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New Grand Jury Report Once Again Vilifies Santa Clara City Council Majority

A new report released by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury on June 12 once again calls out the Santa Clara City Council majority while laying no blame at the feet of the minority. The report, titled “Irreconcilable Differences: The Santa Clara City Council,” came after the Civil Grand Jury “received multiple complaints” about “unprofessional and antagonistic behavior” by some members of the Council.

“The Civil Grand Jury found that Council members’ behaviors reflect deep divisions, rivalry, and routine disrespect among the Mayor and Council Members and towards other City of Santa Clara (City) elected officials,” read the opening lines of the report. “In addition, several Council Members have turned public meetings into spectacles by displaying abusive and belittling behavior from the dais towards members of the public …”

The 91-page report (including Appendices) singles out incidents involving five council members: Anthony Becker, Raj Chahal, Karen Hardy, Suds Jain and Kevin Park. There is little to no mention of Mayor Lisa Gillmor or Council Member Kathy Watanabe, except in passing.

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The Civil Grand Jury watched “over 400 hours” of Council, committee and commission meetings that took place between Jan. 2020 and May 2024. It also examined City documents like the City Charter and Ordinance Code, the City’s Ethics and Values Program and testimony from the Criminal Grand Jury proceedings conducted in 2023.

At the heart of the investigation is the behavior of the Council majority on the dais, where some members of the Council are accused of behaving unprofessionally, grandstanding, engaging in off-topic monologues and personal insults such as accusations of lying.

Failure to Respect the Mayor

The Civil Grand Jury accused Council members of failing to respect the Mayor, saying that while Council members “understand the meaning and function of the gavel,” they repeatedly ignore it. It specifically singled out Becker and Park.

The report also cited an incident during the Oct. 4, 2022 meeting in which “Council members spent almost two hours deliberating the authority of the Mayor to send a letter on City letterhead without their prior knowledge and consent (see Appendix 2, Item 4).”

However, it minimized the issue without mentioning the topic of the letter. In that letter, the Mayor unilaterally asked Governor Gavin Newsom to expedite a decision on whether the Related Development was subject to the prevailing wage law.

The Civil Grand Jury did not mention that Related executives and employees have supported Gillmor financially in past elections. Or that following the debate, Gillmor voted in favor of referring the item to the Governance Committee to set a policy on how such letters would be communicated to the Council.

Misbehavior Toward the Public

Another key finding looked at how Council members related to members of the public.

During the Feb. 7, 2023 City Council meeting, Park left a book titled “All My Friends Are Termed Out” to the office of “Special Advisor to the Mayor.” The Civil Grand Jury report called out Becker and Hardy for “snickering” during the incident.

While the report hit the highlights, it failed to catch several nuances of the discussion. It called the person involved “a local City of Santa Clara business owner, who has worked with the Mayor on promoting worker cooperatives in the City.” However, that “business owner” has used the title of “Special Advisor to the Mayor” on worker cooperatives in communications. It is not an office officially recognized in the City, though Gillmor has confirmed the title in communications.

The report also criticized Park for his comments during the June 6, 2023 Council meeting when he accused the police Chief and his family of “profiting from their involvement in a nonprofit organization.” It said Park alleged improprieties and illegal acts.

The Civil Grand Jury stated, “The dais is not the appropriate venue for making allegations of illegal behavior.”

Failure to Reaffirm Burt Field to the Parks & Rec Commission

At least one page of the report dissected the Council’s refusal to reaffirm Burt Field on the Parks & Recreation Commission.

The Civil Grand Jury accused Becker of disregarding “professional behavior” by refusing to look at the Mayor when she asked for an explanation. It also accused Chahal of participating in a “deliberately orchestrated pattern of using abstentions without giving a reason” because he abstained from voting on Field’s candidacy.

The report said it was legal for Chahal to abstain but not “ethical” or “recommended best practices.”

The Civil Grand Jury report said the removal of commissioners should not be based on “personal grudges,” yet it also recognized that the City Charter allows the Council to remove commissioners “without cause.”

March 2024 Ballot Measures A & B

In regards to ballot Measures A & B, the Civil Grand Jury called the votes “the culmination of questionable behavior” on the part of the Council and said Council members took action without “determining if the charter change was of interest to voters.”

It mentioned the Charter Review Committee but did not mention that in the meetings, voters on both sides of the issue spoke out.

Council member Jain was accused of consulting “… frequently throughout the process with one of the Committee members and seemed to be strategizing with them.”

