THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ers are lambasting a scathing new grand jury report that questions the team’s political influence and relationship with five Santa Clara councilmembers.
The 61-page report, which was publicly released Monday — the same day voters receive ballots in the mail — focuses on what it calls the “49 Five,” a politically-loaded term coined by opponents of the team. The five lawmakers in question are Councilmembers Anthony Becker, Kevin Park, Karen Hardy, Raj Chahal and Vice Mayor Suds Jain.
The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report, obtained by San José Spotlight, claims the five members meet regularly with 49ers lobbyists ahead of council meetings. The jurors say while the meetings are disclosed on the lawmakers’ calendars and in lobbying reports, they don’t divulge what’s being discussed. The report recommends recording those private meetings—an unprecedented move—as well as including meeting minutes online and requiring councilmembers to verbally disclose if they’ve met with 49ers lobbyists on an item before they vote.
The report says the recommendations, which must be approved by the full Santa Clara City Council, should be enacted by Feb. 1.
But 49ers leaders say the report is based on shoddy methodology, riddled with inaccuracies and parrots Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s politically-biased rhetoric. Team spokesperson Rahul Chandhok also questioned personal relationships between Gillmor and members of the grand jury—people he said are part of the mayor’s “inner circle and are hardly impartial.”
Gillmor is a staunch opponent of the team and now faces Becker in her reelection bid this November.
For example, he said, some jurors attend the same church as Gillmor allies, including former Councilmember Teresa O’Neill, while others worked with the mayor on real estate projects and developments.
‘Cherry-picked talking points’
“This report is a shocking political hatchet job from what is supposed to be an independent body, but is stacked with Mayor Gillmor’s neighbors, business associates and allies,” Chandhok told San José Spotlight. “It is based solely on cherry-picked talking points from Gillmor’s inner circle, contains dozens of lies, and yet still fails to find any evidence of wrongdoing by anyone. The civil grand jury’s time would have been better spent investigating Mayor Gillmor’s numerous ethical violations on behalf of her campaign donors.”
The jury’s foreman, James Renalds, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Becker or Park.
Hardy said the report was politically-loaded — and she could tell it would be based on the questions jurors asked her in July.
“It was obvious they had already written a report in their heads and were just trying to get me to say things,” Hardy told San José Spotlight, adding that some jurors even asked her to vote a certain way and to divulge closed-session discussions. “I told them that’s unethical. Their tenor was accusatory and confrontational. It’s obvious they wanted the report to be an October surprise.”
Jurors interviewed 10 people for the report, and 49ers representatives say they were never contacted. Chahal, who is prominently named in the report, also says he was never interviewed.
Britney Huelbig, a deputy manager at the Santa Clara County Superior Court, declined to discuss the report but said in an email that it’s not final.
“The purpose of this period is for the affected public officials or agencies to identify and notify the Civil Grand Jury of any inconsistencies or factual errors, and for the Civil Grand Jury to review and respond accordingly,” she said.
The team’s PAC activity has ramped up since Sept. 1. The 49ers have spent at least $1.5 million supporting Becker, Hardy and Chahal, with roughly $704,500 going to Becker. The team funneled at least $1.9 million into three PACs to back the three councilmembers.
Hosting the world cup
The report also takes aim at Levi’s Stadium — home of the 49ers — for hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026. It claims former City Manager Deanna Santana raised concerns about the profitability of the event before she was fired. The city must pay for public safety costs and provide temporary housing for players and fans, the report said.
But to protect its finances, Santa Clara adopted a resolution in February saying the city would be “insulated from any financial losses” from the world cup to comply with Measure J, the 2010 measure that paved the way for Levi’s Stadium. And many Santa Clara leaders said the international event is an economic boon for the city, drawing worldwide attention and boosting local restaurants and businesses.
“The Civil Grand Jury finds that the city needs to rethink its current structure for maintaining high ethical standards and work with experts in this field who can help the city insulate itself from its current ethical dilemmas,”Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report
Another recurring theme in the the 61-page report is the Santa Clara City Council’s acrimonious relationship, noting that councilmembers are disrespectful to one another and city staff. The rift in Santa Clara City Hall is nothing new — but it’s only gotten worse in recent years after Gillmor lost her council majority in 2020 with the election of Becker, Jain and Park.
“The Civil Grand Jury finds that the city needs to rethink its current structure for maintaining high ethical standards and work with experts in this field who can help the city insulate itself from its current ethical dilemmas,” the report said.
In one instance, the report criticizes an unnamed councilmember for having their camera turned off during council meetings — claiming they are receiving messages from 49ers representatives in real time. The councilmember, believed to be Park, reportedly turns off his camera because of his young child in the background.
Accounting practices questioned
Jurors also claimed that the 49ers management company, called ManCo, has not provided sufficient accounting and hasn’t generated revenue to the city from non-NFL events. The report called for hiring an accountant to audit the stadium’s finances and advocating for a third-party “referee” to oversee ManCo’s operations.
In response to the claim that non-NFL events haven’t generated city revenue, Chandhok said the stadium has hosted four sold-out concerts this year. The accounting information jurors claim is missing is available on the city’s website, he added, and ManCo now has new accounting systems that provide city officials real-time oversight of financial reporting.
The report briefly mentions a claim that Hardy and Chahal violated the city’s gift policy by accepting 49ers game tickets. The councilmembers said they were there for an “operational tour.” Chandhok said it’s “ludicrous” to imply city elected leaders cannot tour the venue.
Jain expressed disappointment that the report was leaked days before its release.
“It makes zero sense for them to release it knowing Santa Clara leaks like crazy and then expect people to be quiet until Monday,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Contact Ramona Giwargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.