By Robert Haugh
Last night, the big budget fight was over the Santa Clara Police Department. On a 4-3 vote, the Council decided to cut the department budget.
That means about 8 fewer police officers on Santa Clara streets and 15 total positions that will be frozen now and could be cut later from the police department.
The Council had a good alternative. They could have taken about $1.6 million in funds from a “rainy day” budget stabilization fund to avoid the cuts, but the majority decided not to.
The fund still has over $57 million in it after the Council decision.
Councilwoman Karen Hardy made the motion to cut. It was seconded by Vice Mayor Raj Chahal. Councilmembers Kevin Park and Suds Jain supported the police cuts.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Councilmembers Kathy Watanabe and Anthony Becker voted against the police cuts.
Watanabe and Gillmor were passionate in their opposition. Becker told stories about his recent personal experience with crime in his neighborhood, as well as his prior experiences with the D.A.R.E. program.
“I have yet to hear one resident say that they want the police department defunded,” Watanabe said.
“When I have my residents contact me and say ‘where are the police, how come they’re not coming to the neighborhood, how come they’re not responding?’ I will be able to tell them because the (majority of) the city council did not listen to you.”
Police Chief Pat Nikolai responded to Council questions about crime stats with information from a chart. It shows major increases in rape, robbery, and burglary. And there’s a huge increase in vehicle thefts.
“You can see the direction we’re going in with crime. It’s horrendous what is happening, the things I’m getting complaints about, the things I’m reading about” said Gillmor. And we want to reduce?”
Santa Clara Police Officers Association (POA) President Alex Torke made a strong argument to avoid the police department cuts. He said the City’s “rainy day” or budget stabilization fund should be used now, during the pandemic since that’s why it was established.
But Hardy, Chahal, Park and Jain were not willing to use $1.6 million of the $57 million “rainy day” fund to keep from cutting police services.
Interestingly, Torke said the POA has filed an official complaint with the Public Employees Relation Board because Councilmembers have stated that they are cutting the police budget to punish the POA for their actions during negotiations. This could be interesting.
Last week, Hardy and Chahal made it clear that was part of their motivation. This week, Park suggested the same thing.
We’ll be following this complaint.
NOTE: We’ll write about the rest of the Council meeting and other actions tomorrow.