SANTA CLARA, Calif. (CN) – In a hearing that shows the depth and breadth of the acrimony between the San Francisco 49ers and its landlord the city of Santa Clara, the city denied the team’s request for curfew extensions for concerts while noting it’s owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.
The Santa Clara Stadium Authority, the public body that owns and operates Levi’s Stadium where the 49ers play, have been locked in a bitter dispute with the National Football League team over whether it used public funds to pay for ongoing operations of the stadium.
When Santa Clara voters passed Measure J in 2010, there were provisions that expressly forbade the 49ers from using public funds to fund ongoing operations, such as paying security and firemen or other aspects of stadium management.
Since taking office, Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor has relentlessly criticized the 49ers by claiming the team violated Measure J and behaved inappropriately by keeping financial documents that would dispel disagreements locked away.
“Promises were broken,” Gillmor said during Thursday night’s regular meeting of the stadium authority.
During the meeting, Harvey Rose, an auditing firm retained by the city, detailed its latest audit that found the 49ers owed the city about $114,000 for unpaid bills relating to public safety costs as the city routinely provides members of its police department for security during both NFL events and concerts.
While the amount is significant, it is about $300,000 less than Harvey Rose estimated was owed to the city in a draft audit released about a month ago – causing the 49ers to exalt.
“In the end, they wasted over $200,000 in public funds to discover that the city of Santa Clara failed to bill $115,000 in expenses – something which was their responsibility,” said 49ers team president Al Guido.
Nevertheless, several stadium authority board members said the audit is worth it, if only to understand where there are deficiencies in their business practices and how to correct them to protect taxpayers.
“It was $180,000 well spent,” said board member Kathy Watanabe. “There was inequity in how costs were spread between the city and the team and as a result of this report that inequity will be resolved.”
Furthermore, the auditing firm said the final number could be different but it was hard to tell because the 49ers withheld certain documents.
The 49ers have argued throughout the dispute that making certain documents relating to the operation of the stadium public would hinder the team’s ability to be competitive on the open market, when it comes to negotiating fees for concerts and other events at the venue.
Gillmor and her allies have remained unmoved by the team’s arguments. And while the mayor has enjoyed public support, she has increasingly become a lightning rod.
Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers took about five minutes to criticize the mayor, saying she lacked “honesty and transparency” and was conducting a witch hunt against the 49ers for purely political purposes.
Ultimately, the stadium authority voted 6 to 1 to accept the audit and its recommendations, including creating new accounts to better track public safety costs at the stadium.
The lone dissent came from board member Dominic Caserta, pointedly and passionately denounced the city’s continual feud with the NFL team as “dysfunctional.”
“We need a more business-like relationship with the 49ers,” Caserta said. “We need to stop with all the finger-pointing because it doesn’t serve the public.”
The feud continued after the audit report, when the 49ers asked Gillmor and the board to approve a curfew extension for an upcoming Coldplay concert and four other similar events.
Gillmor and three others voted no.
“The city made promises to our north side residents,” Gillmor said Thursday. “The law is there for a reason.”
The 49ers said polls they have conducted within the community show residents are in favor of the extension and that Santa Clara is impairing the stadium’s ability to be competitive in the marketplace.
“We won’t be able to book concerts – there is no question,” Guido said during his presentation on Thursday. “If concerts don’t come, it will negatively impact the city. The concerts are forecast to make $100 million for the city during this lease and you’re throwing that business away.”
Both parties are involved in a lawsuit filed by the 49ers in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Harvey Rose also said there is nearly $800,000 owed to the city related to parking costs. The team disputes that number, saying instead they overpaid the city by nearly $1 million.