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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lawsuits, CVRA, & CA law 34886

Summary:


"Guest" post by a lawyer friend (David Wessel) who disputes the findings of the Sunnyvale City Attorney's office in regard to moving to district elections by invoking CA code #34886, as other charter cities have done.  Different attorneys will have different views.  I am not an attorney and am not venturing an opinion on this.

Link to this post:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/lawsuits-cvra-ca-law-34886.html

------------  Begin David Wessel's "Guest" post --------------
  • "tl;dr" version: If Sunnyvale has "at-large" elections in November of 2020 it will be sued, spend $Millions to fight and lose the lawsuit, and be ordered to go to district elections by a judge,  And the November 2020 "at-large" elections will be ruled illegal and a special election (costing about $1Million) using court-ordered districts will be imposed by a judge.
  • Longer version: The Sunnyvale City staff "Report to Council" (RTC) is disputed.  A look at the laws involved show that California Government Code (CGC) #34886 is sufficient to move the city to district elections, contrary to the conclusion of the RTC which decided it was unclear.  
  • By moving to district elections via CGC #34886 the City of Sunnyvale avoids entirely the prospect of a lawsuit based on the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).  Should Sunnyvale be sued for violation of the CVRA, it will almost surely lose as has every city that has been sued.  
  • If Sunnyvale fights and loses the lawsuit it will cost Sunnyvale millions of dollars in payment of the plaintiff's legal fees, plus at least one million dollars (most likely more) in legal fees incurred directly by the city of Sunnyvale.

For the letter initiating the issue see:  https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/sunnyvale-district-elections-part-3_6.html

For a possible district map and demographic analysis see: http://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/district-elections-cvra-5.html

Solution:

Proposed solution to the issue of the CVRA and Sunnyvale elections is that the City of Sunnyvale move to district elections invoking CGC #34886 thereby avoiding a lawsuit, with the first district elections held on November of 2020.

Should there be a desire to amend the charter, there can be such a vote by all those that vote in the March CA primary of 2020.

Should there be any doubt of the conclusion coming from the March voting, there can be a confirming vote (if so desired) in November of 2020.

Detail:

Here is what the Report to Council states:

There are several issues and options regarding the time frame for making the transition to district based elections. 

First, the City received several comments following receipt of the demand letter suggesting that it should forego seeking voter approval for a charter amendment and immediately adopt an ordinance to change to district elections pursuant to Government Code section 34886 and Elections Code section 10010. 

Although some charter cities have successfully used these provisions to switch to district by ordinance without challenge, that approach has some risk because these statutory sections, which purport to allow a switch to district elections by ordinance, do not explicitly address charter cities and have not been construed with regard to a charter city in any case law. 

The general rule under Article XI, Section 3(a) of the California Constitution is that charters must be amended in the same way they are adopted-majority vote of the electorate. How that requirement should be harmonized with the CVRA is not clear. It is possible that a court could conclude that the CVRA preempts the Charter and uphold a change by ordinance in deference to legislative intent and the goals of the CVRA. 

On the other hand, Section 601 of Sunnyvale’s charter is distinguishable from the charters of several cities that have approved the change by ordinance because the Sunnyvale Charter contains a specific and detailed process for at-large, numbered seat elections, and the legislative history notes that “if the charter of a charter city contains provisions that contradict this bill, the charter would take precedence.” (Report from the Assembly Committee on Local Government, p. 3).
                                    
Here is what the Report from the Assembly Committee on Local Government, p. 3) actually says:

“This bill seeks to regulate the manner in which municipal officers are elected. It is not clear whether this bill would apply to charter cities. According to the League of California Cities, sponsor of this bill, if the charter of a charter city contains provisions that contradict this bill, the charter would take precedence. Conversely, if a city charter does not specify elections procedures or contains language stating that state elections laws shall govern that city's elections, the provisions of this bill would apply.”

Link to the Report from the Assembly Committee is
        
The Report to Council misquotes the Assembly document to make it seem the Assembly said Gov. Code 34886 would not apply to charter cities when it was really a League of California Cities’ comment that said this.  In other words, it was an entity that is not part of the state government that said this.  No legislator said anything like this as far as I have found, and apparently as far as our city attorney has found, because the city attorney does not include anything said by a legislator about whether 34886 would apply to charter cities.

Our city attorney continues:  “Considering the ambiguities in the law, the constitutional preference to amend charters through voter approval, the fact that there is time available to place a charter amendment ballot measure on the ballot before the next possible election date as authorized by the California Elections Code, as discussed below, and based on prior Council direction to complete public outreach on this issue, staff is not recommending that Council consider the ordinance option at this time.”

