In Santa Clara, the Times They are A-Changin’
By Robert Haugh
Bob Dylan wrote a song about America changing in the 60s. He could write one about Santa Clara today, especially involving the city’s relationship with the 49ers.
It started with a political earthquake after Super Bowl 50. On February 8, 2016, during a press conference about the game, then-Mayor Jamie Matthews, a big 49er ally suddenly resigned. He opened the door for change. And boy did it come.
First, Lisa Gillmor was unanimously selected by the council nine days later. In 2010, Gillmor helped lead the 49ers’ stadium campaign. But she stopped trusting the team after they reneged on their promise to relocate and build a new Youth Soccer Park. As Mayor, Gillmor would be way different than Matthews.
Then, top city staffers most responsible for the stadium contracts and operations left — some say were pushed out, although no one was fired.
In May, 2016, then-City Manager Julio Fuentes was the first to resign. He was close to the 49ers, and was known to have played golf with 49ers owner Jed York and Santa Clara Weekly Publisher Miles Barber. (Disclosure: I worked at the Santa Clara Weekly during this time).
In December, 2016, City Attorney Ren Nosky, who was responsible for the legal contracts, resigned. Those documents were considered weak by many. The 49ers used them to say that they could unilaterally lower their own rent or that the City Manager could give them permission to violate the curfew.
In January, 2017, Finance Director Gary Ameling left for a similar job in Las Vegas. He was frequently criticized for giving the City Council (and the public) little information about the stadium finances. The Harvey Rose stadium audit revealed that city staff had no codes to charge time to stadium operations, a violation of Measure J that prohibits the general fund being used for the stadium. It also found that major expenses and budget transfers were reported on just one line with no detail or explanation.
So what if Matthews were still Mayor and these three city staffers had stayed? What would be different? Our crystal ball says:
- The 49ers would own the Youth Soccer Park.
- The 49ers would have unilaterally lowered their own rent.
- The 10 p.m. weekday stadium curfew would be gone.
- The Harvey Rose stadium audit would not have happened.
- The City wouldn’t know that the 49ers need to repay the general fund and the stadium construction fund about $1.8 million.
- Santa Clara would be renamed Santa Yorka — joking.
Change doesn’t come easy. And it may not be complete.
Interim City Manager Rajeev Batra who replaced Fuentes has been equally friendly to the team. The City Council rejected his response to the Civil Grand Jury about the stadium audit because it was weak. Batra is retiring and will be replaced by October.
The stadium audit concluded that the Fire Department and Police Department had to fix components to their operations. A lot of police officers reportedly talked to the auditors because they were concerned about the department. Police Chief Mike Sellers got a “no confidence” vote from his troops last year, the first time ever.
In about 30 days, Santa Clara will have a new City Manager (Deanna Santana), a new Stadium Manager (Scott McKibben), and a new Assistant City Manager (Manuel Pineda) — all with stellar credentials. We expect to see more changes. That would be good for Santa Clara — ask Bob Dylan.
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
— Bob Dylan