How do we correct this?
I seek your help
Citizens and neighbors of Saratoga,
I NEED YOUR HELP TO CORRECT THE COURSE OF OUR HOUSING ELEMENT
Here is a summary of the issues (and a path forward) as I see them:
Why the path forward the council has taken will not work?
The issues I have observed so far that need remedy
Your Call to action. Yes, you can help - Saratoga needs your engagement.
1. Why the path forward will not work?
WHY AM I ABANDONING THE COUNCIL’S “WHACK A MOLE” APPROACH
Back in December I asked for a plan of equity to address the state housing mandates. No single neighborhood should bear the cost of these outrageous housing mandates imposed by the state. Unfortunately, the council majority is playing a shell game of shifting the burden from one neighborhood to another.
I defined an eminently workable process https://rishikumar.com/thesaratogaplan but it has been ignored by other councilmembers
There is nothing in today’s process that a principled man who hasn’t sold out to a flawed system would support.
The sheer incompetence and taxpayer dollars that are being spent spinning in circles thanks to a lack of leadership is unacceptable
My pledge - I will never let the people of Saratoga down. You may have seen that - I don’t take this platform conferred upon by our people lightly.
2. The Issues that need remedy
Issue: It is a flawed process
My objective is to champion your neighborhood's concerns and do the right thing for all of us.
I proposed a workable plan based on equity on the Sunday ahead of the Friday January 28th 9AM meeting.
The council chose to ignore it.
My plan is well researched - similar to many plans I have put together as a tech executive - https://rishikumar.com/thesaratogaplan - a plan that will bring it together for us to succeed.
Why are real-estate developers targeting me in their attacks - why only me? My plan has metrics and seeks to protect Saratoga, it is a plan for us to succeed together. Look at the Palo Alto’s housing sites plan - it is going through a stringent criteria based evaluation.
Contrast that with Saratoga’s process: Council members have a magic hat and are proposing sites late at night when many residents have left the meeting. We are trying to design this at the council meetings with very limited data and without the foundation of an urban plan.
One wrong turn now and Saratoga’s future is wrecked - we should not take this monumental crisis lightly.
My plan seeks to distribute density across the various school districts based on population %, and takes into account General plan elements like traffic circulation and open space, all while keeping Saratoga's current story and height limits. I asked our process to consider ALL sites, including churches and schools. Unbelievably, church and school sites (including West Valley College) were still not available for Council consideration after a years work. Why weren’t schools, churches and fire districts being considered when everyone understands the need in our community for affordable housing for teachers and firefighters? Perhaps the process needs tweaks.
I have no confidence that we have considered all possible sites, following almost a year on this effort.
We have to steer this approach into a well-defined process - we truly aren’t doing that. The Council majority’s plan today -is actually NO plan. Have you seen the meeting? Councilmembers are doing the flip flop - they are not thinking straight. Sites are removed based on factors such as fire safety and traffic congestion - and other sites are added with exactly the same constraints, and in fact remain there in spite of our community expressing their disdain for the dichotomy of process.
How could I say Yes to move forward with such a plan?
Issue: There is no leadership
“Time for Leadership and Action” - from public testimony
Leadership is trusted upon the mayor. Yan Zhao was the mayor in 2021 and the Housing Element started of wrong then. Tina Walia now as the mayor in 2022 has made things worse. With the lack of progression, the issues are stark and visible to anyone who tunes into the meeting briefly.
There is no leadership and the leadership is not willing to listen to reason - peas in a pod. This is a recipe for disaster.
Today, we are following a process defined by the staff and not taking leadership. The mayor of the city has to take charge. The leadership is so dismal, that the mayor scheduled meetings ( for example, January 20th) without checking the council on their availability. At the January 28th meeting, Tina was asking about availability for future meetings towards the end of the meeting when many residents had left. Is this a process that you are proud of when you are watching?
The leadership has moved densities from one neighborhood to another - not really solving problems - and created more agitation. Neighbors have been pitted against neighbors.
Issue: Our Saratoga city staff can do better and should be held accountable
The reality is that staff members are playing politics. Debbie Pedro, our Planning Director declared at the January 20th meeting that cross checking with other planning directors indicates that most cities are at par with Saratoga’s current state in the timeline. THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE. Saratoga’s terribly flawed process is far ahead of neighboring cities. Just call your friends in the neighboring cities and check. I have myself verified with other councilmembers. Why is Debbie saying what she is.
