San Francisco 49ers jump into the fight to defeat Measure C in Santa Clara
A view of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Image courtesy of Janice Bitters

The San Francisco 49ers have jumped into a fight to defeat a Santa Clara ballot measure that would halve the number of voting districts in the city just as ballots begin to arrive at Santa Clara County homes.

Richard Konda, executive director for the Asian Law Alliance, didn’t mince words when he asked Rahul Chandhok, vice president of public affairs and strategic communications for the NFL team, to “join us publicly and with resources to reach the voters in ensuring Measure C is defeated on March 3, 2020,” in a letter dated Feb. 1.

The measure, which will shrink the number of voting districts in the city from six to three, would disenfranchise “minority and underserved communities,” Konda said. “To be clear, if passed, Measure C would institutionalize anti-democratic elections in Santa Clara that would deny many in the community equal representation on the City Council — a fact that has been affirmed by the Santa Clara County Courts.”

Konda said he wrote the letter on behalf of Rev. Jethroe Moore II of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP, Victor Garza of La Raza Roundtable and former California Assemblyman Paul Fong.

The 49ers, which have had a combative relationship with many elected officials and city leaders in Santa Clara, said they’d jump into the fight.

“The NAACP, La Raza and the Asian Law Alliance requested our support in the fight to defeat Measure C, to ensure we protect the civil and voting rights of all Santa Clarans,” Chandhok said. “We are proud to answer their call.”

On Monday, the group created a committee to oppose Measure C and filed the information with the city, according to City Clerk Hosam Haggag. The group has reported $17,125 in campaign contributions, Haggag said.

The directors of the committee are Fong, Patricia Mahan, who recently resigned from the City Council due to health issues, and former Police Chief Mike Sellers, who also resigned from his elected position last year.

The Asian Law Alliance in 2017 was part of the prosecuting team for a group of Asian American residents that sued the city due to Santa Clara’s longstanding at-large voting system, in which residents voted for every candidate.

That system, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle, dilutes minority votes. Kuhnle ordered the city to be split into six districts, which were used in 2018, when residents elected Vice Mayor Karen Hardy and Councilmember Raj Chahal — the first person of color to be elected to Santa Clara City Council in decades.

But city leaders said the judge’s order only applied through 2020, and that residents would need to vote on a permanent solution to change Santa Clara’s charter to reflect districted elections. A committee of council-appointed representatives, known as the Charter Review Committee, in August recommended a three-district approach, in which residents of each district would vote for one candidate every two years.

Measure C “was a result of a tremendous amount of work by our Charter Review Committee,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor said in an interview Tuesday. “It will give Santa Clarans a right to vote for their councilmembers in every election and give them more representation in each district than they have now.”

Konda has cast doubt on the city’s position that the judge’s ruling was temporary, and has warned at past council meetings that the city may be setting itself up for another lawsuit if the measure passes.

But for now, the veteran attorney seems to be focused on defeating the measure.

“There are those who want to maintain the antiquated and illegal system of government for political power motives,” Konda wrote in the letter to Chandhok. “These individuals are invested in the passage of Measure C. We simply cannot allow that to happen.”

Gillmor, however, said she is skeptical of the groups pushing against the measure and of their transparency in the effort to oppose the measure. She added that it is “puzzling that a football team is continuing to get involved in local city politics and governance because that is really what Measure C is.”

The 49ers say the move is part of their “civic duty” in the city, which they call home because they play home games and manage the city’s Levi’s Stadium.

“Measure C threatens to disenfranchise minority communities and strip them of equal representation in our local government,” Chandhok said. “It is our civic duty to fight to defeat Measure C and to take steps towards equity and equality by defending voting rights.”

Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter. Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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