Santa Clara council rejects 49ers referendum, setting up court battle

As expected, the Santa Clara city council last night rejected petitions calling for a new referendum on a proposed $1.2 billion San Francisco 49ers stadium, ruling that while enough signatures were collected, the issue is not “referendable” because the project was already approved in a public vote in 2010.

Several people who spoke at what sounds like a raucous council hearing, however, raised questions about whether what the council passed in December is what voters approved two years ago:

But dozens of opponents showed up in force to complain they were “ripped off.” They brought glossy 2010 campaign materials funded by the 49ers that showed the team, NFL and stadium revenues would be responsible for 88 percent of the project’s cost.

“That is what this community bought, but that is not what you agreed to last month,” stadium opponent Kate Grant said, holding up the campaign flier. “The terms of this agreement have changed dramatically.”

The dispute is now almost certainly headed for court, which if history is any guide could take a while. With the 49ers hoping to break ground this spring, whether the referendum drive can stop the stadium from going ahead could depend on whether a judge is willing to grant an injunction against the project continuing — though it’ll also be interesting to see how the bond market responds to a bond issue whose legality is being challenged in court. If nothing else, that planned 2014 opening date now seems even more optimistic than it did last month.

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18 comments on “Santa Clara council rejects 49ers referendum, setting up court battle

  1. The Santa Clara City Council and its lawyer is taking an unbelievably foolish position here, and it’s going to end up costing them actual money. All a judge will require is to look at what the voters had to vote on, and what they ended up getting, and he’ll conclude that the Council did not follow the instructions of the voters.

    Such an easy call here. Injunction coming.

    I support you in this, SCPF.

  2. We’ll see. It all comes down to what the judge views as the definition of “paying for”. Because as the deal was structured right now the Niners are paying those loans back. So by some definitions they are paying their share as was in that vote.

  3. @MikeM – thanks for your support.
    Allowing the city to avoid either rescinding their Dec. 13th votes or putting it on the ballot would set a terrible precedent for all California cities – that a city council can put a ballot measure before the voters that does not disclose costs, then in closed session load up a city agency with $850 million in loans, and then say that the hundreds in millions in loans are just an administrative act that follows up on the original ballot measure which had Zero dollars in loans.

    @Dan – they can argue all they want during a campaign about who is paying for what regarding the loans. They can try all they want to convince Santa Clarans that there is no risk to those loans. The fact remains that they purposefully hid the Stadium Authority loans during the campaign and kept the loans off of the ballot. Measure J would not have passed if the loans had been on the ballot. The lack of honesty on the ballot is an issue that I’m sure will come out in court.

  4. Dan,

    Then the 49ers/council could have made things real simple and kept the SA out of the loans. Yet they didn’t and have transfered the business risk to the city.

  5. Again, we’ll see. There is no guarantee SCPF gets enough backing to take this to court let alone win in court.

  6. SCTP, did you get wonderful documents like this during the campaign?

  7. MikeM,

    We got a lot of glossy brochures showing the council members thoughtfully pouring over thick reports; schools teachers saying how great the stadium will be for the schools, the school superintendent reciting his own poetry to the’80s Niners on U-tube and sending out literature from the 49er campaign HQ urging parents to vote YES. Radio ads: quote from Jamie Matthews (our mayor) “Yes is a powerful word. You can’t go wrong, vote YES on J.”

    The police chief (now “retired” and double dipping as the security consultant showing up in uniform at 49er promotional events. Jed York showing up in schools. The SJ Mercury breathlessly promoting the deal. Councilmember Kevin Moore personally yanking out “NO on J” signs.

    I could go on and on but it seems like a collective madness over football is in the town.

    The team knew it could get away with pandering to relatively uneducated people to get enough votes and knew what they were doing.

  8. @MikeM – Yep! We were carpet bombed with YES yardsigns as well as slick, glossy mailers that came into our homes, sometimes multiple mailers per week. Also thick, large postcard mailers. Note that because of freedom of speech, they can say whatever they want during a campaign and they are free to provide false and misleading information to the public in order to get ‘yes’ votes. Apparently even elected officials can provide false/misleading information to get people to vote ‘yes’, and also hide information.

    Many people here have saved all of the mailers to keep documentation of how our elected officials misled the citizens in order to get ‘yes’ votes. So the advice from Santa Clara is to download/save/scan everything that is sent to your community. You will need it later when/if the funding for the stadium/arena is drastically different from what people voted on/were told during a campaign. And it can of course be used to not re-elect people who violated the public’s trust by misleading the public to get ‘yes’ votes.

