SF Chronicle: Santa Clara police chief pushes D.A. to investigate City Council’s dealings with 49ers

By: Lance Williams, Ron Kroichick

Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai asked District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen on Monday evening to launch an investigation into the “most critical findings” of a civil grand jury’s report on the conduct of five City Council members and their dealings with the San Francisco 49ers.

The report, officially released Monday, alleged the council majority regularly “put the 49ers’ interests ahead of the city’s interests” and suggested it may have violated city and state ethics laws.

The grand jury shared a draft of its report with city officials last week, consistent with city law, and gave them until 10 a.m. Monday to “raise concerns about inconsistencies or factual errors.” The panel received no response from the city, according to the final report.

Nikolai’s request, made in a letter to Rosen shortly after the report was posted on the city’s website, highlighted four issues raised by the grand jury: potential violations of California’s open meetings law for “serial meetings” with 49ers officials; potential misappropriation of public funds; potential violation of city law prohibiting gifts from lobbyists; and the circumstances surrounding the firing of former City Manager Deanna Santana.

Nikolai, an ally of Mayor Lisa Gillmor — the most vocal critic of the 49ers and the council majority — referenced a published opinion piece by Thomas Shanks, former director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Shanks wrote that Santa Clara government had become so dysfunctional that it evoked what happened more than 12 years ago in the city of Bell (Los Angeles County), which became ensnared in a corruption scandal.

“The Civil Grand Jury report has a similar warning for us,” Nikolai wrote in his letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Chronicle. “Therefore, I believe your (Rosen’s) office must provide the investigative power we currently don’t have in our City.”

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office said Tuesday they were reviewing the report.

In a statement posted on Twitter, council member Anthony Becker, who is running for mayor, called the grand jury report “a political hit piece” and said he was the victim of “the politics of personal destruction.” He did not address any of the grand jury’s factual claims.

The police chief position is an elected role in Santa Clara, and Nikolai, a career city police officer, took the job after winning a special election in March 2020 following the retirement of previous chief Michael Sellers. Nikolai ran unopposed in November 2020; his term runs until 2024.

This article originally appeared in the SF Chronicle.

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