Is City Hall Land Swap Legal?

Press reports indicate that San Jose’s old City Hall property site, with an assigned value of $10 million, will be transferred to the Santa Clara County Government as part of a debt settlement between the county and the San Jose Redevelopment Agency.  But the old city hall property belonged to the city, not the RDA.  Is the plan to transfer the old city hall complex to the county government a lawful action?
 
The language of  Measure I, passed by San Jose voters in 1996, was explicit.  San Jose voters were asked to permit the relocation of civic offices in the downtown, “...so long as the costs are paid by using the proceeds from the sale or lease of the old civic complex and other land ...” 

How can city officials get around this clear legal instruction?  The $10 million should be used to pay down the costs of the new city hall complex, as stipulated by 1996 Measure I.

The new civic center will end up costing San Jose residents close to one billion dollars (when you factor in interest on the bonds). What an incredible trade off…get zero dollars for the old city hall in exchange for a one billion dollar obligation!

21 Comments

  1. Pete,
    Thanks for raising this issue. I remember voting in favor of moving the city hall downtown. I also remember that part of the reason was that the proceeds of the old city hall were to be used to pay for the new city hall.

    I don’t know how it is anything but illegal what the city council just did to pay off the county as the voters made it clear how this money was to be spent. I also thought this mayor and city council constantly uses the argument that general fund money and rda money can’t be commingled. Why did they suddenly think it was ok in this instance?

  2. Pete,

    Thanks for writing on this topic.
    Although the decision of the building a new city hall was prior to my tenure what to with the old city hall is in the present.

    We traded the following RDA owned properties for the Old City Hall:

    1. Santa Clara Street development site (across street from new City Hall.
    2. Fairmont Garage
    3. Jose Theater

    I asked the same question you raise in your article with our City Attorney. I was told the language from “Measure I” gives the City the option to use sale proceeds of old City Hall “and/or” savings from leases and consolidation of City services, etc. So in a nutshell it is viewed as a legal transaction from the the view of our City Attorney.

    Old City Hall was a problematic property for the City since it is considered historic. The City would be sued if it tried to clear the site for development and thus we saw nothing was done.  Now the County of Santa Clara gets to deal with the historical issues associated with Old City Hall.

    • Pier,
      Under the 1996 voter initiative Measure I, the city could build a new City Hall only if it could offset the cost with “the proceeds from the sale or lease of the old civic complex and other land, savings from the elimination of leased office space, and consolidation of city facilities and services.”

      City Attorney Rick Doyle gave you bad advice.

      • The voters were also told that the new city hall would consolidate all city employees in one site, and that there was extra room for future growth in personnel.  Neither promise was true…and I’d bet the farm that those who made it knew at the time that they were not true.  The voters were bamboozled.  And now we have the $billion Taz Gonzal, complete with the R2D2 Rotunda and the city still leases office space around town.

        Those are the same city folks who gave huge pensions to all city employees that are bringing us down. The current pensions of just under 4900 current city retirees are holding the other 940,000 of us who live here hostage by sucking up so much money that services will be cut well into the bone.

        Too bad Al Ruffo dropped his lawsuit about the City Hall.

        • “Too bad Al Ruffo dropped his lawsuit about the City Hall”

          And too bad our City Attorney has made the shrewd political calculation that it’s likely nobody WILL sue the City about this land swap so he’ll probably get away with his questionable interpretation of Measure I.

          By the way, anybody know where we can see the text of Measure I so we can read it for ourselves?

        • The voters share almost as much blame for the “new” City Hall fiasco as the Mayor and Councilmembers who approved it.
          You did not have to be a political scientist to realize the public was being sold a bill of goods. Shame on the voters and the Gonzales council.

    • As one of the three signers of the ballot argument against Measure I (the other two were Kathy Chavez Napoli and the late Robert C. Becklund), it is instructive to take a look at the only argument in favor of Measure I in the voter pamphlet which stated that Measure I would “limit the City Council to using only money from the sale or lease of the existing civic center and from savings from rented space.”

      The argument in favor of Measure I repeats the promise as follows:  “This measure requires that a new city hall pay its own way by using money already spent on office rents and by selling or leasing the old city hall.”

      It is also instructive to note that the official web site of San Jose once included the text of Measure I, but has now stripped the actual language away.

