Judge knocks down Santa Clara 49ers referendum, appeal likely

In a major blow to opponents of Santa Clara’s $1 billion stadium plan for the San Francisco 49ers, a county judge has ruled that the ballot measure approved in January forcing a new referendum on the deal is invalid, agreeing with the team and city that the changes in the financial structure of the plan are a mere “administrative” change, and thus not subject to a public vote.

The group Santa Clara Plays Fair, which led the referendum drive, says it’s considering an appeal. 49ers spokesperson Steve Weakland called Judge Peter Kirwan’s ruling preventing a public vote “a victory for the citizens of Santa Clara” because it will “protect their vote in June 2010 [when] they said yes to a new stadium.”

With shovels already hitting the ground, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for opponents to throw any more roadblocks in the way of this deal, unless they can get this ruling overturned on appeal even more quickly than Kirwan reached his decision. Beyond that, as Newballpark.org notes: “If there’s a dangerous precedent, it’s that any municipality [that] chooses to build a stadium in the Bay Area can choose to be purposefully vague or obfuscating when writing up stadium deal terms, get a referendum passed, then fill in the blanks later.” Not that anybody would ever do that.

Santa Clara files lawsuit against 49ers stadium referendum

It looks like the San Francisco 49ers court battle has begun: Santa Clara Plays Fair is reporting (still not on their website, but they sent out a press release [UPDATE: now it’s online]) that the city of Santa Clara has filed suit against the group’s petition filing for a referendum on the revised stadium plan. The city had previously indicated that it felt the referendum was illegal, since a 49ers stadium plan (albeit not this one) was previously approved by voters in 2010; now the matter will be up to a judge — or in all likelihood, several, as it works its way through the inevitable appeals.

In other 49ers news, plenty of fans are still hopping mad about the sky-high prices for season tickets plus personal seat licenses that were unveiled last month. We’ll see how many of them actually carry through with their threat to cancel their season plans once they’re offered the chance to downgrade to cheaper, crappier seats — that helped alleviate some of the sticker shock faced by the New York Yankees, among others — but it can’t be a good sign that one longtime season ticket holder is actually threatening to become an Oakland Raiders fan.

Santa Clara referendum petitions validated, vote still a ways off

The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters has confirmed that Santa Clara Plays Fair has collected the 4,500 signatures required to force a vote on the $1.2 billion San Francisco 49ers stadium plan, which would require the city to put out $850 million in cash and get somewhere between all of it and not very much of it back.

Of course, Santa Clara has insisted that the stadium project isn’t subject to referendum, so next stop will be, as promised, court. Stadium opponents have enlisted the ACLU to seek an injunction against starting stadium construction until the referendum issue can be settled.

Exactly how much the 49ers are committing to backstop the city’s stadium bonds remains murky — I’m still puzzling my way through the rat’s nest of the city’s development agreement, and you’re welcome to do the same if you want to play along at home. Though it’s worth noting that Stanford sports economist Roger Noll did tell the Wall Street Journal last week that the city’s return on its stadium investment could range “from pretty close to break-even to a catastrophe,” which I’ll take as validation of my own analysis.

49ers repeal petition claims more than enough signatures to force vote

And we’re off: Santa Clara Plays Fair says it has compiled enough petition signatures to force a new referendum on the $1.2 billion San Francisco 49ers stadium proposal. With today the deadline for collecting 4,500 signatures, a just-released press release from SCPF (not on their site yet that I can tell) reports that the group has collected “nearly 11,000 signatures from Santa Clara voters asking the City Council to either repeal the development agreement and the financing plan for the planned 49ers stadium or submit them to the voters.”

Next up is almost certainly the courts, given the city of Santa Clara’s insistence that its stadium deal isn’t subject to referendum, despite it being significantly different from the plan that voters approved in 2010. Tune in again next week for Preliminary Injunction Theater!

49ers’ hefty PSL prices raising eyebrows

The San Francisco 49ers put “stadium builder licenses” (aka personal seat licenses) up for sale this week for 9,000 seats at their planned Santa Clara stadium, and the initial reports seem to show a fair bit of sticker shock among fans.

The prices on the initial round of lower level club seats run from $20,000 to $80,000 for a lifetime license to buy tickets (fans then still need to pony up for tickets as well). That’s significantly more than the PSLs that the New York Giants PSLs (which topped out at $20,000) and Jets (top price $84,000, but with some lower-level seats priced as low as $2,500 after PSL sales stalled) and even more than the Dallas Cowboys PSLs, which run from $16,000 to $50,000.

If commenters on the official 49ers message board are any guide, this could be a tough sell, with 84% of those polled saying they have no interest in buying PSLs at these prices. (Sample comment: “I was prepared to pay $10K per seat to keep a similar location, but twice that AND a ticket price increase of over 250% is just plain crazy.”) This could change as lower-priced PSLs become available for non-club seats, obviously, but it’s certainly not a good sign for the 49ers as they try to avoid the a Jets-style PSL glut and last-minute price slashing.

All this should be of concern to Santa Clara, because the PSL money is slated to be used to pay back $450 million in public debt that the city stadium authority will be borrowing from the 49ers, at 8.5% interest. [UPDATE: Sorry, confused two different stadium loans there for a minute. For the full explanation, see my original post, which got it right.] If there’s a shortfall … well, nobody’s exactly sure what happens, except that it’ll be the city’s problem, not the team’s. It actually presents a weird incentive for the 49ers in setting prices — if they price seats too high and they don’t sell, they’re still guaranteed to get their cash from Santa Clara (except for the actual tickets they’d end up eating, obviously), which may be one reason the team has been so aggressive about pricing.

