San José Spotlight defends reporting amid legal threat
The entrance to the planned Related Santa Clara development at 5155 Stars and Stripes Drive. File photo.

    Following San José Spotlight’s reporting that revealed Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor lobbied the governor to help a major real estate firm save money on a massive project months before it cut big checks to support her reelection campaign, attorneys for the developer are pushing back.

    In a letter sent to San José Spotlight this month, law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing developer The Related Companies, claims this news organization’s reporting contains “false and misleading statements” and demanded corrections be issued.

    In a response letter, attorney Joshua Koltun, representing San José Spotlight, said a correction will not be issued. He wrote San José Spotlight “is willing, however, to publish a copy of your letter, so that its readers can consider your arguments and decide for themselves what to think about this controversy.”

    San José Spotlight first revealed in September that Gillmor wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom in March advocating that Related, which is developing a massive $8 billion mixed-use project in Santa Clara, should not be required to pay prevailing wages to workers on the job.

    In an Oct. 5 follow-up article about the scrutiny Gillmor faced from her council colleagues over the letter, San José Spotlight wrote Gillmor tried to help Related “skirt paying higher wages” on the project. In the demand letter to San José Spotlight, Gibson Dunn attorney Theane Evangelis took issue with that wording.

    “Related is not trying to ‘skirt paying higher wages,’ Evangelis wrote.

    Gillmor’s letter to Newsom came nearly two years after a painters union requested that the state’s Department of Industrial Relations determine whether the developer’s project be considered a public works project and therefore be required to pay prevailing wages. The mayor, in her letter to Newsom, indirectly asked the governor to intervene.

    In the demand letter, Evangelis said, “Related’s project is not a ‘public works project,’ and a mischaracterization of the project would have many repercussions for the city and other public-private partnerships state-wide.”

    Evangelis said the mayor was not “intervening or lobbying on behalf of Related, as the article implies,” but merely “providing facts” about the city’s lease agreement with the developer for 240 acres of city-owned land near Levi’s Stadium.

    Evangelis also claimed the Department of Industrial Relations had not made a decision on the painters union request within the time frame of its own regulations.

    “And so the mayor was bringing the issue of the delay to the governor’s attention and requesting his consideration of the issues,” Evangelis wrote.

    The Oct. 5 article quoted Gillmor speaking at the Oct. 4 council meeting where she claimed the letter was only written to encourage a decision to be made quickly.

    “Pure and simple, that was it. Nothing nefarious, nothing underhanded. That’s what was done,” Gillmor said at the time. She did not address her letter’s direct opposition to the union’s arguments.

    Months after Gillmor sent the letter to Newsom, Related formed a campaign committee and funded it with $250,000 to help Gillmor win reelection against Councilmember Anthony Becker. As of Oct. 26, the committee has spent nearly all of that money on television and internet ads, as well as polling and consulting, campaign finance records show.

    Some other councilmembers, including Suds Jain and Kevin Park, raised questions at the Oct. 4 meeting about the optics of the mayor writing a letter that aims to benefit a developer who is a significant supporter of her campaign.

    “I think Related has made it very clear that they don’t want people to think it was a quid pro quo. But it’s really hard to see differently. It’s hard to ignore the facts,” Park said at the meeting.

    The Related Santa Clara project is slated to include 9 million square feet of office space, hotels, shops, restaurants and nearly 1,700 apartments. It has not broken ground yet, after facing delays from lawsuits and the pandemic.

    The Oct. 13, 2022 demand letter sent to San José Spotlight from the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm.

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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