There are no ambiguities in the law.  Gov. Code 34886 is an extraordinarily clear statute:

“34886.   Notwithstanding Section 34871 or any other law, the legislative body of a city may adopt an ordinance that requires the members of the legislative body to be elected by district or by district with an elective mayor, as described in subdivisions (a) and (c) of Section 34871, without being required to submit the ordinance to the voters for approval. An ordinance adopted pursuant to this section shall include a declaration that the change in the method of electing members of the legislative body is being made in furtherance of the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 14025) of Division 14 of the Elections Code).”

The final sentence is most significant regarding the issue of 34886 overriding the City Charter.  The ordinance adopted pursuant to 34886 must state the change in the voting system is “being made in furtherance of the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 14025) of Division 14 of the Elections Code).” 

Thus, the change is being made to further the purpose of the CVRA.

The Court of Appeal stated in Jauregui v. City of Palmdale, 226 Cal. App. 4th 781 that a general law prevails over local enactments of a chartered city, even in regard to matters which would otherwise be deemed to be strictly municipal affairs, where the subject matter of the general law is of statewide concern.

Here is what the Court of Appeal stated in Jauregui v. City of Palmdale, about the dominance of the California Voting Rights Act over city charters:

“[**345] Given the history of our nation and California, there is a convincing basis for the Legislature to act in what otherwise be a local affair—city council elections. Plaintiffs argue that the sections 14025 through 14032 implement the equal protection and voting rights provisions of the state Constitution. (Art. I, § 7, subd. (a); art. II, § 2.)5 Section 14031 states the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 was adopted to implement the voting and equal protections provisions in article I, section 7, subdivision (a) and article II, section 2. Further, they [***30] argue integrity in the manner in which local elections are conducted is a matter of statewide concern. Plaintiffs argue these constitutional and integrity-driven concerns are statewide in nature. We agree.”

Link: Jauregui vs. City of Palmdale, 226, Cal App. 4th 781:

The conclusion that Gov. Code 34886, with its required reference that an ordinance enacted pursuant to that section is “made in furtherance of the purposes of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 14025) of Division 14 of the Elections Code)” prevails over Sunnyvale’s charter is inescapable.  It is a general law with a subject matter of statewide concern.

--------------  End David Wessel's "Guest" post -----------

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Election Districts - Part 6: Number of Candidates


Got Candidates?
How Many Candidates?

When Sunnyvale goes to district elections, will there be enough candidates to fill open seats?  The concern arises because if the 57,000 registered voters in Sunnyvale are divided into 7 districts, then each district has only 8,500 registered voters.  Will even one candidate run in each district?

Link to this post: https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/election-districts-part-6-number-of.html
Possible district borders of Sunnyvale
C.f., https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/district-elections-cvra-5.html
In short, yes.  As we see in the following, small districts can have quite a few candidates.  This is because smaller districts lower the "barriers to entry" to being a candidate. 

The smaller geographical area makes it easier to visit a greater percentage of homes and meet each resident.  The smaller number of voters makes it less costly to mail out fliers.  This results in money becoming much less important than in political entities with large numbers of voters.  In effect, what we see are more people saying to themselves, something like "Hey!  I can do this!  Talk to my friends and neighbors and they might let me represent them on the city council!"
By looking at the 2018 SF Bay Area results we will see that smaller districts have a plethora of candidates.

This is part 6 in the series on "District Elections" in Sunnyvale.  Links to the other posts are listed at the end of this post.

Enough Candidates?


The fear of too few, or no candidates for election is groundless.  Just a look at the results from Santa Clara County as seen in:
https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/11/06/santa-clara-county-election-results-november-2018/

Morgan Hill's District D (below) shows only 3,581 voting yet there are three candidates.  (Click image to enlarge).
Next is Los Altos Hills.  The 6,022 votes cast for two candidates means there were a little over 3,011 people voting if everyone voted for two candidates. Just over 3,000 voters yet again, three candidates!

Similarly, in Monte Sereno, there were a small number of voters.  2,861 votes were cast but every voter could cast up to 3 votes.  Most likely there were about 1,000 people who voted implying under 2,000 registered voters in Monte Sereno yet they had six! candidates to choose from.


In Albany, CA (adjacent to Berkeley) we see two seats open, a total of 12,090 votes implying a little over 6,045 voters (each could cast two votes).  That is not too different from what we would expect in a well attended Sunnyvale district of 8,500 registered voters.  With three candidates on the ballot, we see again that there is no shortage of candidates in a small district or city.


This concludes the analysis of small district candidate possibilities.

Other Posts on District Elections

Part 1 - Announcing with details the September 5th, 2018 special city council meeting to consider going to district elections:

Part 2 - Considering some of the implications of the move to district elections:

Part 3 - Sunnyvale gets a letter saying we must move to district elections (most popular):

Part 4 - California Code #34886.  The way the City Council could (likely will) go to district elections.  Why was it not presented by staff as an option?  Also, "Cumulative Voting".

