Tuesday, October 8, 2013

DGS Needs to Stop Acting Like It's Running a REIT

I went to elementary school in the 1950s, when fears of "creeping communism" colored everything. Yet, despite worries about communists insinuating Marxist ideas in My Weekly Readit was an uncontroversial proposition that communities should spend money to do and build things that were in the public interest. And part of that public interest was schools. If you look at city plans from the post-WWII era, you'll see land designated for things like schools, parks, libraries and even churches.

Yeah, I know: Land was worth less and there was more of it available. But the very point of such planning was that the future was unknown. Planning and zoning were ways communities could ensure that long term hopes and needs didn't fall victim to short-term problems and short-sighted officials.

Today this has become a radical idea, where public programs are castigated as "creeping socialism" and cities are always on the lookout for handouts from private developers to fund public infrastructure.

So perhaps its no surprise that many of the very people that we -- voters -- hire to do the detail work of planning and managing our physical and social civic infrastructure, act like their responsibility begins and ends not with public welfare, but with delivering the biggest cash returns. This is the job of a hedge fund manager, but not, I think, of a public official.

The Northside library debacle is one example, where Santa Clara County officials are, in effect, holding the library hostage for a $19 million ransom.

But an even richer example is the Agnews East property, the perfect site for schools to serve Silicon Valley's fast-growing Golden Triangle. In this case, the state Department of General Services seems hell-bent on taking advantage of the recent real estate boomlet to milk those 81 acres for every penny it can get, and the devil (in this case school children) take the hindmost. (Perhaps the state figures some private school operator will come in to pick up the slack.)

However, the Agnews land question has brought together Santa Clara and San Jose residents and officials to support new schools on that land. And today Invest in Santa Clara Schools launched an online petition drive to make sure that state officials know that voters don't think that public land should be managed like a real estate investment trust.

Remember BAREC? Whether or not you agree that with the final development agreement on the land, the deal was made, as the Metro reported at the time, by then Governor Gray Davis and the UC Board of Regents without public discussion. It was a backroom deal that State Senator John Vasconcellos castigated in a 2000 letter.

"As you may recall," he wrote to Davis in 2000 concerning the UC's decision to revert the agriculatural research station property to the State, "this decision was made singularly between your administration and the University of California, and slipped into the budget without any advance notification to either the public or us. This is an abominable process. We hope that you, your administration and the UC, will pledge never again to undertake such a surreptitious action."

Remember Gray Davis? There's a guy who learned about blowback the hard way. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wednesday Santa Clara Study Session on Citizen Participation in Sports Complex Visioning

At a recent Santa Clara City Council meeting, City Manager Julio Fuentes spoke about the need  connecting citizens to the city's long-term planning at an early stage. It's a challenge as many know. The minute that city officials say "maybe we should" or "what if," the rumor mill goes into overdrive and by day's end slogan-bearing tee shirts are being printed. 

However, in the hope that more early discussion will help build public trust, this Wednesday at 4:30 the City Council's goal-setting sub-committee is holding a study session about the ways residents can participate in the research and  recommendations for a new Santa Clara sports park complex. Find the agenda here. The meeting is at the Council conference room, adjacent to the Council Chamber. 

The discussion was triggered by the brouhaha created when the Council began talking, at a September study session, about moving the 10 year-old Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park from its present location side-by-side with Santa Clara's new Levi's Stadium. The Council has said that no decisions have been made. You an watch the Council meeting here and selecting agenda item 5.c.