This story has been updated, Oct. 10, at 9:30pm.
One month before the November election and on the eve of this week’s distribution of mail ballots, a stunning Santa Clara County grand jury report has added new drama to the contentious Santa Clara City Council race.
The document released at 5pm today criticizes the city’s oversight of Levi’s Stadium management and the activities of the council majority, including mayoral candidate Anthony Becker and two council members seeking re-election, for its relationship with the San Francisco 49ers football organization.
“The civil grand jury’s investigation confirms that the actions and inaction of certain council members are not consistent with the duties owed to the constituents they were elected to serve,” the final report concluded.
The 61-page document , entitled, Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Santa Clara City Council followed what it said was a nearly four-month investigation by the 19-member appointed watchdog body. With few exceptions, the report’s observations, conclusions and recommendations landed squarely on one side of the city’s political divide–led by Mayor Lisa Gillmor–that was on the losing end of the 2020 council elections and of efforts to prevent the firing of former city Manager Deanna Santana and former city attorney Brian Doyle.
A draft report was sent to the City of Santa Clara on Oct. 5, and the Superior Court's grand jury administrator gave the city until 10 am today to respond with comments or suggested corrections of fact. It received no responses from the city.
The final version was posted on the grand jury website shortly before 5pm. The final version included a brief introduction mentioning that some news media had obtained copies of the draft report on Oct. 7, with a reminder that release of any information other than the final report was illegal, suggesting that the leak of the draft came from someone in Santa Clara City Hall.
California law that states: “No officer, agency, department or governing body of a public agency shall disclose any contents of the report prior to the public release of the final report.”
Two surprise recusals
And, in a surprise note, the grand jury said in its final report that two of its members, unnamed, had recused themselves "from the subject matter of this report" because of potential conflicts of interest. No further details were provided.
The timing of the release was solely up to the discretion of the grand jury, according to Britney Huelbig, deputy manager and temporary judge administrator of the Superior Court.
“The Civil Grand Jury can choose to release a final report at any point in its term,” she wrote in an email response to questions from San Jose Inside. ”Any decision and/or vote by the grand jury is confidential by law and the court would not/cannot impose a release date for any final report.”
Huelbig said the purpose of the review period was to give the city and City Council an opportunity “to identify and notify the Civil Grand Jury of any inconsistencies or factual errors, and for the Civil Grand Jury to review and respond accordingly.”
“Although the city has ethics rules designed to promote good governance, City Council ethics guidelines are routinely disregarded and are not enforced,” the draft report opined. “The Civil Grand Jury has serious concerns that the current [city council majority], which essentially dictates city action due to the majority they hold, is not acting in the best interests of the city or acknowledging the ethical duties owed to their constituents.”
49ers want investigation
The leaked report drew a fast and furious response from the 49ers organization, which said it was never contacted by the grand jury or its investigators, and from Becker and fellow council member Raj Chahal.
The mayoral candidate said he was sent a copy of the draft report on Thursday by the grand jury office, with an "embargo" until 10 am today. He complained that he was never interviewed by jurors or investigators, said the report included false and misleading statements and said it was a "political hit piece." Late this afternoon, Becker released his own 13-page rebuttal.
Chahal waited until after the final report was released late Monday afternoon, then released a statement in which he said: "I was shocked and disappointed to see that our judicial system, a system meant to provide fairness and bring to light truth, was instead misutilized to spread falsehoods with political motives." In an email to San Jose Inside, he released explanations of multiple "misrepresentations" and "falsehoods."
After viewing a copy of the report supplied by the media on Friday, the Niners characterized the unofficial draft document as a “shocking political hatchet job.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in all my life,” 49ers spokesperson Rahul Chandhok said in an email response to San Jose Inside. He called the grand jury "a partisan group of cronies co-opting the justice system to release campaign propaganda based on fake facts to benefit one person - Lisa Gillmor."
Chandhok today called on the County Counsel's Office to investigate the grand jury for "clear conflicts of interest and for the staggering number of factual errors in the report."
Chandhok on Friday sent a letter to acting Santa Clara City Manager Rajeev Batra listing what he said were numerous errors in the draft grand jury document.