The report spent several paragraphs on the wording of the ballot measures, including the legal challenge to the wording of the measures, but used vague wording on the result of that legal challenge. Instead of saying that a Santa Clara Superior Court Judge dismissed the lawsuit, it used the term “the lawsuit failed.”

It then went on to mention the 2022 Civil Grand Jury Report, “If You Only Read the Ballot, You’re Being Duped.” The report called ballot language confusing and dishonest and told all cities to voluntarily submit questions to the County Counsel for approval.

The most recent Civil Grand Jury report did not mention that several cities, including the Santa Clara City Council, unanimously voted to reject the findings. In its letter, the City said the county has “no legal jurisdiction over a local agency’s ballot measure language.”

The Civil Grand Jury report also failed to mention Measure C, a March 2020 ballot initiative that tried to circumvent a judge’s order to eliminate the City’s at-large election system and replace it with a six-district election system.

Lack of Preparedness in Meetings and Other Issues

Four of the seven Council members were chastised for their “lack of preparedness.” Including during an Aug. 30, 2022 meeting in which the Mayor had recused herself and Chahal was absent.

The Civil Grand Jury said, “… Council members, with the exception of Council Member Watanabe, showed such confusion during their deliberations about what they were voting for, and about the process, that they were unable to decide …”

Council members were accused of “struggling to make decisions” and showing “confusion.”

Other issues listed in the Civil Grand Jury report included breaches of Parliamentary procedure, including speaking after lengthy public presentations and motions being made before agenda items had been discussed or deliberated. Some Council members were also called out for grandstanding on personal issues that had nothing to do with City or Stadium business.

Impact on City Staff

The Civil Grand Jury reports that much of this has had a detrimental impact on City staff.

In some cases, the report says, City staff have spent hours working on projects only to have “…some Council members behave as if they are more knowledgeable on certain topics than the highly experienced City staff.”

That coupled with the “animosity and public displays of bad behavior” on display at Council meetings has left staff embarrassed and demoralized.

“The Civil Grand Jury has learned from several sources that the City has developed a far-reaching reputation for having a dysfunctional Council, and that recruiting has been an issue because candidates have watched the contentious City Council meetings,” read the report.

49ers Out of Place in Report About Irreconcilable Differences

While offering no insight into how the 49ers play into the City’s “irreconcilable differences,” the report dedicates several pages to the Santa Clara Stadium Authority and Measure J. It makes an extra effort to point out how much money the 49ers donated to the campaign for Measure J and to PACs in the 2022 election but does not reference other PAC donations.

What’s more, while jurors spent time investigating Measure J, audit reports, City and Stadium Authority budgets, stadium contracts and litigation documents, there is no clear line to how these documents helped lead to the report on “irreconcilable differences.”

The report did take time to mention, more than once, that no money has gone into the General Fund as promised under Measure J.

The report did not mention that City Finance Director and Stadium Authority Treasurer Kenn Lee told the Council during its Feb. 6, 2024 meeting that money that would usually flow into the General Fund was currently being held in a legal contingency fund until the legal dispute between the City and the Forty Niners Management Company (ManCo) was resolved.

The 49ers are never mentioned in the report’s findings or recommendations.

Grand Jury’s Findings and Recommendations

The Grand Jury offered seven recommendations to the Council.

First, it found that the working relationships between the Mayor and Council members are “broken” and that some Council members did not adhere to the City’s ethical and behavioral standards. It specifically called out Becker and Park for airing “petty grievances” and engaging in “squabbles” with other elected officials and constituents.

As a result, the Civil Grand Jury recommended that the City hire a conflict resolution professional and adopt “robust” conflict resolution training strategies. It also recommended that all members of the Council attend one-on-one conflict resolution training, though it pointed out that Gillmor and Watanabe have “shown appropriate meeting decorum.”

Second, it was recommended that Chahal, Park and Becker attend trainings on proper Parliamentary procedures.

Third, the Santa Clara City Council was advised to adopt the formal resolution for Meeting Management Procedures that City staff presented to the Governance and Ethics Committee on Dec. 4, 2023.

Fourth, the report found that some of the Council members had become “preoccupied by personal and political vendettas” and as a result, the City should establish an Independent Ethics Commission to oversee the behavior of Council members. It also suggested that the Council hire an independent ethics professional and participate in regular training and counseling on government ethics.

The fifth finding called out Becker and Park, saying they had engaged in unethical behavior on the dais by “insulting, humiliating and intimidating constituents and volunteers.” It also pointed to Chahal, Hardy and Jain, saying they “implicitly encourage” these behaviors by failing to “call out inappropriate conduct.” It does not mention whether Gillmor or Watanabe called out the conduct.

