Two Santa Clara officials are under investigation for allegedly accepting a gift from the San Francisco 49ers football team, which they say was an informational tour they took as part of their city leadership duties.
Councilmembers Karen Hardy and Raj Chahal are accused of accepting a gift visit to the 49ers stadium, as the city was negotiating the terms of a multi-million dollar settlement for a costly legal battle over the management of Levi’s Stadium where the team plays.
Documents obtained by San José Spotlight show Brian Doyle—Santa Clara’s former city attorney who was fired last year and had a contentious relationship with the 49ers—filed a complaint against Hardy and Chahal with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) accusing them of accepting stadium passes on Nov. 15, 2021. He claimed the passes were worth at least $520 and last December the two told the public they were at the game to observe “operations” but did not report the cost of the tickets. Doyle claimed those tickets are gifts, under California conflict of interest laws and regulations.
Doyle petitioned the Santa Clara City Council to discuss Hardy and Chahal’s game attendance at a future council meeting on June 22. Leonne Broughman, a board trustee for the Santa Clara Public Library, also sent a letter to councilmembers asking for the issue to be reviewed.
“Santa Clara law prohibits lobbyists, like the 49er execs, from giving any gifts of any value to any council member and violates a state law that requires them to declare any gift received,” Broughman wrote.
Broughman did not respond to a request for comment.
Chahal was absent from this week’s meeting and Broughman asked to pull the letter for a future meeting without giving a reason. Mayor Lisa Gillmor asked interim city attorney Jim Sanchez whether such accusations would impact negotiations with the 49ers, and whether any decision that night could be rendered “moot.” Sanchez said he would have to consider everything in closed session out of public view before knowing the answer.
What do the accused say?
Hardy and Chahal told San Jose Spotlight that as Stadium Authority Board members, their visit on Nov. 15 took place when the team managers offered to let them see the inner workings and field security, due to concerns about costs to operate the stadium.
Hardy said they received a tour of different areas including the security system, police area and jail, and only accepted a bottle of water, despite being offered dinner. They went together to make sure they could give witness later, she said. Chahal said they did not watch a game and got advice from the city attorney’s office afterward.
Hardy and Chahal told San José Spotlight when they saw Doyle’s complaint, they wrote a letter to the FPPC, using the city attorney’s office opinion that exemptions apply because the tour was designed to convey information about operations and security procedures, in non-public areas, for the stadium’s governing agency. The city attorney’s letter also stated free admission to the stadium during a game was “arguably necessary” to accurately assess the operation of the stadium.
“We went to areas that are never open for the public, ever,” Hardy said. “I did not get tickets. I had to be escorted wherever I went.”
Chahal said the FPPC has advised the cost of admission and any information are exempt under the informational visit rule, but any meals or beverages would be considered gifts.
FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga said the case is currently under investigation to determine if there were any violations or if there is not enough evidence to prove violations occurred.
“Everyone has a right to due process so a respondent can contest any and all findings of any and all violations,” Wierenga told San José Spotlight.
Hardy said she thinks the complaint was filed because she was part of a citizen’s group fighting the city owning the stadium land because “I thought it was a bad idea.”
She also pointed to the fact that Doyle, the fired former city attorney, filed the complaint. Hardy further claimed Broughman is the treasurer for Gillmor’s reelection campaign—which San José Spotlight confirmed with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters—and doesn’t like Hardy. Broughman was also Gillmor’s treasurer in her 2018 election campaign.
“Anyone can file a complaint with the FPPC,” Hardy said. “They do not look into the veracity of it at all.”
City spokesperson David Knight and the city attorney’s office have not responded to a request for comment about the investigation.
The city and the team have been at war since Santa Clara policymakers voted in 2019 to remove the team as manager of the stadium during non-NFL events. The team said the decision violated its contract and reeked of political retribution.
Last week the 49ers offered a $3.3 million settlement package with $2 million for public safety costs. City officials rejected the offer and demanded more money, the letter said. Although a city spokesperson said no reportable action was taken Tuesday night in closed session, the city and team reached a settlement agreement on Wednesday with the 49ers adding $325,000 to their previous settlement offer.
Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.