undertaking a “Complete Streets” survey to determine what improvements can be made to Tasman Drive to make it safer and easier to use for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. VTA has a nice website for this project, where you can click on spots on the map, make suggestions, and review and comment on other suggestions made by the public.

Tasman Map Blue3

Tasman Drive from Sunnyvale to Milpitas

Per VTA:

Gathering public input is critical to the success of all the planning efforts VTA undertakes. We want to hear from you. How do you use the corridor and what improvements would you like to see?
Tell us how we can improve this area in our online survey, or attend an upcoming public outreach events:

  • Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6pm
    Riverwood Community Room
    2150 Tasman Dr
    Santa Clara, CA 95054
  • Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 6pm
    Lakewood Park
    834 Lakechime Dr
    Sunnyvale, CA 94089
  • Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 6pm
    Centria Community Room
    1101 S Main St
    Milpitas, CA 95035

RSVP:  View the meetings as Facebook events: Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Milpitas/San Jose.

VTA taking applications for Measure B Citizens Oversight Committee

Do you have a passion for transportation, attention to detail, and a desire to help your community? VTA is taking applications for the Measure B Citizen’s Oversight Committee.

In 2016, the voters of Santa Clara County passed Measure B: a 30-year, half-cent sales tax, to fund transportation projects. The funding is allocated for projects along these lines:

  • $1.8 billion for expressways, highway interchanges and route 85
  • $1.5 billion to extend BART to Santa Clara
  • $1.2 billion to improve and repair local roads
  • $1 billion for Caltrain capacity and grade separation
  • $500 million for local public transportation
  • $250 million for bicycle and pedestrian projects

Per VTA’s website:

With the passage of the sales tax, VTA must develop guidelines for each of the nine program areas as described in the resolution that created the measure. In order to allow for sufficient time to discuss each of the nine program areas, VTA will present the proposed guidelines for three of the programs each month beginning in February. VTA will present the final set of draft guidelines in May.2016 Measure B Implementation Committee Work Plan small

The following VTA committees will be discussing the guidelines as part of their regularly scheduled meetings. The public is welcome to attend these meetings to learn more about the proposed guidelines and provide input. Please click each for meeting dates, agendas and a description of each committee.

The Citizen’s Oversight Committee being formed will also ensure transparency and accountability.

Citizens registered to vote in Santa Clara County can apply online. Applications are due by April 21.

VTA Fare Review: Public Input

As part of the VTA’s Next Network project to change the transit system’s design to provide greater service frequency, VTA is reviewing fare policy. VTA invite you to contribute to a Public Input Survey. Surveys are due by February 20.

The survey is accessible here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VTAFareReviewPublicInput

Also, Silicon Valley Transit Users have a nice summary of upcoming meetings for those who wish to learn more about and provide feedback to VTA about the Next Network.

VTA Publishes Draft for “Next Network”

The VTA Board has received a draft of the “Next Network” which is VTA’s plan to gear the transit network towards serving more riders. The overall strategy is to provide fewer, more direct routes with greater service frequency to make transit more useful to transit riders. Let’s start with route legend:

vta_next_network_draft_201701-legendI read this as:

  • Red means convenient transit service (every 15 minutes)
  • Orange means convenient and fast (15 minutes, limited stops)
  • Blue means there is a bus, but check the schedule …

Here’s the current system map (left) and the draft (right) for the Sunnyvale area:

Some of the changes slated for Sunnyvale:

El Camino Real

Decrease weekday frequency on Route 22; increase frequency on Route 522.

New Rapid Service

  • Route 523: North-South from Lockheed Martin via Mathilda / Sunnyvale-Saratoga to De Anza College, then East-West via Steven’s Creek to San Jose: Vallco, Valley Fair, Santana Row, BART.
  • Route 23: (Stevens Creek to De Anza) Decrease frequency from 12 to 15 minutes on Route 23; increase frequency on Route 523.