  9. I pity the poor residents of Santa Clara. $850 million in loans is a boatload of potential risk for a city with only 120,000 people.


    The City of Santa Clara is about to get sued because of its election system. (Numbered seats which do not correspond to any district within the city, allowing like minded people to run as a slate and then vote together continually as a majority bloc.)
    I wonder if the lawyers who are planning on suing realize that what we have is an entrenched system of electing people financially backed by developers, 49ers owners, 49ers contractors, real estate interests, and building and trades unions etc. who then represent only the people who want the stadium. The same people keep rotating seats (mayor/council) and we have no lifetime limit on the number of years someone can serve. This wasn’t noticed as a problem until the stadium issue. Now, with the $850 million debt to our city’s agency for the stadium, people here can see the danger (finally!) of the current system we have.

  11. Our council members have no problems with acting insulting. Pat Kolstad said “if all our administrative decisions were subject to a re-vote, we’d get nothing done.

    Hello! Earth to Pat! We don’t feel that this is a mere “administrative” decision, like switching from Office Max to Office Depot for supplies. What was implied in Measure J was bad enough, but we know it would get a lot worse with 100 closed door sessions during the ensuing years with “our” side negotiating from a stance that a “deal” needed to be arrived at no matter what.

    There is a lot that’s really rotten in the City of Santa Clara. The worst part is that everyone in council and city staff likes to scratch each other’s backs by stating how “ethical” they all are.

    It’s really a black comedy here.

  12. I think the crux of the campaign should be simply “Do you want to personally make a $7,0000 loan guarantee for the stadium, because that is what the city is doing on your behalf.”.

  13. Great article on sfgate today about Candlestick:

    Nevius is absolutely correct in this assessment, by the way. I’ve been to many SF Giants and 49ers games there, and it was old in the late 1980’s. I really can’t argue that point.

    But why they can’t come up with an answer that’s closer to AT&T Park is beyond my comprehension. Santa Clara voters are getting the shaft.

    “Let’s screw Santa Clara” isn’t the best answer at all.

  14. When I watched the playoff game it looked like a perfectly serviceable version of a football stadium to me. The fans all seemed to be having a good time, and football was played without incident.

    “The location is a traffic nightmare, the stadium design is badly out of date and it is really, really old.”

    I can see where A) is regrettable and something you would want to alleviate, I don’t see what b and c have to do with anything.

    My house is out of date and 106 years old. That doesn’t mean the taxpayers should buy me a new one.

    If the owners need it to be different so they can extract more money out of people isn’t that a problem they should solve with their own money?

  15. Some of the stadium supporters at Tuesday night’s council meeting got and and said how proud they were of the progress the team made this year.

    When you’re dealing with this mentality, rational debate about the merits of subsidizing a private family business (albeit of a most public nature# sort of goes out the window.

    But yeah, there’s a mindset that the NFL is an important regional and national asset and even if the stadium is destined to bleed money, it’s still important to support–afterall we’re talking about #please stand# pro-football #now you can sit down).

    After all libraries and swim centers don’t make money for the host city…

  16. I’d say access is Candlestick’s biggest problem. It wasn’t good as a baseball venue, ever. AT&T Park is so much better than Candlestick could possibly have ever been. It’s that infernal summer wind that made things unpleasant.

    It doesn’t seem as bad as a football venue. They probably could update it. If the updates are too difficult to do over the space of a year, then they can probably work out a deal to play some games at Stanford, some at Cal, during the upgrade. If it’s only for 1 season, what’s the big deal?

    The biggest problem is probably access. I have always hated that set of offramps. Terrifying.

  17. 800M in loans for a population of 120K? Wow, that’s even a worse deal than Arlington, TX. got. I’m not sure how they’ve sorted out the money generated by the stadium but this is starting to sound like the kind of deal that Indianapolis is regretting and will for the next 25 years. I’m a tad late but is that 800M just the principal or the total amount, including interest, to be paid back? I’d be surprised if it’s the latter.

  18. @Cujo- It’s $850 million and that’s just the principal. Plus, the loans are for construction and they are due at the end of construction and need to be re-financed. But no one can tell us how that will happen.

    Note that there were NO LOANS on the Measure J ballot in June 2010, only $35 million in hotel taxes and $40 million in redevelopment dollars (and now the Governor has done away with RDAs). They worked very very hard to keep the costs off of the ballot so that people would vote yes. Had the loans been on the ballot, the stadium Measure J would never have passed. The public is tired of bait and switch, and this is a classic example of bait and switch, hence the eagerness with which people signed the petitions.

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