On Sunday, Chandhok told San Jose Inside that on behalf of the 49ers, he followed up the Batra letter with an 18-page letter identifying discrepancies, errors and omissions in the draft grand jury report to the Santa Clara County Superior Court office that manages the grand jury. In the letter, Chandhok requested a careful review of the grand jury’s facts and conclusions with regard to the 49ers and the Santa Clara City Council, but he said he was rebuffed.
"With the hope that a fair justice system would prevail, we sent the Jury hundreds of pages of evidence to correct the numerous inaccuracies in their report, but were informed by representatives of the Grand Jury that they do not have a responsibility to review evidence that contradicts their bias," he said.
“There is nothing new in this report,” Chandhok wrote Batra. “The report is a regurgitation of Mayor Gillmor’s false allegations.”
“The timing of the report makes it clear that this was a political hit job orchestrated by the mayor and her allies, including disgruntled employees from the city, and the opinions in it are based on the false statements of those individuals,” he wrote. “The authors never asked the 49ers for the other side of the story. If the civil grand jury is interested in the facts, we are delighted to share them.”
Chandhok claimed the jury was “stacked with Mayor Gillmor’s neighbors, business associates and allies,” and “is based solely on cherry-picked talking points from Gillmor’s inner circle.”
"This is a kangaroo court.," the 49ers spokesman told San Jose Inside after the final report was released. "At least two members of the jury involved in creating this report have already been removed due to conflicts of interest, and we anticipate more will be uncovered. "
"When presented with hundreds of pages of evidence correcting their report, they said they have no responsibility to review any information contradicting their biases," he said. "This corruption of the justice system is outrageous, unethical and the public deserves an independent investigation."
San Jose Inside recently identified apparent underreporting on Gillmor’s 2021 Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests, in which there was no mention of nearly $400,000 in income to her company by San Jose Unified School District, and Becker crticized a political action committee for the mayor funded with $100,000 from Related Companies, developer of a huge commercial/residential project near Great America and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
49er campaign money
An independent political action committee formed and funded almost entirely by the 49ers owners and organization is spending more than $1 million to re-elect Becker and his allies. The 49ers ownership has also plowed $700,000 into independent expenditures to help elect county supervisor Cindy Chavez as mayor of San Jose, a city where the football team has no direct interests.
A similar 49ers-funded committee spent nearly $3 million 2020 to elect Santa Clara’s current council majority, which was the target of the grand jury probe, and the focus of its sharply worded findings.
None of the candidates—neither Becker and allies Karen Hardy and Chahal, nor Gillmor and her aligned challengers Christian Pellecchia and Larry McColloch—have commented on the report.
San Jose Inside obtained a copy of the draft report that had been distributed to members of the media. The draft report was undated and unsigned.
Oct. 10 release date
The cover of the draft grand jury report, entitled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct, The Santa Clara City Council,” listed Oct. 10 as its release date.
Today's release, more than two months before the end of the jury’s term, represents a break in tradition, and raises questions about the timing so close to a contentious local election.
Since 2020, when the grand jury schedule was shifted to a calendar year, rather than a July-June fiscal year, only three of 13 reports were released before December: one last week, one in October 2020 and one in September 2020.
In previous years, with few exceptions, county grand juries would release the reports of the six to 12 annual investigations all in the last two months of the jury’s year, in May and June.
“The draft report’s manifest reliance on groundless accusations that could only have come from the mayor (whose majority hold on the city council was rejected by the voters) and certain former city officials (dismissed from their employment), has rendered it a partisan, not a judicial, document,” Chandhok warned the court in the Oct. 9 emailed letter. “And its issuance in its current form will inevitably undermine people’s faith in the civil grand jury system.”
James Renalds, a technology industry executive and consultant according to his LinkedIn resume, is listed as foreperson of the jury, which also approved a report, dated Oct. 7, on local ballot questions, entitled, “If You Only Read the Ballot, You’re Being Duped.”
The grand jury said it “conducted more than 10 interviews; reviewed City ordinances and policies; studied legal opinions and legal documents; reviewed more than 700 emails; watched videos of City Council meetings; examined councilmembers’ public calendars; reviewed portions of the City’s charter and ordinance code, the City’s Ethics and Values Program, and the Council Policy Manual; reviewed public Stadium Authority financial documents; reviewed multiple media articles; and consulted with legal experts.”