Part 5 - Analysis of potential districts and the representation of minorities.



Sunday, November 11, 2018

District Elections - CVRA - 5

A Letter From FairVote.org

We Get Letters

Summary:

The Sunnyvale City Council received a letter from "FairVote.org" on the potential lawsuit from the Asian Law Alliance regarding Sunnyvale's possible violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).  The letter from FairVote.org examines how district elections might be effective in responding to the potential lawsuit.

Link to this post is: https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/district-elections-cvra-5.html

In this post we look at a sample district map, an analysis of the minority subgroups in Sunnyvale, and how those subgroups might fare in districts.  Included is a discussion of Ranked Choice Voting (which FairVote advocates for) as part of the resolution of the issue.

The letter from the law firm GBDH representing the Asian Law Alliance is available here:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/sunnyvale-district-elections-part-3_6.html

FairVote's 13-page letter may be viewed/downloaded here:

Their website is https://www.fairvote.org/

Click graphic below to enlarge:
From an Excellent summary of At-Large vs. District elections in South Pasadena City's website
https://www.southpasadenaca.gov/government/departments/city-clerk/district-elections/frequently-asked-questions

Other Posts on District elections:

This is post #5 on district elections.  Links to other posts below:

Lots of Posts!
Part 1 - announcing with details the September 5th, 2018 special city council meeting to consider going to district elections:
http://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/09/sunnyvale-going-to-district-elections.html

Part 2 - considering some of the implications of the move to district elections:
http://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/sunnyvale-district-elections-part-2.html

Part 3 - Sunnyvale gets a letter saying we must move to district elections (most popular):
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/sunnyvale-district-elections-part-3_6.html

Part 4 - California Code #34886.  The way the City Council could (likely will) go to district elections.  Why was it not presented by staff as an option?  Also, "Cumulative Voting".
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/district-elections-cvra-4.html

Part 6 - Will there be enough candidates to fill city council seats when we go to district elections?
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/election-districts-part-6-number-of.html

District Map:

From the letter: "FairVote used Auto-Redistrict, an automated redistricting program which uses a genetic algorithm to design districts that meet multiple redistricting criteria. FairVote did not attempt to manually construct a district plan."  That district plan is shown below.

The map is not what Sunnyvale will go to.  It has several "issues" from a "neighborhood character" viewpoint.  For example, the "heritage district" will likely be more unified rather than split among several districts.  Also, districts 2, 4, and 6 might be more compact.  However, it is the only potential district map we have for the moment so it will serve as a point of discussion. (click to enlarge map).


Some acronyms used in the following discussion:

AAPI - Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders - ethnic classification
ACS - American Community Survey - US Census estimates of population
CVRA - California Voting Rights Act - California law requiring elimination of barriers to effective representation of minorities in voting.
CVAP - Citizen Voting Age Population.

In the following discussion, "Asian" is used very broadly to include people from China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Japan, etc.

FairVote's analysis of their district map (for discussion purposes only) is shown below.  CVAP stands for "Citizen Voting Age Population".  Click on table to enlarge:



The percentages from Table D above are presented graphically below, with "Other" added into the Asian sub-group. (click to enlarge):



From the "Table D" above we see the maximum and minimum percentages for each major subgroup as shown below ("other" is not included with Asian):


From the Table D data we see that whites are the only subgroup to get a majority district.  That occurs in districts, #4 and # 6.

Asians (excluding "Other") hit a maximum of nearly 40% in district #1.  In that district they form a greater bloc than any other group, including whites.  Any person elected from such a district, Asian or not, needs to pay attention to interests of their largest voting group - Asians.  Even with "Other" included, that does not change.

In district #5, at 34%, Latinos are the largest single voting group, greater than whites or Asians.  As with Asians in district #1, any person elected from that district needs to pay close attention to the concerns of the Latino group.


Ranked Choice Voting

FairVote (https://www.fairvote.org/) promotes "Ranked Choice Voting" (RCV - also called "instant runoff", (IRV), single transferable vote (STV) or "preferential") as a solution to many of the issues leading to a CVRA violation.
Ranked Choice Voting
Vote your heart first, then your head, while avoiding "the devil and the deep blue sea"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6pC5IJirrY
Many oppose at-large voting, even with RCV.  They favor district elections.  They argue that while we can't eliminate big money contributions to candidates, we can at least somewhat level the playing field.  Most individuals relying on small local contributions can only afford to send mailers to at most 20% to 30% of all 57.000 registered voters in Sunnyvale.  That means that 70% to 80% will never get the message of grass-roots candidates who can't afford mass mailers in at-large elections.  Those voters will only get the messages of those backed by big money contributors.

