Cupertino Matters

The past week has generated a lot of local news. First, and perhaps most surprising, was a series of comments offered by Cupertino Vice-Mayor Liang Chao in a GoogleGroup discussion forum aimed at elementary school district parents, in which she downplayed the racist underpinnings of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, claiming that it  “was not even based on race”. The Act, passed amid a heightened period of anti-Chinese animus, denied U.S. citizenship to any Chinese immigrant and forbade entry into the United States of virtually all Chinese workers. Both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed resolutions of regret for the Act, noting that it “was the first Federal law that excluded a single group of people on the basis of race.” The Vice-Mayor, instead, compared it to current types of skill-based visas. The comments earned the swift rebuke of various Asian American leaders, who have called on her to apologize for her remarks, per Grace Hase at the Mercury News. An initial story, published by Eric He, in the Patch, noting Chao’s apparent defense of the Act, triggered a reply from the Vice-Mayor where she sought to characterize her stance as a mere discussion of critical race theory, denied saying that the Act wasn’t racist, and failed to apologize. The article is lengthy and contains screen captures of some of the key commentary. Other press outlets, including The World Journal have covered the matter. What responsibility do elected leaders seeking to engage with the public have to the truth and the impact of their own words?

Unfortunately, the vice-mayor wasn’t the only councilmember to make the news last week. The council as a whole also garnered the attention of the Mercury News, as councilmembers again attempt to circumvent state housing laws, in this case, SB 9–a modest infill housing law allowing homeowners to split most larger single-family lots and build duplexes if they choose: Let’s go as strict as possible’: Cupertino looks to enact stringent standards for SB9 projects Council attempted a similar end-of-year workaround with AB 2345 in December of 2020, only to have to undo itself after threats of litigation and the reproval of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. If council is concerned about its negative reputation on housing-related issues, is this really the best way to approach the state’s housing legislation? 

On another housing-related note, and perhaps most visibly, the demolition of the Oaks shopping center is also now underway. KT Urban bought the shopping center in 2015. It proposed a number of different projects that were all rejected by the city council. Ultimately, the property owner returned with a smaller, mixed-use project, enabled by the Density Bonus Law and the Housing Accountability Act. Under the specter of litigation, the city council approved this project on August 20, 2020.

The public is invited to express their opinion on actions the council needs to take in planning for 4,588 new housing units in the upcoming RHNA cycle at the study session at the next council meeting on Nov. 16 at 5:15 p.m. prior to the regular 6:45 p.m. meeting. Council will be faced with tough decisions to comply with state law.

Finally, Interim City Manager Greg Larson, in assessing progress on the 2021-22 city council work plan was very candid about organizational constraints. Even prior to COVID-19, staff spend approximately 80 to 85% of their time doing day-to-day operations and ongoing responsibilities, not special projects. At best, this means only 15-20% of staff time, specifically management time, is available for high priority and council-initiated work items. However, COVID-19 further constrained staff capacity, so there is little progress on low priority items. The current city work plan features 34 items, which is extremely unrealistic per the constraints described, but council has failed to take steps to reduce their demands on an overwhelmed staff with numerous departmental vacancies.

The council is an important element of organizational capacity in their role with regard to the rest of the organization:

  • Develop Council consensus
  • Adopt and adhere to a few priorities
  • Manage new priorities
  • Address our ability to deal with conflict
  • Decide how to make quick and clear decisions
  • Develop Council Code of Conduct and decorum
  • Understand role of City Manager
  • Understand limited staff capacity beyond daytoday operations
CANCELLED – PLANNING COMMISSION -Tues, Nov. 9, 2021, Regular meeting
RECAP – CITY COUNCIL – Tues, Nov. 2, 2021, 6:45 Regular  session, 6:45, 5:30 Study session; 5:00 Closed Session

YouTube: Part 1 – Study Session 1 hr. ;  Part 2 – Regular session 3 hr. 33 min.

