Cupertino Matters

This month is already jam-packed with meetings and events. The agenda for this week’s city council meeting is lengthy, so this may be another session that ends in the wee hours of the morning. There is a closed session to discuss a workers’ compensation claim against the city followed by a discussion on the city litigation, apparently to file an amicus brief, though the description does not mention what the subject-matter of the case may be.

A study session will then ensue, followed by the regular meeting. Council’s new Ethics Policy is Item #15, which means it will be considered likely long after the public has gone home.

State housing bill SB50 has progressed in Sacramento. It made national news with an article in The Atlantic, The Bill that Could Make California Livable Again:  S.B. 50 would make the state denser, cheaper, greener and more affordable. A key statistic: “Based on the housing-unit-to-population ratio in similarly wealthy and urban states, such as New York and New Jersey, California is short 2 million to 3.5 million housing units. (California has 358 homes per 1,000 people, whereas New York and New Jersey each have more than 400.) Right now, the state ranks 49th in units per capita, behind only Utah.” This is the impetus behind state level initiatives to enable housing development; local governments have failed to address the housing shortage. Closer to home, the newly elected Mayor of Palo Alto, Adrian Fine, wrote of his personal experience of the housing crisis in support of SB50. His letter is available here.

Commission interviews will be held on Jan. 27 and 28. These are open to the public, though not recorded. On Jan. 29, Mayor Steven Scharf will give his State of the City address.

Your voice is important.  Information on expressing your opinion via emails and oral communications with the city can be found at https://cupertinomatters.org/express-your-opinion/

UPCOMING CITY COUNCIL MEETING – Tues., Jan. 21, 2020, 6:45 Regular Meeting; 5:30 Study Session, 5:00 Closed Session – Community Hall

Following the two closed session legal matters, council will hold a study session on the issue of homelessness, which is increasing in Cupertino. The 2019 Housing Census identified 159 homeless Cupertinians, a 25% increase over the 2017 Census which counted 127 individuals. West Valley Community Services (WVCS) and the Cupertino Library are the front line for serving this population. The staff report shows that homeless is even worse for De Anza students. “According to a Fall 2018 survey of De Anza College students, “5 out of 10 students are housing insecure and 2 out of 10 students are homeless.” The Housing Commission recommended exploring a Home Match program with De Anza College and the Senior Center.

The regular session then follows. The Ceremonial Presentation consists of (1) Presentation from Cupertino Elementary School ROBO Champs regarding their response to the Lego Robotics theme of “Identifying a problem in public space and proposing a solution” and (2) Presentation from CalTutors on “Inspiring Young Students Through Free STEM Training.” The Municipal Code amendments regarding the sale of electronic tobacco products has been postponed. The consent calendar appears routine with the exception of Item #9 Adoption of the city’s proposed 2020 Legislative Platform, developed by the Legislative Review Committee (LRC) consisting of Mayor Steven Scharf and Councilmember Liang Chao. 2019 was the first year the council hired a lobbyist, and held multiple meetings, yet the final proposal for 2020 is very similar to the 2019 plan (see redlined version). Given Cupertino’s self-inflicted negative reputation at the state level, is this expenditure of staff hours, council time and consultant fees justifiable? The LRC opposed most of the housing bills passed and signed into law, so what purpose does the city’s lobbyist serve?

Item #10: Second reading of Adoption of Local Amendments to 2019 California Energy & Green Building Standards Codes (Reach Code).  These standards are likely to receive routine approval since they were previously approved at the December 17 council meeting. That said, the document is complex and the public would benefit from clarity.

Item: #11: Public Hearing to Vacate Portions of a Public Utility Easement for Water Line Purposes and a Portion of an Emergency Access Easement Located at 23500 Cristo Rey Drive. These easements are needed to complete improvements for the Forum at Rancho San Antonio. The Santa Clara County fire department changed the requirements for placement of fire hydrants necessitating legal action to provide a clear title. This item was previously considered at the Dec. 17 council meeting and should therefore result in a routine approval.