By going to district elections, the voting area becomes small enough at around 8,000 voters, an individual can walk to every house, and can afford mailers to everyone because there are far fewer voters to mail to.

After the Civil War, the former confederate states used at-large voting to suppress the black vote.  It was finally outlawed with the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  More here:
https://www.nonprofitvote.org/bias-large-elections-works/

The San Jose Mercury News had a very good article on district elections titled "Where Power is Shifting..." here:
https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/11/09/where-power-is-shifting-as-cities-move-to-district-elections/

Without RCV, a number of elections end up with a minority candidate winning as seen below:
https://ericashman.com/what-is-ranked-choice-voting/
More on RCV:
https://www.fairvote.org/data_on_rcv#research_rcvamericanexperience

The state of Maine's experience is instructive.  RCV was installed by citizen petition, delayed by the legislature, and then re-voted in by popular vote this year (2018).

FairVote's argument for RCV is: "San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro use RCV to elect winners in single-seat elections." ... "the use of RCV has correlated with more women and candidates of color running and winning elected office. The causes ... related to RCV: ... fostered civility since candidates are incentivized to campaign for the second and third choices of supporters of other candidates; and the mitigation of vote splitting, and thus opportunities for more in-group candidates to run for office without becoming a 'spoiler.'" Page 6 of FairVote's letter.
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) - "Round 1" and "Round 2"
https://www.slideshare.net/JuliaEagles/ranked-choice-voting-presentation-4714-je-edits

The last point - "the mitigation of vote splitting, and thus opportunities for more in-group candidates to run for office without becoming a 'spoiler.'" - is very, very important.  If Sunnyvale moves to district elections, many more candidates could be interested in running for office because it is much easier and less expensive to reach 8,000 voters in a district than all 57,000 voters in the entire city.  I.e., the "barriers to entry" are considerably lowered.

In that case, someone not favored by the majority in the district could win because the opposition would split their votes among several like-minded candidates.  Knowing this, like-minded candidates might be discouraged from running under the current "plurality" system for fear of someone they intensely dislike winning due to "vote splitting".
Major Subgroups

The major groups in FairVotes' analysis are White, Latino, Black, Asian, and Other - Miscellaneous Pacific Islander.

FairVote's table A, below, shows that "white alone" (i.e., not "white Latino") makes up 47% of the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP), followed by Asian - 32%, Latino - 16%. (click graph to enlarge).

From 2010 to 2016, looking solely at resident population, not voting population, the percentage of Whites has significantly increased, the percentage of Asians has increased a little comprising the single largest population group, while the percentages of Latinos and "Other" have decreased significantly.

While Asians are the single larges group of residents, Whites are the single largest group of voters (last column in table above).


All Kinds of Asians


Not all Asians are the same.  Within the general Asian grouping, languages are completely different and cultures and customs vary widely.  From the FairVote letter we see the "Asian Subgroup" registered voters in Sunnyvale are 13% Chinese, 7.5% Indian, and each of five other subgroups below 3%, as seen in the table below.  Click on table to enlarge.

Economics is another confounding factor.  Chinese engineers may have more in common with white engineers than with Chinese restaurant workers.   Still, members of each ethnic group share some common interests regardless of economics, and discrimination based on external appearance takes no note of economics, or of language subgroups.


FairVote's letter also includes some maps of the two major groups reproduced below:



After a number of tries, FairVote's analysts were not able to generate a majority Asian or Latino District.  They were able to generate plurality districts for Asians and Latinos, as noted above.  Further complicating factors are that East Asians from China may vote differently than South Asians from India or Pakistan.

There is much more in the 13-page letter but this covers the highlights.




Saturday, November 3, 2018

Sunnyvale City Council Member - 2018 - Michael Goldman

After three candidates for Sunnyvale City Council answered questions I thought I'd give my perspective on the same questions, as a sitting city council member (not up for re-election until 2020).

Link to this post: https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/11/sunnyvale-city-council-member-2018.html




Question 1 - How are you going to help us to work on the airplane noise pollution issue in Sunnyvale?

Answer: Sunnyvale needs to establish a permanent commission for airplane noise just like we have for Parks & Rec, Planning, Health and Human Services, etc. Airports are going to be around here for the foreseeable future so we need a permanent structure to deal with it.

