Special Report: Who’s Monitoring the Lobbyist Ordinance in Santa Clara?
By Robert Haugh
The lobbyist ordinance in Santa Clara has been in place since January 2016 but it appears that no one is really monitoring it.
Santa Clara City Clerk Rod Diridon, Jr. got extra money in his budget the last two years (approximately $163,486, plus an initial $10,000 for technology and outreach) but says that it’s not really his job to enforce or monitor the ordinance. It’s other people’s responsibility. Here’s what Diridon wrote to explain how things are handled:
“The City Clerk’s Office provides updated lists of lobbyists, exemptions and referrals to the City Attorney’s Office, Mayor/Council Office, City Manager’s Office and City departments. These Offices have more interaction with lobbyists on a functional, day-to-day basis as the ones actually being lobbied, or the people setting appointments between lobbyists and policy makers or staff.”
Currently, there are 78 registered lobbyists that do business in Santa Clara. Most represent developers like SummerHill Homes and the Related Companies. The 49ers also have lobbyists. So does Google.
Another group of 24 individuals say that they are exempt from the ordinance, including 18 members of the Santa Clara Chamber board of directors. That group would include Miles Barber who has raised eyebrows and questions about his potential lobbying activities on behalf of the massive Mariani development project.
Someone can be exempt from the ordinance for a variety of reasons. For example, representatives of employee groups are exempt. So are board members or employees of nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporations, unless the nonprofit organization is lobbying for a specific project.
We received information that an additional seven individuals say that they are not required to register. According to Diridon, neither he nor his office evaluates or checks if someone should be exempt or if they claim they are not required to register.
Diridon says that he receives information from others about an individual that’s engaged in lobbying activity. He then sends letters to them with registration information.
Warnings and Violation
But sometimes Diridon will need to send multiple letters. After three letters, Diridon will refer the matter the City Attorney’s office. For example, Ash Pirayou, a lawyer with Ruan and Tucker LLP, who represents development interests, was sent letters on September 14, 2016 and September 29, 2016. He registered five months later on February 28, 2017. Pirayou did not receive a third letter and he was not fined even though the ordinance says: “Lobbyists must register with the City Clerk within fifteen (15) days after qualifying as a lobbyist.”
Josh Scharfberg of AllVision, the controversial company hired to produce outdoor advertising for the city, was also sent two letters in September. He declared that he was not required to register.
But one person working on behalf of AllVision did get into trouble. Councilwoman Patty Mahan was found to be lobbying for the company in 2016 while she was off the council.
The city hired a special investigator in 2016 and the report is on the City Clerk’s website.
The investigator concluded that Mahan violated the lobbying ordinance but she didn’t know it:
Ms. Mahan engaged in lobbying within the meaning of the Lobbying Ordinance when she met with various City officials on AIIVision’s behalf, and that she was not exempt from registration as a lobbyist under the attorney exemption; however, her failure to register did not constitute a “knowing” violation of the ordinance that would subject her to penalties because she had a reasonable and good faith belief that she was covered by the attorney exemption.
Mahan was only investigated because then-candidate for City Clerk Deborah Bress reported her directly to the City Attorney’s office. Mahan is the only person who has been investigated so far under the lobbyist ordinance since its inception.
We’ll keep watching how the ordinance is enforced and particularly any cases that have been referred to the City Attorney’s office.
Robert – It’s your job to monitor the lobbyist. SC gov’t is all about passing the buck these days. Rod Jr. just passed it to you. Best of luck!!
Rod, there could be a spreadsheet that is continually updated giving us a snapshot at a moment’s notice. You helped me with this before although it’s a bit cumbersome having to go form by form. This could be easy extrapolated for us to see at a glance rather than have to dig. Thanks
Bress figured out how to bypass Diridon who is not trustworthy. He was on the council and greased lots of palms in his day. Bress sent letter directly to City Attorney and it worked for the Mahan complaint. You can’t trust a politician. That’s why we shouldn’t have an elected city clerk.
ATT: Robert Haugh: The author of Fake News for Santa Clara,
You shouldn’t let the name you choose be the most meaningful part of your comment.
Thanks Robert. It doesn’t seem like there is anything close to a robust enforcement mechanism. Leaves a lot to be desired.
Anyone interested in learning more about the City’s Lobbyist Registration Ordinance or finding a list of current lobbyists can find information on the City’s website.
It is important to note for anyone who reads this that the budget mentioned by Mr. Haugh is the full cost of a staff person, who spends part of their time on the lobbyist ordinance.
A portion of these costs have been offset by fee revenue from the lobbyist ordinance, a decrease in ongoing as-needed staffing, and other budget savings. The City Clerk’s Office overall was under-budget by $100,916 in FY 2015/16 and an estimated $384,996 in FY 2016/17.
During that time, the program increased transparency by registering 79 lobbyists in 2016 and 83 lobbyists in 2017, while handling a combined 50 referrals and exemptions.
As always, we will continue to look for ways to improve the administrative side of the lobbyist ordinance and appreciate the scrutiny and feedback provided by Mr. Haugh and others.
–Rod Diridon, Jr., City Clerk
When are you going to cover real ethic violations instead of this fake news. How about you start with the FPPC violation, unlawful action and fine by Council Member Watanabe? Why haven’t you covered that yet, Robert? If it was Mahan you would cover that for a week straight. It is obvious why, you are subjective and the author of Fake News for the Mission city. You are in the pocket of Lisa Gillmor and Jude Berry. Your spin and unprofessional is obvious to ALL! Let’s see if this makes it through your moderation!
Dominic!! Back on here with alias names. 🎉🎉Pure entertainment. Amazing that you typed all that without mentioning the “Appointed Mayor”😂😂 Caserta you are a joke. CasertaHasADirtyLittleSecet
Thanks for this article Robert. I feel this is where the problem with our divisive Council begins.
Lobbying and campaign contributions and other perks obviously make a difference with the blue pack of sponsored candidates that tend to vote their Party Line than their heart. Of course if they’re going to get helped in an upcoming election that is great motivation.
There are some lobbyist that I find to be the scourge of the world. They are happy to sell out their friends, neighbors, and City for financial gain. This sociopathic Behavior and not only reprehensible but downright scary. This Behavior seems obvious to me when the Chamber of Commerce and the blue pack are involved. I feel these traitors will sell the city to developers and the 49ers on a moment’s notice without any regard for the residents.
I hope Rod distances himself from these types of influences so he can do a through job policing this ordinance.