The Civil Grand Jury recommended that all five Council members pledge to train with an ethics expert. There was no such recommendation for Gillmor or Watanabe.

Sixth, the City should hire a third party to implement an annual employee satisfaction survey. The Civil Grand Jury notes that one has not occurred since 2018.

Finally, the Civil Grand Jury directed the Council to “commend” City staff for its “exemplary work ethic and professionalism.”

Slant Hidden Beneath the Wording

While the report uses generic terms, the context in which those words are used tells a much different story.

The report often refers to “Council,” “Council members,” or “Mayor,” creating a very distinct line between the Mayor and the rest of the Council. Mayor Gillmor is never referred to directly as a member of the “Council” or a “Council member.” Her political ally, Council Member Watanabe, is rarely referred to in this document and when she is, she is always referred to separately from the “Council” or “Council members” grouping.

This context creates two groupings, one that groups Becker, Chahal, Hardy, Jain and Park under the banner of “Council” or “Council members” and the other that includes “Mayor Gillmor” and “Council Member Watanabe.”

Without highlighting any incidents of bad behavior by Gillmor or Watanabe, this report gives the impression that there is an aggressor – or five in this instance – and a group of victims. It also implies that the animosity on the dais is one-sided.

The Conclusion of the document highlights this. While the terms “Council” or “Council members” are used often in the Conclusion, one line makes it clear that those terms do not refer to everyone.

“Whatever action the Council chooses to implement in addressing the fiscal integrity of the City will take a concerted and united effort on the part of the entire Council,” reads the report.

The use of the term “entire Council” clearly indicates that while the “Council” or “Council members” may be referenced throughout the document, it does not refer to the entire body.

Anyone who has watched Santa Clara City Council meetings knows that there’s enough blame to go around to the “entire Council.”

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20 Comments
  1. Jim 1 month ago
    Reply

    Only approved council members are approved.

  2. Fred 1 month ago
    Reply

    This would be laughable if it wasn’t so pitiful.

    The Santa Clara Karens have found a partner to enable their feigned victimization.

  3. Buchser Alum 1 month ago
    Reply

    This grand jury report strikes me as poor use of a grand jury’s time.
    .
    This said your critique of it should not push back on valid criticism even if the above is true.
    .
    Kevin Park using the dais as a literal bully pulpit to ridicule Kirk Vartan was a disgrace. It was totally improper for him to abuse his position that night as the presiding officer in an official city council meeting to mock someone else. It does not matter if Kirk Vartan is a local business owner or someone with an unofficial honorary title or an appointed committee member or a city employee or an elected official or just another member of the public.
    .
    This was not a point of nuance in the discussion. There was no discussion but only Kevin Park indulging himself by using the dais and a city council meeting to childishly mock a member of the public at length. It was disgraceful behavior by a member of our city council to engage in. It is not something I think warrants the attention of a grand jury but it is also very much undeserving of a defense and your attempt to deflect and shift focus onto Kirk Vartan and his unofficial title.
    .
    The council majority’s refusal to reappoint Burt Field as a parks and recreation commissioner was also disgraceful. They are not legally required to cite a cause when not reappointing a commissioner but basic courtesy to the commissioner and the commission and the general public requires that they provide a reason. The reasons should be dereliction of duty as a commissioner or at least some sort of gross personal misconduct and these reasons should be cited. The council majority cited no reasons at all and in so doing acted like cowards. They could not cite a reason because they would then have to state that their reason was that they were using their powers as city councilpeople to hit back at Burt Field due to his being a political opponent of them.
    .
    The message they sent to all Santa Clarans paying attention is that one must choose to either volunteer one’s time in service of the city in a nonpartisan commissioner role or be silent in their political speech if their political opinions include criticism of the council majority.
    .
    We rely on you and your colleagues at this paper to not only serve as watchdogs for the behavior of Gillmor and Watanabe but also the council majority that you support in opposition to Gillmor and Watanabe. There is no excuse for mocking members of the public in city council meetings and there is no excuse for effectively dismissing volunteer commissioners with no stated reason.

    • Buchser 3 1 month ago
      Reply

      Regarding Burt Field: If the owner of a firm and had a worker that constantly berated his actions and spoken poorly of him, then the owner has every right to terminate this worker’s employment. There is no need for an explanation. Burt Field knows too well the reasons behind his dismissal.
      Regarding Kevin Park: President Biden is a very honorable man. Former President Trump is not. What has occurred is the Trump is continuously hurling unfounded insults at Biden. Finally, Biden can no longer be silent and decide to hurl a few insults back at Trump.

