Search This Blog

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Measure B - Putting It All Together

Sunnyvale's Measure B (2020)

No on B!
March 3rd

Summary of Arguments against Measure B
(it's all about that Mayor thing!)

Below are the slides I presented at the League of Women Voters (LWV) forum on Measure B on February 13th, 2020.  The professionally made video of that forum is available here:

I will post an annotated guide to that video later.

I have added some other images and explanatory comments to the slides I presented.

On or Before March 3, 2020
Vote "NO" to oppose an at-large Mayor and big money politics
Vote "NO" - the road to 7 districts for more diverse maximum
local representation to "our needs", not the politicians


If Measure B passes, Sunnyvale will get 6 districts plus a directly elected mayor.

If Measure B fails, Sunnyvale will end up with seven districts.

The path to seven districts is:
  1. Measure B fails, 
  2. The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) sues, 
  3. Judge hears the case promptly, 
  4. Early to late May, 2020, Judge gives Sunnyvale seven districts.
  5. November, 2020 district elections take place
There is no question we will be moving to districts whether measure B passes or fails on March 3rd, 2020.

The big issue is whether there should be a mayor elected "at-large".

Given the power any mayor has, and the cost of running a city-wide election campaign, an at-large directly-elected mayor will be the one financially backed by the wealthy out-of-town developers - they want a mayor favorable to development, particularly office development.

Link to this post (for sharing):


For an intro to the basics of the California Voting Rights Act go to:

Keeping it Simple!

One Way Street

First thing to realize about an "at-large" mayor is that it is a "one way street".

Once a directly elected mayor is part of the city charter, it will be virtually impossible to go back to council-selected mayor.  What mayor will want to give up power?  There will be no shortage of mayor wanna-be's eager to give the mayor ever more power so they can have it when they get to be mayor.

Can a Directly-Elected Mayor Get More Resources for Sunnyvale?

Can a mayor get more money or other resources for the city from regional bodies if directly elected?

In 2011 then-mayor Melinda Hamilton wrote an op-ed pointing out that Sunnyvale got a lot more money than other cities that did have a directly elected (at-large) mayor .

"Melinda Hamilton: Directly electing Sunnyvale’s mayor will only benefit politicians"

From the above article:

"Sunnyvale received $10.7 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding — three times what Santa Clara ($3 million) received, five times what Gilroy and Milpitas ($2.3 million each) received and seventeen times what Morgan Hill ($619,000) received. All of this without the directly elected mayor that those four cities have."

I would add that asserting an at-large mayor will get more money for Sunnyvale assumes an unbelievable lack of professionalism on the part of those allocating funds.  Would VTA give Sunnyvale better bus service if it had a directly elected mayor?  The idea is laughable.

Changes Introduced by Measure B?

The major changes are:
  1. Extend the mayor's term from 2 years to 4 years.
  2. Removing a mayor now requires only a single vote by a simple majority of the council.  If Measure B passes, the mayor can only be removed by a recall petition.  This requires a large number of signatures gathered in a limited time - very difficult to do.
  3. Term limits are increased from 2 terms (8 years) with a 1 term break before running again, to 3 terms (12 years) with a one-term break.  (But no one can be council or mayor for more than 2 terms in a 16 year period.)
  4. The mayor will no longer be limited by the city council.  Currently the mayor knows if they try to go too far with their powers they can be easily removed.  Without that check, a lot of the powers the mayor has can be abused.
  5. Big question!  Why did the city council majority not vote to just go to 7 districts now with deal with the at-large mayor issue after the CVRA is satisfied?

Enough Time to Go to Districts if B Fails?

Some are concerned that there won't be enough time to get district elections by November, 2020.  But we have the City of Santa Clara CVRA legal case in 2018 to learn from.  They had a judge impose districts within 6 weeks after their ballot measure failed (in the first week in June 2018).  We can model a timeline based on that as seen below:

So assuming the ballot measure fails March 3rd, we should have new maps for districts by early May - plenty of time for people to know what district they are in if they want to run for office.

Cost of Settling with the Asian Law Caucus?

If Measure B fails on March 3rd, we most likely will be sued.  In public city council session, the city attorney said that the average cost of settling ("stipulate" is the legal term) CVRA cases is about $125,000.  There are no penalty fees awarded by courts so any settlement costs are purely due to the time for attorneys.  If the settlement is quick and simple then legal costs will be lower.

Even if Measure B passes Sunnyvale will still need to pay the Asian Law Caucus $30,000 - the maximum the CVRA allows.  The city budgets over $1M in a contingency fund for lawsuits since the city gets sued regularly.

For comparison, it cost nearly $500,000 for the "outreach" to inform people about the transition to districts, and over $600,000 to the county Registrar of Voters (RoV) to put the measure on the ballot.  So, democracy costs money.

(Normally it costs under $28,000 for a ballot measure but Measure B is so long because of all the changes that the RoV charged a lot more.)

