Person standing at podium wearing baseball cap with projection presentation of screenshotted Facebook ads
Special Advisor to the Mayor Kirk Vartan spoke during public comment at a Santa Clara City Council meeting on Feb. 21, 2024, showing screenshots of political ads that wrongfully suggested two retired police chiefs endorsed Measure B. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Political advertisements promoting a Santa Clara ballot measure have been pulled after misrepresenting endorsements.

Proponents of Santa Clara’s Measure B have removed a series of Facebook and digital ads that wrongfully portrayed former police chiefs’ positions on the measure. Measure B is on the March 5 primary election ballot and asks voters if they want to change the police chief position from elected to appointed.

Retired Police Chief Charles Arolla said he first learned of the ads from a news article, which had a photo attached of the ad on Facebook and a quote he submitted to the city’s Charter Review Commission. Other quotes attached to photos of two more retired police chiefs were pulled from a 1994 Mercury News article, when the topic of changing the police chief position to appointed was last discussed. All were published alongside a photo, title and the campaign’s logo.

“Maybe they were being naive, maybe they were being a little over enthusiastic, but to my knowledge, whenever you use a person’s likeness or quote, you receive their permission to run the ad,” Arolla told San José Spotlight.

Facebook post from Santa Clara Councilmember Karen Hardy, from February 6, that reads "Why Measure B is important. Even past Police Chiefs wanted the position to be appointed. This is on the City of Santa Clara Ballot for March 5, 2024." and includes photos of three retired police chiefs, quotes about elected versus appointed chiefs, and the campaign's logo
This screenshot was taken from Councilmember Karen Hardy’s Facebook page and shows the two ads that were later removed from the campaign.

Arolla said he does not support Measure B, and added that the city could look into raising the requirements for police chief while maintaining it as an elected position. Because the ads have been removed, Arolla said he considers the matter settled.

According to the Meta Ad Library, the ad ran on Facebook from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5 and was viewed 8,000 times at most. There was also an ad featuring a photo and quote from former Police Chief Frank Vasquez, which was also removed after Vasquez commented on a post that he did not support the measure.

Arolla said he also saw the ads reposted on the Facebook pages of members of the Santa Clara City Council, including Councilmembers Karen Hardy, Raj Chahal and Suds Jain. He reached out to the Yes on Measure B team to have his name and photo removed and Jain responded, removing the ads. Jain is the Yes campaign’s primary contact, according to election filings.

Jain said a volunteer for the campaign found the 1994 quotes and used them in the ads, but the campaign did not check with the people quoted before publicizing them. He said the campaign removed the ads at the request of the former police chiefs, noting that placing the photos of people next to the campaign’s slogan — “Yes on Measure B” — made it look like an endorsement.

“We admit that it was probably not the right thing to do, so we took them down,” Jain told San José Spotlight. “We’re running on a shoestring budget … so it’s something we missed.”

Residents spoke about the ads at Tuesday’s council meeting, including Special Advisor to the Mayor Kirk Vartan, who presented a video with the ads highlighted. Vartan also called on the councilmembers involved to apologize.

“I think this needs to be called attention to because it’s pretty egregious,” Vartan said in the meeting.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

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