Right now the 'cause' is carried by a few dedicated individuals. If they leave or get tired, there is no one to replace them because there is no official organizational structure. Even the best city council member with the best will in the world has to juggle many, many issues.
Click on image to enlarge
A dedicated commission of interested citizens can focus on the single issue of airplane noise and pollution, providing continuity and city representation. The commission structure allows for access to the city council on a regular basis, provides a meeting room, and the ability to recommend study issues, among other things.
N.O.I.S.E.
National association of communities like ours fighting airplane noise
.
http://www.aviation-noise.org/what-we-do/
Every city in the US has airports and airplane noise. We need to join forces with all these other areas and work together. A national association of cities and neighborhoods with similar issues already exists called "N.O.I.S.E." (National Association to Insure a Sound Controlled Environment) http://www.aviation-noise.org/ with Sunnyvale and other nearby cities listed among current or former members (http://www.aviation-noise.org/communitymembers/). We need people representing the residents to be active in that (or a similar) organization.

If every congress-member with an airport in his or her district worked together to present the residents' issues, the FAA would have to listen and act if they wanted funding (which they do). Right now, the FAA listens to whomever shows up - which is mostly the airlines. We need to be at the same table.

A commission would provide experience to those just getting into city govt. and enable them to influence city council decisions. If any of the 3 candidates l support were to get on the council, we could make this happen. I was able to get a study issue co-sponsored with council member Russ Melton, but it did not get enough support from the other city council members to go anywhere.



Question 2 - There are two major projects for the city now, the water project and civic center project, how to fund them?

http://www.sunnyvalecleanwater.com/images/Sunnyvale_Timeline_Full_Size.jpg
Answer:
The Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) project is huge. It will cost between $700M and $940M and will be completed in 2042. By comparison, the Sunnyvale General Fund Budget is about $300M. The WPCP is being funded by bonds paid for through increases in water rates. It is a necessity. It no longer meets the requirements of stricter environmental regulations. Our water rates go up because we absolutely need to do this. The costs are laid out below.


From: https://sunnyvaleca.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=AO&ID=62168&GUID=8f1abfd7-b450-40a6-972f-cda655fc5821&N=UmVzcG9uc2UgdG8gQ291bmNpbCBRdWVzdGlvbnMgUmU6IDYvMjYvMTggQ2l0eSBDb3VuY2lsIEFnZW5kYQ%3d%3d

Also,
http://www.sunnyvalecleanwater.com/documents/master-plan/WPCP-Master-Plan-Executive-Summary.pdf
See also,
http://www.sunnyvalecleanwater.com/about-the-program
http://www.sunnyvalecleanwater.com/documents/Sunnyvale-Plant-Brochure-v05.pdf


The Civic Center is a big deal and I have a lot of problems with it.
https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=25846
found at:
https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/business/projects/civic.htm
It is slated to cost about $200M for only the city hall and a small addition to the Public Safety Building. That cost keeps going up and we have no current backup plan for a simpler, cheaper version if we can't get the money.

We have never had a vote of the residents as to whether they want a new city hall or not. To me this is crucial. We don't want every line item in the budget to go to a public vote, but something this big, and this expensive absolutely should have a vote of the people to move forward. Whether it comes from sale of land or bonds, or park funds, it is our money and it is a lot of money. We need to have a public vote on whether to go ahead with this.
We also need a requirement that it takes a vote of the people of Sunnyvale to sell public lands. Right now it is just an ordinance that can be repealed by a 4-3 vote of the city council. In 2012, the city council voted 5-2 to proceed with looking at a plan for 99-year leasing away over 60% of the Civic Center. That could happen again with a different city council.
2012-2015 plan to "99-year lease" away 2/3 of the Civic Center.
What I am afraid of is that the city will not be able to get the money and will vote to "99-year lease" away much of the civic center as they voted to in 2012. That plan and the Raynor Park Building sale sparked Measure M. The city is more circumspect now, but everything they do points to opening up that space for easy acquisition by an outside developer. See my short video of the 2014 council meeting to discuss this. Just the first 3 minutes of the 9-minute video tells you most of what you need to know. C.f., https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2016/10/civic-center-99-year-lease.html

A much simpler and less costly plan for an addition was presented over 15 years ago (see image below).
Simple add-ons for library, city hall, and public safety building in 2003
Cost then = $90M = (approx.) $180M in 2018 dollars for all three buildings
The Public Library in the above plan expanded from 60,000 sq. ft. to 100,000 sq. ft. For comparison, Cupertino's public library is 50,000 sq. ft. and Santa Clara's main library is 85,000 sq. ft. I have often been in the libraries in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, and Mountain View. Since the internet took off, the number of patrons using the space has gone down dramatically. This has happened all over the country. It used to be difficult to find a seat in Santa Clara's library, any day of the week. Not a problem now. You can get an entire 3-seat desk all to yourself. Same in Sunnyvale.
About 2X Dollar inflation in building costs since 2003
https://edzarenski.com/2018/02/15/inflation-in-construction-2018-what-should-you-carry/
The City hall in the "add-on plan" of 2003 also expanded - demolishing 42,000 sq. ft. and adding 149,000 sq. ft. However, there were more city employees then (even though there were fewer residents) so probably a smaller addition would be adequate now. Personally I would prefer a lower building addition - 3 stories not 5 stories.

