City Council Recap: Swim Center Project Needs to be Downsized; Parks & Rec Commissioners Have Many Concerns and Ideas

By Robert Haugh

The big news from last night’s City Council meeting is that the Central Park International Swim Center and Community Recreation Center project is too ambitious — too big and too expensive.

Swim Center
The Central Park Swim Center and Community Recreation project needs to be “right-sized.”

At a study session, Project Finance Advisory Limited (PFAL) gave a thorough presentation about the proposed project. Among the issues they discussed included the lack of available funds, public polling data and possible next steps.

The $250 million project, which was planned to include a new, larger community recreation center (four times the current size), new swim center (60 percent larger) and other community features such as a theater isn’t “right-sized.”

The firm says that the community supports a tax measure that would benefit parks and libraries as a whole, but offers limited support for a tax benefiting only the swim center project. The tax would be estimated at $25 per $100,000 of assessed value and would generate $303 million over 32.5 years. Subtract financing and that equates to $202 million.

Recommendations moving forward include additional focus groups, finalizing the PFAL report, community outreach and engagement and polling on potential refined ballot language.

Council member Teresa O’Neill asked about private donations. The consultant mentioned that outside of Tod Spieker, a local rental housing developer, and his $4 million-plus pledge, no other significant donors were identified.

The consultants conclude that the current scope of the project is not feasible for the City. But PFAL and city staff are working on a plan that could work with a “right sized” project and money for city wide parks, libraries and other needs. The council wants to put something on the November ballot. A parcel tax stands the best chance of passing.

The Santa Clara Unified School District had made a decision to target June for their parcel tax which we’ve written about. It would be their fourth bond measure in 14 years. Now, we’re hearing that they may change course and move to November. If they switch, that could screw up the city’s measure, or vice versa. Stay tuned.

Parks & Rec Joint Meeting Tidbits

The Parks and Recreation Commissioners met with the City Council for a dinner meeting. Here are some interesting things that came up:

  • There are issues with dog park spaces and the capacity for multiple dogs and larger breeds.
  • Athletic fields and parks need better enforcement to ensure proper use.
  • Jumpy houses and alcohol are not permitted in parks, but tend to appear often. Several Commissioners and Council members think both are huge liabilities for the City.
  • One suggestion being considered is adding concrete slabs at parks to make for safer places to set up Jumpy houses.
  • Parks are old and dilapidated.
  • Steve Carli Park, which recently received a major upgrade and was made more accessible has seen a huge increase in use.
  • The Swim Center is aging and repairs often are not possible because the facility simply isn’t modern.

Other Items

Longtime Parks and recreation Commissioner Chuck Blair was recognized for his years of service. In addition to serving on the Commission since 2011, Blair was a longtime coach for the Santa Clara Red Sox baseball team, helping the Mission City earn five world titles.

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Deborah Bress and Kevin Park addressed the Council regarding the City Clerk appointment process. Mayor Lisa Gillmor had to repeatedly use her gavel and tell Bress to be seated. At one point, she cut off the microphone. City Attorney Brian Doyle clarified the process and cited the City code and the process and said there is no debate on how the process is happening.  The City was put in a bind when former Clerk Rod Diridon, Jr. resigned suddenly, creating a need for someone to fill the role until an election or appointment can be made.

Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe missed the study session. Council member Dominic Caserta was absent from both the dinner meeting and the study session.



  1. Sorry Robert, but you missed the point of Ms Bress and Mr Parks’ presentation … they asked why the Council had not declared the City Clerk’s position VACANT. Why is the Council rushing to change democracy and why they are not following the long-established process of filling a vacancy? Instead they are ignoring the City Charter. The answer tha the City Attorney provided was BS … in fact, listen to it again. Doyle, himself, used the word, vacant when referring to the clerk’s position (which is what Bress was attempting to clarify) … but the council, still had not declared a vacancy but instead broke the rules of,the city charter. Bress and Parks were asking why they are working without following the Charter? They are rushing to amend the charter and remove our right to elect a city clerk but refuse to allow a replacement to be selected from among our residents. Instead they are allowing a teacher’s pet to be put in by the City Manager without following the Charter … shame on the Mayor … shame on the Council … shame on the City Attorney & the City Manager. The Charter Is the law of Santa Clara … always!

    I applaud these two speakers for calling the City politicians and Staff to task … sounds like it is time to call in a higher authority. These public employees seem to be forgetting the rules of Santa Clara – they are required to follow the charter at all times, not pick and choose. They don’t get to railroad their own special interests and personal agendas either — the citizens of Santa Clara need to ask what shenanigans they are trying to pull?

    • The council didn’t vote to change the charter. That must go to an election. Because of the sudden resignation, the council appointed an interim Clerk, which is legal per the Charter. This was done when police chief Steve lodge retired. Kevin kyle served as acting police chief until an election was held. Mike Sellers was then elected. The council merely voted to have someone with experience to fulfill the position until other actions can be taken.

  2. Robert, Please check – I think you are mixing up a parcel tax with a bond measure. They are two different types of taxes added to property tax bills.

    The 30 year measures that SCUSD and the City of SC are talking about are bond measures – which are a dollar amount per $100,000 of assessed value per year added to property taxes. The greater your assessed value, the more you pay. So residents who bought their properties more recently and are already paying the highest property taxes are subject to greater per year dollar amounts assessed for a bond measure than are their neighbors who have much lower assessed values due to owning their properties for a longer period of time (for original owners in my neighborhood, assessed values are extremely low because homes were built in the 1950s). Bond measures can pass with 55% approval. The language of the ballot question does not indicate to property owners what dollar amount will be added to their property taxes each year (people have to do the math themselves.) Many people do not realize they are voting to add hundreds of dollars to their property tax bill for 30 years when voting ‘yes’ on a bond measure.

    A parcel tax is a dollar amount per parcel added to annual property taxes, with a much more limited time window. When we had a parcel tax from SCUSD a few years ago, it was for 4 years. A parcel tax takes a 2/3 majority (66.67 %) to pass.

    We already have multiple bond measures on our property taxes from SCUSD, West Valley/Mission College District, and others. I’d like to see an analysis of how much people are already paying, and for how long. Each of the bond measures is 30 years long to pay off.

    In all cases, the surveys and questionnaires that people are asked to fill out (such as for SCUSD) are designed to help craft ballot language so the bond measure will pass, not to explicitly let property owners know how much more they will be paying on their property taxes.

  3. The election of our city clerk is in the city Charter. I am sure it takes a ballot measure to change this. I’m surprised the city council can’t put one on the ballot if they wanted.

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