Recently, the Santa Clara Weekly reported that the City of Santa Clara’s legal bills for the failed California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit fight are now reaching $5 million — $4.1 million of that is for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
That doesn’t include the upcoming appeal that the City has filed. Also, the $5 million price tag is only for one of the lawsuits the City is involved in at the moment. To be honest, we’re lucky to know the tab for this one because the City enjoys the cover of client privilege that allows them to keep most of their legal bills under wraps.
Not only does this Ed Board think this whole lawsuit could have been avoided, we believe that future money bleeding could be dodged if the City had just taken the loss with dignity and didn’t appeal the Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle’s decision.
The City was warned 7 years ago that they were in possible violation of the CVRA but didn’t try to find a solution. Additionally, no City has ever won a CVRA case, and our chances were probably hindered by the fact that the City choose a lawyer that has zero CVRA experience. No city has ever won a CVRA appeal either.
And the City is also fighting the Judge’s decision in another way with an advisory vote coming on the November ballot. They are asking Santa Clarans if they want districts… when the districts are already here. Add about another $100,000 to the tab for that.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness, But It Can Do Some Good
To put it in perspective, we decided to round up some of the things the City could spend their legal budget on — that is, other than losing lawsuits.
So, for the low, low price of $3-4 million, the City could pay all the salaries for the Santa Clara 9-1-1 dispatch team or the whole Police Records Department — some pretty worthy causes, don’t you think? They could also cover the cost of the whole City Manager’s Office or the City’s HR Department — or maybe they shouldn’t take their money to those offices, they’ll just hire more Assistants to the City Manager for exorbitant salaries.
Now, for the bargain price of $2-3 million, the City could fund the affordable housing programs or pay for all funding for community groups including the Triton Museum of Art, Bill Wilson Center, afterschool care, nutrition programs and shelter and services for battered spouses. Again, some worthwhile programs that could probably use the money. Interestingly, $2-3 million could also pay for the City Attorney’s Office.
Getting even more affordable now, with $1-2 million, the City could pay for the Senior Center programs, the Youth Activity Center and programs, or even pool maintenance. They could also pay for City Fiscal Planning or their Budget and Debt Management, which they will probably need to invest in anyway if they keep getting caught up in expensive lawsuits as often as they do.
Lastly, for under $1 million they could fund Historical Preservation, the Housing Department, or the Animal Control.
Or, to put it in the context of current events, half of the City’s $10 million rent reset “win” against the 49ers is down the drain.
Insanity: Doing Things Over and Over Again
This Ed Board is fully aware that any City is involved in lawsuits at any given time, but maybe the City can choose its battles a little more carefully — especially when it comes to filing appeals.
Hopefully, Sunnyvale — our neighbor which has recently been warned that their by-seat election system may violate the CVRA — will learn a thing or two from our follies and try not to bury their heads in a pile of legal bills.