The report out from the closed session on a new city manager was once again “no reportable action” . However, at the very end of the meeting, Mayor Paul indicated an expectation that a new city manager would be named soon. The contract for the interim city manager, Greg Larson, ends in early December.

The study session is consider new state legislation (Senate Bill 9), that provides for ministerial approval of up to two units and/or a lot split in a residential single-family zone (Application No.: CP-2021-001; Applicant: City of Cupertino; Location: Citywide in all residential single family zones). Staff gave an excellent overview of the provisions of this bill identifying areas that the council could  provide guidance. Vice-Mayor Chao and Councilmember Moore lobbied for maximum restrictions on exercise of this bill, despite a report by Terner Center that only approximately 5% of single family homes would be affected because of an absence of physical capacity or financial feasibility.  Is this consistent with this council’s purported “pro-housing” position? Does this fit with their  “improved” policy to encourage accessory dwelling units? Staff anticipates bringing an ordinance to council on Dec. 7. 

The regular meeting ended at 10:22 p.m. Restricting the regular agenda to 2-3 substantive items, as well as limiting individual council commentary to 5 minutes, has worked effectively in establishing reasonable meeting times as well as more effective decision making.

Item #11 Consider the second reading of Ordinance No. 21-2232 adopting amendments to the Cupertino Municipal Code Title 17, Environmental Regulations, to add a new Chapter, Chapter 17.04, to adopt standard environmental protection requirements for construction, development and other similar or related activities. Approved unanimously.

Item #12 For the future operations of the Municipal Water System, consideration of: 1) Key Lease Terms for a new Long-Term Lease; 2) first amendment of the Current Lease Agreement with San Jose Water Company to extend the term up to three years; and 3) request to increase Public Works Administration – Special Projects Budget Allocation. There was an extensive discussion about the process  of soliciting RFPs for operation of the water system to obtain the most competitive bids.. The recommendation by staff was a flexible amendment which could be exercised for 6 months, 12 months or any period up to 3 years. A consultant has been hired to evaluate self-operation by the city. Rate setting will be the most difficult aspect, since the Cupertino water system services only one-third of the residents, so it has to be equitable for ALL residents.  The staff recommendation  was  approved unanimously.

Item #13: FY 2021-2022 City Work Program Q1 Update.  Interim City Manager , Greg Larsen, provided the Q1 Update for the  approved city Work Plan.  While staff has managed to make progress on the top 10 items, staff resources, particularly Community Development/Planning have been diverted to high priority items NOT included last May when the current work plan was developed:

  • Housing Element – RHNA related updates and rezoning due by end of 2022
  • SB 9 Urgency Ordinance
  • Vallco
  • 10455 Torre Avenue Improvements, Programming and Feasibility for housing city staff, instead of the seismically unsafe city hall.
  • Planning for resumption of pre-pandemic services  in all departments.

The staff report is well worth perusing  as well as the city manager’s presentation The city has developed an excellent dashboard for tracking progress on identified work plan projects at  

YOU CAN EXPRESS YOUR OPINION: Readers are encouraged to email individual members of the council, the council as a whole, the city manager, and the city clerk. Note that emails to the city council as a whole are forwarded to the city manager, whereas emails to individual councilmembers are not. Clearly include in your subject line the topic or agenda item on which you are commenting. These become part of the public record.

CUPERTINO COURIER, November 5, 2021

The front page photo and article on page 5 are titled Aiming for Gold:  Cupertino teen’s athletic career goes swimmingly. Community briefs on page 5 are (1) Bike project of the year for the separated bike lanes on McClellan installed by our Public Works department and  (2) Heartfelt scholarship awarded to nursing student, Nicole Van Nuland, at DeAnza College.. On page 24, there is a notice of  vacancies on City Commissions with applications due Jan. 7, 2022.

Warm regards,
Jean Bedord
Cupertino Matters
Publisher and Editor