Our City Manager James Lindsey is in a terrific hurry to move forward; he wants to begin the EIR process and is saying we will run out of time. THE EIR PROCESS WILL COST US CLOSE TO HALF A MILLION DOLLARS FOR CONSULTANTS. Why are we in such a hurry to engage expensive consultants when this whole process is failing our citizens? When seemingly no one is happy with our approach or our plan? Wouldn’t it be better to plan ahead by adopting a site selection process based on metrics, rather than emotion? We should slow it down. However, council majority are refusing to slow this down, claiming that staff is telling us we have no time left. Is this Council working for the staff?? Something is wrong with this picture!
Issue: Slow this train wreck please
This is perhaps the most consequential decision any council has made since incorporation of Saratoga in 1956. Take the time necessary to do it right. Our neighboring cities are doing their due diligence, despite the really trying circumstances of these outrageous state mandates. As your elected representatives, we owe that same due diligence to every Saratoga resident. Slow this train down!
But we are way ahead of other cities: Cupertino is weeks behind. Their sites just arrived at the planning commission (Jan 27) for discussion and evaluation. Monte Sereno has a meeting scheduled in February for council to begin evaluation of sites
We are not hearing of the uproar that Saratoga neighborhoods are going through from the other cities. What does that tell you?
Issue: Where is the transparency?
The discussion of additional sites should take place during the evening, NOT during the day when residents are at work. We need to engage our citizens! Holding a meeting in the middle of a work day and taking votes at 2:00am is not acceptable in a democracy.
Our council leadership should develop a clear plan for these meetings, agendize them and schedule them during a time when residents can participate. Residents are not being served by this negligence.
Issue: Councilmembers are ignoring the call for equity
I have been repeating EQUITY like a broken record since mid December - but my colleagues refuse to listen. I proposed a plan based on equity with my plan above - but we continue to play the amazing game of Whack a Mole.
And didn’t the community ask to spread the housing out - not just north of Cox?
Kookie added Prospect Center and the Country Club - both north of Cox. Are they listening to people?
Yan suggested adding density to Quito/Pollard and Montalvo - a weak attempt at best.
Why is no one suggesting distributing housing sites evenly across Saratoga?
Yan had moved housing from Saratoga Avenue pumpkin patch to the Gateway and everyone was clapping. Really? With this Whack a Mole failed approach? It seems that folks are trying to protect her November 2022 reelection.
We were asked to propose new sites by Monday ahead of the Friday Jan 28th meeting
Two councilmembers proposed a total of 2 sites each - Kookie and Yan
Two council members proposed 0 - Mary-Lynne and Tina
I asked for ALL sites to be on the table and the metrics based analysis as per my plan
Issue: A clique of councilmembers
Three members of today’s councilmembers have formed a clique. The clique will ignore the best of plans as they don’t want to play ball with the other two. Seems like they are very confident they have a great grasp over the housing element. This clique has ignored some of my plans and ideas that were brought forth - just because they can. Watch the 3 councilmembers when I am speaking. They are NEVER listening - their head is down and they are busy doing something else. This clique collectively have a total of 5 years of experience on the city council.
I am not saying that they violate the brown act - just follow each other’s lead, ignoring other ideas. The birds of a feather will only do what they want - ignoring great ideas from the city council or our residents as they are each other’s echo chamber on the dias. They are doing our city a grave injustice with this approach. They are not only stopping veteran councilmembers from bringing forth valuable ideas from their experienced outlook, but in the future they will continue this and prevent new councilmembers from flourishing and succeeding.
When council members block the voice of reason - they are doing a huge disservice to our city and their role as an elected leader. I haven’t seen any reasons why they chose to ignore my plan - I have been dealing with this approach for some time, and we continue down the same haphazard way - the “whack a mole” approach and scant regard to simple elements of urban planning and equity.
Issue: Think back to Quito Village - what happened then?
