A lawsuit over San Jose’s negotiations with Google has officially come to an end.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas on Friday ruled that the city handed over all the documents it needed to about its negotiations with the multinational search-and-advertising company.
“The city’s ability to obtain the best value in land transactions and to maximize community benefits it can achieve in negotiations with Google would be adversely impacted if the parties with which the city negotiates had otherwise confidential information about the city’s approaches, strategies and options,” Lucas wrote in the opinion handed down at the end of last week.
The civil case, which was filed last fall by First Amendment Coalition and Working Partnerships, accused city officials of signing non-disclosure agreements with Google without the legal authority to do so. It also claimed that the city refused to hand over all responsive documents to California Public Records Act requests.
Late last month, the groups that filed the suit added new allegations that city officials violated the Brown Act, California’s landmark open meeting law.
At an Aug. 1 press conference, the plaintiffs expressed concern about 20 closed-door deliberations over selling land to Google, undocumented meetings between Mayor Sam Liccardo and company officials and hours of deleted recordings that were required under the state’s sunshine laws.
Karl Olson, a lawyer representing First Amendment Coalition and Working Partnerships, said in an interview Tuesday that San Jose officials gave them a number of records that had been withheld before the nonprofits sued for their release.
Olson added that there were close to 100 documents left, which will remain exempt because of the judge’s ruling.
“We are proud that we brought the lawsuit,” Olson said. “It resulted in the disclosure of thousands of pages of previously withheld documents and even though we didn’t get the last 94, we think that we have vindicated the public’s right to know.”
According to Lucas’ decision, because of the “extensive community outreach and engagement” the unreleased and exempt records would “not contribute any material incremental benefit to the public interest in accessing information about the Google project and in providing input.”
City Attorney Rick Doyle reiterated the court’s findings when reached for comment.
“The court specifically found that documents related to ongoing real estate negotiations were properly withheld from production because it is in the city’s best interests to not have its negotiation strategies and goals made public during the negotiation process with third parties,” he told San Jose Inside. “As to the thousands of pages released by the city, the court held the protocols followed by the city in its search for documents complied with the Public Records Act.”
City Manager Dave Sykes said that San Jose is “committed to transparency.”
“We hope the outcome of this lawsuit strengthens trust in the public process,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to engage the community in the development of the Diridon Station Area plan and Google’s mixed-use project.”
While the judge did address the city’s records exemption, First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder said she did not fully discuss the validity of the non-disclosure pacts. In 2017, nearly 20 city officials signed secrecy contracts with the tech giant, which drew the ire of open government advocates.
“She talked about it, but she didn’t opine one way or another whether the NDAs were proper or a violation of law,” Snyder pointed out. “What we wanted was a declaration were that the NDAs were invalid. She didn’t do that, but she didn’t say they were OK either. She skirted that issue.”
Snyder said they have yet to discuss next steps and whether they’ll appeal the case.