      • Buchser Alum 1 month ago
        Reply

        Buchser 3,
        .
        The way a private firm handles hiring and firing has nothing to do with how an elected city council representatives should conduct themselves during city council meetings and how they should handle nonpartisan volunteer service commissions.
        .
        If Gillmor voted against reappointing a parks and rec commissioner because that commissioner has been a political critic of hers I would criticize that move too. And if she refused to state any reason I would criticize that as a cowardly move just like I have with Becker and Hardy and Jain and Chahal and Park.

        • Buchser 3 1 month ago
          Reply

          Sorry, but I disagree. Elected President Biden has every right to behave and act and express his anger and rage at Trump in any manner as he so desires. As does Becker, Hardy, Jain, Park, and Chahal.

          • Buchser Alum 1 month ago

            Buchser 3,
            .
            If it was okay for Park to do what he did then it would be okay for Gillmor or any other mayor or acting mayor to abuse the gavel and take up city council meeting time to air their personal political grievances. I am glad that Gillmor does not do things such as this and I would be outraged if she did just as I am with Park.
            .
            If you were to think through this from an apolitical perspective and recognize that city business should be conducted efficiently and effectively then I do not think that you would want any city council members to use their positions on the dais to air their personal political grievances during city council meetings.
            .
            That would be a good way to make our city council meetings endless affairs of personal venting that would be a disgrace for the city.

          • Buchser 3 1 month ago

            Buchser Alum,
            If voters are unhappy with Park or Gillmor, they can be recalled or voted out in the next election. Every elected official have their own special faults, quirks, and bad behavior. It is our voters who have the right to decide who holds the office. Like everyone else, you are entitled to your one vote.
            Incidentally, Burt Field was removed in a similar fashion that former President Trump and other past presidents, governors, etc. remove many of their underlings. There are different reasons, but it is customarily due to a perceived lack of loyalty.

          • Buchser Alum 1 month ago

            Buchser 3,
            .
            You seem to be confused. There is no need for a recall or any official action on the part of the city.
            .
            My comment was simply making the point that this paper should not excuse or try to explain away the bad conduct of a city councilperson. Kevin Park’s bad behavior of mocking a member of the public during a city council meeting in this case.
            .
            I do not think that Kathy Watanabe needed to be recalled or voted out of office for stopping Kevin Park from speaking at an anti Asian hate rally she organized. But her behavior was unjustified and petty and deserved to be criticized.
            .
            I have never had reason to write a comment to this paper about excusing that behavior of Watanabe’s because this paper has continually brought that incident up in order to criticize her.

          • Buchser 3 1 month ago

            Personally, I believe Burt Field was just daring our Council to fire him. He figures he can get away with it and say or do as he pleases, since his position is voluntary and our Council will not take any action. Well, it turns out he was wrong.
            I do not believe this paper had ever tried to explain away Kevin Park’s bad behavior. However, since he has been attacked so often by Kirk Vartan, that given the appropriate opportunity, Kevin decided to reciprocate. No big deal. I figure it was all done in good humor. I don’t consider it a “big disgrace” (your words). I think Kirk understands and it did not bother him at all.

    • Santa Clara Voter 1 month ago
      Reply

      I heard that Burt Field talked about how certain City Councilmemebers should be killed.

      I did not watch that part of that city council meeting, so I don’t know if that issue was raised, but I know if I were a victim of his attack, I would not want to repeat it in a public meeting.

      And if he, in fact, said such things, then he should definitely not be a city commissioner.

      Found at least one of Burt Field’s statements: “Field . . . wrote, “Doing something as public as a recall actually has a right way to do it, and a wrong way. Much like shooting a loaded gun. Ready, aim, fire sure sounds a whole lot better than ready, fire, aim.”

      I thought there was another one.

      • Buchser Alum 1 month ago
        Reply

        Santa Clara Voter,
        .
        It was obvious that Burt Field was talking about recalling a public official and not killing them or anyone.
        .
        It was a bad choice of analogy but only someone looking to find something to pretend to be outraged about would think he was inciting violence. He should have chosen a different analogy and that is all.
        .
        Similarly Kevin Park did not call a former city manager a dog.

        • Buchser 3 1 month ago
          Reply

          It was bad behavior on the part of Burt Field. For this and other reasons, our council simply decided to remove the “soap box” on which he was standing on.

