Is mega-developer Related making a play to control the Santa Clara City Council?
Last week, Related Companies made a $25,000 donation to the Santa Clara Police Association’s developer-funded gray money* PAC, to support Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s City Council slate — Robert Mezzetti, Bob O’Keefe, Teresa O’Neill (running for a third term) and Kathy Watanabe (running for a second term).
Since 2013, Related has had an exclusive negotiating agreement with the City to develop the City’s golf course.
So far, the PAC has sent mailers for each of the four candidates, according to its campaign reporting, at least one of which features Gillmor prominently.
The PAC reported the spending on the Sept. 24, within 24 hours of the expenditure. Related made the donation on Sept. 21, but the PAC isn’t required to report that within 24 hours because the PAC wasn’t primarily created to oppose or support candidates.
The police PAC has been the single largest spender in Santa Clara elections since 2016; funneling more than $100,000 in developer donations into independent expenditures for candidates promoted by Mayor Gillmor, owner of Gillmor Real Estate.
Before the proposed Related development at the City’s golf course was formally unveiled to the public in 2013, it was being discussed privately in the summer of 2012. The Weekly attended a 2012 meeting about the proposal in Gillmor’s real estate office.
Currently, Gillmor holds a four-vote Council majority that votes in lockstep with her. As a result, any development project without her blessing has a small chance of success. Even O’Neill, who used to have a reputation for independence, almost invariably falls into line behind Gillmor.
Related joins a club of developers financing Gillmor’s political aims via the police PAC: Prometheus, Steve Schott, Summerhill and John Vidovich. The California Apartment Association has also donated to the PAC.
In the past, Related’s Santa Clara donations were made directly to candidates via Related top-level executives.
In 2018, Steve Eimer (Carmel), Scott Borland (Newport beach) and Kenneth Himmel (Manhattan) each donated $590 to Gillmor’s campaign. Eimer is in charge of the Related Santa Clara project, which has yet to start construction.
In 2016, Himmel, Scott Borland (Manhattan), Barry Widen (Manhattan), William Witte (Laguna beach), Ken Wong (Water Mill, NY) and even Steven Ross (Related Chairman of the Board) donated to Gillmor ally, and former president of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League, Tino Silva’s losing campaign for a Council seat.
Ross doesn’t appear to have made any other political donations personally in Santa Clara County or California, with the exception of a $50,000 donation for a 2004 stem cell research ballot measure.
Related participated in the 2016 election in an additional way. Its lobbyist, Jude Barry, is believed to have been a campaign advisor — he was photographed at a 2016 election party. Campaigns bought software and services from Barry’s various side-businesses.
In 2016 Barry drafted an editorial to be bylined by O’Neill and in 2018 participated in a discussion with a PR consultant about an upcoming SF Chronicle editorial board meeting.
Santa Clara’s Status Quo Racism
The police PAC made its debut in 2016 with its notorious black and white “Letter From Your Mayor” mailer, which characterized opponents — two of whom were people of color — as dark, toxic, scowling and tools of Gillmor’s favorite scapegoat, the 49ers. Gillmor’s favored candidates were, unsurprisingly, all white and pictured smiling on a bright white background.
Over the years Gillmor and her allies have done nothing to dispel these racist and anti-immigrant suspicions.
For six years they refused to consider changing the City Council’s at-large by-seat election system until the City was sued under the California Voting Rights Act and a court forced the City adopt single member geographic Council districts.
None of them have ever endorsed a minority candidate for City Council, although several minority candidates have run and Santa Clara is a minority majority city.
They put forward two ballot measures (2018 Measure A and 2020 Measure C) to restore at-large elections with multi-member districts — both of which were voted down by residents. They voted to appeal the court’s decision. The current slate has endorsed the appeal.
Here, too, Related’s lobbyist took a hand: the $850,000 lawyer representing Santa Clara in the voting right case and appeal is a business partner of Barry’s and had no previous experience in voting rights litigation.
*Gray money is independent campaign expenditure money that travels through other PACs to obscure the original source.