Cupertino Vice Mayor Savita Vaidhyanathan.
The city council does many different things that we as residents may not be aware of. There are also issues they cannot address which is quite contrary to what we as residents think is under the city’s purview. Siliconeer chats with Cupertino city officials to get their take on some of the mundane and the not-so-mundane issues that residents often face and are still searching for the right answers. In the process, we take a peek at the back office that runs one of world’s most prized tech cities. (#Cupertino, #SiliconValley, #SFBayArea, #Education, #RenewableEnergy, #Housing, #Transportation, #CityCouncil, #PublicWorks)
Roots of Cupertino. Upon arrival, we were met by Cupertino Vice Mayor Savita Vaidhyanathan. She took Siliconeer on a behind-closed-doors tour of the city of Cupertino. As we walked down the hallway, we came across some historic pictures and paintings. Cupertino Public Affairs Director Rick Kitson walked us through the history of Cupertino, named after a Spanish explorer who came to the area in 1776.
Pointing towards a picture, Kitson told us it was the Picchetti Winery, one of the very first wineries in the state and is still in operation producing award-winning wines.
He also referred to Cupertino’s long history with high tech companies including, Varian, Tandem and HP, which was really big in Cupertino, much before Apple.
Cheaper Green Power. An initiative that Cupertino has been pursuing lately is how to make the power that lights the city’s homes and businesses more green and cheap. “It’s more of a power brokerage that will immediately, among other things, make the power that people receive, much more green, at least by an order of magnitude,” says Rick Kitson, public affairs director for the city of Cupertino.
When asked if Apple was their probable biggest customer, Kitson said Apple will benefit in its many leased properties around town, but at its larger campuses Apple is big enough to have their own agreements for power. Apple is even generating some of their own power and in their new campus, they will have their own power plant.
Is this something similar to how solar companies work where you are generating power in your home and circulating it back into the grid?
Silicon Valley Clean Energy will purchase energy in the open market on behalf of residential and business customers, essentially countywide, with the exception of San Jose and a few other cities. This will enable SVCE to buy renewable energy in bulk, thus reducing overhead and costs considerably. Right now, renewable energy is at an all-time low in terms of cost. The current utility serving Cupertino is only at 27% renewable energy. A lot more is available at www.Svcleanenergy.org.
City Planning. Moving on, we came to the planning department. This department scrutinizes the plans for developments in the city. We got a peek at what was coming up in Cupertino in the years to come. The most exciting arguably was the Apple Spaceship campus. We saw plans for some condominiums that were being planned around the Apple Campus II. “The current application is for 600 additional units,” Cupertino Vice Mayor Savita Vaidhyanathan pointed out.
The Apple Campus II is on your right as you go on 280 North towards Sunnyvale.
The plans may be different from the architectural drawings, and that’s where the city council’s work gets very interesting. The picture or drawings will show one thing and what may be in the plans might be something very different. “It is the city staff and city council that has to make sure that the plans and drawings are in sync and meet community and legal standards,” explained Kitson.
There is a lot of discussion about development, with the elections and ballot initiatives, so the Community Development department has been very, very busy. We asked Aarti Shrivastava, Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director about how long it took to approve the Apple Campus.
“They first came in, in 2011. Then they went back and changed a few things. They came back in March 2013 with their revised plans and we were at the council by October of 2013,” said Shrivastava.
Public Works. What’s coming? A whole section with loads of bound paper drawings, we could only imagine how many trees this would take. The city is currently working to make the process paperless. Some of the projects we heard about included bike route enhancements, street paving projects, and a number of storm drain improvements.
We asked them about encouraging public transport. How about increasing the use and availability of public transport?
Kitson said, “The Valley Transportation Authority is a county agency that is responsible for public transportation throughout the county. However, there are many ways that the city is working to improve public transportation including working closely with neighboring cities. Our council has been a leader on this topic.”
Up Next: The TV Studio and Tech Center. Yes, you read that right. A studio right in the middle of the city council’s offices, complete with editing, broadcasting and viewing equipment. The studio controls the cameras in the city council hall where they have council meetings and the facility is geared towards broadcasting the proceedings live so people can access the city council meetings from the comforts of their living rooms.
The room also hosts an emergency radio station in case of emergencies like an earthquake, and the capability to stream live feeds from the city council meetings, online. The frequency for the radio is 1670 AM.
