Contentions over whether Stadium Authority Board Members speaking to the media has “tainted” public opinion was the centerpiece of a discussion about community outreach regarding Levi’s Stadium.
Board Member Dominic Caserta spoke to the media last week regarding Santa Clara losing the Ed Sheeran concert to San Francisco’s AT&T Park because of the City’s 10 p.m. weekday curfew. Those comments drew heavy fire from fellow Vice Chair Kathy Watanabe and Boad Member Debi Davis Tuesday night at the Board’s regular meeting.
The criticism came amid a recommendation from Catherine Lew, of The Lew Edwards Group, the company gathering public opinion data on the stadium for the Board, asking Board Members to “consider refraining from speaking to the media about their individual positions on these matters until the completion of our current surveys.” The reasoning for this, according to an email to the Board, is that Lew is “concerned about the views of the elected Board, all of whom are influential, affecting the community views being tested at this time.”
Lew’s request that Board Members refrain from speaking to the media was a broadening of a request that no member of the Board attend any community engagement meetings to be held to gauge public sentiment surrounding the stadium.
Watanabe said Caserta’s comments to the media “create a lack of trust,” calling them “disconcerting.” She said the story was little more than a “rehash” of a story from last year, implying heavily that it was planted by the 49ers.
“These actions are creating suspicion,” she said.
Ross Miletich, a project manager with The Lew Edwards Group, said nothing suggests the group’s data has been corrupted by the media coverage. Still, Board Chair Lisa Gillmor, expressed concern that the “integrity” of the process was not being upheld; meanwhile, Davis and Watanabe still used the word “taint” to describe the effect such comments would have.
Board Member Patricia Mahan questioned how to approach media inquiries, noting that refusing to speak with reporters carries its own consequence.
“We can’t simply ignore the press,” she said. “We can’t prevent the news stories from occurring.”
Stadium Authority Executive Director Deanna Santana said at the direction of the Board, she could draft talking points for each member should they be questioned about the stadium.
Caserta took umbrage with that idea, saying he would be “damned” if he needed to “get permission” or take talking points from the Stadium Authority Executive Director. He said he was “disgusted” that the City would “try to noose” free speech. He called Watanabe’s implication that the 49ers drummed up the story “specious.”
“As a teacher of civics, I will not chill freedom of the press or my fiduciary responsibility to speak my mind,” he said.
Council mainstay Hosam Haggag felt differently, saying he was “flabbergasted,” accusing Caserta of “grandstanding” and adding that it is just “common sense” to avoid speaking to the media during such public opinion polls. He said Caserta was deliberately circumventing the intent of the prohibition.
Community Outreach Update
On a similar note, Shawn Spano, with the Public Dialog Consortium, the company the City hired to conduct the public outreach regarding the stadium, updated the Board on his company’s efforts.
Spano said the Public Dialog Consortium will hold three public meetings, conduct person-on-the-street interviews, hold focus groups and gather information from its website to gauge public opinion on the stadium. These methods, Spano said, will allow for “evolving content and questions” that “embrace and manage differences while seeking common ground.”
The person-on-the-street interviews will be held Friday March 23 at the soccer game at Levi’s Stadium and the following day at the farmer’s market. Pollisters will be asking respondents for their zip codes to better break down demographics by location.
Three other public meetings—to be held 6 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the Central Park Library, 2635 Homestead Rd.; 10 a.m. Saturday, April 28 at the Santa Clara Recreation Center, 969 Kiely Blvd.; and 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 9 at the Northside Library, 695 Moreland Way—will take place toward the end of the process. These meetings will aim to probe beyond just whether people are for or against the stadium, Spano said.
In addition to the website (peakdemocracy.com/5959), Spano said he expected to get the opinions of between 200 and 300 Santa Clarans.
Also up for discussion was making stadium finances more transparent.
Angie Kraetsch, Finance Director, sought approval of a few measures that would help the City comply with recommendations from Harvey Rose & Associates, the company that conducted an audit following allegations that public safety costs had not been properly billed.
One point of concern is that public safety costs have been growing, causing the Stadium Authority to have to dig into its discretionary fund—which comes from stadium revenues—to cover those costs. Normally, Kraetsch said, the cost threshold determines the expected public-safety cost. The Stadium Authority reimburses the team for any public safety cost that exceeds that threshold. However, the threshold—which undershot the actual cost every year it has been in place—was only in place for the first three years of Levi’s Stadium’s existence.
City Attorney Brian Doyle said, from what he could tell, the threshold was “no longer enforceable.”
Gillmor also said she would like to be able to see a breakdown of how much money each event brings into the City’s general fund, not just an aggregate number.
Santana said employees in the finance department are not auditors, and getting such a breakdown would require a formal audit.
Board Member Pat Kolstad was absent.
The Stadium Authority Board will meet again 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27 in Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.