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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA November 5, 2013 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Council Member; City of Sunnyvale; Seat 1

The questions were prepared by the Leagues of Women Voters of Santa Clara County and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Experience, City Management Selection Process, Pension Liabilities, Council Track Record, Conflicts of Interest

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. Of all the experience related to city government you would bring to the City Council, which three would be most important to your effectiveness and why do you think so?

Answer from Gustav Larsson:

Serving on Sunnyvale's Planning Commission, and as Chair last year, gives me valuable insight into the challenges of a dynamic city in a growing region. A key responsibility of City Council is land use: deciding what gets built where in the city and how we balance jobs, housing, transportation, shopping, and open space. Hundreds of hours spent in over 80 public hearings working through the fine details of these issues makes me well prepared to address policy questions on City Council.

I understand what it is like to be faced with an unexpected city issue in the neighborhood. When the PAMF medical clinic on Old San Francisco Road was planning to expand, I successfully built consensus with my neighbors, the city, and PAMF to solve traffic, parking, and privacy concerns. Neighborhood issues often bring out strong emotions, and my ability to find common ground helped us listen to each other and work together. Now we have a beautiful new clinic that provides vital services to the community.

I have earned a reputation for being thoughtful, thorough, and handling complex decisions in an open-minded way. My good working relationships with city staff allow me to be effective immediately on Council.

Answer from Andy Frazer:

I am able to work well with everybody, even people who disagree with my positions on many issues. I work well with many members of the City staff, members of the Council, and especially residents throughout the city.

For 10 years I was a software engineering manager at a total of four companies. I have years of experience maintaining the delicate balances between hiring and motivating the best people, while keeping compensation costs sustainable.

I will evaluate Council agenda items from the perspective of all parties involved. This includes the city employees; the business owners and developers who work within the city; the private-sector employees who work within the city, and especially the residents of the city.

Most important, I take a long-term view of decisions. I was compelled to run for City Council because I saw too many long-term trends that are compromising the quality of life in Sunnyvale: the huge burden of the City's pension and lifetime healthcare costs; sub-optimal staffing in our Public Safety Department; two lost opportunities to add more land to our city parks; and increasing traffic due to our race to build more office space and, in the next few years, more high-density housing.

? 2. The City Council is now in the process of selecting a new City Manager. What, specifically, is working well about the selection process, and what would you like to see done differently?

Answer from Andy Frazer:

Since the selection process is just beginning, it's too early to say whether the current process is working or not.

During the previous selection process, members of the public were invited to join committees to contribute to the selection process. I expect the current selection process to repeat that successful procedure.

The biggest problem facing the current Council, as well as the two previous Councils, is they did not implement a plan to handle the succession of the City Manager, before he announced his resignation. Once again, this has put the Council in a position where they need to quickly begin the search for a new City Manager, while also scrambling to ask the current City Manager to stay on longer, and identifying an interim City Manager. The city should create a policy that could immediately be engaged as soon as the city loses the City Manager, either through resignation or is unable to fulfill his duties.

Answer from Gustav Larsson:

Five years ago we went through a comprehensive selection process. Numerous interview committees, representing key groups in the city such as residents, businesses, and Council, made sure we hired a City Manager who met the diverse needs of our city and worked well with all constituents.

As a result, we selected an excellent City Manager who has built a strong leadership team to carry on after he retires. He has strengthened our city's finances and protected the city's triple-A credit rating even through a recession. And his team continues to bring world-class employers into the city. He has left us a strong foundation for moving forward.

We can be more efficient this time, while still being just as comprehensive and effective, now that we have figured out the process. Attracting strong candidates will be harder with the current contention on Council. Efficiently carrying out a proven process will help us hire the best City Manager.

? 3. What has the City done to make its pension liabilities sustainable? Would you advocate for additional changes?

Answer from Gustav Larsson:

Sunnyvale has already taken major steps toward making our pension liabilities sustainable: we negotiated two-tier pensions with our employee bargaining units, we increased employee contributions to 3% of salary, we hired our own actuary to calculate how much we should pay toward pension liabilities above the CalPERS requirement, and we are now paying down our pension liabilities faster than required.

The final step is negotiating with our bargaining units to increase employee contributions from 3% to 8% of salary over the next 5 years (or other equivalent financial savings). With this change, our pension costs will be fully sustainable over the next 20 years.