In terms of going Wi-Fi citywide, Google was doing it for Mountain View, does Cupertino have something similar? Is there a fiber-optic network in the works?
“Cupertino had it,” said Kitson. “The same company that went to Mountain View also served Cupertino. For Mountain View, Google pays for it. For Cupertino, however, when a councilmember asked Steve Jobs at Apple if they were willing to fund the project, Jobs declined the offer.”
So is Gigabit Internet cabling a part of the city’s work?
“Cupertino is right in Silicon Valley. We have big companies. We had HP and now we have Apple but Comcast was really the only company that really provided almost universal Internet access for residents and businesses. If there are others, we are not aware of them.”
When asked about healthy competition by bringing in two, three different service providers offering similar Internet service experience, Kitson said he welcomes the idea. “Over the years we have worked very hard to bring companies to town,” he said. “We tried very hard to get Google Fiber and other companies. Ultimately, the decision is up to the individual business and what works for them.”
“AT&T is offering their gigabit service in Cupertino. They are regulated through the California Public Utilities Commission because of their legacy as a phone company. The state enacted a law a few years back where in order to promote Internet access among low-income communities, some legacy Internet service providers cannot expand coverage in affluent communities like Cupertino, without also building out in low-income communities.
Do you think more players are coming in to offer better services?
Kitson agrees. “There’s a lot of dark fiber running through the area including Cupertino. #GoogleFiber has come in to Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose. That has really shaken things up. #Comcast has been working in Cupertino in the last several months to upgrade their switches so they are going to a gigabit network. We had one company come in from Europe that had deployed a lot of fiber. We talked to them quite a bit. We are very interested in how their systems work once they are up and running.’
“There are companies out there and certainly the demand is skyrocketing. For the same areas, AT&T and Verizon are coming back with more cell towers. As people are using more and more devices, and more and more video, the coverage for each cell tower they already have is getting smaller. So, not only is demand increasing, existing infrastructure is providing less service.
We believe more companies will show up, but no one has come through lately. We were glad to see AT&T coming in with fiber, and that was a big improvement. In the western United States, we were the first city to get this service,” said Kitson.
The Conference Room. This was the room where Apple and the city discussed the Spaceship Campus. A state-of-the-art room, complete with audio-visual equipment and more. Vaidhyanathan and Kitson sat with us as they walked us through the city’s online Interactive Financial Web site.
Property Taxes. Kitson talked about property taxes and how they are applied. He said a lot of property taxes go directly to the schools, which are separate entities. The city of Cupertino gets 7¢ for every dollar for property tax, which is a very small portion. Schools, fire, sewer and many other special districts are a significant portion.
Schools. Regarding concerns about whether or not there are enough schools, should more schools be built, should schools be bigger or should we not allow more students – those are all important questions, and none of them are new. Those are all decisions that the school districts study very carefully and they are ultimately responsible for dealing with that issue.
“Each of our school districts is its own completely independent legal entity with its own board of trustees and superintendent, and I know that they take these issues, very seriously,” said Kitson.
“A lot of time people come to the city of Cupertino offices talking about school issues. The city really can’t and doesn’t interfere with that, it’s not our jurisdiction. School board trustees are directly elected by the community.”
As a city do you take up these concerns of the residents with the school districts?
“This is Cupertino. Education is taken very seriously. If there is a community concern about education, the schools know about it. The city is seldom the first stop. However, we do meet with the school districts regularly and have very good communications with them. We do share information about what’s going on.” said Kitson.
Kitson says the city council wants to help the schools. One of the ways the city does that in Cupertino is that it maintains the fields for the elementary schools. The city pays for the maintenance so the schools don’t have to. This helps the schools save money. The city does this as part of their parks maintenance program. When schools are not using the fields, the city gets to use the school fields for recreation programs. A good example is soccer classes when the schools are closed.
The schools benefit because they save money while the city benefits as it has more park space for its residents to use.
“People are coming from all over the world, and we have an incredible concentration of innovative people in Cupertino. So we can’t just sit back and say ‘Well, this is the way it is.’ No one accepts that in Silicon Valley, or the Bay Area, so that creates a lot of pressure but also a lot of opportunity for all of us in local government,” concluded Vice Mayor Savita Vaidhyanathan.