Santa Clara Wins Legal Dispute Over S.F. 49ers’ Stadium Rent

Santa Clara prevailed in a legal battle with the San Francisco 49ers over how much the team should pay to rent the city-owned Levi’s Stadium. An arbiter last week ruled against a petition by the NFL franchise to slash payments by $4.25 million a year, and instead upped it by 1 percent to $24.7 million.

While the lease may be set, tensions between the city and the team remain high.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor applauded the arbitration opinion as “a complete vindication” of the city’s decision to turn down the 49ers’ rent reduction request, which the City Council unanimously rejected in 2016 and the team appealed that same year.

“We hope the 49ers will work with us, not against us, and see that we can be good partners if the team will work cooperatively with the public,” she said in a statement that also accused the NFL team of withholding payments and documents.

The city said the ruling, which also requires the 49ers to cough up back pay and attorneys’ fees, will help pay down the stadium’s debt more quickly.

Niners spokesman Rahul Chandhok called Gillmor’s announcement misleading.

“It’s exactly this deceptive approach, her lack of transparency and fuzzy math that makes Mayor Gillmor difficult to trust,” he said. “We accept the arbitrator’s decision to increase our annual rent payment by 1 percent. It’s deceitful of the mayor to say otherwise.”

Chandhok also questioned Gillmor’s judgment in hiring a pricy PR firm and pointed out “a basic math error” in the news release, which put the yearly rent hike at $238,000.

“That is incorrect,” he said. “The annual increase is $262,000. We would hope the mayor and her personal PR consultant, Sam Singer, would have been more careful while being paid with taxpayer dollars.”

It’s an issue that came up last year when Gillmor was accused of violating policy by using a city-hired communications firm for her own gain. In response to Chandhok’s comment, Santa Clara spokeswoman Jennifer Yamaguma shared a copy of the Singer Associates contract, which shows that the city agreed to a $250 hourly rate with a waiver of travel time costs and a total amount not to exceed $100,000.

But in a second news release announcing a press conference set for 2pm Monday, the city corrected the rent-hike miscalculation. It also announced that Gillmor would ask the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, the city board that governs the stadium, to waive the confidentiality clause of the Levi’s lease and release the full arbitration opinion “to achieve full transparency on the significance of this victory” over the 49ers.

“Given that the 49ers have expressed concern about the lack of transparency on this matter, waiving the confidentiality clause allows the 49ers to promote transparency and demonstrate their interest in the public’s understanding of the truth about this dispute,” the city stated.

Chandhok said the follow-up news release is another distraction.

“Mayor Gillmor will always put her interests before those of everyday Santa Clarans,” he said. “The stadium lease is a matter of public record. Attempting to give it new life in the media is a distraction tactic to avoid questions about her use of public funds for spin-doctor Sam Singer. It also proves she was incorrect in her initial claims regarding the arbitrator's decision and shows a lack of focus on issues that concern everyday residents.”

In a letter shared with reporters later in the afternoon, Gillmor addressed her challenge directly to 49ers President Al Guido.

“Rahul Chandhok ... has made accusations against me individually through the media regarding a ‘deceptive approach’ and a ‘lack of transparency’ relating to the substance of the arbitrator’s decision,” she wrote. “If in fact you value transparency, as you have claimed prior to the arbitration, I would invite you to waive the confidentiality clause ... I will be asking the Stadium Authority to consider a vote on the waiver, as a body, at the August 21 meeting.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Dear Mayors of Oakland and other cities where sports teams are screwing the public —

    Take a look at Santa Clara and stop bowing down to the Gods of Greed that run sports teams and leagues.

    It’s about time that cities start winning these battles. This is a lot of money even though the 49ers are downplaying it and saying it’s all politics.

  2. 49er employee Marquise Goodwin offers the citizens of Santa Clara and the people of America a “black power” fist of defiance, blame and contempt.

    Santa Clarans and Americans should reciprocate the 49er’s hubris by responding with a taxpayer fist of parsimony.

      • > Love the BLACK POWER fist

        To get more customers like you, the 49er’s should have more Black Power fist events at Levi Stadium. That’ll pack ’em in.

        Pro football is too boring and bureaucratic anyway. Any “sport” with as many officials on the field as players is more like a lawyer’s convention than a “game”.

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