Item #12: Public Hearing to Consider approving a new 155-room seven-story hotel (24-hour operations) with underground parking, event meeting rooms, a ground floor restaurant with separate bar, and a rooftop lounge with separate bar by demolishing a commercial building with an area of 8,323 sq. ft. City Actions would include General Plan Amendments.  This is the latest iteration of the De Anza Hotel planned for the Goodyear Tire Store site adjacent to the Cupertino Hotel, which is now completing the full approval cycle after passing the council gateway process in January, 2019, over ten years after the initial proposal to redevelop the site. The design has improved, and the project includes community benefits. The project would contribute approximately $1 M in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) to the city General Fund, as well as one-time impact fees. The Planning Commission approved this item on December 10 on a 4-0-1 vote. This is a good project, but previous council actions on this and similar projects have provoked lengthy questions from councilmembers, so approval isn’t certain.

Item #13: Abatement of public nuisance from weeds or other fire hazards pursuant to provisions of Cupertino Municipal Code Chapter 9.08 and Resolution No. 19-141; hearing for impacted property owners to contest the matter of proposed abatement. This is the annual process to require property owners to remove weeds and combustible materials from their properties. Usually, notified owners promptly mitigate the situation so enforcement is a non-issue, but there is a 3 year enforcement cycle. Councilmember Liang Chao’s home is on the list, so she will need to recuse from this item.  During 2019, council spent an inordinate amount of time trying to appease one property owner claiming his property was a “butterfly habitat,” despite obvious rubbish in the front yard at the time of inspection. Given the length of the agenda and the routine nature of this mandatory action, council would be well advised to minimize time spent on this item.

Item #14: Adopt subcommittee recommendations to improve commission and committee engagement with Council, standardize protocol among commissions and committees, and adopt an ordinance repealing Ordinance No. 006 regarding adoption of Robert’s Rules of Order and amending Chapter 2.08 of the Cupertino Municipal Code accordingly. After repealing the code of ethics passed in 2018, Councilmember Liang Chao and Vice-Mayor Darcy Paul formed a subcommittee to draft new protocols. This subcommittee made 33 recommendations, many of which are already in place.  However, there appears to be no clear directive on training in how to conduct an effective meeting or how to aggregate community input. Given the number of inexperienced commission chairs and commission members, this omission could defeat the purpose of this exercise. In addition, the action items include replacing Robert’s Rules of Order, adopted in 1955, with Rosenberg’s Rules of Order—a simpler set of parliamentary procedures.

Item #15: Adopt the City of Cupertino Ethics Policy. A Code of Ethics was adopted by the City Council on Nov. 20, 2018. The new city council voted to rescind this policy on Jan. 15, 2019. Vice-Mayor Darcy Paul and Councilmember Liang Chao formed a subcommittee to work with the city attorney and city manager on a revised policy. Council will consider three options: (A) an ethics policy based on Palo Alto, which is quite explicit, (B) an ethics policy based on Morgan Hill, which is shorter and less comprehensive, or (C) a Values Based Ethics Policy which is very short and contains few (if any) specifics. Council solicited feedback from all the commissions, and only Option (A) includes their recommendations. All three options lack enforcement mechanisms, even though problematic behavior by Councilmember Liang Chao and Planning Commission Chair R “Ray” Wang, was cited in the commissioner comments. Without such a mechanism, it is not clear what meaning these rules will have or how council will prevent episodes like Chair Wang’s threats against his critics. Has council learned from events of the past or is this a public relations exercise?

Item #16: Adopt Updated Community Funding Policy and Approve Community Funding Grant Cap of $20,000 Per Applicant Per Year. Each year, council has a budget line item for Community Funding to provide grants to community organizations. Council requested that this policy be reviewed and updated as part of this year’s work plan. The updated policy is more explicit about the evaluation criteria and also establishes a limit for each grant.