The fact that Sunnyvale went to two-tier pensions through negotiations reflects well on the city and our employees. It is important that we all work together to ensure city finances remain sustainable. It's good for the residents, good for the city, and good for employees.

Answer from Andy Frazer:

CalPERS is imposing higher pension contribution rates on the City in order to address a decade's worth of over-promising pension benefits. Unfortunately, the City is continuing to place most of the burden of these cost increases upon the taxpayers. This year, city employees have agreed to pay 3% of their salary towards their pensions. But the City will still be required to pay $30 million to subsidize the employer contribution, plus the employer's share of the employee contribution, plus the surcharge for the unfunded liability (currently projected to be $280 million).

Five years from now, the projected budget assumes that employees will increase their pension contribution rate to 8% of salary. But the City will still be spending $30 million per year to subsidize the bulk of the pension obligations to CalPERS.

We need to elect Council members who have not taken campaign contributions and endorsements from the city employee's unions, and who can vote intelligently to support the best interests of the employees, the City's budget and the residents.

? 4. What is the most important accomplishment of the City Council in the last two years? What is its greatest failure?

Answer from Andy Frazer:

The most important accomplishment of the City Council in the last two years was the approval of the Mid-Penn/Charities low-income housing project at the current Armory site on Fair Oaks. This project will provide an important, carefully-managed service to low-income residents. It will also be an improvement to the immediate neighborhood.

The Council's greatest failure in the last two years was the overwhelming approval of a General Plan Amendment to allow construction of two six-story office buildings at the intersection of Maude and Mathilda with barely any notification to nearby residents. These two buildings are absolutely inappropriate for that particular neighborhood. They overwhelm the skyline of the residential neighborhood on the east side of Mathilda Ave. Once these office buildings are occupied, the traffic at this intersection will become intolerable both for employees within Peery Park, as well as the residents east of Mathilda.

Answer from Gustav Larsson:

Approving affordable housing at the Sunnyvale Armory site has been Council's most important accomplishment. When this project opens, it will provide 119 units of much-needed housing to low-income individuals and families. It will also provide important services such as job counseling and after-school programs coordinated with the local elementary school. This is the first city-assisted affordable housing project in Sunnyvale in 7 years. As Chair of the Planning Commission, I was proud to shepherd this project through the Commission and play a role in its approval by Council. Sunnyvale can facilitate more projects like this by acquiring land that we can sell or lease to affordable housing developers, and I am committed to helping more projects like this go forward. Seven years is too long to wait.

Our city's greatest failure has been not getting the Town Center project completed. Downtown projects at the old Town and Country location are nearing completion while the Town Center still remains on hold due to a lawsuit between the previous developer and the bank. We need to stop the finger-pointing and bring both parties to the table to work out a solution for the best interests of the community.

? 5. Who are your top five donors and what total amount have you received from each one? What conflicts of interest can you foresee from your campaign contributions, and how would you handle them?

Answer from Gustav Larsson:

There are many ways to support a campaign, through financial contributions, volunteering, in-kind donations, and word of mouth. To date, almost 20 volunteers for my campaign have spent parts of their weekends talking with voters throughout Sunnyvale. If volunteer hours are valued at $17/hour, the rate Microsoft uses to match its employees' community volunteer hours, some of my volunteers would be among the top 5 campaign donors.

My top financial donor is myself. I have put $16,000 of my own money into the campaign.

My next top financial donors are a local developer, a mobilehome industry association, and two former Sunnyvale mayors. Each donor contributed less than 10% of the overall campaign budget so I foresee no conflicts of interest.

This information is current as of September 21, 2013.

Answer from Andy Frazer:

I am the largest donor to my campaign ($6,000). This demonstrates my commitment to my supporters, and the voters.

My next four largest donors are each residents of Sunnyvale who have chosen to endorse me because I am a fiscal conservative, and because I oppose the rapid development that we're seeing in Sunnyvale. None of these four residents are employed by the city, and their businesses do not benefit from City Council decisions.

Since I'm funding the bulk of my campaign myself, and since I've planned my campaign to operate effectively on a limited budget, I am not asking any of the city's special interests for campaign donations. When I am elected to the Council, I will be able to represent the voters and the long-term interests of the city without creating the appearance of a conflict of interest when I vote on city policy issues

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' statements are presented as submitted. Word limits for answers are 400 words for all questions. Direct references to opponents are not permitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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