The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury has called out some members of the Santa Clara City Council, saying, “…the actions and inaction of certain council members are not consistent with the duties owed to the constituents they were elected to serve, causing severe dysfunction in City governance.”
The Weekly has obtained a copy of the report that is expected to be released by the Civil Grand Jury on Monday. The timing of the release is suspect—a month prior to the November election in which several of the named parties are participating.
At issue is whether five of the seven members of the City Council are unduly influenced by the 49ers into making decisions against the better interests of the City and in favor of the 49ers. The Civil Grand Jury report says Anthony Becker, Suds Jain, Kevin Park, Karen Hardy and Raj Chahal have created a “City Council Voting Bloc.”
“The Civil Grand Jury found through the course of its investigation that these five members can – and do – vote in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers,” reads the report.
While the report does not go so far as to say that the five violated state laws governing open meetings, it does say there is “serious question” about the timing of the meetings between some members of the council and registered 49ers lobbyists.
It accuses the “City Council Voting Bloc” of not holding ManCo (the Forty Niners Stadium Management Company LLC) accountable for its “financial accounting deficiencies” or its “inability to hold non-NFL events to create revenue for the City.”
The Civil Grand Jury focused on Chahal and Hardy – who are up for re-election in District 2 and District 3, respectively – and Becker – who is running for mayor. The report accuses all three of receiving donations from 49ers PACs within days of voting in favor of a lawsuit settlement between the City and the 49ers. (While it might be a mincing of words, none of the candidates have directly received funds from the 49ers for their campaigns. The PACs operate separately from the candidates.)
The report also covered a Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) complaint about whether an “operational tour” of Levi’s Stadium by Hardy and Chahal and accused the “City Council Voting Bloc” of having former City Manager Deanna Santana and former City Attorney Brian Doyle fired at the behest of the 49ers.
“The former City Attorney and former City Manager raised many of these financial, safety and ethical concerns [regarding the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium] to the City Council publicly at City Council meetings,” reads the report. “Registered lobbyists with the 49ers informed members of the City Council Voting Bloc that they wanted the City Attorney and City Manager fired. The City Council Voting Bloc obliged, and both the City Manager and City Attorney were fired – leaving the City rudderless and without strong leadership.”
Brown Act Violations?
Perhaps the biggest issue the Civil Grand Jury looked at was whether the City Council members violated the Brown Act. The report accuses the newly elected members of the City Council of holding “regular closed-door meetings” with registered 49ers lobbyists, saying it was “concerned about transparency and whether the 49ers lobbyists are dictating City/Stadium Authority policy to the detriment of residents.”
It stopped short of saying there was unmistakable proof that a violation of the Brown Act occurred but accused the members of the Council of circumventing the rules.
“Notably, the meeting arrangements often occur in a ‘hub and spoke’ fashion of serial meetings with two groups meeting with the 49ers lobbyists—the same three members in one meeting, the same two in the other, typically held back to back. These meetings occur with the members of the City Council Voting Bloc and never include the remaining two members of the City Council,” reads the report.
The investigation focused solely on the meetings involving the five council members and the 49ers between 2020 and 2022 but did not include data from any meetings between the remaining two members of the council – Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Kathy Watanabe – for comparison.
Investigation Offers No Opportunity for New Information
While the information provided in the report clearly points to potential wrongdoing by five of the seven members of the City Council, there is no new information introduced in the Civil Grand Jury report that has not been heard ad nauseam by frequent attendees of Santa Clara City Council meetings.
These are accusations often made during Council meetings by fired City Attorney Doyle (one of the focal points of this investigation) and former City Council Member Teresa O’Neill who was unseated in 2020 by Park (another focal point of the investigation).
The methodology for this report relies almost entirely on information found the City’s website or during viewings of the City Council meetings.
“The Civil Grand Jury conducted more than ten interviews; reviewed City ordinances and policies; studied legal opinions and legal documents; reviewed more than 700 emails; watched videos of City Council meetings; examined council members’ public calendars; reviewed portions of the City’s charter and ordinance code, the City’s Ethics and Values Program, and the Council Policy Manual; reviewed public Stadium Authority financial documents; reviewed multiple media articles; and consulted with legal experts. The Civil Grand Jury used these sources of information to develop facts, findings and recommendations,” reads the report.