The new city hall being planned will cost $216,000,000 ($216 million).  The city budget is over $300M.

More on lawsuits and settlements on the CVRA in Wikipedia here:

What will a Judge Decide?

A judge is most likely to rule in favor of 7 districts should measure B fail.    Based on the case of City of Santa Clara, it is very, very doubtful that a judge would rule for an at-large mayor.  No guarantees, of course - after all, no one can guarantee the sun will rise tomorrow - but, that's the way to bet.

The relevant quote from the judge's decision is seen below:

This is covered in more detail in:

Why Not an At-Large Mayor?

The problem with a directly elected mayor is that it costs so much to run a city-wide campaign that only the wealthy or (more likely) those backed by the wealthy have any chance of running a successful campaign.  The money input into city elections has grown tremendously in just the last few years.

More here:

Excerpted chart below (click image to enlarge):

We just had a ballot measure on at-large mayor in 2011!

Since the "Citizen's United" Supreme Court decision in 2010, contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations have exploded:

To run in a district is relatively easy.  Dropping flyers off at 50 houses takes about an hour or so.  Do that every day and in 3 months you've hit every house in your district.  Good exercise - do it with a friend and save on gym memberships.

Even if you feel you need to send out mailers, with only 9,000 voters in a district, that isn't too expensive for one mailer to every voter. 

Sunnyvale Ethnic Makeup?

It has been noted that there is no ethnic majority among Sunnyvale residents but that Asians are the largest group of residents.  (See chart below - click on image to enlarge)

While it is a true statement, that also includes a substantial number of non-citizens - who can't vote.  When you look at the "Citizens of Voting Age Population" (CVAP) the situation reverses.  (See chart below - click on image to enlarge)

However not every potential voter actually votes.  Looking at who actually votes, you find "non-hispanic white" voters (to use the US Census term) are the majority. (See chart below - click on image to enlarge)
Actual Voters 2016
23% Asian, 58% White, 13% Hispanic

Since 58% of those who actually voted in 2016 were "non-hispanic white" we can reasonably expect that if there were 6 districts and an at-large mayor, the mayor would likely be "white" along with 3-4 other council members for a total of 4 to 5 out of 7 councilmembers.

The Asian Law Caucus wants to increase the percentage of Council members who are Asian, and for these demographic reasons are unlikely to favor a directly elected mayor, since that mayor would most likely be "white"

The demographics of Sunnyvale and possible 7 districts are discussed at:

Potential Ethics Issues of At-Large Elected Mayor

As the mayor gets more powerful, the potential for unethical behavior becomes greater.  By the early 1900s many mayors were essentially "bought" by powerful interests like the railroads.  This was the reason reformers in the early 1900's wanted to get away from elected mayors.  They adopted the "council city-manager" form of government with the mayor more like the "chairman of the board" than a powerful decision maker.

As an example of what can go wrong, this week it was revealed that San Francisco Mayor London Breed accepted several thousand dollars in gifts from an employee - whose $273,000 salary depends on Mayor Breed (the SF mayor's salary is $300,000/year).

As the SF Chronicle wrote:

"It is simply improper for a mayor to accept something of value from a department head whose $273,000-a-year position is contingent, in part, on her approval of his performance."

And in the Baltimore Sun:

"...prosecutors allege [former mayor Catherine] Pugh defrauded area businesses and nonprofit organizations with nearly $800,000 in sales of her “Healthy Holly” books to unlawfully enrich herself, promote her political career and illegally fund her campaign for mayor."

And from the Boston area:

"Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, who is already under indictment for wire and tax fraud, was arrested Friday for allegedly conspiring to extort more than $600,000 in bribes from four marijuana vendors."  (Also employees ordered to 'kick-back' half their salary to the mayor, and lots of other fun stuff.)

If you want more examples, just search under "indicted mayors".

Effects of an At-Large Elected Mayor

As the leader and policy setter for Sunnyvale, businesses, (especially developers) will spend more and more to make sure their candidate for mayor backs further development.

We can see this in Santa Clara (which has a directly-elected at-large mayor).  They sold their golf course to build more office space and retail establishments - very little housing.  The 5.7 million square feet of office space will hold more than two times the number of employees of the Apple "Space Ship" Headquarters!  There is no way in heck Santa Clara can build enough housing for 28,000 employees and their families.  So the 28,000 future employees in Santa Clara will have to drive there making traffic a nightmare not only in Santa Clara but in neighboring North Sunnyvale as well.

Districts - Pluralities and Majorities

We can draw up districts pretty easily.  Whatever district map is used in the November, 2020 elections will need to include ethnic considerations.  (It will also need to be redrawn after the 2020 census).  Below is a map that was drawn by machine.  We can do about as well by hand, with better considerations of natural boundaries.  Click image to enlarge.
(From: )

The map above has the following ethnic make-up:

For now, this is...