Lawsuits are a perennial fact of life for governments and public agencies — personal injury, ADA compliance, parking ticket appeals. They just go with the territory and Santa Clara has its share of these.
But because Santa Clara has several significant public assets that other comparably-sized cities don’t — sports stadium, convention center, electric utility — the City faces more sources of litigation than other cities, such as Sunnyvale, do.
With the 49ers, the City of Santa Clara and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority (SCSA), collectively, are currently embroiled in three breach of contract lawsuits, two counter suits and three private arbitration actions. All of these disputes concern provisions of the contracts the City Council approved from 2011 through 2014.
Another arbitration action, over the facilities rent paid by the 49ers for Levi’s Stadium, was settled last year.
These actions were initiated by the 49ers Stadium and Management LLCs, with the exception of the City’s two counter suits.
Critics, however, point to the City Council’s intransigence and inflammatory rhetoric since the end of 2015 —and its insulting public treatment of 49er executives — as a primary cause of these disputes.
Levi’s Stadium Lawsuits
The most recent 49ers lawsuit was filed in September and is over SCSA’s “partial” cancellation — the Authority’s description — of the Stadium Management contract.
The 49ers say that allegations of mismanagement and self-dealing the City has made against them are groundless. Further, the 49ers say revenue declines are direct results of the SCSA’s 10 p.m. weekday concert curfew and its public disclosure of confidential booking information.
The City filed a cross complaint in October.
A 2017 lawsuit followed an intractable impasse over what was owed Santa Clara on golf course parking for Levi’s Stadium from 2014 into 2016 — the payment for this parking was based on declines in golf course income attributable to stadium events. The City says that the 49ers owe about $700,000, which the 49ers have refused to pay.
The 49ers say that not only don’t they owe anything, the City owes them about $1 million in overcharges, as the parking contract says the payments cover losses directly attributable to stadium parking.
The City filed a counter suit. Its position is that the 49ers should pay for all declines in golf course revenue, regardless of whether the course was used for parking.
The case continues to drag on, with the 49ers asking the court to compel the City to turn over more financial records.
A third lawsuit, filed by the 49ers in 2017 — which also drags on — alleges Santa Clara officials systematically fabricated “false accusations of breach or nonperformance … to create a pretext for terminating the Stadium Management Agreement.” The argument began in 2016.
The 49ers are asking for a “declaratory action” from the judge requiring the SCSA to state that there has been no breach of contract.
Levi’s Stadium Arbitration Actions
Santa Clara also currently faces two arbitration actions brought by the 49ers. Arbitration is a lawsuit in all but name that is filed heard before a privately hired judge. The parties pay all the expenses and there is no appeal of arbitration decisions. As it’s a private proceeding there are no public records unless parties choose to make them public.
The most recent arbitration action is for breach of contract concerning the SA’s unilateral modification of the Stadium Manager’s purchasing authority.
The Weekly requested a copy of the complaint but a 49ers spokesman said they were not able to make it public. The City told The Weekly it doesn’t object to the complaint being made public.
The City is also engaged in two additional arbitration actions; the first over public safety reimbursements for NFL events and the second over shared stadium expenses.
Santa Clara Also Faces Voting Rights, Environmental and Other Lawsuits
While disputes with the 49ers get the most attention, the City also faces other legal actions.
The one likely to prove most costly is one that Santa Clara brought on itself, and may bring on itself a second time: a California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) suit.
For years, the City ignored multiple warnings that Santa Clara’s at-large by-seat election system violated the California Voting Rights Act by diluting minority votes. After being found in violation the City appealed the decision, even though no public agency has ever prevailed in a CVRA lawsuit or appeal.
If the March 2020 ballot measure — three districts with two at-large seats in each — passes the City will almost certainly find itself facing a second complaint that it’s also almost certain to lose.
Santa Clara is also fighting two CEQA lawsuits — one about the City’s approval of development at the center of historic Eichler tracts, the second over City’s ban on connecting non “green” generation systems to Silicon Valley Power grid.
In addition the City faces a breach of contract lawsuit on retirement benefits from former City Manager Rajeev Batra.
Santa Clara is also among the parties named in:
A County Water District lawsuit charging mismanagement and misuse of public money in operating the sewage treatment plant the City shares with San José, which San José operates.
- A federal civil rights suit alleging false arrest and using excessive force toward a disorderly and abusive Levi’s Stadium patron by several police officers from neighboring cities, which are also named.
Note: The above list isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list of every currently active legal proceeding the City is involved in.