New “Neighborhood Connections”

  • Route 20: (Evelyn / Arques to BART) Create new Route 20 that would connect Milpitas BART Station, Mission College, Santa Clara Square, Downtown Sunnyvale and Downtown Mountain View. New Route 20 would provide service to areas currently served during commute periods by parts of Routes 58, 321 and 304.
  • Route 21: (Middlefield) Create new Route 21 that would connect Downtown Palo Alto with San Antonio Transit Center, Downtown Mountain View, Downtown Sunnyvale and Santa Clara Caltrain Station. New Route 21 would replace current Routes 32 and 35.
  • Route 56: (Wolfe / Fair Oaks) Create new Route 56, which would connect Lockheed Martin Transit Center to Downtown Sunnyvale, Vallco Mall, Downtown Campbell and Winchester Transit Center.

Modify/Remove “Neighborhood Connections”

  • Route 26: Split into two separate routes; replaced by Route 56 in Sunnyvale.
  • Route 32: Discontinue; replace with new Route 21.
  • Route 53: Change routing to serve Vallco Mall and Santa Clara Caltrain Station instead of West Valley College; this change replaces part of current Route 81. Increase frequency on weekdays.
  • Route 54: Discontinue Route 54; add more frequent new Rapid 523 service on Mathilda Avenue/De Anza Boulevard corridor.
  • Route 55: Change routing between Downtown Sunnyvale and Remington Avenue from Fair Oaks Avenue to Sunnyvale Avenue; decrease weekday peak period frequency and increase Sunday frequency.
  • Route 81: Discontinue; replace Moffet Field to De Anza College segment with new Route 51. Replace De Anza College to Santa Clara Caltrain Station segment with revised Route 53.

BART Connections

bart-201701

When the Milpitas BART Station opens and we get our new bus system, Sunnyvale will have some connection to BART:

  • The light rail system will be re-aligned so that Mountain View routes to Alum Rock / BART
  • Every 30 minutes, route 20 will meander from BART over to Mission College, Sunnyvale Caltrain, then continue down Evelyn to Mountain View Caltrain
  • Every 15 minutes, route 60 will connect to San Jose Airport and Santa Clara Caltrain before heading south to Campbell

Initial Reaction

These changes are a step in the right direction.

I like the frequent light rail connection to BART, and the 523 rapid service.

I would prefer more frequent service in Sunnyvale. (Change some of the blue to red.) Maybe prioritize frequency on lines that can extend the frequent light rail service to BART:

  • Route 21 West on Middlefield to Palo Alto
  • Route 56 South down Fair Oaks / Wolfe

With the addition of route 523, route 55 south of Sunnyvale Caltrain looks like duplicate service which might be better applied elsewhere.

I’m not sure if Route 20 is such a great BART connection. It might be that despite the transfer, light rail to route 523 would be more convenient to downtown Sunnyvale.

Sunnyvale and Santa Clara are working on a plan to bring in a lot of housing around Lawrence Caltrain station. This new transit-oriented community should have local transit service. It may be that the timeline for this development is such that it would be accommodated in a future round of VTA service adjustments.

Route 21: Middlefield

I really like the idea of a single bus route the length of Middlefield as far as Palo Alto. Running parallel to and more frequently than Caltrain along a well-known corridor, it could reproduce some of the success of the 22. I think it would be better if it continued straight along Middlefield between San Antonio and Moffett:

  • The route already provides Caltrain connections at Sunnyvale and Palo Alto
  • The detour duplicates Caltrain connections provided by route 44 and employer shuttles
  • A straight route would provide service to many apartments, offices, and retail along Middlefield
  • A straighter route provides faster service to passengers
  • A straighter route is more intuitive to customers
  • A simpler route reduces operation costs, making frequent service more feasible
  • Route 22 avoids detours to connect to Caltrain, and it is VTA’s most popular line

One potential vision for route 21 is as a frequent route that can extend the frequent service provided by light rail down through the offices and apartments in the North of Mountain View clear to downtown Palo Alto.

Get Involved!