Of course, there’s also that petition drive underway to hold a revote on the entire stadium project, which makes this not exactly the best time to piss off your fan base. The stadium opposition group Santa Clara Plays Fair issued a press release last night touting radio show host (and former weatherman and current climate change denier) Brian Sussman’s switch from the pro-stadium camp to the anti-stadium side, with Sussman telling listeners, “My eyes were finally opened when the football team informed me my four seats in the new stadium would cost $160,000.” How many of his fellow fans balk at those prices could determine whether the Santa Clara succeeds or fails — and just possibly, whether it gets built at all.

Santa Clara group starts petition drive, is upstaged by blown power line

As promised, Santa Clara Plays Fair has launched a referendum campaign to block $850 million in city loans to fund a new San Francisco 49ers stadium. If they can collect 6,000 signatures within 30 days, a public vote could be held … okay, I’m not exactly sure, so I’m going to go with “in the future.”

The community group, though, couldn’t even get top billing in the lede of the San Francisco Chronicle article about its own petition drive, which instead began:

The power outages at Candlestick Park this week were a visible reminder of why the 49ers want to move to a new stadium in Santa Clara.

Yes, that’s right: The 49ers want a new stadium because the old one has crappy splices on the power lines outside, which led to two power outages during Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Me, I’d just ask for new power lines, but I guess that’s because I lack the vision to be an NFL owner.

49ers threw $5m at stadium voters

Campaign filings show that the San Francisco 49ers spent nearly $5 million on their stadium referendum campaign in Santa Clara this spring, including a last-minute infusion of $800,000 from Niners owner Jed York. That would be a record for a Santa Clara referendum, and close to one for any stadium campaign anywhere. It would also be more than $300 per “yes” vote.

Meanwhile, the opposition, Santa Clara Plays Fair, raised a little over $20,000 for the “no” side. That means the 100-to-1 rule remains in place: Outspend your opposition by a factor of 100, and you’ll probably win a stadium vote; less than that, and you’ll probably lose.

49ers stadium has poll lead; Great America seeks rent cut

The first major polls are out in the runup to the June 8 vote in Santa Clara on a San Francisco 49ers stadium, and so far, the ayes have it: The stadium referendum leads 52% to 36%, with 11% undecided. (Or as San Jose Mercury News reporter Howard Mintz puts it, the Niners have “a substantial fourth-quarter political lead” — journalists just can’t resist a cheap sports metaphor.)

Likely voters are less inclined to support the plan than occasional voters, however, and 63% of respondents said they are at least “somewhat worried” about the cost to taxpayers. Roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans support the stadium proposal, if you care about such things.

Stadium opponents note that neither the ballot question (which is apparently what was read by pollsters) nor 49ers campaign materials mention the public costs of the project; Santa Clara Plays Fair activist Chris Koltermann told KGO-TV: “I went through all the 49er campaign materials and came up with a list of 15 fictional statements including ‘no impact on general fund.’ That’s not true and ‘no costs to residents,’ that’s not true.”

Meanwhile, Cedar Fair, owners of the Great America amusement park that would lose a parking lot to the 49ers stadium, added to its lawsuit against the project a new demand that the city eliminate its $5.3 million guaranteed rent if a stadium is built:

“We believe it is essential that any proposed resolution include a realignment of the economic interests of the city and Cedar Fair,” Geoffrey Etnire, an attorney for the company, wrote in a letter to City Manager Jennifer Sparacino. “The city must be prepared to accept some of the risk that the revenues and profitability of Great America will be reduced.”

Reading between the lines, it sounds like Cedar Fair would accept a rent that fluctuated with its revenues. That could still represent a multi-million-dollar hit to the Santa Clara city budget, though.

As for what Cedar Fair will do if its pleas for a rent break are ignored, that’s unclear. Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan, asked on Friday whether she’d consider lowering the amusement park’s rent, replied: “No. We have a contract. A contract is a contract.”

49ers file Santa Clara stadium petitions; vote in June?

The Santa Clara 49ers stadium took another step closer to a public vote yesterday, as the team-backed group Santa Clarans for Economic Progress submitted 8,043 signatures towards putting an initiative on the ballot. If at least 4,640 of the signatures are found valid, the city council has the choice of putting it on the ballot in June, or waiting until the regular election in November; if it clears 6,970 valid names, the vote automatically takes place in June.

There’s been a ton of debate among Santa Clarans (several of whom have posted comments on this site) about whether the paid signature gatherers were misinforming people about the purpose of the petitions. (The city council has the option of putting its own referendum on the ballot if the 49ers don’t, which would potentially provide more public disclosure and safeguards.) It’s not immediately clear if this is grounds for challenging the petition signatures, or indeed what you can do if you’ve signed the petition and now wish you hadn’t.

49ers fund pro-stadium mailing to everyone in Santa Clara

There’s still no date for a vote on the $937 million Santa Clara stadium project for the San Francisco 49ers, but that didn’t stop Santa Clarans for Economic Progress from sending out a mailer to all of the city’s 46,000 registered voters last week, urging them to vote “yes” on the project. Reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

So how did Santa Clarans for Economic Progress pay for that? With a little help from the 49ers, of course.

Lisa Gillmor, a former city councilwoman and central figure in the pro-stadium group, said the 49ers provided a substantial contribution for the mailers and the team was expected to continue funding Santa Clarans for Economic Progress.

“It will be the significant share of our campaign budget,” said Gillmor. She declined to say how much the team put up or the total cost of the mailing, saying it would compromise strategy.

Gillmor added that she expects “San Francisco interests” to finance the “no” campaign, which led Bill Bailey, treasurer for the opposition group Santa Clara Plays Fair, to say that his organization has received only a single $50 donation from anyone in San Francisco.

Weirdly, it doesn’t look like the San Jose Mercury News has reported on the mailing yet, though it has found room to speculate on the stadium project’s impact on San Francisco’s UFL franchise.