Santa Clara votes again to strip 49ers of stadium duties, moves downtown revitalization effort forward
A view of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Image courtesy of Janice Bitters

Santa Clara city officials have reaffirmed their decisions to strip the San Francisco 49ers of the ability to sign contracts at Levi’s Stadium and to remove the team as the manager of the $1.3 billion stadium during non-NFL events.

The votes on the matters, held Tuesday night during the Santa Clara City Council meeting, are a continuation of a longstanding battle between the city and the football team that came to a head last month when city officials voted in a closed session to remove the team as managers for non-NFL events at Levi’s Stadium. City Attorney Brian Doyle sent a letter to that effect the following morning.

Notably, councilmembers the same day also voted to disallow the team to sign contracts or purchase items for the stadium, instead mandating the organization to get permission from the Stadium Authority, a board made up of city councilmembers and the mayor.

Days later, the football team filed a lawsuit to bar the city from removing it as full-time manager of the stadium. But the NFL team also claimed that city officials violated the Brown Act during the closed-door vote and by sending a letter to the 49ers to that effect without a vote on the letter specifically. The Brown Act is the state’s open meeting law that prohibits a majority of lawmakers from making decisions in private.

City officials adamantly denied they violated the Brown Act, but Doyle said he brought the issue back to the forefront mere weeks after the initial vote to avoid another lawsuit.

“There was no Brown Act violation,” Doyle said Tuesday night. “But I’m saying it would make sense to have this public meeting at which you ratify my decision to send the notice of termination and give the community an opportunity to speak on this issue.”

And several people showed up, including those who work with the 49ers today, urging the councilmembers to re-think their decision about the stadium management. A representative from the 49ers did not attend the meeting.

“The recent actions of the City Council could put the livelihoods of our workers in jeopardy,” said Jon Curcio, president of the local chapter of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. “We are extremely pleased with our partnership with the 49ers, and I don’t suggest messing with a good thing. You won’t get a better situation than what is in place now.”

Since opening the stadium, the 49ers have committed to be inclusive of minority businesses, representatives from the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium said, asking councilmembers to set aside the conflict with the NFL team.

“The stadium’s diverse contractors have all expressed grave concerns to us about the negative impact that this conflict is having on the contractors and its employees,” said Walter Wilson, a partner with the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium. “Many are wondering will they lose this lifeline that is so important to their very survival.”

Doyle shot back at those comments.

“The 49ers have sued us six times, I would love to end the conflict,” he said. “Maybe when you talk to them you could explain to them that if they want to end the conflict, maybe they should end the litigation.”

One city employee and resident, Gary Ferraris, spoke in support of the council’s decision, noting he was bothered by a recent city-hosted press conference that showed the 49ers had not complied with wage laws on a recent contract at the stadium.

“This is public building and as a public building it is supposed to be managed in a very transparent way,” he said. “It was very evident from the press conference that wasn’t happening at that time.”

Councilmembers voted unanimously Tuesday as the Stadium Authority Board to reaffirm their decision to remove the 49ers as managers of the stadium. Councilmember Debi Davis was not present and Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan abstained from the vote because the issue is now being litigated, and she worried any vote on the issue “interferes with that judicial process.”

Downtown revitalization effort moves ahead

Councilmembers Tuesday approved a contract for up to $578,346 for Philadelphia-based urban planning consultant Wallace Roberts & Todd to start work on a new Downtown Precise Plan, which will govern how the city’s downtown can be redeveloped. The effort was propelled by a passionate group of residents who want to see the city’s now-demolished, onetime city center be revitalized.

An aerial view of the boundary around downtown Santa Clara, where the city is targeting for a precise plan now. Image credit: city of Santa Clara public records.

In June, Santa Clara set aside $400,000 to create a new precise plan for the 10-block radius that was once the city’s downtown. And while the city has discussed revitalizing the area many times in the past, Assistant City Manager Manuel Pineda said earlier this year the most recent push has the most momentum.

Members of the community group, Reclaiming Our Downtown, praised the city’s choice for the consultant Tuesday night. “This group was maniacally focused on selecting … one of the nation’s best urban planners because it is such an important part of this process,” said Dan Ondrasek, a leader with Reclaiming Our Downtown.

The Downtown Precise Plan process will take about 18 month to complete, including a slew of community meetings and City Council check-ins, Community Development Director Andrew Crabtree said.

While redevelopment is often bolstered by the completion of such plans, it’s difficult to estimate how long it will take to see redevelopment because real estate projects depend on the strength of the market to secure funding.

Santa Clara may join countywide collaborative for housing goals

City leaders on Tuesday said the city should team up with other Santa Clara County municipalities though a new “planning collaborative” to push forward housing development in the region to meet state-mandated residential development goals.

The move comes as every Silicon Valley city is struggling to meet its residential development requirements, known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, set by by the state and local governing bodies. But the state law allows municipalities to get creative by joining forces to meet the goals as a larger “subregion,” with surrounding cities, rather than going it alone.

Santa Clara, and the 15 cities in Santa Clara County, have been considering becoming a subregion since 2015, but recently realized they’d run out of time to create a formal subregion, as defined by the state, because deadlines for the formation were miscommunicated in the group.

Now, the South Bay cities are looking at pooling funds and working together in a less formal way through a collaborative, similar to San Mateo County’s 21 Elements initiative. The cities would pool resources to plan for Accessory Dwelling Unit growth, work with people who live in recreational vehicles, reduce homelessness and to get guidance from legislative consultants. Each city would contribute about $3,000 to be part of the collaborative initially.

The 15 cities will meet Thursday to discuss the matter more, and decide as a group whether to officially form the collaborative.

Campaign expenditures may get another look

Election funding and expenditures may get a revamp in the coming year as the city braces for changes to the way it elects city councilmembers.

Officials Tuesday night approved new voluntary campaign expenditure limit of $45,590, which includes a cap on the amount candidates can accept from a single source to $620 for those who abide by the voluntary expenditure limit and $300 for those who don’t. The ordinance governing campaign expenditures was amended last year to include mandatory disclosure of all contributions of $100 or more to any organization that makes payments to affect city elections or the outcome of a ballot measure.

But Santa Clara, once a city that elected its entire council at-large, is about to become sectioned off into districts for councilmembers and remain at-large for the city’s mayor. That means councilmember candidates will have a far smaller geographical area to reach than the mayor, but would have the same expenditure and contribution limits, according to the current ordinance. Mayor Lisa Gillmor asked city officials to reexamine those limits ahead of the Nov. 2020 election.

“I think that we should talk about amending our ordinance to make (the limits) more directly relevant to the district elections versus the at-large elections,” she said.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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