VTA will be holding a series of meetings to gather community feedback. Here are a few that will be in the Sunnyvale area:

Cupertino
Wednesday, January 18 at 6pm
Quinlan Community Center, Cupertino Room
10185 N Stelling Rd Cupertino, CA 95014

Palo Alto
Thursday, January 19 at 6pm
Palo Alto City Hall, Council Chambers
250 Hamilton Ave Palo Alto, CA 94301

Campbell
Monday, January 23 at 6pm
Campbell Library, Community Room
77 Harrison Ave Campbell, CA 95008

Mountain View
Monday, February 6 at 6pm
Adobe Building
157 Moffett Blvd Mountain View, CA 94043

Public comments on the draft plan will be taken through February 20, 2017 and can be sent to community.outreach@vta.org.

VTA Board Approve Plan to Redesign Transit Network to Improve Ridership

On November 18, the VTA Board of Directors directed staff to begin designing a new transit network which will provide a greater emphasis on ridership over coverage. This is a critical step in the VTA Next Network project which has been in process throughout 2016 and will culminate in a new bus / light rail network in 2017.

Improved Service Frequency

This represents a big step forward for VTA, which has lagged behind comparable transit agencies for more than a decade. The goal is to encourage people to ride transit by making transit services for most people more convenient. This is to be achieved by a network of bus routes which run at least every 15 minutes. Prospective passengers can simply walk to a bus stop with an assurance that they will soon get a ride, without the hassle of planning their trips around timetables. The tradeoff is that in order to provide more frequent service on heavily used lines, overall network coverage in areas with lower ridership will be pared back or removed altogether. In Next Network terms, VTA is moving from a current orientation of 70% service, 30% coverage to a network of 85% service, 15% coverage.

network70

Concept: 70% Ridership, 30% Coverage

network90

Concept: 90% Ridership, 10% Coverage

The above are “concept networks” from the VTA Next Network site. The left is “70% ridership” which means more coverage with infrequent lines, while the right is “90% ridership.” The color key is:

  • Thick Orange — Extra Frequent Rapid: limited stops and 7.5 minute peak frequency
  • Red — Frequent: 15 minutes or better
  • Blue — every half hour
  • Green — hourly service

With the board directing VTA to pursue 85% ridership, one can expect a sparser map with more red lines.

Mobility Concerns

Green Caltrain’s Adina Levin summarized community and board concerns over how to provide mobility to those who might lose transit coverage:

Cutting coverage harms people whose service is cut, especially youth, seniors, disabled, and very low-income people who don’t have other transportation choices.  According to federal law, transit agencies have a legal obligation to provide paratransit service only on routes serviced by fixed-route bus service. If the bus route goes away, so does the paratransit service.

At the meeting, several community members from Palo Alto came and raised concerns about the 88 route. Penny Ellson of Palo Alto commented that the route serves a number of schools, and was a key factor in the decision to locate senior housing.

To alleviate impacts on disabled people, VTA staff recommended potentially keeping paratransit routes even where buses no longer ran. And in response to concerns raised by communities that would lose low-ridership routes, staff recommended options including block grants to cities to run local shuttle service, and experimentation with transportation network services such as Lyft and Uber, which might be able to provide access at a lower per-ride cost than fixed route buses, and using excess paratransit capacity for on-demand service.

The Lyft/Uber option sounded compelling to board members including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Council Member Johnny Khamis. Board chair Supervisor Cindy Chavez expressed concern about potentially undermining public transit. The future economic viability of services like Lyft and Uber is also questionable.

Improving Connections

A critical factor in the success of a frequent-service network, is the ability to connect between bus routes and between the bus system and other transit services. Green Caltrain noted that this was also a concern of the VTA board:

Board members including Sunnyvale Mayor Hendricks and Santa Clara Vice-Mayor O’Neill strongly supported the recommendation to reduce the cost of transfers, including transfers to BART and Caltrain. A board member suggested that rail agencies with higher farebox recovery provide VTA with financial compensation for providing feeder service.

See Also

VTA Board of Directors Meeting Details

Next Steps

  • December 8, 2016: VTA Board of Directors Meeting–Agenda will be posted to VTA’s website 72-hours prior.
  • January 5, 2017: VTA Board of Directors Meeting–Draft transit plan will be presented to the Board.
  • January – February 2017: Public Outreach Period–Draft transit plan will be released for public review and input.
  • April 2017: VTA Board of Directors will adopt a final plan
  • Fall 2017: BART extension and VTA Next Network begin operations