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Santa Clara City Council Hands Down First Admonishments, Settles Lawsuits

If you could have seen the faces of the candidates for City Council in June, you would understand why the Council had to admonish fellow Council Members Patricia Mahan and Pat Kolstad. Or so Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe and Council Members Debi Davis and Teresa O’Neill think.

All four referenced “the look on their faces” at the first Council meeting after a month-long break Tuesday night, pointing to it as a guiding light of their decision-making process.

The push for admonishment — essentially a slap-on-the-wrist measure that amounts to the Council shaming the person being admonished — began shortly before Council’s summer hiatus. Gillmor put the item on the agenda at the Council’s last meeting before the break in July at the behest of Teresa Sulcer, a Santa Clara resident. The request came on the heels of outcry regarding the Council’s failure to appoint a candidate — from a field of roughly two dozen — to former Council Member Dominic Caserta’s seat.

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“They disappointed good people who wanted to help their city,” Gillmor said. “By not supporting this we are saying we agree with what happened.”

Vocal citizens, including Sulcer, as well as the other members of the Council blamed the fiasco on Mahan and Kolstad, claiming they turned the six-hour appointment process into a farce. Many have claimed the duo never intended to appoint anyone, despite the Council majority’s decision to do so.

Mahan had been vocal about her stance, saying leaving the seat vacant until the November election was in the best interest of Santa Clarans. An appointee, she said, would have an advantage going into that election, something she called “unfair.”

“If the Council does nothing, that would say a lot,” said Dorothy Rosa, an ardent Gillmor supporter. “It would say respect is not important.”

The Council agreed with that sentiment, saying Mahan and Kolstad should have made their intent clear from the beginning. Still, Mahan maintains that had there been clear-cut candidate the entire Council could agree on — the City’s charter requires a supermajority in such cases — she would have voted for that candidate during the multi-round voting.

Still, Gillmor said that Mahan’s claim that none of the more than 20 candidates “rose to the standard” was “disingenuous.”

Despite pointing to specific, what she called “frustrations,” by Mohammed Nadeem, Howard Meyers and Sulcer, Watanabe threw around several soft phrases, claiming “some residents” suggested admonition, that “some residents spoke out” and that there was a “strong community sentiment” favoring the discipline.

She did not mention previous comments from Suds Jain and Kevin Park, both of whom were candidates for the vacant seat, who said admonishment only adds to the Council’s already divisive dynamic. Watanabe was keen to point the finger at Mahan, saying her decision to run in 2016 after previously deciding not to gave her “unfair advantage,” taking up a spot on Council that could have otherwise went to a minority candidate who had never served. Although in 2016 Watanabe endorsed Tino Silva who was not one of the two minority candidates running for that seat. Although in 2016 Watanabe endorsed Tino Silva who was not one of the two minority candidates running for that seat.

That same year the Council appointed Watanabe to Gillmor’s old seat after it appointed Gillmor Mayor. Watanabe went on to win her election campaign. Among her opponents was Mohammed Nadeem, an Indian-American.

Mahan countered, saying she had a “stack of emails” from residents lauding her position on having the seat remain vacant. However, Gillmor claimed she had a “bigger pile” of emails to the contrary. Kolstad and Mahan were “deceptive” and “perhaps dishonest,” she added.

Some residents were quick to point out that Gillmor was ignoring the thoughts of many residents who did not agree with her.

“You say you heard from people,” said resident Bill Davis, addressing Gillmor. “You never asked me… You want to do survey after survey. Why don’t you spend some money on a survey on this? You’re not even elected,” he added, referring to the fact that Gillmor was appointed to Council and Mayor.

Kolstad remained quiet for most of the discussion, saying little more than denials that he broke any rules.

During public comments, 11 people spoke; seven said they opposed admonishment. Several speakers characterized the admonishment as “political” and a “power struggle.”

“Every Council Member has the right and the duty to vote their conscience,” said resident Mark Kelsey. “This is a divisive issue …that does not serve the people of Santa Clara.”

Tino Silva, who ran against Mahan in 2016 for Council and supported admonishment, said Kolstad and Mahan “had a responsibility to the public.”

“All you had to do was be honest,” he said. “Shame on you, Pat. You are a better person than this.”

Hosam Haggag, who sat on the Charter Review Committee and lobbied hard for the supermajority change, said he had no problem with Kolstad and Mahan dissenting. The goal of the supermajority, he noted, was to “drive consensus.” Instead, he said, the appointment process “dragged candidates through the mud.”

Other speakers pointed out that seeking admonishment seemed to have less to do with lack of Council appointment and more about retaliation.

“Lisa, you were appointed not elected,” said resident Noreen Brummel Giaretto. “My father [the late Wade Brummel, publisher of the Santa Clara Journal] ran every campaign of your father [Mayor Gary Gillmor].

“You ran a dirty campaign against Patty,” added Brummel Giaretto. “This is very vindictive.”

The Council voted 4-1-1 to admonish Kolstad and Mahan; Kolstad voted “no,” and Mahan abstained.

 

Litigation

The Council also got news on three pending lawsuits in which the City is involved.

In a closed session prior to the meeting, the Council voted unanimously to appeal in the case in which it was found in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. The decision, if it stands, will split the City into six districts, each represented by one Council Member.

Although the decision will not affect the November election, the Council was dissatisfied with the mandate and will seek priority in hearing its appeal.

Two other lawsuits in which the City is embroiled, this time with the 49ers, also saw headway. The team brought the first during a dispute between the City and the team regarding whether the Forty Niners Management Company (ManCo) had provided the City the proper documents to get an accurate picture of stadium finances.

City Attorney Brian Doyle told the Council that ManCo has “unilaterally given up” that suit.

The second, a rent reset arbitration, has gone in the City’s favor. The lease set the annual rent for the stadium at $24.5 million. An option in the lease specifies that a one-time reset during the 40-year lease is possible. In 2016, Forty Niners LLC (StadCo) asked the rent to be lowered to $20.25 a year before lowering the request to $19.2 just before the arbitration was to begin.

The court ruled in favor of the City, resetting the rent to $24.76 million a year, 1 percent higher than the initial rent, meaning StadCo will owe the City back rent. Over the course of the lease, the City will net an additional $10.48 million in addition to avoiding a $170 million loss had it taken StadCo’s offer. StadCo will also be responsible for the City’s legal fees.

Doyle surmised that the decision will give the City “more credibility” and said StadCo will “treat us, perhaps, with more respect.”

 

City Institutions

City Manager Deanna Santana told the Council that the audit of the Santa Clara Convention and Visitors Bureau would be complete next week. She added that during the break she authorized $6,000 to move forward with the Art and Wine Festival and another $2,000 to Leadership Santa Clara.

Nick Kaspar, President and CEO of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce, said Chamber’s employees have been “working diligently” and will “take recommended improvements in stride.”

Closed session also saw the Council fill two vacancies on the Historic Landmarks Commission. The Council voted unanimously to appointment Ana Vargas-Smith and Michael Celso to those positions.

The Council meets again 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

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