      The actual ballot summary measure says,”…so long as the costs are paid by using the proceeds from the sale or lease of the old civic complex and other land, savings from the elimination of leased office space, and consolidation of city facilities and services…”

      Obviously some hanky-panky is going on, whether now or back in 1996.  The current city attorney’s opinion is very different from the promises made to the voters in 1996.

      • “Obviously some hanky-panky is going on, whether now or back in 1996.  The current city attorney’s opinion is very different from the promises made to the voters in 1996.”

        Hanky-Panky is ALWAYS going on. That is how we ended up in such a mess. Where is the transparency the mayor promised? Why are they always sneaking, hiding and lying? As a voter and citizen of San Jose, I want to know. I want answers.

    • Keep in mind that City Attorney Rick Doyle gave bad legal advice to the city council after Measure I was approved by the voters, by giving his legal opinion that it would be legal to fund the new city hall through redevelopment funds.  (Yes, the city council has forgotten the language of Measure I once before.)

      This caused a huge legal battle with former Mayor Al Ruffo on one side and the city on the other.  Doyle’s opinion lost, and the court sided with the Ruffo position that, essentially, using redevelopment funds violated state law.  The whole thing once city salaries were added in as well as costs paid Ruffo’s lawyers came to about $1 million.

      • Hmmmm.

        V-E-E-R-R_R-R-Y INTERESTING.

        I would say someone has some ‘splainin to do.

        And it looks to me like Rick Doyle has a LOT of ‘splainin to do.

        Let’s get out the kleig lights and have a show trial!

  3. “How can city officials get around this clear legal instruction?  The $10 million should be used to pay down the costs of the new city hall complex, as stipulated by 1996 Measure I.

    The new civic center will end up costing San Jose residents close to one billion dollars (when you factor in interest on the bonds). What an incredible trade off…get zero dollars for the old city hall in exchange for a one billion dollar obligation!”

    How can they do it, you ask??? Because they do what they want to do…no matter what. Lie to the public, take from the employees. They all need to be voted out of office.

  4. In addition to the building transfers, I have heard that all of the parking lots were also transferred to the county.  These are historical sites?  Where will all the police dept employees and citizens now park?  Was this also considered when the land was transferred?

  5. City Attorney works for and reports to City Council not public or taxpayers as San Jose city government has made clear over and over again

    City Charter ” Except as may be otherwise provided by the Council, the City Attorney shall be under the direction and supervision of the Council. “

    “The City Manager, the City Attorney, and the City Clerk shall be appointed and may at any time be removed by the Council. Except as otherwise provided by this Charter, all other officers, department heads and employees of the City, except members of boards and commissions, shall be appointed by the City Manager and, except as otherwise provided elsewhere in this Charter, shall serve at his or her pleasure.”

    There has been many questions about core city services the following City Charter section may clarify the discussion

    ”  SECTION 807. Administrative Organization; Other Departments.

    (a) The following Charter departments are hereby established: A Police Department, a Fire Department, a Public Works Department, a Parks and Recreation Department, a Personnel Department, a Planning Department, an Airport Department and a Library Department.

    (b) Additional departments may be created by Council from time to time pursuant to Section 800.

    (c) Each department shall have such functions, powers and duties as Council may from time to time prescribe.”

  6. Rick Doyle has admitted that he works for the City of San Jose, and not the citizens of San Jose. 

    This is exactly why any Stadium-initiative is doomed.  How are we to believe anything we are told…or sold?

  7. Trading the old city hall to the county makes the most sense for the community in terms of preserving a public use and helping the county to consolidate services and expand where they need to.

    In terms of getting a ton of money from a developer, that was all empty promises and we all know its a down market.  The only non-county use that would have really made sense for me would be another public entity like a new federal or state building that would allow the eyesores downtown to be removed.

    • Lots of things make sense. What the city council and mayor just did, however, is wrong, since it flies in the face of election results back in around 1996. Isn’t it more important to keep the intergrity of the election results rather than the unilateral and possibly illegal choice our city leaders just made? I really hope this is challenged in court.

      • Remember voting on the state lottery years ago and all the promises that it would bring extra money into the schools and not be used to substitute for basic state allocations…guess what, they lied about that too.

        And the Library Benefit Assessment district in SJ was supposed to supplement the materials budget and not be used to offset general fund support…they lied about that also.

        And term limits…didn’t we vote for that to get more turnover in local elections and less professional politicians…guess what, it backfired, we’ve got a revolving door with hella week council members who don’t have to think long term because they’ll have moved on to the next gig before the wreckage is clear.

        We could go on and on about electoral intent and so forth…