July 2023 Newsletter: Memorial Park updates, Council’s unusual move to reduce lobbyist transparency, and more

What’s in this issue:

  • Memorial Park Redesign Takes Another Step Towards Completion
    Council Makes Unusual Move to Reduce Transparency into Lobbyist Activity
  • A Simple Explanation of RHNA and how it impacts local residents

Memorial Park Redesign Moves Closer to Completion

After a year of research and community outreach, plans for a revitalized Memorial Park are moving closer to completion. The new plans will provide recreational opportunities for all ages and abilities, improve upon dated features, and increase connectivity with more bikeways and walkways.

Proposed Park Plan

Source: Memorial Park Preferred Draft Concept Presented 6/21

Many features in the park plan put forth by city staff appear to have council support. However, a few areas generated questions during the June 21st City Council meeting:

  1. Removal of softball field: The new Memorial Park plan proposed eliminating the softball field. This is one of the only local softball fields with lighting at night, a size large enough for slow-pitch (adult) softball, and home run fencing. It is currently used by at least 16 teams, and helps draw business into the city. To save the softball field, a few other features in the new park plan (basketball courts, pickleball courts) would be moved or eliminated. Given strong demand for the field, including a petition with 835 signatures, Council voted to have staff return with a revised schematic plan including the softball field.

Aerial view of Memorial Park as it is today with the softball field

Source: Memorial Park Preferred Draft Concept Presented 6/21

  1. High cost of redesign: While cost estimates have not been provided, one should expect such a large-scale renovation to cost significantly more than the Jollyman Park playground renovation, which will cost about $5M for a much smaller scope. The Memorial Park renovation plan was initiated in 2022, before Cupertino was hit by a significant budget deficit. Currently, only its design phase has funding, with a $650,000 budget. “The City is facing a very tight budget now, so I hope that staff can come back with a more economical version of the plan,” stated Council Member Liang Chao during the meeting. “We tried to pack [many things] in the proposed plan, but we don’t have just one park, we have many parks. Many of these nice features, even if they don’t get implemented in Memorial Park, can be implemented in other parks in the city,” said Chao. For example, instead of replacing the highly-used softball field with basketball courts, residents could use the brand new basketball courts at Wilson Park.

Read more to find out what new features are planned to be added to the park, what will stay the same, when the Memorial Park renovation might begin, and more.


Cupertino Council Majority Moves to Reduce Transparency into Lobbyist Activity

At the July 6, 2023 City Council meeting, three Councilmembers (Wei, Fruen, and Mohan) approved first round changes weakening Cupertino’s lobbyist registration ordinance. The changes include a provision that allows lobbyists who are paid less than $5,000/quarter to avoid publicly disclosing their activity. Councilmembers Moore and Chao opposed the changes.

Background

In February 2021, the Cupertino Council enacted an ordinance that requires lobbyists to publicly disclose their activities. The term “lobbyist” included individuals, media, businesses, and select organizations that attempt to influence the government in exchange for paid compensation. This ordinance provides transparency to Cupertino residents around lobbying activity, and helps ensure that our city’s democratic processes are not unduly influenced by conflicts of interest.

Council Moves to Limit Lobbyist Ordinance

Three Councilmembers approved first round changes to the lobbyist ordinance (Wei, Mohan, and Fruen voted YES; Chao and Moore voted NO). This means:

  • Expenditure lobbyists will no longer be required to publicly disclose activity (Defined as entities who pay others to lobby the City or elected officials on behalf of a position).
  • Media will no longer be required to disclose lobbying activity, regardless of who funds the media activity.
  • All nonprofits including member benefit organizations will no longer be required to disclose lobbying activity, regardless of who funds them.
  • Any lobbyist who is paid less than $5,000 per calendar quarter will not be required to register as such with the City of Cupertino.

A Comparison of Local Lobbyist Ordinances

One justification made for the changes was to make Cupertino’s lobbying ordinance consistent with other local cities, counties, or the state. However, lobbying ordinances in the cities and counties closest to us are actually in line with the current Cupertino lobbying ordinance. For example, both Santa Clara County’s and San Jose’s lobbyist payment thresholds are $1,000/consecutive three month period or $5,000/year for expenditure lobbyists. In-house lobbyists who lobby for 10 hours or more in a consecutive 12-month period must also register.

During the July 6th meeting, Councilmember Chao disagreed with using California (population: 39 million people via July 2022 U.S. Census Bureau estimates) as a benchmark for Cupertino. “For the entire state of California, the limit is $5,000 per quarter,” stated Chao. “For a tiny city of Cupertino, if the limit is $5,000 per period, I don’t think anyone would ever qualify.”

A Loss of Transparency in Cupertino

The U.S. District Court upheld the 2021 lobbyist registration ordinance, dismissing a lawsuit filed against the ordinance by the League of Women Voters Cupertino Sunnyvale. However, the City chooses to disregard the Court’s ruling, and dismantle the ordinance by adding exemptions and raising threshold reporting amounts.

From 2021 to 2023, the Cupertino City Council has shifted in sentiment from favoring transparency to shielding lobbyists more than the rest of the county. Failure to provide real accountability, and instead focusing only on partisan politics, further sacrifices quality governance at the expense of undisclosed pandering.

The lobbyist registration ordinance will be discussed by Council again in September 2023. Click below to get the full story about why the ordinance was challenged and revised.


Simple Explanation of RHNA and Housing Markets

By Amy Kalish
Marin Post

RHNA is the Regional Housing Needs Assessment — the number of housing units (a place for at least one person to live) assigned to an area by the state. This happens in eight-year housing cycles, and the allocation numbers are determined by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

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