The Public Safety Building is still intended to get a simple expansion as it was then. But it is ultimately planned to be completely torn down and replaced with a building away from El Camino leaving that entire El Camino strip open. I have no idea why it is planned to be moved to the other end of the Civic Center unless it is to clear out space along El Camino for later sale/lease to a big developer.


Question 3 - What is your view on the RV Parking?


Answer: If we allow it, we run into "the tragedy of the commons". (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons#Lloyd's_pamphlet). At first it is just one - not a problem - and then a few - a small problem - and then a lot - a serious problem.

Mountain View takes a very tolerant attitude and saw RVs grow from 126 to 300 in less than a year and a half.
https://www.mv-voice.com/news/2018/03/08/council-rejects-restrictions-on-rv-campers

We want to be compassionate, but we also need to keep Sunnyvale from becoming an RV park.

It is a public health issue. Where do they get water for cleaning? What do they do with their human waste if there is no sewer connection? How does their trash get collected? It becomes a traffic issue as too many large vehicles block traffic. Will it attract criminals who can avoid arrest by living in no permanent location? Even very liberal San Francisco has enacted bans on RV parking.
https://archives.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/san-francisco-parking-ban-called-success-expansion-planned-to-address-shifting-problem/Content?oid=2625723
If an area is too expensive to live in, don't move there. This area has been turned upside down by spectacularly financially successful companies who are either oblivious to, or don't care about, the economic distortions they are bringing to the area. This may very well come to a bad end as every company but a few giga-companies relocates to other places and leave the entire area in the thrall of a few gazillionaires. When those few giga-companies stop growing and start laying off, will we have lost the eco-system of small startups and niche companies to replace them?

According to the US census there are 51 metro areas in the US of population 1 million or more. Housing is cheaper than here in every one of the other 50.
Can't afford a $3,000/month rent?
Buy a 5 BR house for less than $1100/month in Charlotte.
Some argue that low wage/skill workers need a place to live. They do, but if there are too many here, they will never get good wages. There are jobs everywhere in the US in this economy. If most low-skill workers leave for lower housing-cost areas, that will result in a labor shortage here for low skill jobs. This will cause wages to rise. Then those in low skill jobs will earn enough to afford housing without living on the street.


Question 4 - What's your opinion on Homeless Issue in Sunnyvale?
Answer: I wish there were a simple answer to this but there isn't. Homelessness is a big issue all around the world. I've known several friends and relatives who worked in social work professionally. There are many reasons for homelessness - drugs, terrible family situations, alcohol, medical problems, mental problems, birth defects, war traumas, etc. I have even known a few people with good jobs and degrees in STEM who get hooked on drugs and lose everything.
Sunnyvale Community Services
We need to help them both out of a sense of humanity but also in our own self interest. People who are in desperate situations can do desperate things. The city contributes to Sunnyvale Community Services (https://svcommunityservices.org/) but it could contribute more.

Sometimes, a little help can turn it all around and they can re-establish themselves and help others get out of the same situation they were trapped in. Sometimes it is just a normal family or an elderly person who lost their apartment and needs some temporary help to get settled in a new place, maybe a much more affordable place.
Homeless couple - London
"In the last year in the UK, the number of people sleeping rough rose by 7%. In Germany, the last two years saw a 35% increase in the number of homeless while in France, there has been an increase of 50% in the last 11 years."

Finland has made great strides, as seen here:
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/02/how-finland-solved-homelessness/

However, there are limits to what one city can do. If all the homeless in California came here we would be overwhelmed - we need to work with other cities, the county and state. We also need to protect ourselves from those who are mentally unstable and possibly a danger to themselves and others. I hope the US and California can do better.



Question 5 - Everyone agrees traffic is a huge problem. Seems like it would help to bring back school buses. Why is this never even mentioned?

Answer: This is really a question for the schools which is a separate organization. The City Council has little if any influence on the public schools. My guess is that it is expensive having a lot of buses sitting around most of the day and trying to hire drivers who only work a few hours a day is probably a challenge.



Question 6 - Do we need to limit the maximum money to a candidate from a business or association? Will going to "District Elections" help?
Answer: Much of the money spent on political campaigns is from "Independent Expenditure Committees" (IECs) which the US Supreme Court has ruled is free speech and cannot be limited. Anyone who wants to can form an IEC - rich or poor. But the rich have more money.

