The Chamber of Commerce Gets City Tax Dollars For a Management Fee, But No One Knows What It’s For

By Robert Haugh

The Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce gets paid a lot of money to manage the Convention Center and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.  But no one can say what they do for the money — or who gave them a raise.

Chamber board member Ravinder Lal has criticized us on this site for writing negative things about the Chamber. So we asked him to write an opinion piece explaining what the Chamber does to earn a management fee. Unfortunately, Lal has not taken the opportunity to explain why tax dollars should go to the Chamber.

But, neither has city staff. Here’s what the staff report says for the item that will be heard tonight.

“… the contract with the Chamber does not explicitly provide for a management fee or any parameters for the amount or purpose. In addition, for decades, staff has been paying a management fee without a required contract that specifies the payment terms and structure for which to issue public funds.”

So no one can justify to Mission City taxpayers the “amount or purpose”  for the Chamber’s management fee. Wow.

Santa Clara Chamber Management Fee
The Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce gets paid a management fee for the CVB.  But no one can say what they do for the money — or who gave them a raise.

It was a good thing that Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilwoman Debi Davis asked some tough questions back in February.

That’s when we learned that  the Chamber’s management fee was mysteriously increased without the city council approving it.  Since that meeting, city staff has discovered the following fee increases — none of them officially approved by the city council.

The Santa Clara Chamber’s CVB “management fee” from 2013/14 through 2018/19.

This raises lots of questions:

  • How was this allowed to happen?
  • Who made it happen?
  • Was this even legal?
  • Is this considered a gift of public funds?
  • Will the Chamber have to pay any of it back to the City?

Unfortunately, none of these are addressed in the the city staff report. That’s really disappointing.

Instead, city staff recommends that the City Council gives the green light for City Manager Deanna Santana to create a “legitimate agreement” if the council wants to continue paying a management fee. Huh?

Shouldn’t someone make the case that it’s needed first? Or at least find out if there’s been some past wrongdoing before anyone gets the greenlight?

We hope the members of the City Council who care about transparency, good government, and fiscal responsibility will do so. Until all the questions are answered satisfactorily, the Chamber management fee should get a red light, not a green one.


  1. I’m a resident of old quad in santa clara.What my question is ,why do our utility rates keep climbing when we are suppose to be receiving all these taxes from commercial and retail businesses ,levi stadium revenue and all these apartment that are being built and rented.Where are these benefits going? Dosen’t seem like they’ going to the citizens of this Mission city!

  2. This is incredible. There should be a lot of red faces at City Hall. If we are giving them money without authorization shouldn’t it be returned? Legally this sounds like a real problem.

  3. Another example of the usefulness of SantaClaraNews! Too bad that no one funds Robert so he could publish a whole newspaper.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comments.
      I don’t foresee publishing in print anytime soon – it is quite a costly start-up endeavor – but never say never!

      I’m very passionate about hyperlocal community journalism (dating back to serving as Editor at De Anza College’s La Voz student newspaper during the De Anza bomb plot incident) and believe in watchdog journalism.

      This site has evolved into what I feel is a valuable resource and, I hear, has helped shape some policy change moving forward.

      It’s a labor of love. I appreciate your comments. Journalists rarely get positive feedback, so it’s refreshing to read your comment(s). Thank you very much for the kind remarks.

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