We expect our city council to fight these draconian laws - feedback from a neighbor
I was the only councilmember that spoke against the ministerial process for SB-35 projects i.e Quito Village’s 91 housing unit that were ultimately approved by our city based on a process that our council defined. Mary-Lynne, Yan and 2 more voted in favor. Should we give up without a fight?
You know me - my branding is that I have always challenged the system, unafraid to be the dissenting vote. Did something change that I should roll over and play dead now? Why would I yield to a system that is set up for failure?
If I hadn’t done what I did - we would not have rejected 9 San Jose Water Company’s water rate increases that benefited a million people of Silicon Valley, or reduced burglaries - the largest reduction compared to any other Silicon Valley city, and stopped a potential 300-room hotel mega development project on a hillside in a high fire hazard zone. When my colleagues on the city council proposed a road tax, I was the only dissenting vote, pushing for a budget optimization approach instead to free up dollars for road repair. The council ultimately put the brakes on the road tax.
Our city is getting the raw end of the stick. What are we going to do?
Issue: We are set up to fail
The RHNA numbers are flawed and a setup. Please review the detailed reasons why we are auditing it here.
We are just pushing the failure by a few months or years - but our city of today will cease to exist - if we submit the Housing Element. We are set up for an Epic failure. And 8 years later - even more!
Why not drop this charade and fight Sacramento now?
Let us lead the fight.
Other councilmembers (from other cities) tell me that Saratoga is ahead and "we want to see what Saratoga does." I have concluded - we really don't have a choice left.
Let us band together with other cities.
Not sure who would join us though- but that is our only option and the best option - to say NO and NO MORE.
If we are considering a max 10 stories (Prospect/Lawrence today) and 4 stories at the Pumpkin Patch on Saratoga Avenue, what does the future look like?
In 2030, we will be grappling with the next housing element, and will we be considering 20 stories and 8 story buildings in Saratoga?
Should we follow the herd based on an ill-conceived Sacramento push that is turning over the state to land-developers. There is no way Saratoga will have built the required 1700 housing units in 8 years, when we barely built 200 in the last 8 years. We will fail the housing element test at the midpoint i.e 2026. What then? The land-developers swoop in - armed with the SB-35 legislation - to operate with gay abandon, claim any and all properties within our city circumventing city council jurisdiction.
We ain’t seen nothing yet.
We have to rally around the housing ballot measure and bring local control back to Saratoga. Tina was quick to point out in a city council meeting that the city council did a resolution supporting the measure. Would that get us the 1.5 million signatures? I have 140 people signed up to collect signatures.
#3 YOUR CALL TO ACTION
CAN YOU HELP ME HELP SARATOGA?
I ask you to work with the 4 councilmembers and reason with them - point them to a possible approach. You may use the blurb below. Read the plan and see if it makes sense to you. Send me feedback if you have a better plan - I am all ears.
NOTE: If you decide to not take any action - I will presume that you are happy with the current state of the housing element.
Defeatist attitude - are we going to move forward with a Housing Element plan that will ultimately fail and not do anything to stop it
Here is what I would recommend to you.
You may only follow my recommendation if you are NOT confident with the state of the housing element today.
If you believe everything is hunky dory and you trust the 4 councilmembers to do the right thing, then no action is needed.
I would be happy to take a more active role on the housing element once I see our housing element positioned for success, and in the interest of Saratogans.
I am frustrated after weeks of trying to be the voice of reason and I gave up at the city council meeting of January 28th, 2021
CALL TO ACTION EXPLAINED Email your city councilmembers: Here is the email address saratoga_cc@Saratoga.CA.US
Copy everything from below and edit as needed.Please do review every line before you send it.
Do your best to get the housing element back on track. It is failing today and no one - just no one - is happy.
DEFINE A PROCESS: I Implore you to come up with a process before we move forward with sites selection. Let us not put the cart before the horse. This is a huge priority; unless we have a good process, we will fail. We do not see a well-defined process today!
SHOW US THE PROJECT PLAN: Get a project manager to manage the process, the plan and define clear outcomes. Showcase the project plan for our community to review and gain confidence from.
COMPILE A LIST OF SITES: You should do your best to pull together every possible Saratoga site and consider it. A Sacramento housing bill actually mandates that every city should have a list of possible sites ready. Do it now! Staff needs to come up with that list. Councilmembers or neighborhoods should not go through a haphazard site nomination process. Don’t leave it to chance and emotion. Sites should be stacked underneath school districts and provide the dashboard that will help with a good final decision.