As for district elections, since I have had several meetings with city attorneys on the subject I am not permitted to say or write anything more about district elections. However, before I met with the attorneys I wrote some blogs on the issue and those are still available:

On District elections: part 3 is most popular:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/sunnyvale-district-elections-part-3_6.html

Part 2 explains my view of how it affects candidates:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/sunnyvale-district-elections-part-2.html

Part 4 describes what other districts have done:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/10/district-elections-cvra-4.html


Question 7 - What lesson have you learned from the garbage bin change program in Sunnyvale last year? Or what do you think Sunnyvale can do better in the future?

Answer: The new food recycling program with the split garbage bins was approved before I got on the city council. I didn't even know about it until just before they started rolling them out and the complaints started coming in.

I have since re-examined it. It appears we chose one of the least effective methods from a GHG emissions standpoint.
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2018/07/green-house-gases-from-food-waste.html

As I understand it, there are certain state mandates every city has to comply with in terms of waste reduction and this was Sunnyvale's way of doing it. At the time it was rolling out I wrote a post on it here:
http://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2017/06/food-scrap-separation.html

We definitely should explore ways of modifying the food-cycle part to be easier to clean.

As of now, the garbage collection company Sunnyvale uses has spent $millions on buying special garbage trucks to handle it so we are stuck with it until it is time to retire those trucks in about 5 to 7 years. At that time, we definitely should revisit it. Other cities do things differently and we should see what the other options are at that time.


Question 8 - What would you like to do to improve the transparency of the city council and operations?
Answer: I would like more interaction between the city council and staff and residents. I have done a few "Town Hall Forums" where I just talk with residents about whatever is on their minds but I reach a very few at a time. I enjoy them because it gives me insights into what concerns people.

One thing I would like is phone-in or walk-in Q-and-A sessions. I think on Tuesday nights when there isn't a council meeting we could have 1 to 3 city council members and a few staff just answering questions from the audience or people phoning in questions. This would be recorded and available for watching later.

Also, I would really like the city council meeting agendas to come out 2 weeks in advance instead of the Thursday before the Tuesday City Council meeting. With more time to review the agenda and accompanying documents it would enable people to prepare better.


Question 9 - What is your position on rent control?
San Francisco's Rent Control Laws
(Click image to enlarge)
Answer: I wrote a very, very long answer to this, but then realized I couldn't say much at all. I may need to vote on it and cannot give an opinion until it comes up before council or I might need to recuse myself and be unable to vote.

If there are two sides arguing a situation in front of the city council I need to remain neutral until both sides have made their case. If I say in public I am for or against something, one side can say my mind was made up before they had a chance to present their views. Then I cannot be an impartial judge of the situation and must recuse myself - leave the room and not vote on the issue. More on the law on this here:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2016/12/why-council-members-cant-express.html

What I can say is that from a practical standpoint, rent control will not happen as an ordinance passed by the city council because it could then be repealed by the next city council. And reimposed by the council after that - back and forth. No one wants that. If rent control were to become an issue, it would need to be as a ballot measure, probably as a citizen's initiative, as happened in other cities. In that case, the city council has little say in the issue.

We do have a form of rent control called Below Market Rate (BMR) apartments. These apartments are reserved for those with incomes below certain levels. New apartments are required to either provide a certain percentage of apartments at rents that are below market rates or pay into a fund that is dedicated to building new 100% BMR apartments. There is about a two year wait to get such an apartment - prospective renters undergo background checks.
Below Market Rate housing in Berkeley
This provides living space for those who work in the area but can't afford market rate rents. They can live near work and don't need to commute as much. Sunnyvale will be moving to a rate of 15% of new apartments required to be BMR, like Santa Clara and some other cities. The maximum any city can impose is limited to between 20% and 25%. This is not by any law but simply that above 23% it becomes uneconomical for a builder to construct new apartments. The highest rate I am aware of is Berkeley's at 20%. More here:

Question 10 - What is your position on marijuana retail sales in Sunnyvale?
Marijuana brownies vs. regular brownies.
"Many young children who consume marijuana edibles require hospital admission due to the severity of their symptoms"
https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/conditions-and-symptoms/conditions/acute-marijuana-intoxication/
Answer: Personally, I am opposed to it. I think the best thing to do would be to put up a ballot measure that would prohibit the opening of a marijuana retail store without a vote of the people of Sunnyvale. This will make it much harder to open a store. Otherwise, at the next financial downturn city staff (who often don't live in Sunnyvale) will insist that the only way to get more tax revenue is to open a marijuana store. Cities always want more revenue.
Will kids be tempted when someone brings some home?
I think we will regret legalizing it. Marijuana has many bad side effects, especially when started in adolescence. C.f., the following article first published in the very prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/?_escaped_fragment_=po=58.6957

We have known for years that tobacco causes cancer but big money tobacco companies make it impossible to ban it. Marijuana companies are going to get just as rich - maybe richer - and buy lots of support in government bodies. It will be impossible to dislodge it once it enters a city.
Will marijuana retailers have money?
It takes a really long time for the human body to recover from the effects of marijuana and reaction times are significantly slowed. Do we really want a lot of people driving in and out of Sunnyvale on marijuana highs? How many kids will be hit by cars driven by someone eating marijuana brownies they just bought?


