By Khalida Sarwari
City officials discussed everything–from the mid-year budget and capital improvement projects to how to better engage the community–during the city’s annual retreat on Jan. 23 at the Saratoga Foothill Club.
Several ideas were thrown around on the topic of community engagement. Mayor Howard Miller suggested implementing push notifications on smartphones to alert residents about council meetings and other such announcements. He recommended also using services such as Survey Monkey to gather public input. Councilwoman Mary Lynne Bernald suggested finding ways to reach out to millennials and utilizing the Nextdoor social network.
Planning commissioners went over the Village design guidelines, lawn signs and Village parking regulations, specifically how to inform the community about the availability of parking options and forming a long-term visioning process, possibly one involving building a parking structure in or near downtown. Councilman Rishi Kumar suggested offering visitors a technology component to show parking options.
Traffic calming measures and improving traffic at schools were also addressed. Bernald suggested street striping as a means of curbing speeding, while traffic safety commissioner John Chen recommended placing speed bumps in certain neighborhoods.
On the topic of lawn signs, there was some disagreement among council members as to how much election signs–specifically their location–should be regulated. Miller opined that doing so would be limiting free speech, whereas Lo and Bernald said something should be done about the proliferation of signs around election time. Vice Mayor Manny Cappello said he didn’t feel like it was “a real problem” and that the council should leave it up to the residents to decide.
Capt. Rick Sung, the new division commander of the Sheriff’s Department West Valley patrol substation, shared crime statistics for 2014. One crime on the decline has been mail theft, Sung said.
Following Sung’s presentation, council members asked Sung about the possibility of the sheriff’s office holding additional public workshops on crime prevention in Saratoga. He assured them there are resources in place for that. They also questioned Sung about body cameras for deputies as well as neighborhood security cameras.
“I’m of the personal belief that body cameras will be beneficial to all of us,” Sung said. “I do know we’re heading in that direction.”
Miller said he is concerned that the city’s systems and website are vulnerable to hacking.
Council members and staff also participated in an exercise where they had to answer the question: “What does ‘quintessential Saratoga’ mean?” Some of the descriptors they used included “Tree City USA,” “smart citizens who care,” “cozy downtown,” “traffic safety,” “community character,” “family friendly,” “vibrant business district,” “senior friendly,” “excellent schools,” “NIMBY,” “quiet neighborhoods,” “diverse community,” “solid infrastructure,” “integrated with Silicon Valley,” “thriving, happening community,” “Special Saratoga ambiance,” “kid friendly,” “great environment” and “affluent city.”