A DATA-DRIVEN CRITERIA BASED PLAN: Please define a plan that will do the following:
Follow the Mission and Value statement that our council has approved and ratified such as “Provide essential municipal services which protect health, safety and welfare, and satisfy the community’s desires to maintain its quality of life while practicing fiscal responsibility.” Please read the Mission and Value statement again in the context of the Housing Element.
Define a plan for EQUITY, a plan that will follow the elements of an urban plan and also the RHNA guidelines.
Ensure that we follow city code and general plan elements such as circulation, open space, commercial vibrancy, while distributing population across school districts. Be cognizant of the current infrastructure constraints for the sites picked; such as sewer systems, open space, traffic and parking, schools broadband, electricity and many other variables.
Ensure that we address any capital investment, any infrastructure upgrade, potential tax increases that would be needed as a result of all these net new housing sites and population growth - there are many more parameters involved. Do your best to not add undue financial burden on our citizens; let us discard plans - such as moving our city yard or city offices - if they will require a capital investment. Sacramento has no considerations for the underlying infrastructure needed for the population spike, but Saratoga should keep it in scope.
Do this right as per the RHNA definitions. Either we do this right or don’t do it. Is there any point of doing this half right? Do NOT pack density in areas that will wreck a few neighborhoods. RHNA states that “sites identified to accommodate the lower income RHNA must be distributed throughout the community in a manner that will affirmatively further fair housing.” We cannot pack all the lower income housing in just one lot - HCD wants us to distribute it evenly. We don’t have a choice if we want to get HCD to approve our Housing Element submission.
Only include sites that are viable: You should take the IFs and BUTs out of the process. The city should take written permission from specific site owners and validate that they are willing to sell their properties before adding them to the site list. If the site owner refuses to sell their property or build - the city will fail again. Remember - if we don’t hit the RHNA target, SB-35 kicks in and by-right development will happen. We do NOT want by-right development in Saratoga. Do your best to shield our city. Prior to submitting plans to HCD, get it to an accurate state.
STAFF NEEDS TO PROVIDE THE SITES SCORE SHEET TO THE COUNCIL: Please direct staff and have them take charge. Hold them accountable. Staff reports to you and should be taking directions from you. They should spend a few weeks (or months) constructing a metrics based analysis of the sites list and a point system to take the emotion out. We have no choice but to get it right! Review the plans of cities around us like Palo Alto that have defined a good process. The final grade assessed for each site based on well-defined criterias will help all of us make a data-driven decision.
WHY THE RUSH? Please slow down this push to move forward. We are ahead of the game - let us get it right. No other city is ahead of us. Cupertino’s site selection is at the Planning Commission stage - weeks behind Saratoga. This is the most significant issue in decades - why the rush? The deadline to submit is January 2023 - let us do it right as the future of our city is at stake. HCD will certify us by April 2023. Let us do it right! Apparently Councilmembers from other cities are waiting for Saratoga’s outcomes since we are ahead.
TRANSPARENCY SHOULD BE A HUGE PRIORITY: Please schedule and announce a series of Housing Element meetings and let the people know so that they can plan their calendars. Send another postcard out explaining the latest status. Saratoga is only beginning to engage and we need to ensure we take every neighborhood along in the decision making. This process will take some time. Don’t do ad hoc meetings. Do NOT schedule meetings in the middle of a work day. Do not run meetings after midnight.
DROP THE CLIQUISH BEHAVIOR: The situation is dire, you cannot be birds of a feather driving the train wreck in unison, ignoring perspectives of other councilmembers or of our neighbors just because you can. I see councilmembers looking down and writing something when another councilmember is speaking. Are you paying heed to what is being said? Or do you already know where you want to take this? Do you have an open mind? Are you willing to pick up nuggets of wisdom? We have to listen to each other and take action. Do not ignore neighborhood feedback. Time to listen and act accordingly.
