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Stadium Site Easements Precipitate Intra-Council Uneasiness

At last week’s meeting, the Santa Clara City Council took another action to advance construction on the much-anticipated 49ers stadium, releasing eight now-unneeded utility and other easements at the site.

While this action seems unexceptionable, a testy exchange between Mayor Jamie Matthews and Council Member Jamie McLeod previewed some Council Kabuki Theater likely to re-play at every stadium-related action over the next two years.

“This is part of obviously a larger project,” began McLeod, “…and there was a decision [by the] courts not to recognize [that] 13 percent of our voters* came forward and asked to put this project on the ballot again, which includes this item before us.”

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“Actually, that might be a mischaracterization,” interjected Matthews. “I usually let those things go. But that isn’t exactly what the court said.”

“Go ahead and make a clarification if you would like,” retorted McLeod.

“The clarification was…whether or not it [the stadium financial agreements] was legally referendable. [The court ruled] it was not an action that could be legally taken. So the court didn’t ignore the democracy. That really happened back in June 2010 when nearly 60 percent of people voted for it [the stadium]. They just upheld that action as being a legislative act.”

“That’s a good clarification because it wasn’t the court that overlooked [the petitions],” McLeod came back. “It was this council that overlooked the fact that 13 percent of the voters came forward and asked us to, now that all the information came forward about the deal, not just the outline of the term sheet—”

“I appreciate that,” interrupted Matthews. “Let’s not…get into a political debate. We all know where we are on these items. Do you have a question or clarification?”

“No it’s a statement I’d like to make,” McLeod replied.

“Well,” Matthews countered, “make a statement on the record.”

“I’d be happy to do that if you would allow me to finish,” returned McLeod. “In December [the Council] made a decision to go forward with the details of the [stadium] plan, including the $850 million loan that the city will be taking on for the stadium that would be paid off over time by the team.

“But…it caused 13 percent of our voting population to come forward, to sign a petition [saying] they want to revisit this issue,” she continued. “Given the fact that many of the folks who came forward included people that had supported measure J, the 58 percent …it raises a question in my mind as to the legitimacy of measure J.

“After measure J was passed, I…supported actions…related to it. But at this point, given the issues and concerns raised by the community,” McLeod went on, “I think it’s inappropriate to be going forward… I will not be supporting [future stadium measures] because I think that we need to respect the will of the voters… and let them speak again to this issue.”

“I appreciate your statements on the record,” Matthews said dryly. “I hate to have this one really very small, very minor and very administrative thing be a Trojan horse for a larger discussion. We just got through a court decision. But the discussion’s been made. I think that we can call the question – unless there’s someone who’d like to discuss the vacating [of the easements].”

The motion passed 6-1, with McLeod casting the single “no” vote.

McLeod saw things somewhat differently last December when she was part of a unanimous Council vote on to go forward with the stadium financing agreements.

Making no bones about her previous opposition to the stadium term sheet and Measure J, McLeod nonetheless noted at the Dec. 13, 2011 meeting that, “the measure before us is not measure J, it’s not the term sheet.” It was, she said, whether the DDA complied “with the letter and the spirit” of the term sheet.

“The term sheet went before voters as measure J and passed by 58 percent,” McLeod noted in December. And despite any concerns, the bottom line was, “it is a democratic process and I have tremendous respect for our democratic process.”

McLeod concluded her remarks saying, “Having asked all the questions and looking at the deal before us, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that I don’t think we’ll make any of the past mistakes that have been made on stadiums…I think the document [DDA and Joinder] is very solid…It seems to me as a Council Member these questions have been sufficiently addressed. The spirit of Measure J has been met…I will be supporting the measure.”

*Roughly 5,500 petition signatures were collected by stadium opponents asking to subject the stadium financing package to a referendum. There are about 45,000 registered voters in Santa Clara.

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