April 7, 2023 — Welcome to the Cupertino Facts newsletter! This resident-led publication is dedicated to ensuring that we have a safe, vibrant, honest and effective community. We stand for win-win situations.
In this issue, we explore the following issues:
1. Cupertino Shakespeare in the Park – To Be or Not To Be?
2. Should Cupertino Spend $72M on a New City Hall?
3. Cupertino’s Payments to a Politically-Driven Organization Raise Questions
We have seen the rhetoric of doing good and doing well. Yet far too often, problems have accumulated, requiring much greater efforts to solve, following ever-increasing harms. These include financial accountability and the addressing of social problems. As well, we are at a point in time when public discourse is unfortunately dominated by the politics of attack. We are not interested in contributing to this problem.
What is the remedy? Communication is essential. We will dedicate both to setting forth good work, and communicating regarding this work. If we disagree, it must be on honest, principled differences.
We must start with the commonly-accepted premises that the facts matter, and that we can address concerns while improving endeavors for all. We believe in the politics of efficacy, not the politics of accusation. We are there for you, and we will keep engaging and supporting the values of thoughtful, honest discussion.
Cupertino Shakespeare in the Park – To Be or Not To Be?
THE FACTS: Cupertino residents have enjoyed free Shakespeare in Memorial Park every summer since 1995. But at the April 4, 2023 City Council meeting, Toby Leavitt, Executive Director of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, made the dramatic announcement that Shakespeare in Memorial Park is at risk of being canceled this summer by the Cupertino Parks and Recreation Department.
Staff stated that they were experiencing “unexpected financial constraints affecting both staffing levels and their ability to host free Shakespeare in the Park this summer.” Leavitt asked for help in finding solutions to retain this program along with the many other beloved Cupertino community summer events.
WHY THIS MATTERS: As resident Rhoda Fry explained at the Council meeting, Cupertino’s Q4 2022 and Q1 2023 sales and use tax revenue is significantly down from prior years. She is concerned that the City faces a “double whammy” with the decline in revenue, plus potential fallout from an impending tax audit of one of Cupertino’s largest sales-tax revenue sources. Meanwhile, our Council and Commissions are being asked to allocate funds for new projects.
We won’t sugarcoat things – less tax revenue eventually impacts all residents, whether it’s cuts to community programs or capital improvements. Yet while the City looks to cut Shakespeare in the Park, Mayor Hung Wei and City Manager Pamela Wu will spend 10 days in Taiwan visiting sister cities. Wu confirmed that the expenses for this international trip will be paid for by Cupertino. It is customary for the Mayor to go on taxpayer-funded sister-city trips, and our students will certainly benefit from her insights. However, there is no record of a City Manager ever going on a sister-city trip. The cost of the trip has yet to be approved by the City Council.
WHAT CAN WE DO? Residents believe it is important to find responsible solutions to address Cupertino’s financial situation. While official conversations are still underway, resident-proposed solutions include:
- Increasing fiscal transparency in order to better evaluate Cupertino’s expenditures
- Identifying opportunities to reduce city expenses. For example, at the meeting Peggy Griffin recommended capping fee waivers, limiting trips to sister cities, and prioritizing community events that bring people together.
- In Griffin’s own words, “Let’s live within our means and reduce the impact to the City.”
Should Cupertino Spend $72M on a New City Hall?
THE FACTS: The Cupertino City Hall does not meet current building standards. It should be retrofitted for seismic safety, updated HVAC, and IT infrastructure.
Last year, the Cupertino City Council voted to renovate the Cupertino City Hall for $28M using a property at 10455 Torre Ave, across the street from city hall.
On February 21, 2023, Mayor Hung Wei and newly-elected Vice Mayor Sheila Mohan and Council Member JR Fruen voted to suspend the city hall renovation, and instead consider options for a new city hall building costing $72M+, of approximately 80,000 square feet.
To note, the current City Hall has 121 employees. Even factoring in a 20% population increase, headcount is not expected to exceed 105 employees due to remote work arrangements.
WHY IT MATTERS: Cupertino has a projected deficit of $343,000 in FY2023. Where will funds for a multi-year city hall project come from? The answer is you, the taxpayers.
Voter approval is not required for the City to issue general obligation bonds. How much and for how long do Cupertino residents and taxpayers want to be stuck with the bill for a new construction project, when a renovation with less than half the cost brings the same safe, modern facilities? What Cupertino needs will be deprioritized to make way for this costly new build?
Cupertino’s Payments to a Politically-Driven Organization Raise Questions
THE FACTS: The Cupertino Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)(6) non-profit. Its website lists 169 member organizations (for reference, Cupertino has over 2,400 registered businesses). One of its purposes is to represent its member businesses on local government issues.
Like many of the communities in the Valley, the Chamber in Cupertino does not have a formal, written contract with the City. According to staff research, of the 10 cities surveyed in the Valley, only 4 have contracts with their chambers. In the cities with formal agreements, the chambers are contracted to perform services. For example, in Los Gatos, the chamber operates the visitor center.
Last year, Council Members Kitty Moore and Liang Chao questioned the nature of the chamber’s relationship with Cupertino. Staff reports show that since 2015, the City paid over $200,000 to the chamber, and the chamber received over $91,000 in fee waivers. But since Cupertino has a verbal agreement with the Chamber, it is unclear what services, if any, the Chamber provided to Cupertino in exchange for these payments.
Moreover, Cupertino paid $65,000 to the Chamber for an “I Love Cupertino” website billed at promoting Cupertino and economic development. The website did not live up to expectations.
WHY IT MATTERS: As one long-time resident pointed out to the council, the Chamber influences governmental decisions. The Chamber has also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to select Council Members’ political campaigns. Should Cupertino taxpayer dollars be used to fund the political activities of an outside organization?
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Going forward, the City should not fund politically-driven organizations, as this is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. Moreover, all written contracts should specify in detail the exchange of goods or services provided for city funding.