Cupertino Matters

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order continues, with more furloughs and layoffs. The open question is the loosening of restrictions when the current order—now extended through the end of May—expires.

Hospitals and medical facilities, for instance, have begun scheduling non-emergency surgeries and medical treatments postponed due to the pandemic. Revenue from elective procedures is important to their finances, as well as bringing back furloughed medical staff. There is also pressure from construction companies, particularly surrounding home construction, as well as personal service providers, such as barbers and beauticians. How many jobs which can’t be done at home could be done safely with additional precautions, particularly outside jobs and businesses? The answer to that question remains unclear. Rent, mortgages, and other bills still have to be paid. Applications for unemployment have overwhelmed state websites, so checks are slow to arrive. Today, the state launches the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program—unemployment insurance for the self-employed unable to work because of COVID-19. Applications through that system will give us a more complete picture of the full extent of the economic impact of the crisis.

Closer to home, our K-8 school district, Cupertino Union School District (CUSD), faces more challenges as superintendent, Dr. Craig Baker announced his retirement at the end of June as part of fiscal restructuring of the district. Declining school enrollment plus the failure to pass Measure O means substantial budget cuts will need to be made. Potential school closures explored earlier this year now look more likely for the fall.

The Cupertino community has stepped up to provide support. There are a number of groups making masks to distribute to all members of our community, including a quilting group repurposed to make masks. There was a 20,000 mask donation to distribute to local businesses. The school districts are providing meals to their students with drive-by distribution. City staff from Public Works and Parks and Recreation, including the senior center is delivering meals as needed. The Chamber of Commerce is assisting our small businesses in applying for COVID-19 funding for their businesses, as well as providing moral support. There have been thousands of meals donated to first responders and those in need. And West Valley Community Services has done yeoman’s work in meeting the increased demand for their services. The city council is set to examine—for the third time—rental assistance funds this evening. The amount has increased to include $100,000 in low interest loans, but the number still falls far short of what similar cities have offered in support of their residents. Mountain View, for instance, passed a support package of $500,000 in the first week of the crisis. Why is Cupertino offering so little to its own people?

In recognition of the economic times, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted this week to waive the 10% penalty and $20 fee on property tax payments that were due April 10, but paid late. The County will soon publicize the payment options available, including the County’s acceptance of partial payment of property taxes. Supervisor Joe Simitian, who represents the west valley cities, made the proposal which was approved unanimously by the board. 

In non-COVID news, housing advocates won a massive legal victory against our neighbor Los Altos, which unlawfully denied a housing application under SB 35. This case has potential implications for the Vallco SB 35 litigation because both cases are before the same judge. She agreed with the California Renters Legal Assistance and Education Fund (CaRLA) that the Los Altos application was approved automatically by SB 35 because the city of Los Altos never supplied the developer with a sufficient denial of the project in time. This is a case-deciding issue in the Vallco litigation. You can find a more detailed description of the impact of this case on Vallco in J.R. Fruen’s coverage of the issue for Cupertino for All on their Twitter page (you do not need a Twitter subscription to read it).

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UPCOMING  PLANNING COMMISSION – Tues., Apr. 28, 2020, 6:45 p.m. – Regular Meeting – CANCELLED
UPCOMING  CITY COUNCIL MEETING – Tues., Apr. 28, 2020, 6:45 Special Meeting – Teleconference

Both items on the agenda involve emergency assistance and funding for residents.
Item #1 COVID-19 Fiscal Impacts Update. In the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of legislation providing funding to a wide range of programs to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19. Attached to the staff report is a 32 page matrix prepared by Townsend Public Affairs which documents federal, state, and private emergency programs. Though the funding has been authorized, the application processing and deadlines remain to be determined (TBD) for many programs. The administering agencies have to determine the process for each individual agency, then the city has to prepare an application for consideration, then wait until grants are awarded. These funds will take weeks, if not months, to become available. In the meantime, the city has to continue to operate on committed funds. At this point, Cupertino will receive $229,017 in Community Development Block Grant funds. The City’s application for a Public Assistance grant has been approved, pending completion of a project application.

Item #2 Emergency Assistance Funds for Tenants at Risk of Eviction due to Impacts of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). This item was continued from March 17. The number of residents seeking assistance from West Valley Community Services (WVCS) has increased dramatically since shelter-in-place order was ordered for Santa Clara County. The primary need is for rent assistance, since food is being provided through other channels. The city is considering a $50,000 direct contribution to WVCS for this purpose. In addition, a $100,000 low interest loan program that would be administered through Meriwest Credit Union is proposed. Monies would come from either BMR Affordable Housing Funds or General Fund Human Services Grant funds. WVCS clients could also benefit from a new community based partner, which provides assistance in managing cash flow. As noted above, Mountain View—a city similar in size and budget concerns to Cupertino—passed an emergency rental support package of $500,000 at the beginning of the crisis. Why is Cupertino offering so much less and so much later?