DON’T IGNORE THE NEIGHBORHOODS’ VOICE: I ask you to consider a new Neighborhood Housing Element Ad-hoc Task Force that will include members of every neighborhood - to see how we can bring Saratoga together, collaborate towards a better approach. The Kevin Moran Park task force did some wonderful work and we can see the fantastic park that came together. As part of that task force charter, the representatives were responsible for updating their neighborhood constituents. With today’s path the swirl will continue because the citizens have only been able to give their opinions and complaints - but are not seeing their feedback incorporated as part of the plan. A citizen task force with city staff and two co-chairs who are former councilmembers of Saratoga, will also take city council personal biases out, that are now being talked about whether it is Argonaut shopping center or saving the heart of Saratoga by putting all housing on the borders. I am appalled that at 2AM on January 11th - only one Saratoga Mixed Use zoned site (amongst so many in Saratoga) Argonaut Shopping Center was moved to Commercial only - given that Tina Walia resides behind the Argonaut shopping center. Please serve to do the right thing for all of Saratoga, not yourself or your own neighborhood.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE FAIL AND FAIL WE WILL? You should think beyond and consider a path forward. What happens when we fail in 4 years and SB-35 kicks in. What will happen then? What is the plan once we fail- which we will? Saratoga has handed out permits to barely 200 housing units in the last 8 years. Why are we expected to hand out permits for 1700 units in the next 8 years? What is your remedial plan to prevent a failure? How will you protect Saratoga? After we fail, any property in Saratoga will be available for grab in the aftermath. Land-developers armed with SB-35 will circumvent city council jurisdiction and get an over the counter approval. How are you going to protect Saratoga from such an outcome where developers go through quick by-right approvals without neighborhood say?
NOT POLITICAL PLATITUDES - WORK HARD TO GET THE LOCAL CONTROL BACK: Please engage with the housing ballot measure petition signatures. Our council should champion it, not just be done with a statement like - “We did pass a resolution.” That is not good enough. Try to help get signatures. Champion it please like the leaders you are supposed to be.
ARE YOU MOTIVATED TO PROTECT SARATOGA? Do what you can to push back on Sacramento - the future of our community is at stake. Can we publicize the nexus between the politicians and land-developers to the press? Can we publicize how every city has been set up for failure? Can we negotiate with the California’s Housing Department for fairness by bringing other cities to the table? How can we pressure them? Woodside has blocked SB-9 based on development that will threaten Mountain Lions. That is the creativity we need. Have you seen the reasons for our audit? There are plenty of valid reasons why the RHNA is flawed. We need to team up with surrounding cities and work with them. The push for housing by developers will be where they can make a lot of money - right here in Silicon Valley. Why isn’t Sacramento designing a future Silicon Valley with cutting-edge high speed transportation connecting far flung communities with Silicon Valley jobs; a plan that will create 10 times more “true” affordable housing and also expand our economic footprint to bridge the income inequality gap? Why is Sacramento hell-bent on wrecking our quality of life here and positioning us for increased taxes to fund the infrastructure gap? This is going to create an urban mess and is providing land developers a blank check.
Have you contacted councilmembers of neighboring cities asking what they intend doing? We are all in pain! We need to consider every option that is out there - including rejection of the housing element. I am ready to fight an unfair system that has been stacked against our city and our neighbors.
My final recommendation to you:
Our stress levels have gone up - we expect you to do better. We are divided as a city, neighbors are pitted against neighbors. Time to do this better!
We just don’t want you to follow the fire drill - come up with a hugely better plan and approach. We want you to represent the citizens in a diligent manner.
This demands leadership - are you up to it?
Are you motivated to protect us and protect Saratoga?
We elected you for that purpose.
Time to step up your act!
— The End—-
Bedtime reading material - please take the time to educate yourself
◙ White paper: RishiKumar.com/ManagedGrowth
◙ Have you sent in your request to audit the RHNA numbers? https://rishikumar.com/hcdaudit
◙ Our current "Whack a Mole" Housing Element Plan is going to fail - here is why https://rishikumarforcongress.substack.com/p/the-whack-a-mole-part-deux
◙ Rishi’s Housing Element Plan for Saratoga https://rishikumar.com/thesaratogaplan and how we can correct this
◙ Real time updates at https://www.facebook.com/groups/managedgrowth
◙ Take the survey tinyurl.com/StopTheTrainWreck