In reading the bibliography, the “media articles” cited within the investigation include three articles from the Mercury News, four articles from the San Francisco Chronicle and one article from Mother Jones Magazine. Articles from the San Jose Spotlight or this publication, which have both extensively covered City Council meetings and the 49ers lawsuit settlement, were not considered in the investigation.
Findings and Recommendations
In fact, the findings of the Civil Grand Jury report are a compilation of talking points from previous City Council meetings and the recommendations for resolution will sound eerily familiar to recommendations made by regular attendees of the Council meetings.
The findings include the following:
First, that the “City Council Voting Bloc” meets “regularly” and “serially” with lobbyists for the 49ers and since they are not required to disclose the substance of those discussions, they do not. The frequency of these meetings reportedly “leaves the impression” that the “City Council Voting Bloc” is “meeting in a manner to subvert the Brown Act’s open meeting requirements.”
The Civil Grand Jury recommends that the council members be required to publicly disclose any meetings with 49ers lobbyists regarding a topic on the meeting agenda. It also asks that Santa Clara expand its calendar ordinance to include minutes of all meetings, including attendees, agenda, duration and summary of matters discussed and that all closed-door meetings with 49ers lobbyists are recorded. It is also suggested that the City establish an open governance commission.
The second finding was based entirely on hearsay that one member of the “City Council Voting Bloc” received real-time influence from 49ers management. To remediate this, the Civil Grand Jury suggested that “The City should require council members to be visible at all meetings either in person or on camera.”
The third finding said ManCo has not provided “sufficient financial accounting,” has failed to remediate several fire and safety violations and that there is a “lack of financial transparency.”
The Civil Grand Jury recommended that the City hire a certified public accounting firm to do a comprehensive audit of Stadium Authority finances, find a third-party referee to oversee all of ManCo’s management activities and allocate staff to oversee Stadium operations.
The fourth finding involved the “lack of information and potential risks” involved with bringing the 2026 FIFA World Cup to Levi’s Stadium.
The Civil Grand Jury said the City should require a report from the 49ers on commitments made for the FIFA event, then evaluate whether the FIFA event poses a risk to the City.
Finding five looked at protocol for operational tours of Levi’s Stadium. The Civil Grand Jury recommended that the City adopt a policy and outline procedures for elected and appointed officials to conduct operational tours of the Stadium.
It also recommended that council members who do not adhere to the protocol could be censured and that the City should hire an independent consultant to evaluate and publicly report on whether council members have violated the City’s “Gifts to Appointed and Elected Officials” policy.
Finding six points to the “ethical dilemmas and governance challenges” created by the relationships between the City, Stadium Authority, StadCo and ManCo and suggests the City hire a “qualified legal and ethical consultant” to evaluate the challenges and report findings and recommendations as well as look at the likelihood that the 49ers lobbyists will continue to influence elected officials and City governance.
Finding seven pointed out that the City’s ethics rules were developed before the passage of Measure J. Instead of suggesting that the ethics rules be restructured, the Civil Grand Jury suggested that Santa Clara create a process for any member of the public to file a complaint and testify at a public hearing, that a Public Ethics Commission be created and that council members be required to attend additional third-party training on good governance.
Finding eight seemed the most partisan of the findings. It reads: “The City Manager and City Attorney positions are important executive-level leadership positions within the City. The City Attorney and the City Manager raised concerns about the 49ers and council members activities related to the 49ers. Both were fired shortly thereafter. Members of the City staff, including the former City Attorney and former City Manager, have shown commendable loyalty and dedication to the City and its interests.”
There were no recommendations for this finding.
Impact of Civil Grand Jury Report
While the report provided by the Civil Grand Jury does point out flaws in the City’s systems and make recommendations, it does not go so far as to suggest that there is enough evidence of misconduct to warrant removing any of the council members from office.
In fact, the report points out what jurors see as improprieties but never accuses anyone involved of breaking the law.
At this point, it is up to the City to decide whether or not it wants to implement any or all of the recommendations provided by the Civil Grand Jury.
According to the Santa Clara County Courts website, anyone can submit an anonymous complaint to request a Civil Grand Jury investigation.