Jury cites 49er influence
“The influence of the 49ers on the City’s governance is undeniable,” the jurors concluded, according to the draft. It said the two fired managers, Santana and Doyle, had faced “insurmountable challenges.”
The report refers to “serious concerns” about the council majority, without identifying the source of the concern. The report said the council majority “meets regularly, and as often as weekly, with lobbyists for the 49ers, and the content of these meetings is not disclosed.” This, according to the report, “leaves the impression that the City Council Voting Bloc aims to subvert the Brown Act’s open meeting requirements.”
The report also said, “There is concern that the City Council Voting Bloc is getting real-time influence from 49ers lobbyists during City Council meetings,” while providing scant documentation.
Feb. 1, 2023 deadline
The draft report said the city should take these actions before Feb. 1, 2023:
- Before any 49ers-related matters and to prevent violations of the Brown Act, the council members should publicly disclose on the record if they have met with a 49ers lobbyist regarding a topic on the meeting agenda, the name of the lobbyist(s), the date of the meeting, all individuals present and any information provided by the lobbyist(s).
- The city should require minutes of all meetings, including the attendees, agenda, duration and a detailed summary of matters discussed, to be posted online with the calendar.
- The city should require that meetings with 49ers lobbyists be recorded so the public can be assured that “these closed-door, frequent and proximal meetings to the City Council meetings” do not violate the Brown Act. Santa Clara should create an open governance commission to evaluate the city’s current open government practices and make recommendations for improvement.
- The city should hire a certified public accounting firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Stadium Authority finances and the financial documents submitted by the 49ers.
- The report also said all council members should be required “to be visible at all meetings either in person or on camera.”
- The report said the 49ers have not “provided sufficient financial accounting to the City/Stadium Authority as required, and said the city should take steps to ensure that fire and safety rules are met, and recommended the city hire a staff to oversee stadium operations, for which it contracts with the 49ers.
- The report also upheld concerns of Santana about a lack of information and potential risks from the FIFA World Cup, which the council approved for Levi’s Stadium, and said the city should reconsider the FIFA bid.
- The grand jury wants the city to adopt specific protocols for “operational tours” of the stadium by council members, and hire an independent consultant to oversee whether council members follow these new protocols.
The report said the relationships between the city, its stadium authority and the 49ers “are creating ethical dilemmas and governance challenges,” and that it should hire a qualified legal and ethical consultant “to evaluate the challenges presented by the unique relationship between the city and 49ers and prepare a public report on the findings and recommendations.”
The city should, the jurors recommended, add to the City Code of Ethics and Values and the Admonition and Censure Policy a procedure to enable the public to file a complaint and testify at a public hearing to help remediate ethics violations, “including a procedure for public admonishment, revocation of special privileges or censure.”
Leak could be illegal
The individual or individuals in Santa Clara City Hall who leaked the grand jury draft may have broken the law.
“Based on the importance of secrecy to the fulfillment of a grand jury’s functions, the California legislature has specified only four situations in which disclosure of grand jury evidentiary evidence is permissible,” wrote lawyer Robert Holland in the February 2009 issue of Privacy & Data Security Security Law Journal. The four situations are:
- By court order,the testimony of a witness may be disclosed to determine whether it is consistent with testimony given before the court or when relevant to a charge of perjury.
- When an indictment is returned, transcripts of testimony taken before the grand jury are to be delivered to the defendant and thereafter filed for public access.
- Evidentiary materials, gathered by one grand jury may be disclosed to a succeeding grand jury.”
- With court approval, a civil grand jury may release unprivileged evidentiary materials to the public, so long as the names of witnesses and any facts identifying the witnesses are withheld.
Every year, in each of California's 58 counties, a group of ordinary citizens takes an oath to serve as grand jurors. Its function is to investigate the operations of the various officers, departments and agencies of local government. Each Civil Grand Jury determines which officers, departments and agencies it will investigate during its term of office.
For more details:
Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Santa Clara City Council
Anthony Becker grand jury response.