Item #17: Approve the First Amendment to Employment Agreement for City Manager. On Dec. 17, council conducted its six month review of City Manager, Deborah Feng, deciding to pay a one-time performance bonus of $19,000, a vote of confidence in her management of the city, as well as her vacation time. This item constitutes the formal approval.

Item #18:Appointment of Council Committee assignments. These are meetings at which councilmembers represent the interests of Cupertino. Meetings are typically scheduled during the work week, and therefore require extra time from councilmembers.

Oral Communications may be continued to after Item #18 depending on volume. As usual, listen closely to full council reports at the end of the meeting.

RECAP  PLANNING COMMISSION – Tues., Jan. 14, 2020
YouTube: 3 hr. 2 min.

Item #1: Election of Chair, Vice Chair and Committee. This turned into a no-action item postponed to the next meeting. Chair Ray Wang was absent. Vice-Chair Vikram Saxena and Commissioner Kitty Moore strongly supported deferring this vote until all five commissioners were present, rather than a coin toss according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the governing parliamentary procedure for the commission. Commissioner AlanTakahashi requested clarification on the process of selection without receiving concrete answers. Readers will recall that Commissioners Moore, Wang, and Saxena broke precedent and denied then-Vice-Chair Takahashi the usual rotation to become Chair.

Item #4:  Municipal Code Amendments to regulate Short-Term Rental (STR) activity in the City. A new Chapter 5.08 (Short Term Rental Activity) is proposed and amendments are proposed to Chapter 3.12 (Transient Occupancy Tax), Chapter 19.08 (Definitions), Chapter 19.12 (Administration), Chapter 19.20 (Permitted, Conditional and Excluded Use in Agricultural and Residential Zones) and Chapter 19.120 (Home Occupations), of the Cupertino Municipal Code.This discussion raised more questions than consensus, so more information is needed as well as clarity on the objective of these amendments. Is the objective to (1) capture uncollected Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) for this home occupation, or (2) restrict the use of homes and ADUs for this activity so they could potentially be used for longer term rentals? (What ‘s the mechanism for tracking whether an STR becomes a multi-month rental?) It’s unclear how many rentals would receive inclusion in these ordinances, since most STR activity occurs through AirBnb, which already operates under an agreement with the city to collect TOT.

Costs were quite unclear. Fees to the operators were not defined, and while the monitoring costs were presented, these do not include administrative costs. When council considered this issue several years ago, the collection of TOT would not cover the cost of administering such a program. STR units are only rented about 30% of available days, and the average STR operator only makes about $15,000 per year, despite anecdotal claims that these operations are highly lucrative. Code enforcement has encountered few problems with short-term rentals or long term rentals, contrary to perception. As a community, are we overlooking the benefit of having this type of open-ended “affordable rental” that doesn’t require a lease? What about friends and family who need reasonable accommodations for short visits and house repairs? Shouldn’t we be catering to business people who can’t afford to pay hotel prices in Cupertino, particularly on weekdays? The average price is $140 per night, which is doable for government employees. When this issue comes before city council, please take the time to express your experiences with AirBnB, as well as other STRs, both as a customer and as an operator.

Item #5: Study Session on the General Plan Annual Review/Implementation Plan and consider General Plan Policies and Strategies that could benefit from clarification. This was a continuation of the review on Dec. 10, which was a continuation from the Oct. 28 meeting. Another 20 pages of this 107-page document received examination with only minor changes. This item will be continued yet again.

CUPERTINO COURIER  January 17, 2020

The cover photo and feature article on page 5 is Women – Making it happen: Silicon Valley Reads 2020 celebrates women, kicks off in Cupertino. There will be other events in Cupertino during this popular annual community program sponsored by the Santa Clara County Library system. This year, the focus is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. The Community Brief on Page 5 is County library redesigns its website, which highlights the many services available at the public library in addition to print materials.

Hope to see you at council!

Warm regards,
Jean Bedord
Cupertino Matters
Publisher and Editor