  4. CSC 1 month ago
    Reply

    Did Schmidt and the SCPOA register a separate URL last Friday to post and promote these new Grand Jury Reports or will they just repurpose the previous one?
    .
    Recommendations 1a-through-1h recommend that all Council Members and the Mayor attend individual conflict resolution training. Conflict is something that has afflicted the City Council and trammeled progress in the City since Gillmor took office decades ago.
    .
    The “storybook” shenanigan by Park and Becker was immature and unprofessional but should not be highlighted on the marquee alone as there have been plenty of arguments, snipes, and backroom dealings administered by Gillmor deserving equal or greater contempt.
    .
    This November…
    Replace Watanabe with someone can contribute effectively.
    Reelect Jain
    Reelect Park

  5. Buchser 3 1 month ago
    Reply

    This Civil Grand Jury report appears to be strongly allied with Lisa Gilmore and her minions and strongly opposed to the 49ers.

  6. Santa Clara Voter 1 month ago
    Reply

    I can’t believe this report completely ignored Lisa Gillmor’s repeated airing of her personal and political vendettas that are evident at every single meeting, often any item on the agenda that has any discussion. Her behavior is APPALLING and an embarrassment to the city. The fact that the Grand Jury completely ignored HER behavior means the entire report is just a political hit piece.

    From the article: “it pointed out that Gillmor and Watanabe have ‘shown appropriate meeting decorum.'” REALLY??? They must only have been given a specific highlight reel of council meetings to miss Gillmor’s nasty behavior to her fellow council members. She REALLY doesn’t like to deal with anyone who is not under her control.

    • Buchser 3 1 month ago
      Reply

      I recall the previous Civil Grand Jury report stated that they had based their conclusions mainly after interviewing 10 members associated with the city government. They failed to name the 10 members, but please allow me to make an attempt to name them: Lisa Gillmor, Watanabe, Santana, Doyle, Tom Shanks, Burt Fields, Kirk Vartan, O’Neill, Patrick Nikolai. A truly well rounded represented bunch? Absolutely NOT!

  7. Ben Z 1 month ago
    Reply

    If the Civil Grand Jury really wanted to impact the county, it should be investigating District Attorney Jeff Rosen. I actually submitted a complaint to them that he is abusing his power to sex traffic children and allowing assaults against me to influence criminal proceedings. Guess what they did? NOTHING.

    Most of the info provided to them is right here:

    https://www.thepetitionsite.com/272/404/301/district-attorney-jeffrey-rosen-please-stop-sex-trafficking-my-kids/

  8. Ben 1 month ago
    Reply

    The Civil Grand Jury doesn’t care that Valerie Houghton is using her influence to have me prosecuted. I didn’t even commit a crime. But Jeff Rosen does these kinds of favors for his friends.


    Clyde Berg used to be partners with Ms. Houghton in a real estate venture. She and her husband embezzled over $10,000,000 from him. When he tried to get his money back, she had him prosecuted for raping a pregnant woman with a golf putter.
    ….
    https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2015/01/16/silicon-valley-millionaire-clyde-berg-found-factually-innocent-sex-abuse-of-wife/

    Berg was eventually found factually innocent, but not before being in jail for 8 days, spending $3,000,000 in attorney fees, and being prosecuted for 3 years.


    Meanwhile, Rosen let Houghton completely off the hook. https://www.scribd.com/document/530058089/Terry-Houghton-and-Valerie-Houghton-Felony-Criminal-Complaint-and-Docket


    This happened as I was, myself, was being prosecuted and was telling Jeff Rosen that Houghton was assaulting me. What kind of a message does that send? How can you trust any of Rosen’s prosecutions? What is the point of having a Civil Grand Jury if they won’t investigate these kinds of things?

  9. Ben 1 month ago
    Reply

    Jeff Rosen is a complete disgrace to force my children to live with sexual abuse. When I refused to get an attorney that Ms. Houghton could influence, Rosen had his deputy raise a doubt to bring the matter competency proceedings. DDA Joseph Eisenberg cited that I complained that I was being assaulted and that my kids were being sexually abused.
    …..
    I don’t know how anyone lets him be the leader in that office. This isn’t altering time sheets. Rosen is willfully and knowingly endangering the community.
    ….
    It could be anyone that this happens to. His friends just have to call a favor to get charges filed. The consequences don’t matter to Rosen. He hides behind his position and his phony words that he says to the press about being a savior to the community.

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