Question 11 - As the population is growing fast, there is a heated debate on "growth". What is your take on the current council's actions and prospects on city growth? 

Answer: The analogy I use is of a 2 gallon bucket. You put in one gallon and no problem. Put in another gallon and no problem. But now its full. Put in one more drop and it overflows. Or in our case, traffic will gridlock, and people leave the area because they can't stand the traffic. We are already seeing some of that.
When it fills up, it overflows.
What happens when a city fills up?
The Golden gate Bridge reached capacity several years ago. If the state forces more housing in Marin (to "solve" the "housing crisis") those new residents will commute to San Francisco and we will need a second Golden Gate Bridge. It won't be cheap. The Bay Bridge cost $10B - and prices have gone up since then.

Sunnyvale has the same problem only not as dramatic. There are only a few streets that can be used as through streets. Most of Sunnyvale is cul-de-sacs and little streets that go nowhere. Trying to get to Mountain View from south Sunnyvale you only have Homestead, Fremont, and El Camino. When they fill up (which they are doing) we're done.

There are limits to growth. Cities fill up just like buckets. I have a blog post on the limits (with a little mathematics) of population growth here:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2017/04/limits-to-growth.html
Could this happen here?  Maybe it already has.
Been to Wolfe and Homestead around rush hour?
What I have asked for - which went nowhere - is for a study with a traffic simulation that determines how much housing and office space we can accommodate before traffic becomes unacceptable. At the moment, we are just winging it. This is no way to run a city. What happens when you get non-stop gridlock at major intersections? Do you UN-build the last three apartment buildings?
Solution to traffic woes?
San Jose city planners have told me they blocked off certain parts of San Jose as not suitable for further development until somehow traffic improves (flying cars?). We need to do a study-simulation and decide where we need to do the same thing.



Question 12 - How will the city limit its budget exposure to pensions?
This is up to 2016.  It hasn't gotten better since then.
http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-pension-crisis-davis-deal/
Answer: Pensions for teachers, and other employees of government are not financially sustainable as one city and state after another is finding out. The Republicans have run and won on this issue in other states like New Jersey and Wisconsin with drastic over-reactions to the detriment of teachers and public safety officers.

CalPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System) was 100% funded at the height of the housing bubble about 10 years ago. Then they sank to just over 60% funded at the bottom of the "Great Recession". Now, after the longest stock market boom in the history of the US, pension funds have only slightly recovered. If they go below "50% funded" in the next recession (or the one after that) it is pretty much over for them.
https://www.calpers.ca.gov/
History: In 1999 after a spectacular rise in stocks (the "Dot-Com" bubble) CalPERS convinced the legislature to significantly increase pensions. They said that CalPERS was such a good investor the state would never, ever need to add any extra money to make up any shortfalls in investment returns. The ink was hardly dry on the governor's signature when the "Dot-Com" bubble burst. Since then pensions have taken more and more tax dollars. That is why UC and CSU tuition went from almost nothing to very high. The money that used to go to universities now goes to pay pension obligations.
This is though 2016.  It is worse now.
https://www.bakersfield.com/news/how-a-pension-deal-went-wrong-and-cost-california-taxpayers/article_ed5d5e80-3122-5414-81c0-d4faf0c8f5e0.html
Many of those who will benefit from pensions are in such deep denial that there is no chance of meaningful reform until it becomes critical. That will happen when cities start filing for bankruptcy because they can no longer pay the increasing demands of pension funds to make up for their investment shortfalls. This will likely start happening in a few years into the next recession (coming soon).


The good news is that some states are in worse shape than California, and some cities are in really bad shape. Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are likely to file for bankruptcy long before it gets to us. States aren't able to declare bankruptcy but some will have trouble paying the bills before California does. When they need to choose between paying their highway patrol and their pension bills, something will give and a compromise will be found.



Many California cities are already struggling to pay their CalPERS bills, and they too will reach compromise solutions with their employees. Sunnyvale has a pension fund to help tide us over the difficult times. This will give us more time than most to use the compromise solutions other cities and states arrive at as models for our own solutions.

"Did CalPERS Use Accounting Gimmicks..." and lots more here:
https://californiapolicycenter.org/calpers-use-accounting-gimmicks-enable-financially-unsustainable-pensions/

Little video on pensions I made here:
https://meetingthetwain.blogspot.com/2016/11/get-my-pension.html