Santa Clara, 49ers settle Levi’s Stadium lawsuit

The City of Santa Clara and San Francisco 49ers have settled a long-running legal battle over the management of the NFL American football franchise’s home venue, Levi’s Stadium, but only after a fractious city council meeting.

Santa Clara City Council, acting as the Santa Clara Stadium Authority Board, authorised the termination of an agreement with the 49ers’ stadium management company in February 2020. The action called for new third-party management to assume operations and management of Levi’s Stadium, owned and managed by the Stadium Authority, both for NFL games and non-NFL events.

The council’s move to terminate the entire management agreement related to additional legal concerns it had over the 49ers’ “apparent mismanagement” of the stadium and “potential self-dealing”.

The move was the latest development in a long-running dispute between the council and the 49ers over the management of Levi’s Stadium. In September 2019, the 49ers said they would continue to manage non-NFL events at Levi’s Stadium after city leaders voted to terminate an agreement with the franchise.

The 49ers later filed a lawsuit in attempt to block the City of Santa Clara’s move to terminate the agreement. A team spokesman said at the time that the lawsuit was necessary due to the city’s “complete misunderstanding” of the agreement.

Litigation has since continued over the matter, but a settlement deal has now been reached. The San José Spotlight said that before the deal was reached, the City asked the 49ers to contribute an additional $325,000 (£281,000/€326,000) to enhance its general fund, in addition to the $1.3m it offered to pay into the general fund a week ago. Team leaders said their offer is worth $13m, including money saved on continued litigation.

The settlement’s value is said to include $2m from the team for disputed public safety costs and $8m savings in “future litigation costs” over the next four years.

“Today’s agreement represents the beginning of a renewed partnership between the 49ers and the city of Santa Clara,” Rahul Chandhok, a team spokesman and legal negotiator, told San José Spotlight. “We’re pleased to put this fight behind us for the benefit of Santa Clara’s residents and the stakeholders who rely on Levi’s Stadium for jobs, revenue and entertainment.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said a closed city council session which approved the settlement deal saw Mayor Lisa Gillmor and City Council member Kathy Watanabe walk out of the gathering, with the former calling the police.

Gillmor and Watanabe, both critics of the 49ers’ proposal, said they left the meeting after Council member Anthony Becker, a supporter of the team on stadium-related issues, bullied and cursed them.

Gillmor said Becker’s “verbal attacks and irrational behaviour” continued in the closed session, with Watanabe choosing to leave the room. At this point, Becker yelled “F— you!” at Watanabe and made an obscene gesture, according to both Gillmor and Watanabe.

“Then he continued verbally assaulting me,” Gillmor told The Chronicle. “It just went on and on, to the point I felt so uncomfortable and I wasn’t going to take the abuse. So I stood up and left.

“I called the police because it was obvious he was having huge anger issues. I’m always very careful if it appears anyone is getting out of control. But he was so emotional and I wanted to protect myself.”

Becker, who is running against Gillmor for mayor in the November election, said: “We don’t talk about closed-session material.”

Image: Naveen Venkatesan on Unsplash