Council Sets Hands-Off Policy After Misunderstanding About Stadium Tour Tickets
For those old enough to remember Saturday Night Live in the 1970s, the hottest discussion at the Aug. 19 Santa Clara City Council meeting might have reminded them of monologues by Gilda Radner’s notoriously hearing-impaired Emily Litella character.
The issue that had crusaders against public malfeasance charging into rhetorical battle through email, blog posts, and public statements was a misunderstanding about an item deep in the agenda (7.A.17), titled “Adoption of a Resolution on the Distribution Ticket Policy as required under the State of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).”
A confusing agenda report, coupled with a proposed resolution whose relevance to the agenda report was unclear, had more than a few people inferring that city officials planned to give themselves free tickets to stadium events, and exempt the tickets from the state’s FPPC gift reporting regulations. From that, they also inferred that city officials had buried it in the consent calendar to obscure this self-dealing.
The misconception was understandable because the proposed policy was based on policies adopted by other public entities about free tickets given to or distributed by public officials, and whether or not those are reportable to the FPPC as gifts.
The policy the city actually was asking for was one to address the 49ers’ contractual agreement to provide 400 free stadium tour – not game – tickets for community groups, and discounted tour tickets for Santa Clara residents.
“We cannot distribute those tickets to anyone without having a formal ticket policy [and] any use of these tickets has to be published on the website,” noted City Attorney Ren Nosky. “There’s a misperception that these are game tickets. These are only for tours.” Further, he noted, city officials and staff could not use those tickets because city policy prohibits staff from accepting any gifts.
The report was so confusing that one Council Member, Patrick Kolstad, noting that he had read it twice without gaining any further insight into its relevance, said, “My understanding was that we were only dealing with opportunities to go on tours of the stadium.”
The question expanded from tour tickets to event tickets when the 49ers offered the city unsold tickets to the Aug. 2 soccer game to be distributed to community groups. “I was uncomfortable,” said City Manager Julio Fuentes, “I’m not sure I have the authority to do that, and I asked what the policy was.” It turns out there wasn’t one, and Fuentes requested a draft policy from staff. “We need to have a broad policy…on tickets in general,” he said.
Taking that directive, the proposed policy in the agenda report was based on policies adopted by other public entities for admission to a “facility, event, show or performance for an entertainment, amusement, recreational or similar purpose” in compliance with FPPC regulations.
The Council agreed that nothing good could come from city officials being involved in giving away free tickets.
“We need to narrow the focus of this,” said Mayor Jamie Matthews, making it clear “that the city doesn’t get free tickets. I don’t want political hyperbole to prevent community groups from visiting the stadium. It‘s my goal for the Mayor and Council to have no influence on that process.”
“It would be better for them [the 49ers] to make those decisions,” said Fuentes. “It’s better for us to remove ourselves from that.”
Council Member Patricia Mahan asked for “a public policy statement that we’re not going to get any free tickets and we’re not going to distribute any free tickets.” However, she said that the city should be informed of the process and policy.”
As a result, the item was returned to staff to be rewritten, with the specific instruction that city officials have no role in distributing free or discounted tickets for any stadium event.
Democracy Santa Clara-Style
Almost a year ago, the City Council asked City Clerk Rod Diridon, Jr. to design a program to increase overall community engagement with city politics: from registering new voters, to increasing participation in city commissions, committees and boards. The program was put into action in December, and Diridon presented a summary of the results as of June 30 at last week’s Council meeting.
The outreach program was extensive: from direct mail to every household, to utility bill inserts in multiple languages, to advertisements in local and ethnic newspapers, to a billboard ad on Highway 101. The results show that the campaign has had an effect, and one that probably will grow with continued effort.
- Voter registration: Santa Clara registered 711 new voters, a 1.53 percent increase. Compared to countywide averages, Santa Clara had a 49 percent higher increase in voter registration.
- Board and commission recruiting: In 2014, seven applications were received for two commission openings, and four more for future openings. In 2012 and 2013, Board and Commission openings were re-advertised four times because there was little response.
- eNotify Subscribers (santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=39): Over 900 new subscribers signed up for the city’s email notification system, a four percent increase. Currently about 24,500 residents have subscribed.
- Nearly 80 community groups have posted on the new Community Volunteer Opportunities website (santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=2831)
“This is a good foundation to build on,” said Council Member Teresa O’Neill. “Not just diversity, but inclusion…where everybody feels like they’re part of what’s going on.”
In other action, the Council increased fines for code violations to $100 for first violations, $200 for second violations and $500 for third violations.
Requiescat in Pace
The Aug. 19 meeting was adjourned in memory of longtime Santa Clara Volunteer Steve Briones, Jr., and former Santa Clara City Engineer James Gleeson.