OPINION: Santa Clara’s Acting City Attorney Neglecting Legal Duty on Potential City Council Violations

Editor’s Note: The following is adapted and slightly edited from Kirk Vartan’s public testimony delivered at the December 8, 2022, Special City Council meeting.

Potential City Charter Violation

Section 807 of the City Charter makes it clear that “except for the purpose of inquiry, the City Council and its members shall deal with the administrative service under the City Manager solely through the City Manager and neither the City Council nor any member shall give orders to any subordinates of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.” 

A violation is a misdemeanor.

The Civil Grand Jury learned that the then-City Manager Deanna Santana made a complaint that, among other things, a Councilmember was directing City staff.

An outside investigator was hired to investigate the complaint. If true, the allegations in that complaint may have violated the Charter.

On August 23, 2022, the City noticed a closed session meeting under the exception of “public employment appointment” for the City Manager. 

At that meeting, the City Council Voting Bloc voted to stop the investigation made from that complaint.

There are a number of issues here. But these all seem to fall into the lap of the Acting City Attorney Steve Ngo (of the Lozano Smith law firm). For example:

  1. Why did the City Attorney allow something that was not on the agenda to be discussed and acted on by the council?
  2. Why didn’t the city attorney report out the action of the Council after closed session?
  3. Why is the City Attorney allowing the City Council to violate the Sunshine laws around council behavior and actions?

Potential FPPC Violation

According to regulations of the California Fair Political Practices Commission regarding gifts, tickets, or passes (Title 2, Division 6, California Code of Regulations) – § 18944.1:

(a) Gift Exemption. A ticket or pass provided to an official by the official’s agency and distributed and used in accordance with a policy adopted by the agency is not a gift under the Political Reform Act if all of the following criteria are met: 

(1) The distribution of the ticket or pass by the agency is made in accordance with a policy adopted by the agency that incorporates all of the provisions of subdivision (b) and is maintained as a public record as required in subdivision (c). 

(b) Agency Ticket/Pass Distribution Policy. Any distribution of a ticket or pass under this regulation to, or at the behest of, an agency official must be made pursuant to a written agency ticket distribution policy, duly adopted by the legislative or governing body of the agency.

Since there is no policy, the tickets are a gift and are not allowed. 

It is my understanding that the city attorney has all the details and is legally required to follow up on this. It appears he is not.  

In these two cases, why is the City Attorney not following up in detail and reporting out to the public on these actions?

Editor’s Note: “Voting Bloc” is a term the City Grand Jury used to describe Councilmembers Anthony Becker, Raj Chahal, Suds Jain, Karen Hardy, and Kevin Park.

Kirk Vartan is a Santa Clara business owner and community leader.

Interim City Attorney Steve Ngo

This article was updated with a minor change to the byline at 7 p.m. the day of publication.


  1. I wonder if there are any lawyers out there who know who has standing to bring a complaint about these violations

    • Government Code Section 91003.
      (a) Any person residing in the jurisdiction may sue for injunctive relief to enjoin violations or to compel compliance with the provisions of this title. The court may in its discretion require any plaintiff other than the commission to file a complaint with the commission prior to seeking injunctive relief. The court may award to a plaintiff or defendant who prevails that party’s costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

  2. Several times I got the impression some of the block council members were giving directions to staff and that always caused me concern. Back when we had more actual council members that were acting in good faith I was told by one, in no uncertain terms, they were NOT allowed to give directions to staff. They had to be very careful to avoid that appearance, even.
    These 5 clowns don’t care about anything except the bubble they live in. Time to pop that expensive, jed york paid for, bubble. It’s easy to see why the block chose to get rid of our actual city atty and hire the part time attys.

  3. Fascinating article.

    Mr. Vartan may not know but Ngo was fined by the FPPC himself for failing to San Francisco documents and has sat om FPPC requests for six months.

Leave a Reply