Raj Chahal Civil Grand Jury response
49er Letter to Stadium Authority
Before he was sworn in, Suns Jain asked and received a 600 page “briefing book” from the 49ers. Chronicle Reporters figured out Jain has been sharing with the 49ers, confidential closed session details from the City Council. Becker has constantly asked for the possibility of cannabis vendors getting permits for 49er games. Kevin Park’s consultant, Jay Reed, who SJI outed for sex texts while with Cortese, tried to get money from the 49ers for Park’s personal expenses.
Jed York has had a FPPC investigation since 2020 for misconduct.
Park has 5 ongoing FPPC cases.
Becker has 3.
Jain wants the Public Records repealed and goes to events that Lisa Gillmor is at, and follows her with a camera snapping pictures.
Becker just received a major donation from a planning commissioner who got the appointment due to Becker.
Solution to this??
A separate Ethics Commission for Santa Clara.
All opposed idea
To Chandhok, the 49ers, Becker, and the 49er 5 – you weren’t invited to testify as you were all the subjects of the Grand Jury Investigation. The Grand Jury had plenty of evidence to review. They also did not call the Mayor to testify. Chandhok is doing what he is paid millions of dollars to do by the shameless 49ers. Chandhok and his faux outrage are shameless. To accuse the Grand Jury of impropriety is a very desperate move. And on Chandhok’s outrage at the report being released early, he should probably check out his own camp first. Perhaps one of the 49er 5 released it early purposely, on the 49ers advice. Nobody would know as the 49er 5’s meetings with the 49ers are private., That way Chandhok, out of sheer political desperation, could go to the media and accuse the Grand Jury of misconduct to take credibility out of the report they issued over the absolute corruption and incestuous relationship of the 49ers and their stooges on the Santa Clara City council. I personally think one of the 49er 5 may have released the report early and secretly, as I believe they had motivation to do so, and don’t have the common sense to not do so.
Mr Holtzclaw, cudos for presenting both sides and this good investigative report.
Many sources confirm Jain and Chandhok were the ones who released it.
So the list of civil grand jury members is available.
Chandhok claims most members go to St Justin’s.
Prove it, Rahul. State Bar may not like a phony accusation.
Jain met with Chandhok last week and they both discussed the report and how to release to the Weekly. Also, Jain alleged he knew 85% of the members. A lie since only a couple have a connection to Santa Clara. One member is a former dean at San Jose State. They both discussed damage control.
Such activity violates Superior Court rules. Chandhok as a lawyer will be advised.
“With the hope that a fair justice system would prevail, we sent the Jury hundreds of pages of evidence to correct the numerous inaccuracies in their report, but were informed by representatives of the Grand Jury that they do not have a responsibility to review evidence that contradicts their bias,” he said.
IF (IF) that is true, it is disheartening to know the Grand Jury isn’t looking for truth.
The real scandal here is the political system that institutionalizes the interests of wealthy elites, a system that allows those elites to derive special and private benefits from public resources at the expense of the public at large. The multi-billion dollar 49er organization, a relative new-comer to Santa Clara, has over three election cycles groomed and developed a set of mercenary politicians who now dominate the city council. The “traditional” and “legacy” real estate, business and police association elites, along with relative new-comer Related Santa Clara, had their own mercenaries in the “Gillmorian regime” but they find themselves on the outs these days.
The grand jury system, according to legal scholars, has been abused in the U.S. to pursue political vendettas or projects (https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/grand-jury-use-and-abuse-political-power). It is reasonable to assume that a loscal oligarchy threatened with displacement has the influence and ability to enable and empanel a grand jury in its battle with a competing oligarchy. Indeed, what we have been witnessing in Santa Clara since at least the 2016 election cycle has been the fermentation of an inter-oligarchic battle over control of the Santa Clara City Council and, ultimately, the special privileges and resources oligarchs can derive from such control.
Given the above, I fully support the recommendations of the grand jury to the City Council. These would provide transparency to the public as to what the 49er-centered power bloc is up to. I likewise support the exact same measures to be applied to all contacts between Mayor Gillmor and all entities having any businesses–direct or indirect–with the City. The public is entitled to complete transparency regarding what elected officials and un-elected city staff are engaged in as it relates to city resources.