RECAP  CITY COUNCIL MEETING – Wed., Apr. 22, 2020, 6:45 Special Meeting
YouTube: 59 min.

This meeting called by Mayor Steven Scharf had a single agenda item: Potential emergency order requiring face coverings for the public to slow the spread of COVID-19. The council spent almost an hour deciding to authorize the city manager to issue an emergency order mandating face coverings in public in Cupertino requiring the sheriff’s department to enforce violations. Councilmember Rod Sinks felt the county’s strong recommendation was sufficient, without requiring the additional law enforcement that Cupertino has to pay for and is unenforceable in neighboring cities. This item was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Sinks voting nay.

RECAP  CITY COUNCIL MEETING – Tues., Apr. 21, 2020, 6:45 Regular Meeting; 6:15 – Closed Session – Teleconference
YouTube: Part 1 – 2 hr. 54 minPart 2: 1 hr. 50 min. starting at Item #10, Fee Schedule.

This meeting ended at 11:30, with an unnecessarily long discussion on Item #9, a housing project appeal. The council unanimously approved city participation in possible litigation involving a coalition of cities and counties. No details for this litigation were provided.

Item #2 City Manager update on COVID-19 response efforts. City Manager Deb Feng gave an update, assuring the council and public that the city is fully open for business, though accessed virtually. All May events have been cancelled. The city’s COVID-19 webpage is the most highly trafficked page on the city website. Councilmembers expressed concern regarding pay for furloughed employees.

Item #3 Report on Homeless. The council struggled with policies regarding homeless camps in Cupertino, which are quite visible on Wolfe Road. While these camps are illegal, the occupants need to have a place to relocate, so no action can be taken during the shelter-in-place. The initial discussion had been on negotiations for a sweep of the encampments, but shifted to solutions after comments by resident Connie Cunningham.

Item #8: Second reading of a Development Agreement for a new 155-room 7-story hotel (24-hour operations) with underground parking by demolishing a commercial building with an area of 8,323 sq. ft. (Application No: DA-2018-01; Applicant(s): John Vidovich (De Anza Properties); Location: 10931 N De Anza Blvd.; Approved  on a 4-1 vote with Councilmember Jon Willey voting nay.

Item #9 Consider an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of a Minor Residential Permit to allow a second-story balcony. (Application: RM-2017-39).  Council spent over an hour on this appeal, attempting to redesign the balcony on a fully compliant plan approved by both the Planning Department and the Planning Commission. Councilmember Darcy Paul and the city attorney had to remind new members of council that their job was to determine whether there was cause to uphold the appeal, not redesign of the project. Finally, council unanimously rejected the appeal on the condition that the deck be reduced in depth.

Item #10 Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-21 Fee Schedule Update. There was minimal discussion of individual fees, which were in line with inflation. Staff recommended fee increases be delayed until Oct. 1, 2020 to minimize impact. Council concurred with this recommendation, and unanimously approved the schedule.

Item #11 Authorization to execute a Fourth Amendment to Franchise Agreement including provisions to pursue sole negotiations for a new Franchise Agreement for solid waste collection services with Recology Cupertino. There was an extended discussion about the current agreement with Recology for waste management , which expires on Feb. 1, 2021. Though there is always pressure to avoid cost increases, Recology is facing a challenging market for waste management. The council voted unanimously to authorize the city manager to proceed with negotiations.

 CUPERTINO COURIER  April 24, 2020

Photo on the front page and article on page 5 are COVID-19 Help from Abroad: Taiwanese Rotary helps local club fight pandemic, by Anne Gelhaus, a cooperative effort between the two clubs. Community briefs on page 5 are (1) Virtual Coffee Talk on April 24, (2) COVID-19 by the numbers, and (3) Virtual outdoors by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. Legal notices on page 24 are (1) Notice of Public Hearing for Municipal Code amendments regarding Penalties for Violation of Approval and Code Enforcement Best Practices, and (2) Consideration of CDBG, BMR AHF and HSG grant funding, both at the May 5, 2020 council meeting.

Since we’ve been sheltering-in-place, have you noticed an increase in home comfort activities, such as cooking, baking bread, sewing and gardening? Maybe we’re back to basics for while!

Warm regards,
Jean Bedord
Cupertino Matters
Publisher and Editor