Back in the fall of 2014, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York dug into his pocket book and made $70,000 in contributions to the political action committee of the California Apartment Association.
Within a month of York’s contributions, the apartment association’s PAC made almost $50,000 in independent expenditures on behalf of Santa Clara City Council candidates Dominic Caserta and Patrick Kolstad and mayoral incumbent Jamie Matthews. The trio, considered sympathetic to the Niners, won their races.
Two years later, a scenario is unfolding that again could involve the 49ers and Santa Clara elections — but this time with a different middleman.
Two well-placed sources — speaking on condition of anonymity — have told IA that the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is exploring the possibility of setting up an independent expenditure account that would support challengers to the current critics of the 49ers on the Santa Clara City council.
The chamber already has its own political action committee, or PAC. But a new account would have a different name that might be more acceptable in Santa Clara. And IA’s sources say it could serve as a funnel for 49ers money as well as contributions from developers.
The 49ers’ vice-president of communications, Bob Lange, said, “We have an interest in the prosperity of the city we are located in and will continue to be good partners.” About the specifics of the report on the Chamber, he added, “We’re not going to get into answering every little accusation from an unnamed source.”
IA made multiple attempts over two days to get a comment from the Chamber. Matt Mahood, the CEO of the chamber, did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Neither did the chamber’s director of communications. And Derrick Seaver, the chamber’s vice-president of public policy, was unavailable for comment.
The team’s critics have identified candidates John McLemore, Ahmad Rafah and Patty Mahan as being sympathetic to the 49ers, though each has denied being partisan for the team. In a lineup that changed slightly this month, they are running against Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill and for the open seat being vacated by Jerry Marsalli.
Record requests flood Cupertino schools
Overwhelmed with requests for public records, last year the Cupertino Union School District hired a PR agency to handle communications and media. But the agreement with Voler Strategic Advisors of San Jose has itself become so contentious that district officials have dumped it.
When renewal of the $8,500 monthly contract appeared on a June board agenda, it spawned two more requests under the California Public Records Act, Chief Information Officer Jeremy Nishihara said.
“It was ironic,” Nishihara said. “I’m trying to get more support, but doing that is propagating more PRAs.”
He pulled the request off the agenda, and this month told IA administrators have decided not to resubmit it.
Controversy has enveloped the high-performing district for more than a year. One source is the planned mega-redevelopment of Vallco Shopping Mall, which has stirred anger at city and school officials — even though the school districts are marginally involved. The other is continuing fallout from Superintendent Wendy Gudalewicz’s wholesale transfer last year of West Valley Elementary staff, from the principal to the janitor.
In the 2015-16 school year, residents on the hunt for wrongdoing bombarded Cupertino Union with 45 Public Records Act requests (compared with just eight received in 2014-15).
Since July 1, the district has fielded four requests.
They included demands for email, from anyone on the district’s executive team, containing with word “development.” Another, from a critic of Gudalewicz’s idea to build teacher housing at the leased-out Luther Elementary campus, asked for any email containing the word “Blake,” part of the school’s address. One request elicited 4,000 emails.
Responding to those requests, which state law requires be answered in a timely manner, has consumed Nishihara.
While it’s not uncommon for school districts to hire PR agents, Voler came on board last August without public discussion or board approval. The district routed the contract through its attorney Dannis Wolliver Kelley — then claimed attorney-client privilege in response to some records requests. That apparent secrecy further enraged critics.
“The district is wrongly withholding records of the public relations firm,” said Ed Brown, a West Valley parent who has submitted three records requests.
The school board was fine with the decision to hire Voler.
“It’s an administrative choice,” board President Josephine Lucey said. “It’s not level of detail the board gets down to.”
Cupertino Union, like many school districts, allows its chief executive broad discretion.
“The contract has always been as-needed during the crisis,” said Rolando Bonilla of Voler. “I am just providing a community service.”
The district paid Voler $76,500 for nine months of work like writing newsletters and an FAQ for parents, and designing social media sites and accounts. In addition, Cupertino Union paid $30,000 for attorneys to review records requests and responses, just through February.
It’s all part of the price of mistrust — along with the distraction and labor of slogging through legal weeds when parties can’t just sit down and talk.
SJ chamber now neutral on housing bond
Amid mounting political pressure, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce flipped its position on a $950 million housing bond during a special meeting last week.
“We recognize that there is a housing crisis and there were arguments made on both sides,” CEO Matthew Mahood said in a statement. “In the end, we are pleased that the county will pursue a more robust oversight committee and are confident with our new position as it was reached after tireless work by our board to get all the facts.”
The powerful business group initially opposed the measure which promises to build more affordable housing in Silicon Valley. But letters, phone calls and emails poured in from political heavyweights like county Assessor Larry Stone and numerous housing advocates, urging the group to reconsider.
On Wednesday, the chamber’s Board of Directors voted to take a “neutral” position on the bond, which will be on the November ballot. The chamber won’t spend money opposing the measure, which requires two-thirds approval by voters.
Stone’s letter was perhaps the most biting — calling out Mahood for contradicting himself and telling the chamber head he’ll appear “insensitive” and “out of touch” if the bond passes. And if the measure fails, Stone wrote, the chamber will “certainly and justifiably get the blame.”
Mahood appeared to support a revenue-generating measure to fund more affordable housing when he co-chaired newly-created County Housing Task Force late last year, according to Stone.
“The Chamber’s last-minute opposition, and your rationale for opposing the housing bond measure is embarrassing,” Stone wrote in the June 23 letter to Mahood. “If you are not embarrassed, then I’m embarrassed for you.”
Hiram the Tarantula
Morgan Hill’s Library, Culture and Arts Commission has bestowed a nickname on the city’s new “Tarantula” artwork that was affixed to the public parking garage on 4th Street earlier this year. The giant arachnid likeness, the commission declared, shall be known as Hiram, in honor of community founder Hiram Morgan Hill.
The commission had sought community suggestions to find just the right nickname for the parking garage artwork by Napa artist Gordon Huether, which he named is “Tarantula” and is widely believed to be the coolest thing in Morgan Hill. There were 100 submissions, the city said.
“It was exciting to see the creativity and thoughtfulness from the community toward finding a name that would be reflective of the piece and the community here in Morgan Hill,” said Commissioner Tim Hennessey. “The name that was chosen is something that we hope will spark interest in the history of Morgan Hill and the man that our City was named for.”
The Morgan Hill Historical Society blessed the nickname for “Tarantula” before the Commission made the decision.
“We’re very happy with the name selection and hope it continues to tie the new elements of the downtown, and throughout the City, with the history that has made all of this possible,” said Kathy Sullivan, President of the Morgan Hill Historical Society.
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week’s items were written by Scott Herhold, Ramona Giwargis, Sharon Noguchi, John Woolfolk and Paul Rogers. Send tips to [email protected], or call 408-920-5782.